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