Travel to Learn: The Chilean Dictatorship

Chilean Dictatorship

Chile is a country we associate with stunning landscapes, South American passion, and months’ worth of adventures to be had. While it is an incredible place to visit because of these things, it also has a very recent and rich history that many visitors are unaware of. As we know, traveling isn’t just about seeing beautiful things, but also about immersing yourself in a place and getting to know local culture and history. Chile’s history changed forever on one single day forty years ago.

On September 11th 1973, air raids and ground attacks raged through Santiago, Chile’s capital, hitting the Presidential Palace the hardest. Salvador Allende was president at the time, but on that day he was overthrown and later reported to have committed suicide in the Palace during the raids, before the opposing side could find him. Forty-six of his guards were killed, and numerous casualties came as a result of the attacks.

What followed was a Chilean dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. Parliament was dissolved, political activities were declared to be ‘in recess’, trade unions were banned, and countless acts of human rights violations were carried out. Under this new dictatorship people were watched, listened to, and constantly under scrutiny. Thousands of suspected leftists were taken from their homes, interrogated, and many were subsequently killed. Pinochet ruled in this way for 18 years.

Usually the best way to find out more about these things is to talk to locals, but as this history is so recent and many people in Chile lived through it, the subject is a touchy one to breach. Some are happy to talk about it, but having been watched and monitored for so long during that time, you can’t blame others for just wanting to keep their mouths shut. Some opposed Pinochet, others supported him, and to ask someone who was alive at the time what they think should be approached delicately and with caution.

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos) was opened in Santiago in 2010, and is dedicated to the victims of human rights violations during Pinochet’s rule. Here you can educate yourself about the events of that time, which helps to put the period of history in context and how it has affected Chile as a whole. The walls are lined with the faces of those who disappeared, which makes it a sombre activity but as you look at them you realise that the importance of these people being remembered is insurmountable.

Many of the walking tours that go through Santiago will include a lot of information about the dictatorship, and can give you an opportunity to talk to a Chilean who should know plenty about it. I took a free tour with a very knowledgeable guide, who stopped us at the Presidential Palace and went through all the events that occurred there. Our guide was passionate, full of facts, and also explained the dictatorship in terms of what it means for Chile today, how it affects the citizens of Santiago that pass you in the street. It changed the way I looked at the city and country as a whole, and made me more inquisitive. The more he spoke, the more I wanted to know about the military rule and what happened on that day, the other September 11th.


Emma Higgins has been writing and traveling on and off since 2009. Her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’ is full of stories and advice from her trips, which include Europe, India, Morocco, South America, the USA and Canada. Her main focuses are budget travel and volunteering, and she has been involved in sustainable farming in Argentina, animal shelters in Peru, and even tried her hand at making goats cheese in British Columbia. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Categories: Education

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