Nubia Becker Eguiluz
Villa Grimaldi Peace Park Corporation
Ten years after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, and as Vice President of the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park and a survivor of the torture center it once was, I wonder what is the matter with the world that something so cruel could actually happen. One possible answer is to understand this event in terms of international political relations. Yet whatever the final analysis, one must never forget that caught in the middle of such events are innocent victims and a frightened population.
In Chile, we also had our 9/11, also on a Tuesday, but back in 1973, when a military coup culminated in fighter jets bombing the Presidential seat of Government, the death of the democratically elected president, and a 17-year rupture of our constitutional and democratic institutions. The ensuing dictatorship controlled all branches of the State, allowing General Augusto Pinochet to govern the country in the iron-grip of a permanent state of emergency.
Despite this bleak scenario, from the outset, human rights organizations, organizations of families of victims of repression, and the underground press took it upon themselves to report and collect information on both summary and political executions and the widespread repression to which segments of the population were subject. These efforts at reportage and documentation became the seed which germinated into a mobilization demanding a return to democracy and which in 1991 made it possible to have a document base on which to construct the report compiled by the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation.
Experience has taught us that one of the most important ways to stop the scourge of violence born out of state-sponsored terrorism is for citizens to spur themselves into action. Efforts must be made to rescue the memory of what happened, to seek out the reasons for such a horrendous game of violence and counter violence. This is done towards an important end: so that prevailing interpretations of the past can be questioned, and those sectors that have been defeated or silenced can begin to gradually piece together their fragmented stories. Their testimony can help wider society realize the truths of history that have been silenced by time.
An example of the preservation of memory was the struggle fought for the recovery of Villa Grimaldi, the infamous center for detention, torture and disappearance of prisoners used by the repressive apparatus of the military regime. The extensive grounds of the house were located towards the east of Santiago, close to the Andes Mountains, and were used until 1978 as the largest clandestine torture and disappearance center in Chile, detaining some 4,500 prisoners, of which over 230 were disappeared or killed.
For those of us who were forcefully detained here, preserving the memory of what happened has always been a big concern. It was only in 1988 that we could act to restore the Villa, organizing a broad-based movement that involved community organizations, former political prisoners, survivors, members of political parties and church representatives.
Those of us who survived understood that in order to face the horror of the past and so heal the wounds of the present, we should try to build, step by step, the topography of the horror we endured. On December 10, 1994, International Human Rights Day, in a ceremony heavy with emotions and memories, we opened the doors of the Villa, the first detention center in Latin America to have been rescued for the purposes of remembrance, becoming an example of civic action in the recovery of memory, a legitimate part of our society’s heritage.
Today, Villa Grimaldi has been nominated to be recognized as a Historic Monument by the National Monuments Council (1). Alongside this process of recovery and preservation of the memory of those who suffered the brutal experience of State terrorism, our commitment is to help society, especially the younger generation, understand the methods and instruments that the State apparatus used in pursuit of its aims, so that this never happens again. From the very same place where once crimes against humanity were committed, we now rebuild our history, aiming to serve, promote and foster respect for human rights in our country.
(Translated from the original Spanish by B y Z Translations)
This post is also available in: Spanish