I still blows me away that my husband was born under a dictatorship. It sounds so foreign, so other, so distant, and yet the truth is that it was right here, not very long ago at all. Rodolfo’s memories are of normal childhood things, but those experiences took place under a dictatorship.
The complexity of Chile’s past makes it a topic worth hours of discussion, but the extremely simplified version is that, from 1973 to 1990, Chileans lived under the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet. During this time period, human rights atrocities were committed, and Chilean society, while no longer reeling, is still wobbling slightly from the effects. Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, bring visibility to those atrocities and their victims.
I finally found the time to visit during a friend’s brief trip to Santiago. He and I studied here together in 2005, and much of our weekend consisted of not only showing his girlfriend the city but also showing him everything that’s changed. It’s a lot, including the museum, which opened in 2010.
Photos aren’t allowed inside, which meant that I was free to observe. Museo de la Memoria takes you through the dictatorship both chronologically and thematically through different media – newspaper clippings, personal interviews with torture victims, documentary footage.
Some of the latter shocked me. I had heard the story of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Santiago. A sign at the sanctuary on top of Cerro San Cristóbal mentions the mass he gave there. But it’s one thing to know your history and another to see the pope tell thousands of people that love is greater, practically begging them to hear him, at the same time that the crowd is dissolving into police and protester violence.
Museo de la Memoria showed me other familiar stories in a new way. Reading the account of someone taken from his home in the dead of night to a concentration camp is sobering. Watching, however, as a man is escorted by police officers in broad daylight, surrounded by a crowd chanting “murderers! murderers!” is surreal. Surely they’re just taking him in for questioning, if this is all so public? The video continues to the next day, as his wife breaks down after having identified his body.
A visit to Museo de la Memoria isn’t exactly uplifting. Despite that, I think it’s a very interesting opportunity for tourists looking to understand the history of the place they’re visiting (get an audio guide or take a tour unless you speak Spanish). For those of us who live here, Chilean or foreign, it’s a chance not only to remember what we know and those who suffered but also to reconfirm a commitment to moving Chile forward.
More in this series:
Saturday in Santiago