Goodbye Chile

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I now resume my account of the historical events in December 1989 and the outcome of a new and more promising period in the history of Chile. Waking up in Concepcion we were surprised by the Lucia singing by two of the swedish girls in the delegation. Lucia is celebrated on the 13th December in what is the darkest, gloomiest part of the year when the sun hardly shows up. In Chile however  it is summer in December!

The bus trip back to Santiago was done in the hottest conditions and after arrival we dragged ourselsves to a reception at the Swedish embassy where both member of Swedish parliament Hans- Göran Frank and journalist Anette Kullenberg were present.

Finally, the most awaited day came. It was now that the Pinochet dictatorship would start to be dismantled and replaced by democratic elected representatives. At the head of it all Patricio Aylwin who would also become president. 17 parties united behind the candidate in an electoral system designed not to allow centre and left parties to succeed. The largest parties in the Alliance (Concertacion por la Democracia) were the Christian democrats and left coalition PPD.

We visited many places where elections were taking place. Everything was going on peacefully and orderly. Night came. Our hotel was just in front of president Aylwin’s headquarters . It was all but easy to grasp all that was happening but I sensed that despite an orderly election many people were anxious that the process would not be carried through.

Next morning as we were being briefed on the outcomes of the election day we sensed a sticky smell. Teargas and water cannons were being used by police to scare off some demonstrators. Chile would from this day return to a slow normality building up a new hope.

As to us “swedes” it was time to leave, conscious that we had experienced historical moments in Chile but also in the rest of a new Latin America.

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At swedish embassy with Mr. Frank on background

Conceived for homelessness?

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As I temporarily regain contact with you, dear readers, I am describing my awakening on the 10th December 1989 in the capital city of Santiago de Chile. The Swedish delegation would be aware that this is Nobel day, back home, but Chileans were most aware that there was an important election coming up.

Many hundreds of thousands had gathered at the O’Higgins Park to listen to the final pre-election speeches of Democracy candidate Patricio Aylwin. The excitement and enthusiasm of the crowds gathered at this park on this day was indescribable.

Swedish Embassy official Staffan Wrigstad and Ingemar Söderberg  from Swedish cooperation agency (SIDA) met us soon after. They gave us, their view on expected political and economic developments in the country. In the evening we managed to squeeze in a visit to poor residential area Renca  and saw the activities that were taking place there, where rehearsal for election procedures were being drilled.

On Monday we sat on the bus for the long journey to Concepcion, 600 Kilometres to the south.

This city claims a well-known university where we saw a famous wall painting by Mexican artist Jorge Gonzalez Camarena. The main goal for our trip was to visit Maria Gonzalez home for homeless girls. This project that helped girls escape a future in prostitution and drugs, was started by Marlene Sandoval. Aftonbladet´s journalist Anette Kullenberg helped with contacts with Swedish labour organizations that went in, with economic support.

The home could at this time give residence and support to 25 girls. At this time there were estimates that many children (up to 1 million) lived in the streets, about half of these in the Concepción region alone. In this context this project could be seen as a drop in the ocean but through the years many of these children were helped to better perspectives. The girls showed through a drama representation what they had experienced during their homeless existence.

On this same day we carried on south to the mining community of Lota. Here we could join up with workers at the local Folkets Hus. To be able to have this meeting our hosts got permission from the authorities, as gatherings are not normally permitted 48 hours before an election.

The Lota club organized social activities for the benefit of the families in this mining district. And Lota would be as far south as I would travel in the southern hemisphere.

Elections approaching we travelled back to Santiago.

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Lagos y Cerros

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On the 9th of December 1989, a Saturday, the Swedish labour movement delegation where I was included sat on a bus to take us to Valparaiso. The morning had been spent, learning about the forthcoming elections and the PPD’s plan to regain democratic power in Chile after Pinochet’s dictatorship. This election was, after all, the main reason for our visit and this election was the result of a victory by the democratic voters in the referendum of 1988.

We joined up with Senate candidate Ricardo Lagos and could in the middle of the crowd listen to many complaints about the appalling conditions residents chose to take up with us. Lagos would later become president of the Republic of Chile. Together with us you can spot José Goñi that accompanied this delegation and is presently ambassador in Stockholm. This I was actually not aware of until yesterday when I received his Christmas greetings.

Visiting Valparaiso had a special importance to me. I had met many Chilean immigrants in my hometown of Sundsvall the previous couple of years and many came from this hilly coastal town. In Sundsvall they found a hilly town too even if the Cerros of Valparaiso were not easily compared to Sundsvall’s own Norra and Södra berg. Even the huge Pacific Ocean at this coastal city’s feet would have to compare to the even calmer Baltic Sea. I remember that we arrived from the 100 km bus trip and went to a restaurant where many sea food dishes were presented and many of these were exciting novelties to practically all of us.

The afternoon was spent visiting our Folkets Hus (Cenpros) project and learning about the hard toll on youth and women that the dictatorship had burdened on so many. Problems with unemployment, crime, lack of education opportunities, violence, abortions and other social problems had been allowed to grow by a regime that cared little for the people and their well-being.

We saw also another side of the society, away from the Cerros and through fashionable Viña del Mar a few miles away where the wealthy rather spent their time.

 

Valparaiso 1989

We were there, Chile

Cenpros

Almost exactly twenty five years have passed since a delegation from Swedish labor movement touched down in Latin America. Our final destination was Chile as it prepared to go officially from the 26 year old Pinochet dictatorship to a new democratically elected  president.

As we rolled out from Buenos Aires towards the airport we learnt that the Argentinian peso suffered devaluation. This time it was 35%. The date was Friday the 8th December 1989. It would take time for Latin America to get back on its feet. Our delegation represented organizations that were helping out with projects to help people organize themselves.

As soon as we had checked in at the Hotel Libertador, on the largest and most important avenue in central Santiago, we headed for visits at the residential areas of La Victoria and La Pintana. The people were enthusiastically waiting for us with their home made empanadas and other refreshments.

Much of the activities described for these meeting points or CENPROS “Casas Del Pueblo” were related to the need people had to meet, educate themselves and develop cultural activities. People described the many problems that affected the populations with the increase use of drugs.

To regain dignity is important when people reach bottom level. The stress caused by unemployment and persecutions drove many people to leave their country. In Sundsvall where I live, there was already a Chilean colony, that remade their lives here. Because I knew so many of these Chileans my visit to their country was of special significance to me.

The party we gave our support to was the PPD (Partido por la Democracia). It was a wide alliance of democratic parties that joined forces to put an end to the military dictatorship. Our visit was purposely organized to witness the election of a new president, that on the 24th march 1990 would put Chile back where it belonged, among the democratic countries of the world. And we were there as history turned the page.

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I see a mountain

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Twenty five years is a long time and it corresponds almost precisely to the period of time that elapsed ,since I was privileged enough, to visit 4 latin american countries in 1989.
My memory played me a trick and I wrongly recalled going to Buenos Aires after São Paulo instead of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. Never mind, I am now putting it right…
Elections had just been held and coming out as winner was conservative leader Luis Alberto Lacalle. He held the post as president for the coming five years. This was a period of democratic stabilisation after years of persecution an dictatorship. It was also the first opportunity for the left to present itself in open free elections. The outcome for the left organised as Frente Amplio got 21%of the votes.
Montevideo seemed to me as peaceful city contrasting with the high buildings of the other capitals in the region. A curiosity was discovering many people sucking at their mate tea filled pumpkins or calabazas.Apart from that, there was some talk of the Uruguayan carnival with its typical Candombe music style coming up soon after Christmas. Carnival engaged many young people in activities. Our democracy supporting projects were useful in Montevideo.
At the factory FUNSA Swedish labour movement support had helped start a child care centre with 45 kids and 16 employees. ABF in Gotland through Stig Söderling supported this important investment.
Our next visit took us to Paso Carrasco where young people presented a Murga (a carnival musical presentation) outside their Casa del Pueblo. This was a meeting places very much shaped as Swedish Folketshus that were so important for the Swedish labour movement. Jörgen Eklund, Gunnar Falk and Maine Westin were pleased with what they saw and would even be more pleased at our final destination-Chile.

Buenos Aires blues

 

plaza de mayo

Following a short touch down in São Paulo the delegation went on to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The years of terror were over but not the memories attached to them. We contacted several people that were involved in projects financed by the Swedish International Labour Mouvement Centre (AIC). I recall a project run by women that provided legal aid for women that needed this help. We tried to perceive what the political situation really was like and it was clear that the Socialist ideas and commitment were weak after the Dirty War and the Peronist Mouvement, still strong among Trade Union leaders. The situation in that month of December 1989 stayed very much on my awereness as a time when the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo still had reason to demonstrate in order to find out what had happened to their disappeared relatives.

Accounts from the “Commission on the disappeared”,show that during the Dirty War (Guerra sucia)  some 11000 people were documented as killed on an all out war led by the army against anyone showing left sympathies.Many more undocumented casualties fell during this period of war, that lasted between 1976 and 1983. The three most important military presidents were Videla, Viola and Galtieri. This last one meeting the end of the military era after defeat at the war on the Falkland Islands.

I had a chance to meet some of the many hundreds of women that were known as The mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They carried on with yearly demonstrations outside the presidential palace- Casa Rosada- until 2006. Most of those sons and daughters would never be recovered or their fate known.

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On this picture beside myself, Maine Westin, Malin Olsson and José Goñi ( currently Chile ambassador in Washington).

 

South America- 1989 AD

Guarulhos metal

In the beginning of 1989 I engaged myself in recruiting new contributors to the International fund (Ifonden). This fund was administered by the AIC – International Labour Movement Centre. Later this Centre would be renamed after party leader Olof Palme who was gunned down in Stockholm in 1986.

I was so successful in recruiting new contributors to the fund that I was invited to accompany a delegation from the member organizations of the Centre, to visit projects in South America that were financed and supported by the fund. Fortunately for me this was a special time in South America as dictatorships were giving way to democratic governments. We would be there in the middle of it all, culminating as it were, with the presidential election that would replace Augusto Pinochet’s 16 years in power.

We departed on the 2nd December and our first stop would be São Paulo in Brazil. As most people know this huge city is heavily industrialized so it was natural that the trade Unions of Sweden helped their Brazilian counterparts and I remember visiting the Metal Union in Guarulhos.

There was a lot of excitement and sober optimism as the ex-metal worker Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva was a presidential candidate. The first round had been on the 15 th November and Lula would contest the second round on the 17 th December against conservative candidate Collor de Mello. De Mello did win but Lula would also become president of Brazil in 2003. Brazil was not ready then for a president that had always fought from the bottom of society starting to work at 12 as a shoeshiner, before getting employment in the São Paulo industry.

The AIC member organizations are connected with Swedish Labour movement. These include more than Trade Unions. On the South American trip Trade Unions were well represented. For the record here they are:  Tuve Bergman from the Commerce Workers Union (Handels), Stig Söderling from the Central Trade Union (LO), Ronny Olsson-Municipal Workers (Kommunal), Yngve Vikström-Construction Workers (Byggnads) and Birgitta Johansson from Transport Union.

The immense city of São Paulo, larger than many countries found me waking up on the very early hours of the morning to discover enormous traffic jams outside the hotel. That is also a memory I keep.

On the picture above we can see Edmilsson Nery and Chicão from Steel Workers Union in Guarulhos. On the background Gunnar Falk.