I walked with Roberto Navarrete into the national stadium in Santiago, Chile. With the southern winter’s wind skating down from the Andes, it was empty and ghostly. Little had changed, he said: the chicken wire, the broken seats, the tunnel to the changing rooms from which the screams echoed. We stopped at a large number 28. “This is where I was, facing the scoreboard. This is where I was called to be tortured.”
Thousands of “the detained and the disappeared” were imprisoned in the stadium following the Washington-backed coup by General Pinochet against the democracy of Salvador Allende on September 11 1973. For the majority people of Latin America, the abandonados, the infamy and historical lesson of the first “9/11” have never been forgotten. “In the Allende years, we had a hope the human spirit would triumph,” said Roberto. “But in Latin America those believing they are born to rule behave with such brutality to defend their rights, their property, their hold over society that they approach true fascism. People who are well-dressed, whose houses are full of food, bang pots in the streets in protest as though they don’t have anything. This is what we had in Chile 36 years ago. This is what we see in Venezuela today. It is as if Chávez is Allende. It is so evocative for me.”
In making my film The War on Democracy, I sought the help of Chileans like Roberto and his family, and Sara de Witt, who courageously returned with me to the torture chambers at Villa Grimaldi, which she somehow survived. Together with other Latin Americans who knew the tyrannies, they bear witness to the pattern and meaning of the propaganda and lies now aimed at undermining another epic bid to renew both democracy and freedom on the continent.
Read Pilger’s recent Q&A session with the Guardian’s Comment is Free section.