Thursday, June 28, 2018

Confronting the Costs of Autocracy, Chilean Edition

Perhaps it was most suitable that I went to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago the week the US made significant strides of its own towards authoritarian rule (the Supreme Court sanctioning the Muslim Ban, Justice Kennedy giving Trump the ability to re-make the court, etc).

I don't have many pictures since one is not allowed to photograph within the building.  Too bad as it was a most moving and educational display.  It presented the events of the junta taking power, the executions, the torture and disappearances, the reactions of the world, and the rise of protests and eventually the end of the regime.  I knew about this in the abstract, but the museum did an excellent job of putting faces and voices on it.  We could see the metal beds that were hooked up to batteries to shock people, we could see the pictures of those who were killed.  We could see the testimony of the survivors.  The most striking thing to me was something that was absent--I could see no mention of the role played in the coup by the US and the CIA.  One of my research assistants explained later that Nixon/Kissinger did not have as much of an impact as often viewed, as documents have revealed.  They tried, but it was mostly domestically driven.  Perhaps, but I would still have expected some blame.  Indeed, when asked by students who were surveying people at the museum, I identified myself as a Canadian largely because I didn' want to be associated with those who were partially responsible for the horrors displayed.  Oh, and maybe because it is embarrassing to be an American abroad in the age of Trump. 

One of the challenges of being an arrogant researcher traveling to places far and wide is that I don't know as much as I should--I learned in an interview later that day that the constitution here is the one written by the authoritarian regime.  I would have expected a new constitution, but nope.  According to the interiewee, the constitution was written to protect against tyranny of the majority, but not quite like how the US has long considered that--the minority here is the right wing and the military.  I could be wrong, and I will do more research to figure this out.

I have more interviews ahead.  The only certainties I have learned thus far is that countries can recover from autocracy, that the costs are staggering, and, yes, the food in Chile is amazing.

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