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PINOCHET'S GOLDEN EXILE

Tito Tricot

It rained bougainvillaeas on the night I was expelled from Chile; a thousand pelicans, the same ones who fascinated my grandparents and their grandparents before them, stood silently as the ocean waves tenderly kissed the bay's yellow boats. Someone shed a tear, perhaps the old lady who once taught me how to weave the aroma of carnations. I was convinced it was going to be only a transitory stage in our lives, a bad dream that begins to disappear with the first fireflies at dawn. Little did we know that exile was to become a long nightmare. The military did know what it really meant, however, and they fully used it as another form of torture. Nearly a million Chileans were forced into exile, some were political refugees, some were economic refugees, but they were all victims of the military dictatorship.

The military resorted to every imaginable ideological, political and propaganda weapon to project the idea that refugees were living a "Golden Exile", profiting from the good will of millions of people throughout the world who, dismayed at the military's cruelty, expressed their solidarity with our people. Today, when General Pinochet finds himself far away from home facing extradition charges, he might be able to experience firsthand what many Chileans felt for decades. The Bow Street magistrates' court's decision to start extradition proceedings on September 27 means that the dictator would have been detained for almost a year. Or put somewhat differently, he would have been living in forced exile for nearly a year. Contrary to the overwhelming experience of Chilean exiles under his regime, the General is indeed living a "Golden Exile", for none of the refugees he accused of leading a jet set life abroad ever lived in a mansion in Virginia Water; none ever had the luxury of round the clock private health care or the constant visit of relatives or friends from Chile. Because the exile's families came from poor shanty towns, mining towns, the impoverished countryside or the middle class. There were no rich exiles, for the rich were living in Chile, sipping champagne and sharing prawn cocktails with the military, while the rest of the country was bleeding to death.

Like so many exiles who could never accept the idea of living away from home, unable to return, they committed suicide. They hanged themselves, their past and their dreams. They jumped from beautiful and shiny buildings to put an end to their misery. Because none can understand the anguish of an exile, the permanent feeling of uprooting, of living on a day to day basis, because "tomorrow we are going home". But, many never did. Some were killed by the military, as was General Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires or former minister Orlando Letelier in Washington. Hundreds were kidnapped and murdered in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay as a result of "Operation Condor", organised by the intelligence services of the latter countries and co-ordinated by DINA, Chile's secret police.

Others never came back, for they grew old and tired as their own children grew up in a country that became their own. So there was no reason to leave, and their homeland became a rather diffuse idea of music, smells, shadowy landscapes reconstructed with the aid of old photographs. As they tried to rebuild every crease in the fading picture, they could not avoid the tears that flowed every night. For exile is a cruel form of punishment, which may dry up your laughter, freeze your smile, shrink your heart and your orgasms. In exile you may die a slow and painful death, as our first child who died at birth. He never walked, he never laughed, or ever uttered a single word. But he did manage to give us a beautiful smile that I carry engraved in my mind. His tiny little eyes could not understand why we didn't have the money to get him a coffin. As I held his wrinkled little hands, trying to hold down the tears, I tried to ask for his forgiveness, for we did not have the money to give him a proper burial. So, up until today he lies there in a foreign land, buried in a mass grave, because - contrary to what you say General Pinochet - we did not live a golden exile as you do in England.

Exile was like a shipwreck: dark, icy and terrifying, but also full of hope for the possibility of one day reaching the mainland. It was a militant exile, an active contributor to one of the most important international solidarity movements ever known. This explains, no doubt, the dictator's hatred for all those men and women who far from home continued the struggle for democracy. Today, 25 years after the coup d'etat, thousands of them still live in exile, many in England where they have played a significant role in raising the ordinary person's awareness about Pinochet and his bloody dictatorship. Dictatorship that is far from over, because the weak and cowardly political class that negotiated with the Armed Forces, lacked the moral courage to quell the military's power. Recently, General Ricardo Izurieta, commander in chief of the army, said that his institution would not stand idly bye whilst General Pinochet is under detention in London.

Just another threat, just another affront to the intelligence and desires of the majority of our people who want Pinochet brought to trial for the crimes he committed against humankind. Crimes that should never be forgotten, because that's the first step towards forgiveness and oblivion. We do not have the right to forget or forgive; it would be an insult to every raped victim, to every person thrown into the rivers or the ocean, it would be an insult to all those who were savagely tortured and then murdered by the military under general Pinochet's command.

It rained bougainvillaeas on the night I was expelled from Chile, but I hope that the day the dictator is finally sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, the sky will turn yellow with a thousand butterflies fluttering in the wind. Then, and only then, will I be able to weave the aroma of carnations once again.

Tito Tricot
June 99
CHILE

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