SANTIAGO – Chile commemorated on Friday the 47th anniversary of the coup d’état of Sept. 11, 1973 in homage to the overthrown leader Salvador Allende, on a day marked by protests and references to the historic plebiscite for a new constitution to be held in October.
The commemoration of this date, which has always divided Chileans, was held this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the greatest social crisis since the return to democracy in 1990, which calls for massive marches after five months of hiatus during lockdown.
Sept. 11 recalls the military uprising led by General Augusto Pinochet, during which socialist then-president Allende committed suicide, and each year numerous events throughout the country are held to pay tribute to him.
Conservative President Sebastian Piñera led a ceremony at the government headquarters to commemorate the coup that ended the Popular Unity Government, the first Marxist coalition to be elected at the polls in Latin America.
“Today we want to remember that rupture of democracy, not to repeat the same mistakes of the past, but to learn a lesson and allow them to illuminate the paths of all towards a better future,” he said.
The president mentioned the historic constitutional plebiscite to be held in October, and which was proposed as the political solution to try to unblock the social crisis by opening the possibility of leaving behind the current charter, drawn up in 1980 during the dictatorship.
“We are convinced that the vast majority want to perfect, modernize, change our constitution,” Piñera said.
The remarks about the referendum were also present in the tributes of the center-left opposition parties, and the social and human rights organizations who took to the streets of the capital to pay tribute to the victims of the coup and the 17 years of dictatorship (1973-1990).
On a road adjacent to La Moneda Palace, where the door through which Allende’s body was taken out the day the government headquarters was bombed is located, leaders of several left-wing parties and the Salvador Allende Foundation placed a symbolic wreath.
The president of the foundation and granddaughter of the ex-president, Marcia Tambutti, said the date continued to be a “day of sadness and pain” which showed the need for “more justice.”
“Next October we face a historic opportunity for the collective construction of a more fair society,” added Tambutti in a rally that ended in front of the statue of the late president.
The leader of the social democratic Party for Democracy, Heraldo Muñoz, said that it is a sad day but that it must be seen hoping that “the plebiscite will give Chile the opportunity to close a cycle that started with the fraudulent constitution of 1980.”
Chile’s current constitution, reformed more than 40 times during democracy, is seen by a large part of society as the origin of the country’s inequalities due to its neoliberal bend.
The annual march led by the Group of Relatives of Executed Politicians (AFEP) towards the General Cemetery of Santiago, where many of the victims of the military regime rest, also took place.
“Our murdered and disappeared detainees flourish in the struggle and commitment to truth and justice,” said AFEP president Alicia Lira.
After the recovery of democracy in 1990, the Rettig Commission certified that some 3,200 Chileans were killed by state agents during the dictatorship, of which 1,192 are still listed as disappeared detainees.
As happens almost every year, the march ended with clashes between hooded protesters and the police, this year at the gates of the capital’s cemetery, which remains closed as a preventive measure amid the current health crisis.
In the Plaza Italia, wearing masks and under the slogan “Let’s illuminate Chile with truth and justice,” more than a thousand protesters gathered in remembrance of former president Allende.
His image, one of the most highly valued political personalities among the left, has regained strength since the beginning of the massive protests.
This time, protesters commemorated the 47th anniversary of the coup with slogans against the current government and in favor of a new constitution.
There were riots in the areas adjacent to Plaza Italia with barricades and traffic blockades on several roads and the Carabineros (militarized police) fired water at protesters to disperse them.
The protests, which resulted in 14 arrests, were the largest since the detection of coronavirus in Chile in March and consolidates the return of the weekly rallies that remained silent during the five months of lockdown.
The hectic day, one month ahead of the plebiscite, shows that old wounds are still open and that the polarization of Chilean society has continued since the military uprising led by Pinochet in 1973.