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.
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.