The Guardian • Issue #2070

Chile 11 September

Solidarity and struggle

Chile 11 September display.

MELBOURNE: There were tears, poetry, song, and many heartfelt speeches this week at a gathering to pay tribute to all those who suffered in the terrible events 50 years ago in Chile, when the military dictatorship overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende.

Among the most moving parts of the event at Melbourne’s Trades Hall were the testimonies of survivors of torture and abuse, now aged in their 70s, who recalled their suffering and terror, and implored people to never forget and to continue resisting fascism and oppression.

Organisers from the Chilean community in Australia described the evening as an homage to all those who were killed, tortured, exiled and disappeared, and their families, but also to all those who continue to struggle for a better world, including in the October 2019 national uprising.

While the dictatorship lasted 17 years, its legacy is still with the Chilean society in the form of the constitution and draconian neoliberal laws.

In a powerful illustration of the sadness of living through the brutal dictatorship, one woman danced the Cueca Sola. Instead of dancing the traditionally cheerful Chilean folk dance, the Cueca, in a couple, she danced quietly alone, wearing a photo of one of the disappeared young men.

Chileans who worked in the Allende government recalled its progressive achievements, including better public health care, more affordable housing and more university places for working class students.

Speakers included Tony Piccolo, assistant state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, who partnered with the Chilean community to organise the event, and Kevin Bracken, past secretary of the Victorian branch of the Maritime Union of Australia. The MUA maintained a strong boycott against trade with Chile during the dictatorship.

Towards the end of the night, younger activists spoke about the legacy of those times for Chileans, and what it was like growing up in the dictatorship. Speakers argued that the coup, fuelled by foreign interference and the power of multinational corporations, was in many ways the beginning of neoliberalism world-wide.

The hall was silent as the audio was played of Allende’s final speech, recorded at the presidential palace before the radio station was shut down and the palace bombed.

“Go forward knowing that sooner, rather than later, the great avenues will open again and free men will walk through them to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!”

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