General Augusto Pinochet
In a protest that led to the arrest of 64, supporters and non-supporters of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet gathered to have their voices heard. Many supporters were on their way to see the documentary film, Pinochet
, at the Caupolicán Theater when they were caught in the fire of protesters, who tried to stop people entering the theatre, occasionally throwing eggs and spitting at the theatre goers, as well as shouting "assassins" and "fascists" at the gathering audience.
Those who weren’t there to see the film but who also supported the reign of Pinochet were also present at the protest, holding up banners and small sculptures of the former dictator whilst chanting their support. Police were ultimately forced to use tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons in order to break up the growing protest, although this did not stop the injury of 20 police officers during the course of the protest.
"We owe our lives to Pinochet — he was a good president," one woman said
. "During the Allende government, I couldn’t even get a pound of sugar. Pinochet put this country in order with a good economy, and that persists today."
The screening of the film that sparked so much conflict was sponsored by an organisation of retired military officers and the September 11 Corporation, a group named after the date of the coup. The documentary allegedly focuses on the reasons behind the military’s power surge, and the subsequent economic policy changes that were introduced.
Pinochet’s reign is clouded in controversy after official human rights reported that more than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during his time, and that almost 40,000 others were tortured. One of the protesters, Bárbara Riquelme, claims that her father Samuel Riquelme, was arrested and tortured after the coup.
"This is a homage to a murderer and a thief, responsible for deaths, torture and exile," she said
. "This government should have denied permission for this homage, but it didn’t, because it also has blood on its hands."
Several organisations and politicians had called for the screening to be banned, but the right-wing government led by President Sebastián Piñera claimed that the supporters had a right to freedom of expression. The Court of Appeal also upheld the President’s decision after protesters called on them to ban the screening, ruling that the event should be allowed to go ahead.
The criminal charges against General Pinochet have been under investigation for years, following several allegations of human rights crimes. At the time of his death in 2006, Pinochet was being directly investigated for corruption and human rights violations. Although thousands are said to have died or disappeared under his reign, his supporters maintain that those figures are false, and continue to point the finger at some families who have previously scammed the government by claiming compensation for relatives whose deaths were unrelated to Pinochet, or who they claimed had "disappeared" when this was not in fact the case.