The triumph of “el No”

The logo of a successful campaign to defeat Pinochet in his one-man presidential plebiscite.

The logo of a successful campaign to defeat Pinochet in his one-man presidential plebiscite.

It was 25 years ago today that Chileans (and foreigners with at least five years’ legal residence in the country, including this blogger) went to the polls to cast ‘yes’ or ‘no’ votes in a one-man presidential referendum to extend General Augusto Pinochet’s rule for eight more years. The actual balloting was clean, but the regime delayed releasing the results, announcing very partial returns that suggested Pinochet was ahead. At midnight Chile’s air force commander decided to “pull out the detonators,” as he put it, and told a group of reporters that the ‘no’ vote had won.

Here is a link to a short BBC’s Spanish language interview with former air force commander and junta member Fernando Matthei recalling that moment:

In Bangkok, where he just signed a free trade agreement between Chile and Thailand, President Sebastián Piñera said that October 5, 1988 was “a great day for Chile and a great day for our democracy.”,d248fcf032881410VgnCLD2000000ec6eb0aRCRD.html

And Chile’s national television channel is preparing a miniseries based on Pablo Larrain’s Oscar-nominated film No, about the campaign to defeat Pinochet, to be aired next year:,b415fd6320481410VgnVCM10000098cceb0aRCRD.html


An Oscar for Chile?

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal stars in "No."

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal stars in “No.”

For the first time in the history of the Oscars a Chilean movie has joined the roll of nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. Pablo Larrain’s “No,” about the campaign to defeat dictator General Augusto Pinochet in the 1988 one-man presidential plebiscite, was one of 71 entries this year, making it to the short list of nine films under consideration and has now been named as one of five final nominees.

The film uses archival footage from the series of nightly 15-minute television broadcasts the “No” and “Si” campaigns aired the month prior to the vote, and here, courtesy of You Tube, is the first of the “No” programs: .

And one from the “Si” campaign:

A Chilean news roundup

The Santiago Times reports that Chilean troops will continue to serve with United Nations peacekeeping forces in Bosnia for another year, joining soldiers from 23 other nations. Chile is the only Latin American country participating in this operation. Chilean troops also work with the UN in Haiti:

The British travel book company, Rough Guides, has included Valparaiso on its Travel Hot List 2013, describing the Chilean port as “one of the most distinctive cities in Latin America, with colourful houses draped across a series of steep, undulating hills overlooking the Pacific. Valparaiso has an edgy bohemian atmosphere, character-filled cobbled streets, and wonderful turn-of-the-century architecture, plus some of Chile’s best restaurants and bars.”

Entertainment Weekly has an interview on its blog with director Pablo Larrain about the making of the film “No,” Chile’s entry for the Oscar’s best foreign film:

The British Foreign Office’s announcement that the southern part of its claimed Antarctic territory would be named Queen Elizabeth Land has raised eyebrows in Chile and Argentina, as both countries have overlapping claims to the region as well. The Guardian newspaper calls the move “a retro piece of neo-imperialism for Her Majesty”   while the Telegraph notes that “Australia, Norway, France and New Zealand are the only countries that formally recognize the existence of British Antarctic Territory; Argentina and Chile clearly don’t.”….html.

MercoPress reports that Chile’s Antarctic bases expect to host some 250 scientists, including researchers from Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Germany, the United States, South Korea and Venezuela, who will work on 50 different projects over the 2012-2013 austral summer.

“No” to the Oscars

Director Pablo Larrain’s film “No,” about General Augusto Pinochet’s 1988 defeat in a one-man presidential plebiscite, will be Chile’s entry for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film. Earlier this year “No” won the director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival. There are already over fifty entries from other countries, but the entertainment web site HitFix is predicting that “No” will receive at least a nomination.

But not everyone in Chile is happy with this choice. After the National Council of Arts and Culture announced the selection, a congressman and member of the rightwing Union Democratica Independiente party, Ivan Moreira, described the film on Twitter as a “a political joke” and “history written by the Left” and compared the decision to nominating a Chilean cartoon character for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

El “No”

Gael Garcia Bernal stars in Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s film about Pinochet’s one-man presidential election..

It won the director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and last week Sony Pictures Classics announced it would distribute it in North America. Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s “No” stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an advertising executive working on the campaign to defeat General Augusto Pinochet in his one man presidential plebiscite in 1988. The New York Times described it as an “aesthetically daring, intellectually invigorating work.” The Internet Movie Data Base post on the film:

Some history: On October 5, 1988 Chilean voters were asked to cast ballots marked either “si” or “no” to extend Pinochet’s presidency for another eight years. It was the third time the regime had held a plebiscite, with the first held in 1978 to support Pinochet following a United Nations resolution condemning human rights violations in Chile, and the second in 1980 to approve a new, authoritarian constitution and to extend Pinochet’s rule for another eight years.  These plebiscites, held without voter registries, inevitably showed a majority of “yes” votes.

But this referendum would be different.  In accordance with the regime’s own constitution, an electoral registry was opened and as a small concession, fifteen minutes of television air time was granted to the opposition each night over the thirty-day run up to the vote. The Comando del No, a coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists and other regime opponents, put together one of the cleverest political campaigns ever, with an unrelentingly upbeat message promising a bright future for Chile.  The broadcasts usually opened with the following theme and also showed an anonymous voter marking the “no” box of a paper ballot. The last broadcast included messages from Chilean and foreign celebrities, including novelist Isabel Allende, Jane Fonda and the late Christopher Reeve.

Foreigners with at least five years’ residency in the country were also allowed to vote in the plebiscite, and this blogger duly registered and cast a ballot at a polling site held at a girls’ school in eastern Santiago.  That night, after covering the celebratory cheers at the Comando del No headquarters, I caught a cab whose driver I strongly suspect was working for the regime’s intelligence service.  He was young, had a military-style haircut and told me he was “one of those who lost tonight.” I asked him if his route had taken him around much of Santiago that evening, and whether the streets were calm.  He conceded they were.