Chile coup 50 years on: We refuse to forget the crimes of Pinochet’s fascist regime
This week marks fifty years since the US-backed, fascist coup in Chile, which saw our loved ones brutally murdered or disappeared, our democratically elected Socialist government overthrown and our President, Salvador Allende, killed.
My sister Jacqueline was kidnapped by the Chilean secret police when she was just 24 years old. We have been searching for her ever since.
It is unspeakably devastating to lose a loved one in any circumstances, but to not even know what happened to them or where their remains lie, is truly unbearable. The disappearance of hundreds of Chileans by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship has denied us that most basic right, and deprived us of the chance to find closure.
The secrecy surrounding the atrocities committed by the regime means it has fallen to the Chilean people to record and remember the victims and their stories. That is why we are launching Ecomemoria, a memory forest in Curacautín in southern Chile.
''Pinochet’s regime tried to erase all remnants of socialism, including all trace of President Allende’s supporters. The Ecomemoria forest we are creating is an act of defiance and resistance. Each tree will embody the lives, hopes and aspirations of the victims, which will become an enduring memory in the physical landscape, ensuring the crimes of the fascist dictatorship and their US backers are never forgotten.''
The forest will contain over 3,000 native trees and each tree is dedicated to a victim of the dictatorship. Every tree bears the name of the person it honours and a QR code leading to their biography, to mourn their loss and celebrate their lives.
Planting a tree for Jacqueline finally gave me and my family a place we can visit and pay tribute to her. It also means others can learn her story and celebrate her and the thousands of other people who lost their lives because they dared to dream of a fairer society.
As a social worker, Jacqueline saw first-hand the effects of inequality on the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people. She was passionate about her work and about changing Chile for the better. She was pregnant at the time and wanted to raise her family in a more just and equal country.
Pinochet’s regime tried to erase all remnants of socialism, including all trace of President Allende’s supporters. The Ecomemoria forest we are creating is an act of defiance and resistance. Each tree will embody the lives, hopes and aspirations of the victims, which will become an enduring memory in the physical landscape, ensuring the crimes of the fascist dictatorship and their US backers are never forgotten.
Truth and Justice
Former political prisoners, survivors of torture, exiles, and the families of those murdered and disappeared have been working tirelessly to seek truth and justice in Chile.
The history of Ecomemoria dates back to 2002 when we began planting trees in different parts of the world. Reaching this point of opening an ecological reservoir within Chile itself as a site of historical memory is a huge achievement, fought for by the survivors.
The idea came about during Pinochet’s trip to London, when, for 503 days, activists followed the dictator to read the names of the victims one by one. During one of the events, they planted a total of 2,500 crosses for all the political execution victims and 1,192 sticks with names and photographs of the detained-disappeared individuals in front of Parliament and Big Ben. This event was impactful, but at the end of the day, everything had to be packed away. That is why we wanted something that would endure for centuries.
The Ecomemoria forest is not just a place of memory. It provides lungs for the community as the dictatorship not only left an indelible mark on people's lives, but its neoliberal policies also had a devastating impact on the natural environment. That dark period saw practices that severely harmed the natural environment, from uncontrolled resource exploitation to environmental degradation.
The creation of Ecomemoria is therefore an ecological space of healing the human and natural wounds inflicted by the dictatorship.
We hope that the forest, which will cover six hectares of land and will include a visitors’ centre, will be visited by future generations, families, schools and tourists, becoming a space for reflection and learning about the history and struggles of Chile.
Ecomemoria has been supported by a coalition of groups including local Mapuche communities and local farmers, the United Central Workers’ Union Chile and other trade unions, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, the Mayor of Valparaiso as well as human rights groups, environmentalists and feminist organisations.
The project has respected and integrated local and neighbouring communities into the forest, understanding that it is essential for its preservation and for future generations to enjoy it. It is also a powerful testament to what organised civil society collaboration can achieve. People who have donated trees and financial resources and allowed this memory forest to grow and take root in the national consciousness.
Furthermore, it is an entirely independent and grassroots project which does not receive any state resources. Its existence and growth rely on the commitment and support of civil society, organisations, individuals, and local communities.
Already, we have planted over 1,000 trees but we need to plant over 3,000 in total, to ensure we honour each and every victim.
Ecomemoria invites us to reflect on the profound connection between nature and memory. In this unique space, trees, with their symbolism of life and growth, stand as living monuments to those whose lives were tragically taken. Each of these trees, with its roots firmly planted in the earth, represents a tangible testimony of our ongoing responsibility to seek justice and honour the resilience of the human spirit.
As these trees reach towards the sky, their leaves whisper silent stories, reminding us of the importance of preserving collective memory and protecting human rights. Ecomemoria is a beacon of hope and a lasting reminder that even in the darkest circumstances, life and memory can flourish in unity.
Nicole Drouilly is a survivor of Pinochet's coup and a spokesperson for Ecomemoria.
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