Abortion and human rights in Chile

anti abortion billboard

It’s a famous image from the time of Chile’s 1973 military coup, a stark black and white photograph of prisoners sitting on bleachers in the National Stadium, where thousands were detained, interrogated, tortured and in many cases killed. It recently appeared on a billboard in Santiago, without photographer Marcelo Montecino’s permission and in a way many would find offensive.

The caption reads “ABORTION is torture, death and disappearance,” and the billboard is part of a campaign against a proposed law to allow the procedure in order to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or non-viability of the fetus.  Chile has one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, with an absolute ban on all pregnancy terminations imposed at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1989. There have been around a dozen proposed bills to loosen this ban since 1991 and the current bill faces opposition from even from some in the ruling center-left coalition—particularly Chile’s Christian Democrats.

Amnesty International has issued a statement calling Chile’s current law draconian and saying it treats women as second-class citizens. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/09/chile-extreme-anti-abortion-law-creates-climate-of-fear-and-substandard-health-care-for-women/

9/11, the Chilean version

Chilean military guarding prisoners at the National Stadium after the 1973 coup. Photo by Marcelo Montecino

Chilean military guarding prisoners at the National Stadium after the 1973 coup. Photo by Marcelo Montecino

It’s been 41 years, but this year’s anniversary of the military coup that ousted Salvador Allende is one of the most stressful in recent memory. A bomb exploded in a food court at a Santiago metro station a few days earlier, injuring 14 people and prompting President Michelle Bachelet to convene an emergency meeting with cabinet and security officials. The Economist’s Americas blog has this post: http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2014/09/bombing-chile

There have been small-scale bomb explosions in the past, but most have occurred late at night, when few people were around, and this is the first that seems to deliberately target the public. According to Chile’s interior minister, Bachelet’s mother was in the area when the bomb detonated (she was unhurt). Some background on earlier incidents from the BBC :http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-28850708

El Mostrador reports that 1,600 members of Chile’s paramilitary police force, the carabineros, have been mobilized and positioned in “the most vulnerable areas.” The electricity company Chilectra has also placed extra personnel on alert in case of power cuts. http://www.elmostrador.cl/pais/2014/09/10/once-bomba-falsos-avisos-de-explosivos-y-1600-carabineros-desplegados/

Several organizations of retired military officials published a paid insert in La Tercera newspaper, defending the 1973 coup, which it described as “a task of reconstruction…which continues to be recognized by Chileans who love order and security.” The statement said that while “delinquents, subversives, terrorists and killers of military and police officers are pardoned, given amnesty or protected, those who fought and created the conditions of security and order which permitted the nation’s progress have been condemned without due process,” a reference to continuing investigations into human rights violations during the Pinochet regime.

And the investigations keep coming. Last week a magistrate indicted three more retired officials in the killing of folksinger Victor Jara shortly after the coup: http://www.ilovechile.cl/2014/09/05/anniversary-vctor-jaras-murder-prosecuted/119005

And Foreign Affairs has this exchange by Peter Kornbluh and Jack Devine on the U.S. role in the coup: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141859/peter-kornbluh-jack-devine/showdown-in-santiago

Some Chile coup anniversary links

Chilean troops make arrests during the military coup


This blogger was a student at Washington University in St. Louis when the coup occurred. There was a newspaper strike, and the apartment I shared with friends did not contain a television, but the news spread quickly.  The following day, September 12, students were handing out flyers on campus denouncing the military takeover and attributing it to the work of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Photographer Marcelo Montecino, whose pictures are in my book, The General’s Slow Retreat, has an amazing collection of photographs of Chile before and after the coup, including some by his brother, who disappeared in October 1973:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcelo_montecino/sets/99847/

CIPER, Chile’s investigative journalism center, has a special feature on the 40 years since the coup: http://ciperchile.cl/especiales/golpe/

Chile’s Museo de la Memoria has a series of special exhibitions and events marking the coup anniversary: http://www.museodelamemoria.cl/

The Santiago Times has a q and a interview with human rights lawyer Carmen Hertz, whose husband was summarily executed during the notorious Caravan of Death killings, in which she discusses the country’s evolution over the past four decades: http://www.santiagotimes.cl/opinion/question-answer/26696-qaa-chilean-human-rights-lawyer-carmen-hertz


A photographic memoir of Latin America


Marcelo Montecino, whose photographs illustrate my second book, The General’s Slow Retreat: the Pinochet Regime in Chile, has recently published his own book, a photographic memoir of five decades in Latin America.

He told me the book, Marcelo Montecino: 50 Años, came about as a request from the publisher,  Pehuén Editores, to do a book of his best work. “I essentially had the choice of doing an “art book” or a sort of memoir,” he said. “I chose the latter so as to show all sides of my life as a photographer, my early stumblings, confusion and search for a theme and a style. The coup (in 1973) helped me find my way.”

This is the publisher’s web site, and they’ll probably ship overseas: http://www.pehuen.cl/catalogo/fotografia-patrimonial/marcelo-montecino-2.html

And this is Montecino’s Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcelo_montecino/ and his blog: http://marcelomontecino.blogspot.co.uk/

And here are two of his favorite photos from the book:

Quito, Ecuador 1982

Quito, Ecuador 1982

Santiago, 1964. A scene near the Mapocho River.

Santiago, 1964. A scene near the Mapocho River.