Chile’s Overshadowed Chronicle


Regimes, crimes, battles, wars, recession, and prosperity indefinitely mark nations. Transcurred history, with positive or negative consequences, has everlasting effects on the people of the country as well as the world. However, as the years go by historical memory begins to form, straying away from the broad view. A story of a single perspective begins to form. This is the case for Chile. With an authoritarian regime forcefully placing itself at the pinnacle of national power, followed by systematic violations of human rights, it is very difficult to see the full picture. 

Dictator General Augusto Pinochet, whose military dictatorship ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990, is responsible for brutal policies in defense of his new status quo. Torture, murder, exile, detention, and mass disappearances were some of the tactics used against any suspected menace to the military regime. Official reports show a whopping 1,158 deaths, 957 disappeared detainees, and 164 cases of political violence were executed during the dictatorship. This is without mentioning reports of inhumane torture techniques used against detainees, for instance, electrocution and even being raped by dogs. With the secrecy of authoritarian regimes, these figures are probably vastly higher. These actions have no justification.

The inhumanity of the dictatorship has created a historical memory that does not recognize what transpired before the coup, especially outside of Latin America. The administration of Salvador Allende severely affected the lives of thousands of Chileans, including my family. 

The story begins in 1964, the Cold War was in full flesh. Leftist, Socialist, and Communist philosophies were spreading like wildfire. Debatably the first Marxist threat came to Chile in the elections of the same year. While the centrist candidate Eduardo Frei, supported by the right-wing parties, did win with an absolute majority of 56%, Salvador Allende, the candidate of the Socialist-Communist coalition, received 39% of the votes.

However, discontent toward traditional right-wing parties had been growing throughout their reign for the majority of the 1960s. The country was suffering a steady rise in inflation, as well as deteriorating standard of living, industrialization, housing availability, and working conditions. This era led to a 61% increase in the cost of living, continuous devaluation of the Chilean escudo, and an increase of 330 million dollars in foreign debt. Moreover, the 1960s saw an uproar of working-class resentment. With around 70% of land owned by 1.5% of landowners, the working class saw a half of their children not pass the third grade, over 85% of them stopped attending after the sixth grade, around 28% completed only a single year of schooling, plus an illiteracy rate of between 20-25%, and one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world. This led to Left’s support growing immensely. Before they knew it, the 1970 presidential elections had arrived.

My grandfather Enrique held “secret” meetings to support the right-wing candidate, Jorge Alessandri, who would compete in the elections against the Centrist and Marxist opposition. Nevertheless, against his wishes and efforts, history was made. The national vote was split in three, and with a slight majority, Salvador Allende became the first Marxist to be democratically elected as president. This is when the trajectory of the country and my family began going downhill.

Allende announced that he would begin his Chilean road to socialism. This included the expropriation of private property, nationalization of key industries, and his agrarian reform. Over time, corporate suffering was peaking. Companies could not produce, and government intervention led to the inaccessibility of raw materials for corporations as well as a reduction of imports. Moreover, government officials began placing themselves in the corporate hierarchy, even if they were oblivious to the mechanics of the industry or business in general. For instance, Enrique arrived to work like it was any other day. However, he froze in shock as he entered his office. A man claiming to be from the government was sitting at his desk. My grandfather was baffled as the man claimed, “Now I’m in charge.”

Furthermore, the Marxist ideals of the proletariat controlling the means of production were pursued through Allende’s agrarian reform. The private property of the bourgeoisie was under attack. Fields and farms were taken from their owners and handed to members of the working class. The proletariat received these lands, though, not having the means to maintain them. These workers were ignorant of the process of production while having no resources to be able to gain the fruit of their labor. The land was left to rot, there were no winners here.

The country’s economy began falling apart. Many people began selling their cars and properties for subpar prices. Companies and properties were being expropriated, moved to the public sphere, or forcefully taken by working-class groups. Foreign investment was dwindling as an economic crisis was brewing. The growth rate of domestic prices reached 163.4% in 1972, the monetary base increased by 264% and inflation was progressively growing. In 1971 prices grew by 34.5%, 216.7% in 1972, and reached a staggering 605.9% in 1973. Moreover, this inflation caused the newly elevated wages to actually be worth 30% less than in 1970. The national economy was crumbling, Chile was in recession.

All my family’s business endeavors were moribund as their cries fell on deaf ears. Their finances were dwindling as the country was changing right in front of them. My mother Olga was very young during this time. At the tender age of nine, my mom was standing in queues for food. Her naive youthful mind believed that this responsibility was given to her because she was a “big girl”, she was oblivious to the fact that this was the only way to buy basic necessities. She was oblivious that society had evolved past the pre-modern customs of trade. She was oblivious that the sleepovers at her grandparents’ house were not in pursuit of fun, they were a way of keeping her and her siblings safe after receiving kidnapping threats. 

My grandfather’s attempts to prosper were useless, he impotently watched everything he built burn before his eyes. Sadly, he realized that he had to leave the country, but this was far from easy. Being an executive in a key industry, as well as having outspoken political opinions, he was labeled as an opposition to the regime. This tarnished his ability to travel internationally. In order to do so, he needed a permit certified by the national police and the Internal Tax Service. Moreover, an additional hurdle needed to be secured, a job. 

In 1972, my mother, her siblings, and her parents moved to Mexico to pursue a better life. My mother and her siblings believed this to be part of a big adventure. They were leaving school early and were on their way to exotic new lands. They arrived in Mexico and bounced between friends’ houses until they finally found their own. Nevertheless, regardless of the connections, the quest to find a new job was futile. After a few months, my family had to return to Chile.

Enrique did not give up, for the greater good he needed to persevere and find a way out. Argentina would be the next attempt. In order to be granted access to leave the country, my grandfather falsely claimed that the family was going on vacation to Miami, Argentina would only be a layover. His plan worked, my family was granted permission and successfully moved to Buenos Aires.

Once again, my family was living in a borrowed apartment until stability was secured. Thankfully, Enrique was able to find a job as an executive for an Argentinian company in the electrodomestic industry. With a secured paycheck, my family was able to finally settle. They got their own house and enrolled the children in schools. After all his struggle, my grandfather finally gave himself and his family a second chance. The Chilean Marxist era was behind them.

During her life in Argentina, my mother met a young man named Victor Pino, my father. Their relationship survived a two-year long distance while my mother had to move back to Chile. These two would someday have six children and three grandchildren while living in twelve cities, sixteen houses, and five countries.

The dictatorship of General Pinochet will forever be embedded in the history of Chile, Latin America, and the world. His atrocities should never be forgotten, overlooked, nor understated. However, we should not be blind to the fact that Allende’s era was filled with economic and social hardships. Thousands of people were left poor, hungry, and unemployed. While recognizing the immense privilege my family has, this era will surely be one of our darkest. 

History, and life for that matter, is a series of events that lead to unexpected outcomes. Years of crusades and hardships lead to the creation of a beautiful family. Monumental episodes have molded all of us, while even the darkest tunnels may have a light at the end. Nobody knows the truth of our destinies, we can only live in anticipation of what the universe has in store for us. However, we must let go of the chains of anxiety that come with our past and predictions of the future. We need to live in the now, in pursuit of happiness, enjoying the little things and being grateful for living another day.

Featured image: retrieved from

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