SANTIAGO – The heckling of writer Mario Vargas Llosa and the abrupt appearance of the sister of a Mapuche Indian killed by Chilean police marred the opening of the Museo de la Memoria, intended to honor victims of the late Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship.
Presiding over Monday’s ceremony was Chilean head of state Michelle Bachelet, who was imprisoned and tortured during the military regime.
She was accompanied by the other three presidents who have ruled Chile since the return of democracy – Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei and Ricardo Lagos – along with numerous ministers and lawmakers.
Also present was Peruvian-born novelist Vargas Llosa, who has been in Santiago since last week as a guest of right-wing presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera, who has won the endorsement of the acclaimed writer.
Piñera will challenge Eduardo Frei next Sunday in a runoff.
“Get out, get out!” those seated near Vargas Llosa began to shout as he talked to reporters before the event began.
“In an electoral campaign the atmosphere always gets a little tense, but I have the impression that this is a small group and that most people are showing all the sophistication they should in such cases,” Vargas Llosa said when asked about the heckling.
Soon afterwards Bachelet arrived and toured the museum accompanied by the three ex-presidents and afterwards gave an address, which was interrupted by the unexpected shouting of two young women.
One of them, identifying herself as the sister of Mapuche college student Matias Catrileo who was gunned down by police in January 2008, climbed a lamp post along with another young woman and began to plead for justice and respect for the rights of Chile’s indigenous people.
“In Chile human rights are being violated,” the woman said, while throwing papers in the air that read, in reference to the Mapuche conflict, “In democracy torture continues and our people are still in jail!”
After interrupting her speech and remaining silent for a few seconds, Bachelet replied that “I understand your pain, but in a democracy justice is done and justice will be done. That we can assure you.”
“Justice that we did not have in those years (the Pinochet era), prison for the guilty that never existed, the complicity of the government that today does not exist,” she said to the applause of the audience and the cries of the two young women, who refused to come down from the top of the lamp post.
“Please, I beg your respect for the pain of all these families that like you plead for justice,” Bachelet said as police forced the young women to come down and removed them from the premises.
The 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, Chile’s largest indigenous group, is demanding constitutional recognition of its identity, rights and culture, as well as ownership of the tribe’s traditional territory.
Their struggle to reclaim ancestral lands from farmers and timber companies led last year to the deaths of two Indian activists in confrontations with police, while a number of Mapuche militants are facing charges for attacks on cargo trucks.
The United Nations and organizations such as Amnesty International have voiced concerns about Chile’s treatment of the Mapuches. EFE