A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 5 - Chile: Ced the Red, Pinochet, and Now

By Neil

sunny 34 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Balook, the Gippsland Highlands, Victoria, Australia – mid 2015

“The secret police broke down the door and threatened Pen and her husband. They said ‘Leave Chile immediately or you will be killed!’ That was 11 September 1973.” We were sitting around the table in Richie’s kitchen at his house in Balook. He had bought the house from Pen’s father, Cedric Ralph, locally called ‘Ced the Red’, because of his long association with the Communist Party of Australia.
Cedric Ralph: 1907 – 2007

“Pen’s husband was the son of the head of the British Communist Party and September 11th 1973 (9/11….) was when the Coup d’état led by General Pinochet wrenched power from Salvador Allende. Pen and her husband were living as academics in Santiago at the time.”

“Pen was taken straight to the airport with no time to pack any of their belongings. Her husband was taken away by the police. Pen didn’t know to where. She was put on a plane and thought she would never see him again. Then, just when the plane was taxiing down the runway, it suddenly stopped and a car drew up alongside. Stairs arrived and just as quickly as her husband had disappeared, he was thrust onto the plane. The plane took off and they were out of Chile, escaping the purge that was to follow under Pinochet’s dictatorship. It made the papers in Australia.”

At the time we had this discussion, I didn’t know that Nik and I would be spending a lot of time in Chile and so didn’t reflect much about the experience of Pen and her husband in Chile in 1973.


In a way, it is difficult to really understand the ideological, political and military conflicts that were occurring in the world in the 20th century. Chile was just part of the overall struggle.

In another way, we can see the same contests for power continuing to play out on our TV’s each night as footage of the war in Syria continues.

With startling parallels to the government of Gough Whitlam in Australia, President Salvador Allende instigated significant reforms in Chile during his term of office. This included the nationalisation of Chile’s copper mine (owned by US interests) that, even 43 years on, still produces over 50% of Chile’s foreign income.

However, in stark contrast to the change of power between the two mainstream Australian political parties, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, that happened in the Whitlam affair, for the Chileans this change of government marked the beginning of a reign of terror by Pinochet, which lasted from 1973 to 1989.

It is, and will continue to be, like a slap in the face to this comfortable, safe, Australian POM to realise just how tumultuous, dangerous, and scary life was around the world in the Post World War II world when America and Russia (and China), played their massive game of “Power Chess”.
America felt that Allende was leaning far too much to the left and backed a Coup D’état by Pinochet. This was at the same time that the US was supporting the dictatorial governments of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

General Pinochet greeting US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976

Pinochet’s government was responsible, during its 17 year reign for the direct murder of over 3,000 people, the imprisonment of around 40,000 people and the torture of 30,000 of these. The methods of torture were brutal.

However, the relationship of the Chilean people with Pinochet and his legacy varies between strange and truly bizarre. Some examples are:
- Whilst there was a return to democracy in 1990, Pinochet remained the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces until 1998.
- He was never convicted for any crimes. He was only arrested in London in 1998 (and released when, get this, Jack Straw, the UK Home Secretary, overruled the House of Lords decision to extradite him to Spain to stand trial (I didn’t even know the Home Secretary could overrule the House of Lords !)). Later he was put under house arrest in Chile 2 years before his death.
- Chile had incredible growth during the years Pinochet was in power which became known as the “Chilean Miracle”.
- 60,000 people filed past his coffin to pay their respects upon his death.


Nik and I have now travelled nearly 4,000 km’s from the bottom of Chile, Cape Horn, to the capital, Santiago. We’ve been on a dry ferry up the Chilean Fjords for 4 days (I wish those Chilean Truck drivers hadn’t got so pissed 3 years ago and decided to have a BBQ in a cabin. It took a day to put out the fire and led to the alcohol ban). We’ve climbed up the side of a Volcano outside Puerto Varas. Hung out in Casa Cheuca outside Talca, and now we’re in Santiago.

We’ve travelled from a latitude of 56 degrees south to 33 degrees south.

Our first stop in Santiago was at the amazing “Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos” (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Just the name of the museum is a reflection of Chileans views on the Pinochet years.

The entrance to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights

The focus of the museum is to ensure that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is never again disregarded, as it was in Chile between 1973 and 1990. There was an English audio tour available and we spent over 2 hours moving through the amazingly detailed display of events leading up to, during and after the Pinochet era. A photographic memorial on a wall three stories high, of the faces of the thousands of victims sat at the centre of the exhibit. It was incredibly moving. An interesting element to the museum was that it appeared to try and only display facts, trying to avoid judgement or blame (although many fact spoke for themselves).

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is exemplary in its portrayal of what happened and how it happened, and leaving it to the individual to decide what they, individually, should, could, or will do to ensure it never happens again.

Particularly moving is the entrance way with the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights written.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

How a country deals with its past atrocities is a measure of its level of civilisation.

Posted by capetocape2017 11:47 Archived in Chile Tagged pinochet

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Amazing and moving

by Geoff Silagy

Awesome Neil!!! An intriguing read

by Stuart galway

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