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Look around — there’s only one thing of danger for you here — poetry. — Pablo Neruda, during a search of his home and grounds after the September 11, 1973 fascist coup in Chile
Let’s get it straight. Augusto Pinochet ordered the deaths of perhaps 4000 people, if not more. He did this after violently overthrowing a legally elected government in the sovereign nation of Chile. Of course, he had a little help in this endeavor from Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Anaconda Copper, IT&T, and that always friendly-to-dictators bureaucracy — the Central Intelligence Agency. That’s another story, however, and one that would also be dealt with if there were true justice on this planet.
One of the most moving songs I ever heard Joan Baez sing was sung in Washington, D.C. at a funeral procession for Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Moffitt. These two individuals were killed by Pinochet’s secret police — the DINA — by a car bomb in the middle of the U.S. capital city. As Joan sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” fascist demonstrators threw dirt and insults at those of us who had gathered to commemorate Letelier and Moffitt and condemn the governments responsible for the murder. Business as usual. The men directly responsible for the car bomb were eventually arrested, tried and jailed, (after years of intense pressure from several governments and individuals), but their leaders weren’t.
I was living in New York when the coup occurred. There were protests downtown and the Weather Underground bombed IT&T’s Latin American Division offices in Manhattan. Pablo Neruda died of prostate cancer a week or two after the coup. Funeral processions were banned but thousands of Chileans defied the fascist government and marched in memory of Neruda and against the fascist coup. Phil Ochs organized a concert for the disappeared the following spring. We were pissed off in the way that seemingly hopeless despair makes one. A genuine hope for a humanistic future had been destroyed by the forces of evil right in front of our eyes and most of our countrymen didn’t give a shit. Business as usual, you know. What can you do about it?
There’s a place in Berkeley, CA. called the La Pena Cultural Center. The front of it is covered by a mural by O’Brien Thiele, Osha Neuman, Ray Patlan, and Anna DeLeon. A panorama of the popular struggles of the peoples of Latin America, the first thing about it that catches your eye is the bas-relief sculpture of the Chilean folk and protest singer Victor Jara. Jara was killed by the forces of repression during the 1973 coup. The popular story goes that first the assassins cut off one hand and then the other before they killed him. Like Woody Guthrie’s guitar that killed fascists, Victor Jara’s songs threatened the living bejesus out of those Chileans carrying the fascist mantle.
Augusto Pinochet escaped earthly justice, but I get the feeling he isn’t going to enjoy his afterlife. Him and Jeanne Kirkpatrick in one week. Maybe there is a god. But, then again, if there is, then why the hell is Henry Kissinger still around giving his deadly advice?
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.