SANTIAGO – Chileans marked Wednesday’s 46th anniversary of the coup that toppled Socialist President Salvador Allende by paying tribute to him and to the thousands of people tortured and slain during the ensuing dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Though the divide between right and left has not narrowed much since that fateful day in 1973, the vast majority of Chileans agree on the need to prevent a repetition of the putsch and its aftermath.
The incumbent president, conservative billionaire Sebastian Piñera, did not mention Allende during his speech at the official government ceremony, though he did lament the “breakdown of democracy” 46 years ago.
“I call on all my compatriots to reflect with calm and goodwill on the causes and consequences of Sept. 11, 1973, to learn the lessons and the teaching that the errors of the past have left to us, and to act always with total devotion and respect for the values of democracy,” Piñera said.
Allende defended those democratic values right up until the moment when he took his own life as Pinochet’s troops were storming La Moneda palace following an aerial bombardment and tank barrage.
The Socialist leader’s last stand was commemorated Wednesday morning at the Morande Street gate he habitually used when entering and leaving the presidential palace.
When Pinochet had the palace rebuilt after the coup, the Morande gate was omitted, but President Ricardo Lagos ordered the gate rebuilt in 2003.
The gate was adorned Wednesday with red carnations and a large wreath.
Another wreath was laid at the nearby statue of Allende, whose granddaughter, Socialist lawmaker Maya Fernandez, told Efe that the anniversary was an occasion to remember not only her grandfather, but all of those who suffered under Pinochet’s 1973-1990 rule.
“I want to pay homage to the families of the victims of violence during the dictatorship. Because to this day, many don’t know where their loved ones are, they can’t place flowers, they can’t go see them or be with them,” she said.
The bodies of nearly 1,200 of the roughly 3,200 people killed by the military regime have never been found.
People also gathered at Santiago’s General Cemetary to leave flowers at Allende’s tomb, at the memorial to slain political prisoners and at a cluster of mass graves holding victims of the junta.
Another observance took place at Villa Grimaldi, a building in Santiago that was used by Pinochet’s secret police as a clandestine jail and torture chamber.
The centerpiece of the event at Grimaldi was the playing of a recording of Allende’s final words to the nation via Radio Magallanes as the mutinous soldiers besieged La Moneda.
Besides the more than 3,000 fatalities, the Pinochet regime was responsible for the arbitrary detention and torture of 40,000 political opponents.