TRIBUTE TO SOLA SIERRA
I first met Sola during a press conference. Some of you were there: we were at the House of Commons, dozens of people were trying to get into a tiny room, the press were eager for stories, Isabel Allende, Juan Pablo Letelier and Sofia Prats were due to speak and had not yet arrived. The journalists were chatting and eating their sandwiches and recording testimonies of the atrocities of the Pinochet regime. I had been collecting and writing these up for a few days, and was translating for those that needed it as well as trying to sort out the order of the day, get some people out to get others in and so on.
In the middle of it I saw a woman sitting
behind us, her hands in her lap.
"Who are you?"
"Sola Sierra, president of the AFDD."
"Can we put you up next then?"
"Whenever you want."
What struck me then was the stillness and the realisation that it was not just from her years of experience of these sort of events, but because of her determination. That, and the straightforwardness of her: she was not going to scream and shout, she was not going to pull rank; she knew of her value and her standing and needed no proof of it from anyone.
As we worked with her over the short time she was here, I was also struck by her insistence on working with all, going anywhere, talking to anyone. It was an expression in practice of her profound political knowledge and abilities that led her to insist on a broad, uncompromising and non sectarian practice. Finding out about her previous activities, as a schoolgirl and as a women's activist, a social pioneer during Popular Unity, and a campaigner for human rights before Waldo disappeared, made me wonder what she would have done in other circumstances. Certainly the cause of human rights and the disappeared found in her a true leader as well as a symbol.
Thousands of British people owe a real debt to Sola Sierra. She worked hard here, travelling all over the country. Thousands found out about her commitment to justice and truth. She lent dignity to the proceedings in the House of Lords (something few have succeeded in doing), just by being there. An act of presence, sitting, watching, with her photograph pinned to her coat, symbolising the struggle to which she devoted herself. We know she played a key role: we do not exaggerate when we say that were it not for Sola, Pinochet would not now be under arrest and facing trial here.
We will never forget what we owe Sola Sierra. She gave us a vision of what justice could mean and do, even in Britain. She gave us a model of personal authority, an authority which came entirely from her own sincerity and constancy. An authority that was so sharply in contrast with the arbitrary authoritarianism which she always opposed. And, although Sola would not necessarily say it herself, an authority that also contrasted with and stands opposed to the authoritarianism that we sometimes find on the left: one that places more emphasis on structures than values and prefers quoting text to learning from our lives, our experiences and our feelings.
We have lost such an important person. We will always give thanks for the chance we had to get to know her and to join her on part of her long journey towards truth and justice. It will be sad to get there without her alongside us. But we will get there, and when we do, Sola Sierra will be present.
Read at a Tribute to Sola Sierra, Praxis, London, 10th July 99