SANTIAGO – Thousands of people took on Sunday part in a march to the Chilean capital’s largest cemetery to pay tribute to the victims of the brutal far-right dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, three days before the 46th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the leftist government of Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973.
The event, convened by social organizations and human rights groups, takes place every year on the weekend before the anniversary of the violent seizure of power that ousted the South American country’s first socialist president.
The march is usually marked by cases of violent clashes between small clusters of protesters and the police.
This year was no exception and some violence was recorded towards the final stretch of the march, when protesters arrived at the General Cemetery, in Santiago’s Recoleta neighborhood.
However, the scuffles were less intense than on previous occasions.
Isolated groups of hooded men threw Molotov cocktails at anti-riot officers, who responded with tear gas and jets of water and arrested at least a dozen people.
The protesters began their march from Los Heroes Square and then crossed the Palacio de La Moneda – which was bombed by Pinochet’s air force during the coup d’etat – before heading to the General Cemetery.
Many of the attendees carried photos with faces of the thousands of missing people who disappeared after being detained by the Pinochet regime, which lasted until 1990.
Other banners featured slogans such as “I do not forget, I demand justice,” “Where are they?” and “Yesterday’s impunity is the cause of today’s injustices,” as well as messages related to the search for truth and justice.
Recoleta Mayor Daniel Jadue, a member of the Communist Party, participated in the first stretch of the march and underlined the importance of combating the denialism of the dictatorship.
Pinochet’s name has garnered unexpected attention of late due to controversial statements by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who praised the Chilean dictator in a harsh verbal attack on former President Michelle Bachelet, who is currently the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Mrs Michelle Bachelet, if the people led by Pinochet had not defeated the left of 1973, including your father, today Chile would look like Cuba,” Bolsonaro said in response to a UN report critical of the human rights situation and police violence in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s words put the government of Sebastian Piñera – who has cordial relations with his Brazilian counterpart – in a diplomatic bind, forcing him to express his disagreement in public.
Piñera said that he was not on the same page as Bolsonaro on the remarks about Bachelet, especially on a subject as painful as the death of her father, an Air Force general who opposed the coup and who died in a prison in Santiago in 1974 after being savagely tortured.
The right-wing Chilean president, however, avoided explicitly condemning Bolsonaro’s allusion to Pinochet and his reaction was criticized by the opposition, who considered it too lukewarm.