In and around Santiago you could see the cracks through graffiti and increasing organized protests——as well as comments by emerging political leaders like Ricardo Lagos and Patricio Alwyn among others. Union leaders, along with journalists were willing to now make statements critical of the government where as before it was not done. Pinochet responded with making limitations with how much could be said against the government under the guise of “promoting social unrest.” Many found less obvious ways of making statements while others persisted and were censured and/or taken into custody——but not arrested——— a sort of public spanking some took as an honor while others retreated. Regular and normal festivities began to take on an element of not only the celebration but also protest. There were hard laws at the time for gathering in public and a group would attract fast attention if it were just a protest——events and festivities under normal circumstances generated an opportunity to gather and be in place before people within that event pulled out banners and grouped up to make a point. Carabineros would respond but its not like there were not innocents around and it was hard to tell who was who.
Street clowns and street acts, usually pretty bawdy while at the same time humorous, began to sharpen their acts where they said just enough not to be arrested. The anonymity of their make-up and costume I think attracted Chileans because it was the every man acting out what they were already beginning to think. Now Chile has proven to be, in nearly all elections a pretty well near split electorate with elections won on traditionally just a few percentage points——this had not changed except maybe culturally where that middle ground on the part of the left was willing to talk about their view in public and the right was willing to say in public we want something better. I don’t think in that middle ground there were any big hugs or kisses across the aisle, and politically they maintained their line and belief----- just tired people wanting what they wanted.
In early Spring of 1984 a weekly protest began to form at the corner of 11 de septiembre and Ricardo Lyons in Providencia. About 10 am or so a solid group of several hundred people would gather usually led by several “encapuchados” or baclava hooded types chanting out common slogans against Pinochet. This grew into late spring with counter protesters supporting Pinochet. Now Providencia is well dressed and this was a high end business area along Santiago’s main street and really highly visible as well as a main transportation route. Carabineros were always present and yet maintained a distance only coming in to keep people out of the street as sometimes from opposite corners protestors would meet face to face taking advantage of the traffic light. There was some pushing and shoving and maybe a civil arrest for blocking the “via publica.” Knowing Carabineros at the time, they probably drove them to an outlying comisaria and kicked them out on the street, free to go.
I think the “friendly” aspect of these protests ended when an old woman on a balcony about 7 or 8 stories up turned the tide. She had become, over the couple weeks I went to the protests, a part of it all as she would lean out and shout her pro Pinochet sentiments to the crowd below———the Pinochetistas would hail her comments and nearly always the communists had a laugh as well at the pure ingenuity and guile she showed in what she had to say——obviously retired and wealthy she would most often shout lines from Pinochet speeches and comments——the most memorable being “ Chupame las Bolas!” (“Suck My Balls!”) which is what it was said Pinochet had communicated to Allende over open army radio communications with the Moneda surrounded during the 73’ coup after Allende actually asking Pinochet to give up———pro or con she had everyone’s respect. Well one Saturday she was out on the balcony and dropped a medium sized flower plot off the balcony which landed squarely on the head of an anti-pinochet protestor——— and things went off.
Total chaos ensued and now protestors showed up every Saturday to get down. Maybe before protests lasted 3 hours and drizzled away into afternoon summer activities everyone was hoping for. Now crowds gathered earlier around 9 am with a strong force on each side ready to get into it. Businesses closed with workers boarding windows and blocking doors——a good sign for trouble is when kioskos pull in their post card and newspaper racks to hide inside closed behind their metal pull down curtains——previously they made good business selling snacks, ice cream and sodas to thirsty protesters as well as the audience like me——but now, just not worth it.
Carabineros now had their buses on site instead of shyly tucked along side streets. Carabineros vectored small groups through the crowd with night sticks out and wearing faces like they meant to use them and they did——but only for a short time before the inevitable clash in the street.
I went enough times over that summer to see the carabineros clever plan of breaking it all up with the least amount of arrests——escalating only a few times where it really got out of control and no one was getting out without passing through a thick line of pacos checking documents and where known belligerents not naughty enough to get arrested, got a sharp poke in the gut.
To start, its the Guanaco——a large city bus sized closed in truck with grated windows and fire hose gun on top just above the cab. The first Guanaco would approach with traffic slowly while abruptly stopping and shooting just a short spurt of water and really not hitting anything. A few more yards stopping again with another spurt——so now protestors had maybe a third of their attention on the Guanaco and the other two thirds on their opponent. Usually the Guanaco came up behind the anti-pinochet protestors sandwiching them between the pro-pinochet counter protestors. The core protestors would remain while others would drift off to the sides contemplating their position——from there they would join in again when it best suited them. Now traffic is stopped so its just protestors and the Guanaco. At this point, Carabineros previously mixed in with everyone have moved into the ranks of the Pinochetistas——now you could say this was just in general support of Pinochet and the government and this was true but really it was only the anti-Pinochetistas, namely the armed wing of the FMLR, that had been killing cops——and everyone knew there were armed FMLR in this protest group.
Sometimes the start and stop of the Guanaco was enough to convince the protest to fade away but usually not—so the Guanaco would continue to about the center of the protest and now aggressively spray the cannon on groups all around them in a circle——the Guanaco was supported from behind by carabineros pushing in to arrest disabled and downed protestors and pull them back to buses just behind the Guanaco. Depending on the protest the Guanacos were loaded with an agent in the water that would produce immediate vomiting when hit with the cannon——protestors went down but just the chemical water in the air and on protestors took down carabineros as well so it had to be bad to use it——generally vomiting protestors were left to be dragged away by friends.
Now most demonstrations would end here——the Guanaco in command and back up carabineros in place——but then the nature of a demonstration is not to give up and when they didn’t, with protestors milling around and waiting to regroup in a consolidated attack——with protestors still present but less and less groups for a solid target, then comes the “Zorrillo.” The Zorrillo is a small enclosed armored jeep-----typically it would be two or three employed to drive into the protest area swerving and dodging un-predictably between protestors---- the idea was to get people out of the area with the fear of getting run over and in general creating more chaos than the protest itself——highly maneuverable they drove up over curbs, along the sidewalk, around trees and planters as we all as up and down street stairways——but that was not the only weapon possessed by the Zorrillo——tucked beneath were ports that shot out compressed tear gas while emitting a loud sassy annoying hissing sound. Protestors now combating not only the Guanaco cannon also dived out of the way of the Zorrillo in order not be run over as well trying not to breath in the gas. At this moment, the protestors, fully involved with a loosing hand, felt the challenge and rarely gave up so the final coup d’gras were additional guanacos brought up on side streets un-noticed in the melee, surrounding everyone with no way out——protestors now boxed in, quickly gave in to their loss and mostly were allowed to leave on their own. Now surrounded by a thick cordon of Carabineros they mingled past stiff faced pacos on their way out——Carabineros were usually led by a smattering of officers off to the side pointing out recognized and known troublemakers to be taken into custody.
Carabineros usually had the area clear in maybe 30 minutes or an hour at the most with traffic running smoothly as if nothing had happened and it was see you next Saturday.
Now, I have described this Saturday protest maybe not in a light way but certainly not as serious as it really was——in all those Saturdays I attended over that summer, it seemed to me much like a fight on the playground——easy to stand off and watch and just interested to see what comes of it but it belayed a brewing of a much more brutal fight to come and it was coming. The issue was serious and the communists were ratcheting up their game and it was going to get much more violent with brute force coming in from both sides.
I was walking around La Moneda during a week day with my camera and not thinking brought up my camera to get a photo——again not thinking, I took several mostly from the backside. It was not long before I was approached by a pair of Carabineros.
C: Good morning
Me: Good morning
C: Were you taking photos of the Palacio?
Me: yes———Holding up my kodak pocket camera.
C: Why are you taking photos?
Me: This is La Moneda and I am visiting
Silence for a few moments as the both of them stare at me their hands gently tucked into their leather suspenders.
C: This is not allowed and I will have to ask you to come with me.
The lead Carabinero motions with his hand to the front portion of La Moneda in what I know now is the classic Carabinero hand gesture———bent arm with open palm to me along with a gentle click and tilt of the head and eyes on me to see that i understand (old Chile hands will undoubtedly recognize this——not quite in trouble but we are going to find out) The Carabinero, in the few short steps to the portion, asks for my documents which I produce in the way of my passport. He takes it with out opening it we continue.
I follow the one Carabinero with the other trailing just behind. Arriving at the portion the ceremonial palace guard look on me but don’t move. The carabinero motions for me to stop and wait.
C: Please wait here
Me: Por su puesto
The Carabinero entered the small vestibule and where i stood I could now see beyond where it soon opened to a larger patio. The other carabinero stood alongside me nonchalantly, more to be taking in the sun than anything else. The carabinero with my passport is no sooner inside than he is met with whom i know to be an officer—they confer in the most serious way and they speak on and off as they look back to me observing The officer gives an order and stands by as my carabinero motions me impatiently inside, so I approach. The officer, with my passport opened, gives me a tight smile and wishes me a good morning. He looks back and forth from me to my passport several times before asking me to enter into a small room off to the right just inside the vestibule. There are several carabineros inside all busy with something either standing or sitting.
Officer: You were taking pictures outside of the palacio.
Officer: May I see your camera please.
He looked at it casually and seemingly measuring the weight and maybe I am thinking, how to open it and pull out my film.
Officer: Why were you taking photos?
Me: I am visting family and just taking photos to remember it all by.
Officer: Photos of the palacio are not permitted.
Me: I did not know that, I am sorry, I didn’t know. (I kinda knew that——my dad had been taking photos of ships in Valpo a year earlier on a tourist boat and got called in by the Capitan Portuario for it——but Navy captain to navy captain, they worked it out)
The officer looked me over for a moment and handed me back my passport.
Officer: Okay, here is your camera and no more photos of the palacio. Keep in mind you cannot take photos of any military or police installations so I trust you won’t.
Me: Of course not, now that I know.
Officer: Very well, you may go and I hope you enjoy your visit in our Chile.
Me: Thank you, I already am.
His arm bends out form his side with an extended hand and the same open palm showing me the door. I get a bright smile from an officer tortuga maquillada as I pass into the vestibule and through the porton.
I walked out with knees shaking and a little sweaty——He was cool and handled it well but it was what I came to expect and experience from all Carabineros after that with out exception, ever——simple consideration—— and I got it. Turns out the photos did not come out anyway.
My family was is strictly anti-communist. During Allende everyone was encouraged (light word) to join the communist party. There were shortages for food and basic goods. Word would spread with immediate queues lining up before it was even known what would be available——anything to trade later. My family refused to join. The advantage at this was “La Canasta.” If you were a party member you would get it for free every week——bread, butter, sugar, potatoes and maybe a little meat. The black market flourished with mothers and fathers bringing home what they could with connections they had.
Nothing is secret in Chile——Nothing. My family was known as anti-communist and not for Allende. It was a regular issue of broken windows as well as molotov cocktails thrown onto the roof. The canasta was everything. But they refused. Family members lost teeth from mal-nutrition. Health issues from that time continue to this day for those alive and having lived through it in my family as well as anyone else.
I was not there on that day——family tells me it was calm but an obvious air of something going on——they still have empty shell casings from jets overhead attacking La Moneda. Chile, et al, had been begging for something to change——communist or not.
Pinochet had been transferred in early 1973 to head the Santiago military garrison there as head of the army. A bridadierGeneral at this time he was the logical choice and approved by Allende. Born of French immigrants in Valparaiso, he was catholic and smart. In earlier years, at the War Academy, he was asked to formulate a plan and counter plan——for a coup to take over the government. An exercise certainly but in written place, among others like attacking Peru, Argentina eeor Bolivia as well as defending against it. At head of the army now it was whispered his plan was in place and hoping for a leader. The Navy, head by Merino at the time ,was the ad hoc leader but really for this it all to ha;;en it had to be army.
Personally I think the coup was based on Chile and the suffering more than anything political. As it turns out the coup was already planned and ready to execute——Pinochet simply took over the leadership——the coup as planned was weak at best but now with Pinochet——a much better chance.
I know in La Serena and environs, carabineros were dispatched to Santiago leaving only the bare minimum in Retenes. Designed as a bloodless coup it was no so. The military had targeted communists in each city and region to be arrested and executed——the idea being to complete total public order, leaving critical leaders alive, would make moving forward extremely difficult if not impossible. In La Sereana it was the mayor, rector of the university, union leader and others About 30 people lost their lives that day. About 30 people in total in La Serena, families were invited to recover their bodies. This happened through out Chile and by the end of the day came to about 1300 people. Others were given 24 hours to leave the country in any way they could.
Allende was offered a plane to leave the country. Instead, after a radio address, he chose to shoot himself with a gold plated ak 47 given to him by Fidel Castro in his his private office. In the final take over of La Moneda it was reported he fought to the end——a Paris Match interview about 1985 by his mistress, present in the room, set aside this view.
Was the US involved?———Nixon had made it the fall of Allende a priority. Chile was insolar at the time——it would be so obvious and clear. I am sure there were attempts and some gain in that way——Chile is an island and really nothing moves without it being seen——I think US involvement would have been limited. This was Chile fixing itself.
In the aftermath———warehouses opened up———suddenly goods were available——it still cost money but it was there. A few day El Mercurio published the communist death lists—my family, to a name, was on the list.
So in this day, que viva Chile mired!a!!!
Enjoying what you write, brings back memories and things temporarily forgotten . I remember the staring in the 90s, now all I seem to see when I go to Santiago is the tops of heads hunched over a screen , scrolling mindlessly.Sr. El Puelche wrote: ↑Thu Sep 05, 2019 10:48 pmI could taste the smog and then another thing——Chileans just stare. Countless times staring from their seat on buses, collectivos and cars right next to you——men, women, girls and children it didn’t matter——unflinching 60 second long stares from just two or three feet away. I took the challenge and stared back but it’s not as easy as it looks.
(of course its everywhere, but Santiago seems extreme compared to the provinces, maybe just so many people all in same place at same time it's more noticeable)
But I have a question that's been bothering me - when you said there was lots of shooting during curfew, do you know how many people were actually killed? Or was it more like warning shots in the air?
I had become a fan of Chilean food by this time as well——street food off carts as well as greasy spoons and then eating well at places like Orleans. Pastel de choclo would seem crazy to eat before this with its combination of cream corn, chicken and onion, Ensalada Chilena made of onions and tomato and dressed with oil and vinegar, Pastel de Papas, a ground beef pino buried beneath a spread of mashed potatoes and of course the eternal empanada de horn0 as well as the empanada frita con queso———all very hard to resist——rounding it off——sandia with toasted wheat and mote con huesillo. Chile has its sandwiches too, Barros Jarpa, Barros Luca as well as the simple jamon con palta y queso. Lomo a lo pore must be sampled but nothing comes close to the Chilean asado of beef, pork and lamb with the incomparable warm up of a Churripan doused in fresh pebre. Its good in a restaurant but all that much better in the backyard or at the side of a country farm house.
The warm summer evening, with a nice buzz after a bottle of wine brought me to the patio of the Cafe Haiti in the shadow of the Giratorio. I ordered a cafe cortado and opened my book———For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway if you are wondering. Over a large and long low slung planter I could see the traffic a few yards away and the steps up from the metro in between the planter and the street. I had eaten and finished early at 10 pm and comparitively a disgrace to the Chilean custom which was mostly 11pm just to start at that time---Maybe not so much that day and that week as the government had continued to extend the toque de queda for 11:30 pm. It was summer time and a week day so most Santiaguinos, not already out of the city on vacation, were at home with no plans to go out.
I sat reading my book on the patio mostly alone except for a few shoppers. Cafe cortados came quick with nothing else for servers to do with just me and nearly no other customers. Traffic petered away as I read now in the cool evening. I noticed the metro closing down and thought nothing of it. It was not until a large military truck approached and stopped dumping out a squad of 15 soldiers at the street that I noticed the time. Closing my book I watched as the squad filed over into the planter and deployed to take up guard. A lieutenant lead them complete with a radioman, his 10 foot antenna battling the small trees in the planter. Not thinking I sat and watched them non-challantly take their places not 4 feet away in the bushes there. The soldiers were in full kit, all in green, faces painted, hand grenades, packs and rifles. The radio sparked on and off with bold words and direction. It suddenly occurred to me the time and it was 11 pm. I did the math knowing that from where I was, even with the metro and walking back then after to the house I was easily 30 plus minutes from getting there.
The metro was already closed and there was NO traffic on the street. I had already paid my bill and I noticed the Cafe Haiti was closed with no lights on. I closed my book and hit the street. 25 minutes and closing, I walked towards the house alone along 11 de septiembre. Large American made 2 1/2 ton military trucks took the road now in a slow convoy on both sides of the street dropping off single soldiers every 100 meters. I passed the Pedro de Valdivia metro station where, like at the Metro Los Leones, a solid squad of 15 soldiers had taken their place. I remember the officer standing out as he looked at me and then looked at his watch. I still had time.
At this point I figured I should run if not trot to hurry things up. With soldiers on the main road, 11 de septiembre, now every 100 meters, I cut down on to short cut residential streets on an angle to the house rather than the straight route along Manuel Mont and down. Eliodoro Yanez was a bigger thorough fare I had to cross it and then to the corner with Maneul Montt and down the few blocks to my street. No one on the street and just flashing red stoplights at every corner. Jeeps with soldiers rolled by me as i made my way to my corner and safety.
I reached the corner stone building to my street exactly at 11:30. An old stone thick building with windows and doors set into walls nearly two feet thick. I passed the corner and stepped into the first doorway just a few feet from the corner leading to my street. My gate and house just 75 meters beyond. I was winded and yet confident I could make the last steps to the house without being noticed and obviously shot. I gathered my breath when a jeep pulled up in the middle of the small intersection just 40 feet away. I pulled myself into the doored alcove and as deep as i could into the shadow. The jeep stopped beneath the flashing stop light where all of four soldiers hopped out for a cigarette break. I could hear shots around me but far off. A lone soldier sat in the jeep talking in and out over the radio. I could hear shots echo from far off with the same shot transmitted through the radio. I contemplated stepping out and taking my chances and pleading my case. Not close enough to smell their sweat but I could smell their cigarettes. I decided to wait.
No sooner than coming to my decision but the jeep radio erupted——I could hear shots coming through along with panicked orders——the soldiers loaded up immediately and took off down Manuel Montt toward the national stadium. I waited thinking I could stay there or make the last 75 meters to the house. I peaked out and down to see if it was clear. Our street was narrow and a one way affair and essentially dark with just three street lights. I departed and made my way in the shadows and as close as i could to walls and fences. i read somewhere about how you never hear the shot that gets you so I just kept walking while trying to sense any movement and danger.
Arriving at the gate, I already had pulled my keys to my side with my number one ready to insert and open the gate. I was shaking pretty good and it took me a little bit to get the key in the lock but finally the click-clack and the gate opened. I stepped inside closing the gate and realized I had made it. A more than cold sweat covered me along with nearly for sure feeling I was going to throw up. But then like any young person just narrowly evading or missing complete disaster, the feeling was over and I went inside.
I went to my room and found my few cigars I had brought with me——not really a cigar smoker but smoking maybe 3 or 4 a year I figured this was a good time. I returned to the gate, to the scene of the crime in a way, to see if the jeep had returned. Standing at the gate I peered down while biting the tip off the cigar. I had the cigar but no matches I realized. Searching my pockets and wondering if for sure I had none——a match lit up in the darkness outside the gate. Behind the match from the shadows emerged a soldier just right there from behind a tree on the street. In full combat gear, helmet and a Belgian FAL rifle over his shoulder he pressed the lit match up to the gate. (Note: the Chilean Army had gone to the Belgian FAL combat rifle as Senator Ted Kennedy had, on the basis of human rights abuses, cut off the sale of US military equipment from the m-16 to repair parts for vehicles and fighter jets) I lit up off the match and he lit his oen cigarette with the same match. I did not say anything as it was obvious he had been there the entire time of my final steps to the gate.
Me: You saw me come down the street?
We were silent for more than a moment as I thought about how this could have ended and how it did not.
Soldier: This is has been my position every night, I have seen you before and I know who you are and you live here. I saw you turn the the corner and hide in the doorway. You came down to the gate and went in but I know who you are so I just watched you and you made it.
I had the cigar to keep me busy and not cry. I smoked my cigar and he smoked his cigarette.
Me: Would you like some coffee?
Soldier: Yes, thank you.
Me: Al tiro, le traigo.
So for the next month, on and off, when he was there, I brought him out coffee along with a sandwich--------jamon, palta and cheese.
I went to bed shortly after that and was reading in bed when about 12:15 a bomb detonated off in Providencia———very loud and it shook the entire house. I went outside but nothing. The next I heard the bombing had been at the Giratorio so I went up that morning to take a look. There were Carababineros everywhere of course and a small flattened out car with debris all over the street. Now in front of the Cafe Haiti was the patio I was at and then the planter the soldiers had stationed themselves in. Beyond that was the stairs in and out of the metro and then the sidewalk and curb where there was a pull in for cars to park and that is where the car had been parked full of explosives——not directly adjacent to the planter but further up in front of the Giratorio. On the west facing side of the Giratorio there was no glass. Papers floated around out of the windows while in some offices Chileans sat at their desks working normally as if there windows. Huge piles of glass sat on the sidewalk. The government announced a hardline with a renewed curfew at mid-day. I had a friend that was a nurse at the military hospital at the time———she told me the squad of soldiers were going to be fine essentially and no one died. They would all be deaf for the rest of their lives as the concussion from the bomb blew out their eardrums. She said “Its actually quite painful."
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I once commented back in the early days of the forum, "I wonder how many Chileans have gotten their ass kicked when they traveled abroad and stared at the locals say like in some hood in a large US city?"