Remembering Chile Steve Hunsaker

Left to right: Matt, Fernando, and Steve

From April 4 - 14, 2017, Matt Alba, Fernando Castro, and Steve Hunsaker were privileged to travel to and through the southern half of Chile. With stops in Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, Santiago, and a day-trip to Valparaíso and Viña Del Mar, we clearly didn't see all that there is to see much less learn all that there is to learn. Nonetheless, we were able to hold discussions with academics from the Universidad Católica, see a lot of historic sites, and get a better, more authentic and accurate feel for what Chile is.

Matt, Fernando and I travelled together but the reflections that follow are my own and don't necessarily reflect their views on the things we saw in Chile.


Postcard "Tierra del Fuego. Disfraces para la ceremonia del Hain (iniciación de los adolescentes). Pueblo Selk'nam (Onas). Costume that forms part of the Hain adolescent initiation ceremony, pertaining to the Selk'nam people (Onas)."

The treatment of the now extinct peoples of Patagonia by Chile and Argentina as well as various European nations is appalling (Google "Selk'nam genocide" for a quick introduction to the story).

But 21st century insult has been added to 19th century injury.

The barbaric way that European colonists and then later the republics of Chile and Argentina treated the Selk'nam and other indigenous groups of Patagonia was morally repugnant. Now the image of these victims of genocide has been commodified and turned into key fobs, earrings, yarn dolls, wallets, necklaces, and trading cards.

It is as if a serial killer were to take over a home, kill the occupants, and then set up a stand in the front yard to sell t-shirts and other memorabilia with his victims' faces on them to encourage tourists to visit their beautiful house - where he now lives.

As the images of the Selk'nam are commodified and turned into trinkets for tourists, who remembers the Selk'nam and what happened to them?

There is another, more hotly contested issue in contemporary Chile that is also centered on commodification: education. Tens of thousands of Chilean students regularly take to the streets, facing tear gas and water cannons to demand "Fin al lucro," an end to for-profit education. Although Michelle Bachelet's government has made significant concessions to the demonstrators, they insist that the protests will continue until free, quality education becomes a right for all rather than a privilege for the few.


El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) is a secular temple of memory. The museum is dedicated to documenting and publicizing memories of the criminal violations of human rights that were the callous modus operandi of General Augusto Pinochet's brutal military government. The museum presents the golpe de estado and the heavy hand of dictatorship through multi-media displays, through text, artifacts, and, most impressively, through a massive display of the photographs of the victims of Pinochet.

I was first introduced to the scandal of the Pinochet years by a Chilean exile professor in a class on testimonial literature at the University of California, Riverside. Among the texts we read in that class was a scalding memoir by a detainee and torture victim named Hernán Valdés, Tejas verdes: Diario de un campo de concentración en Chile. The museum reminded me of the inhuman violence carried out by Pinochet's government and of the importance of an institution like El Museo de la Memoria.

And yet . . .

I haven't been able to shake the heretical thought that an authentic museum of memory would include more voices. Not just more Allendista voices but testimonies and experiences from those who were oppressed and dispossessed during the Allende years. Allende won the 1970 election with just 36.61% of the vote. When Pinochet was turned out of office in the 1988 plebiscite, 44% of those casting votes wanted him to stay. In other words, a museum that doesn't acknowledge or preserve the many voices of those who opposed or were devastated by Allende's socialist government and the voices silenced by the inexcusable violence of the years of Pinochet's dictatorship probably ought to acknowledge that it is a shrine and a memorial not so much to memory as to memory of a particular kind and point of view.

There ought to be, in short, a way to hear other voices in ways that go beyond the mockery of a film like "The People Who Still Love Chilean Dictator Pinochet."


Clockwise from top left: 1 Statue of Ferdinand Magellan who sailed through the Strait of Magellan immediately east of Punta Arenas in 1520. 2 Fuerte Bulnés. 3 A monkey puzzle tree. 4 - 5 Rooms in the opulent Braun Menéndez residence in Punta Arenas. 6 The coast and the Strait of Magellan from Fuerte Bulnés.


Clockwise from top left. 1 Osorno volcano over lake Llanquihue. 2 A mall in Puerto Montt. 3 Waterfront scene at night in Puerto Montt.


Clockwise from top left. 1 Cathedral in Castro on Chiloé Island. 2 Palafitos in Castro. 3 Colorful produce on Chiloé. 4 A sunny day on Chiloé.


Clockwise from top left. 1 Overview of Santiago from Cerro San Cristóbal. 2 Social Sciences building on the campus of the Universidad Católica. 3 Steve in front of the Salvador Allende memorial at La Moneda palace (where Allende died during the golpe de estado). 4 The cathedral and a skyscraper. 5 Matt and Fernando running out of gas on the Cerro San Cristóbal.


Clockwise from top left: 1 Scene in Valparaíso. The graffiti reads "I hate the police." 2 Houses in Valparaíso. 3 The port of Valparaíso. 4 A very common scene - a street dog in Viña Del Mar. 5 A genuine moai from Easter Island.
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Steve Hunsaker

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