Each new bomb attack in Chile brings reminders of the Pinochet era of repression

The World

September 11 is a date with huge significance for Americans. It's the same for people in Chile — only different.

For Chileans, the date refers to the 1973 military coup that overthrew democratically-elected President Salvador Allende.

Decades later, that event still reverberates in Chile.

Especially now that the current democratically-elected government is up against a wave of mysterious bombings and trying to solve the mystery by relying on laws created during the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

"Since 2005, 200 of these bombs have gone off all over Chile, not just in Santiago," says Daniel Hernandez of Vice News who was recently in Chile to investigate. "And these bombs are usually very small. They're not meant to cause injury, they're just fire extinguishers and gun powder and timers. These bombs have been place at ATMs, outside of supermarkets, outside of political offices, outside of military bases, even. A string of these incidents have happened and really kind of rattled Chile in a very subtle way over the years. 

Things ratcheted up on September 8. A bomb exploded in a crowded Santiago subway station — just three days before the anniversary of the coup. The subway station is in a wealthy shopping neighborhood of Santiago called Las Condes. "That was very shocking to Chile because, relative to much of Latin America, it's a very peaceful country. So this was a very shocking incident for Chilean society and it really increased the tension that always occurs around September 11."

Anarchists are thought to be behind the bombings. But it's really convoluted.

Meanwhile, the government of socialist democrat President Michele Bachelet, who was tortured by Pinochet's regime, has invoked a Pinochet-era law that allows the government to ignore certain judicial rights in the course of an investigation. If the investigation is deemed to be terrorism related, such as with these bombings, the government can use special procedures.

For example, the law allows the government to use protected witnesses. Hernandez says that means someone can anonymously accuse you of a crime. "You're basically considered guilty until proven guilty," he says.

So what do Chileans think about this throwback to an era many would like to forget? Hernandez says it's a strange and stratified response.

"It's a country that has a stark division," he says. "When you talk to someone, either they are firmly part of the generations of Chileans who are traumatized by the dictatorship and by the state violence and by the disappearances and by the injustices. And others who, let's say their parent or their uncles were in the military during that period. Or they belonged to a wealthy family who had their lands expropriated by Allende."

Hernandez says it's like the ghosts of that period are reproducing the divisions of that previous era. 

"It's so strange to feel this, because Chile is such a beautiful and remarkable country. It's so strange to feel that people are like, 'OK, great get the anarchists, put them all in jail. We don't want bombings, we don't want fear, we don't want to turn into a violent country.' And there are others who saying this is the government. And the whole apparatus of the government responding with repression and taking us backward instead of forward."

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