In a stadium that once served as a torture and detention center, 80,000 Chileans on Monday celebrated the return of democracy and cheered their newly inaugurated president’s words: “Never Again!”
Patricio Aylwin, sworn in Sunday to succeed military ruler Augusto Pinochet, presided over a two-hour fiesta in the National Stadium in Santiago, where thousands were held prisoner in the months after a coup by the armed forces and police on Sept. 11, 1973.
The new government, a 17-party coalition from center to left that forced Pinochet to hold open elections and then won a landslide in December, chose this “stadium of pain” to emphasize its pledge to bring to light the violence of the past, but also to seek reconciliation in the years ahead.
“From this spot, which in the sad days of blind and hateful dominance of force over reason was for many a place of prison and torture, we say to all Chileans and to the world that is watching us: “Never Again! Never again insults to human dignity! Never again hate between brothers! Never again fratricidal violence!” Aylwin said in the first major address of his four-year term.
But he also cautioned against the urge to seek vengeance against soldiers accused of human rights abuses during Pinochet’s 16 1/2-year rule, in which more than 700 people disappeared and were presumed killed and thousands more were sent into exile or imprisoned.
“We must approach this delicate matter reconciling the virtue of justice with the virtue of prudence and, once the personal responsibilities have been determined, the hour for forgiveness will arrive,” Aylwin added, to a mixture of cheers and whistles.
Pinochet remains commander of the nearly 60,000-man army, and he has pledged not to allow any of his men to be touched.
When Aylwin called for restoring a climate of respect among all Chileans, including civilians and soldiers, some in the crowd booed. He stopped reading his speech and repeated three times, “civilians and soldiers.” The whistling faded and the applause in the stadium steadily grew as he drove home his point.
“I hope and demand that all of you will follow the paths of reason and the law to promote your aspirations, and abstain from violence. He who attempts this road will not succeed,” said Aylwin, a 71-year-old lawyer and former senator. “Force is a characteristic of dictatorships; reason and law are the weapons of democracy.”
The evening began solemnly. A bugler played “Last Post,” the British equivalent of “Taps,” in memory of the estimated 1,500 people who were killed in the coup against the chaotic government of Marxist President Salvador Allende. Mothers of “the disappeared” danced on the soccer field, without partners, to a sad Chilean folk song. Many in the crowd did not restrain their tears.
But dances followed by Indian groups from the south, by natives from Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the long, thin country. Young people unfurled a gigantic Chilean flag that covered the entire field as a full symphony orchestra played a bit of Beethoven, and a choir led the national anthem before Aylwin spoke.