Gordon Munro: Many citizens in Scotland today remember the other 9/11
Today there are citizens in Scotland who will be subdued, reflective and sad as they remember the other September 11th. Today is the 45th anniversary of the coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile.
British-made Hawker Hunter jets strafed the presidential palace as the army issued an ultimatum to either resign or surrender. Allende did neither and died in the office to which he was elected, shot by troops of the army of which he was head.
In the following days, then years, terror reigned in Chile. The national football stadium was filled with political prisoners, including Victor Jara whose last words were smuggled out from the stadium after his brutal execution in front of his fellow prisoners. Those citizens now living in Scotland will remember his last lines “how hard it is to sing when I must sing of horror, horror of which I am living, horror of which I am dying”.
The caravan of death which traversed Latin America using techniques taught by the CIA left Estadio Chile and travelled throughout Latin America torturing, killing and disappearing people without mercy.
Coming here clandestinely as refugees from a war they did not seek or want, the Chilean citizens were welcomed to their new homes by citizens here. People like the Leal family received support from the National Union of Mineworkers, which made them feel welcome and diluted a hurt that is still felt especially today.
Citizens here organised the Chile Solidarity Campaign to bring attention to the coup and to support the Chilean diaspora seeking refuge here.
Christy Moore did a benefit concert at Leith town hall. Homes were found and lives rebuilt. When the SFA decided that the Scottish football national side would be the first team to play in Estadio Chile following its use as a detention and torture centre, there were citizens who protested outside the SFA HQ at Park Gardens, disgusted by the move.
The writer Ariel Dorfman dedicated his essay ‘The incredible unending trial of General August Pinochet’ to not just more than 4,000 killed in Chile – of which 1,002 have no date of death inscribed on the memorial wall in Cemetario General Santiago – but also to the hundreds of thousands tortured and who are not remembered on the wall.
The memorial wall was created with a large empty space in the knowledge that names would be added and continue to be added as families of the disappeared slowly find out what happened to those taken from them.
Families and friends will think of everyone on this date and they are not alone.
In recent years, Edinburgh has held a ceilidh in memory of Victor Jara – where the guest of honour was his widow Joan Jara – to raise funds for the foundation in his name in Chile.
On the 40th anniversary of the coup, a vigil was held outside the Scottish Parliament. I hosted a night for Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda in Edinburgh City Chambers where the poets Ron Butlin, Michael Pedersen, Liz Lochhead, Colin Bartie, the actress Dolina McLennan and the musician William Douglas movingly interpreted his work and paid tribute to him and Victor Jara.
There are citizens in Scotland who will remember the other September 11th as they directly experienced it and cannot forget. There are citizens in this country who will remember the other September 11th as they expressed and gave solidarity to those who fled terror and torture in Chile.
We hope you too will remember the other September 11th.
Gordon Munro is Labour councillor for Leith on Edinburgh City Council