To Chile, with love: Remembering those lost under the Pinochet regime
Mrs. Patricia Recabarren González, her chest were adorned with the faces of her loved ones who were 'disappeared' by the Pinochet dictatorship. Two of her brothers, her pregnant sister in law, and her father were all taken by the secret police without a trace or explanation one day in April 1976. | Paul Roberson / People's World

This is the fourth installment in a series of articles about the visit of the Hello Comrade Project to Chile in the spring of 2022. Hello Comrade is a group within the International Department of the Communist Party USA, a solidarity movement bringing together members of the party in the United States with members of fraternal parties throughout the world. The goal is to promote friendship and learn from each other, but also to experience and document what it’s like to be a communist party member in other countries. Read Part 1 , Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.

By the second day of the trip with the Hello Comrade delegation, I was already awestruck by how much we experienced. The hosting Party, the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), was so accommodating and made sure to pack our trip with activities that included informative and engaging programming.

In a single day, we traveled to Tres y Cuatro Álamos Detention Center, a former Pinochet-era concentration camp and heard in heart wrenching detail the accounts of those who lived and suffered there. We also met a master stone mason, Oscar Plandiura, who showed us his preparations for a Victor Jara statue—which will be prominently displayed in a public park in the San Juan neighborhood near Santiago. Following that excursion, we traveled to a seemingly normal residential home that I thought was the site of a violent assault and last stand of underground rebels fighting the Pinochet regime.

In this Sept. 12, 1973 file photo, soldiers shoot toward the upper floors of a government building in Santiago, Chile, during Pinochet’s coup against President Salvador Allende. | AP

As I got out of a van and walked down the street, I saw a modest home adorned with flowers, cultural ornamentation like pottery, adobe brick work, and a conspicuously large rusted lock. Further down the sidewalk, I saw an unidentified woman walking in our direction. Though she was silent, her presence was not still, as she exuded an aura and energy of peace, silent confident beauty, raw emotion, and indescribable pain.

She was dressed in a red shirt, and her hair was in a tight bun—which highlighted her intense eyes and beautiful smile. She wore a soft and sweet fragrance that permeated the expanse, as if to foreshadow the engulfing story that she was about to tell. When she finally approached, I saw a pin on her chest with the faces of four unnamed persons.

She gave us a warm salutation and introduced herself as Mrs. Patricia Recabarren González. She was the owner of the home that we had come to visit. She told us that on her chest were adorned the faces of her loved ones, who were “disappeared” by the Pinochet dictatorship. Two of her brothers, Manuel 22, and Luis 29, her pregnant sister-in-law, Nalvia Alvarado, 20, and her father, Manuel Segundo Recabarren Rojas, 50, were all taken by the secret police. The abductors left the couple’s 2-year-old son, Luis Emilio, on the street. An entire family destroyed, silenced, and taken without a trace or explanation one day in April of 1976.

She then described a culture of fear and paranoia as neighbor turned against neighbor due to the ever-present risk of imprisonment or worse. She even surmised that the store down the street was working with the secret police and played a part in the disappearances.

Gen. Augusto Pinochet, former dictator and at the time still head of the Chilean military, reviews his troops in Las Vizcachas, Sept. 7, 1995. | Santiago Llanquin / AP

Under the Pinochet regime, Mrs. Patricia lived in a time in Chile when you could be imprisoned without probable cause and confined without due process of the law. There was no legal representation, no rights, and no free call. There was only a sure chance of violence or disappearance. It was this oppressive environment that hurled her and her family into social advocacy and international acclaim. It was on that dark day that her mother placed a lock on the front gate. This was her expression of protest and dissent.

Mrs. Patricia is the daughter of Ana González, an international advocate for Chile’s missing and disappeared. The two of them worked tirelessly to remember and advocate for the lives and memories of over 3,000 souls lost. They were also members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, a group founded in 1974 and mostly led by women who wanted to find out the whereabouts of their missing relatives who had been detained, imprisoned, and/or murdered. They turned their anger into action and let their message motivate the masses to defy the fascist Pinochet regime and bring justice for the families who lost loved ones.

I was fascinated at the fact that she was not angry, jaded, bitter, and overcome with misery. On the contrary, she was kind, loving, and forgiving. She literally exhibited positivity and hope in spite of her ever-present pain and emotional burden. Her account was very intense, so raw and personal that I spent the rest of the trip attempting to digest the horrors that her family had experienced. Before we departed, I bid her farewell and gave her a reassuring hug. She told me not to forget her story and invited me to a candlelight vigil to commemorate and remember the atrocities that occurred to her family.

After I departed, I kept thinking about my own country and how we had turned against each other during the four years under the Trump administration. I kept thinking about the power of his mob and the influence of his dangerous and violent right-wing agenda. I kept thinking about the attempted coup and plot to overthrow the government. I kept thinking about how they planted the seeds for a right-wing insurrection and the re-establishment of a party that was okay with denying fundamental rights, silencing marginalized voices, oppressing citizens, and using physical and deadly force to engage political adversaries.

The lock of resistance chained outside Patricia Recabarren González’s home. | Paul Roberson / People’s World

I returned to her home a few days later and saw a festive scene that was illuminated by what seemed like hundreds of tea candles. I saw a beautiful sculpture of birds flying high in unison to the sky. We later learned that it was done by a famous Spanish artist, that the birds represented Ms. Patricia’s deceased family members, and that one of the birds was pregnant.

There were uplifting and inspiring speeches, music, hugs, even laughter, and of course tears. Groups of people were lined up with other members of the community united in love and hopeful remembrance. In spite of the veneer of joy, we all were aware of the reason for our presence. During the ceremony, the people lined up reminded me of the chain at Mrs. Patricia’s home—shackled and connected by loss, and locked in the painful eternal reality and awareness of the absence of a loved one.

These were separate families who were locking arms connected in pain, bonded in blood, and united by a shared trauma. Brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, mothers, and fathers were emblazoned on papers pinned to their shirts. As they stood side by side, they sang in unison to an eerily beautiful song that expressed a dark harmony. Who could have imagined that an entire society would split, its people turned against each other? Who could have imagined that victims’ families would revolt and stand up on their behalf?

Candles lit in memory of Chileans lost to the Pinochet dictatorship. | Paul Roberson / People’s World

I thought that Mrs. Patricia’s eyes were filled with sadness. I think they were filled with pity. Pity for the world and disappointment in the knowledge and morbid reality of the horrors that befell her kin. Pity for people who do not hear her message. Pity at the awareness that the same atrocities can happen again anywhere in the world. And pity for the families who even today are still waiting for justice and the knowledge of the final resting place of their loved one.

I write this account with the sincere hope that I did Mrs. Patricia, and the movement, right by writing about her experience and the impact that her story had on me. I also write with genuine hope that I paid tribute to those who lost their lives.

Her testimony was not just for People’s World, but for the people of the world! It was about remembrance, commemoration, hope, and the expectation that we can learn from the past to avoid such unimaginable atrocities from happening again. I will never forget, and I will stay vigilant, I will stay active, and I will stay engaged in policymaking in my community. I write with a sincere intention to do just that and to be resolute in my responsibility and obligation to play a more active role to support my comrades in struggle both at home and abroad—through my time, and my labor.

In solidarity and struggle,

Paul Roberson J.D; LLM


Paul Roberson
Paul Roberson

Paul Roberson J.D; LLM