I actually liked Santiago. It’s a nice city, set against the backdrop of the Andes, with a great underground system, and a yummy sushi restaurant next to my hostel. But I visited during ski season (and didn’t ski) and during a student protest, so possibly the timing wasn’t optimal. To make my trip even more fun, I went straight to the museum on the Pinochet dictatorship.
The Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos was inaugurated in 2010. It tells the history of Chile from the time of the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973 (on 11th September, in fact – another 9/11), up to the referendum of 1988 in which the Chilean people finally voted him out of power, his eventual arrest in 1998, and his death in 2006. On entering the museum, you’re first confronted with a long row of 34 screens, each representing the truth commission of one of the many other countries with a dark past. There are interactive exhibits where you can watch and listen to President Allende’s last radio broadcast before he died in the attack on the presidential palace, as well as eye witness accounts of how the coup happened, and a tableau of men and women who describe the torture methods that were used in the period of almost 20 years that followed. The most moving exhibit is the wall of photographs of victims of the dictatorship, with a platform of candles lit in their memory. The museum has been criticised by some for glossing over the fact that so many Chileans supported Pinochet; but in any case it’s an informative, and disturbing, account of the atrocities that were committed under his rule.
On exiting the museum, imagine my distress to find the streets lined with armed officers and vehicles that came straight out of the photographs of the exhibits. It was not, however, a repeat of the 1973 coup, but simply a cautious police corps preparing for a student protest demanding economic reform. The students were joined by teachers, dock workers and copper miners, and it did turn violent with the usual anarchic minority throwing Molotov cocktails and meeting with water cannons and tear gas from the riot police. I never got close to the protestors, I just had the opportunity to enjoy the mixture of tear gas and smog that filled the air as I climbed the Cerro Santa Lucia, a small hill in town that turned out to be a secret garden of surprises, with a great view across town despite the grey skies.
So that’s it for Santiago. In fact I had only a couple of scribbled notes from those two days, and nothing too exciting. But don’t worry, next up is Mendoza and that’s when it gets *really* exciting…