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THE AUTUMN OF A DICTATOR : A Chilean Diary by Ariel Dorfman

<i> Ariel Dorfman teaches literature at Duke University each spring. His latest book is "My House is on Fire" (Viking)</i>

ARIEL DORFMAN, ONE OF Latin America’s best-known writers, was exiled from his native Chile in December of 1973, a few months after a military coup ended democracy there. After he had wandered with his family from Paris to Amsterdam and then to Washington, D.C., the dictatorship allowed him to return in 1983. During the ensuing years, whenever he visited his country, he invariably approached the airport with a dread that turned out to be prophetic. Arriving one day in 1987, he was arrested and deported with his young son, a punishment for his human-rights campaign against the government. Although the deportation order was rescinded some weeks later, Dorfman could never be sure thereafter what fate might await him each time he went back. On March 10 of this year, he again returned to the airport from which he had been exiled. But this time, he was offered champagne, and his customs and immigration procedures were waived: He was coming home as a guest of Chile’s democratic president-elect, Patricio Aylwin. This is the story of the days that followed, the story of a country that, after years of repression, surprisingly returned to democracy.

Sunday, March 11, 1990

GEN. AUGUSTO PINOCHET has just made the last mistake of his long dictatorship. On his way to hand the presidency of Chile over to opposition leader Patricio Aylwin, the general has, incredibly, decided to ride in an open car, in full uniform, for everyone to see, through the streets of his native Valparaiso. Perhaps he thought that the people of his country would cheer him for this peaceful transfer of power--not a habitual gesture, after all, in tyrants. But the thousands of Chileans who have filled the streets to celebrate the return to democracy are not in a magnanimous mood. “ Asesino ! Asesino !” they chant, “Murderer! Murderer!"--a thunderous shout that the TV technicians transmitting the ceremonies cannot filter out, which not even the military band that begins to play the national anthem ahead of schedule manages to stifle. Nor would the censoring of sound do any good. Because now Pinochet’s bodyguards are forced to hurriedly raise black umbrellas to stave off a downpour of tomatoes, eggs and sticks thrown by the irate crowd.

It is not only this trip, the general’s last ride as dictator of the country he has ruled with an iron hand for 16 1/2 years, that is turning out differently from the way he had expected. In his worst nightmares, he could never have imagined that he would take this ride at all, that he would someday be forced to give up power.

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When, exactly 10 years ago, on March 11, 1980, he rammed his constitution down the throats of a terrorized populace in a referendum that international organizations and the Roman Catholic Church called clearly fraudulent, he believed that he had created the mechanisms that would allow him to govern the nation for the rest of his life. A plebiscite, scheduled for faraway 1988, in which the people of Chile would be asked to say yes or no to his perpetuation as president, seemed a mere formality. He was sure that the citizens were too scared, the opposition parties too dispersed and fractious, his support in the armed forces and middle class too massive for a victory to be seriously denied to him. He was wrong. The people found courage, and in the intervening eight years, an economic crisis shattered his middle-class support, the opposition hammered out a difficult unity and important sectors of his own military told him that they intended to respect the outcome of the popular vote. On Oct. 5, 1988, almost 55% of the voters rejected his claim to remain as president, and on Dec. 14 of 1989, a larger majority elected Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, to be Chile’s first constitutional president since Socialist Salvador Allende died in the bloody 1973 military coup.

So sure had the general been of his power that he had ordered an enormous hall built for his inauguration, the new Congress of the Republic whose steps he is now mounting in defeat. That building, which combines the pomp and grandiosity of a Cecil B. De Mille Roman set with the bad taste of a Mussolini architectural extravaganza, perversely expresses both the general’s dreams of eternal power and, now that those dreams have proven false, his capacity to leave permanent scars on the face of this country. Worse than this monstrous edifice is the deeper damage to the people of our land: the millions ravaged by persecution, unemployment, detention, incessant fear; the thousands killed, tortured, exiled. All too many of us bear the psychological wounds that terror inflicts on both victim and abuser, the implacable consequences of years of authoritarianism and humiliations to the moral fiber of a nation.

Aylwin inherits from Pinochet a deeply fractured country, split between the very rich and the extremely poor, between the privileged military and the outcast civilians, between those who want to forget the “unpleasantness and excesses” (as they call them) of this period and those who feel that all the atrocities must be remembered so they will never again be repeated.

But the very violence of the confrontation of the past 16 1/2 years has, paradoxically, created in the whole of Chile, among haves and have-nots alike, a nearly unanimous desire for unity and fraternization. “National reconciliation” is the phrase on everybody’s lips. I had only been in the country since yesterday, but I could already sense that this is no passing rhetorical fad.

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THE NEW NATIONAL obsession of Chile is the abrazo.

Chileans have always loved to greet each other with a warm bear hug, but I have never before known such a mania for hugging and being hugged as that which welcomed me in the past 24 hours. It is not merely that everybody you encounter--whatever the class, whatever the political persuasion--squeezes you tightly and pummels your back with an unfamiliar intensity, but that the language itself overflows with proclamations of the need for Chileans to reach across barriers that separate them. Such a widespread and exaggerated panegyric and practice of the embrace reveals, I believe, just how weary of war my compatriots are and to what lengths they will go, after so many years of confrontation, to heal the wounds of the past.

There are limits, however, to this conviviality.

Gen. Pinochet will get no abrazo today--or ever, I suspect--from his adversaries.

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From a colossal screening room in Santiago, I watch, along with many other guests and a number of Chilean artists, as the general enters Parliament and is greeted by dozens of new congressmen who show him photos of the “disappeared.” A friend of mine tells me later that the photographers themselves muttered insults in his face as they snapped his picture.

At the podium, Pinochet is confronted by the irrefutable evidence of his failure to modify forever, as was his intention, the soul of Chile. During 150 years of a history that had its share of massacres and disparities of wealth and power, my country managed nevertheless to construct a strong and stable democratic tradition in which differences were settled through negotiations and by consensus. So much so that, with Allende in 1970, we became the first country in the world to attempt the experiment known as the peaceful road to socialism, trying to radically alter the country’s chronically unfair social and economic structure through democratic, electoral means.

This adherence to pluralism was so ingrained that when the military, backed by the United States, rose against Allende, accusing him of putting the fatherland in danger by fomenting confrontation instead of harmony, it did so precisely in the name of democracy, even though Pinochet soon decided that it was the chaos and disorder of democracy itself that was to blame for Allende’s revolution and, therefore, in dire need of total restructuring. Pinochet swore, shortly after the coup, to “extirpate (politicians) like weeds,” calling them rats, traitors, thieves--vowing that they would never return. But there on the podium in front of him are Gabriel Valdes, a man he jailed, now president of the Senate, and Jose Antonio Viera Gallo, a man he exiled for 10 years, head of the House of Representatives. Worse still, they represent the two major political parties, the Christian Democrats (Valdes was the foreign affairs minister of the late Eduardo Frei, who governed from 1964 to 1970) and the Socialists (Viera Gallo was Allende’s undersecretary for justice), whose feuding and bitter antagonism during the past 30 years opened the way, according to many analysts, to a military intervention. The general had gambled that they would never be able to overcome the antagonisms of the past. After all, many Christian Democrats, including Aylwin himself, welcomed the coup against Allende, and many of Aylwin’s current left-wing ministers detested Eduardo Frei’s policies, proclaiming that they would deny him even salt and water. That these rival parties, along with several smaller ones on the left and the right, are now allies in a governing coalition is a stunning historical achievement and may be proof that the Chilean elite has learned, in the hard struggle to regain its freedom, something that everyday people always knew: that what separates us is not as important as what joins us. They have embraced, in fact--but for Pinochet, now there is only a cold, distant handshake.

Though it remains to be seen how this new experiment will turn out--if yesterday’s enemies can be tomorrow’s friends--so far it has been successful: If there had been no unity, there would be no President-elect Aylwin advancing toward the podium.

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The general must now take off his presidential sash, the symbol of his authority. But it has become entangled and refuses to unbuckle. For three eternal seconds, all Chile holds its breath. It is as if power were clinging to Pinochet like a magnet. But now it’s done, it’s over, the sash is off and pandemonium breaks loose. Pinochet watches morosely as Valdes solemnly swears in Aylwin, and now, yes, it is true, the moment we have been awaiting for 6,026 days has finally arrived. Our country has returned to democratic rule.

For a while, Pinochet still hovers around. Then he turns stiffly and leaves--still with no abrazo. The only presence that remains, like a curse, is the heavy empty armchair that he occupied a few minutes earlier. As nobody comes to cart it away, Viera Gallo boldly stands up and, amid widespread laughter, sits down in the place of the man who banished him, supposedly forever.

It is as if a ghost had been chased away.

AND YET, OUR relief may be premature.

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Pinochet has stepped out of the presidency and automatically into the post of commander in chief of the army for another eight years. He will have at his disposal an enormous contingent of troops paid for by a bloated, unmovable budget and dozens of houses and mansions hastily transferred to the army during the past few months, along with hundreds of cars and tons of furniture, tens of thousands of security agents and their weapons, documents and property--and even his wife’s multiple charity organizations, fully financed.

The road the Chilean people have taken from dictatorship to democracy has had the advantage of being basically nonviolent; but it also has given the general time to prepare, particularly in the year and a half since his loss in the plebiscite, a parallel base of power, inside and outside the state, from which to threaten our renascent, fragile democracy.

He has carefully infiltrated each institution with his cronies, who cannot by law be dismissed: Not only are the army and the National Security Council at his command but also the Supreme Court, part of the Senate (enough to stop major constitutional revisions), most of the townships, as well as universities and thousands of administrative posts--even the chauffeurs of the new ministers are rumored to be Pinochet agents.

During the years of Pinochet’s rule, the opposition created islands of resistance. It took over the surface of the country space by space; it defied him and paid the terrible cost for that defiance, but it was that collective, never-ending struggle of a whole community that finally weakened and cornered the military regime. Now Pinochet intends to reverse the situation with his own islands of obstructive power, tying Aylwin’s hands so that he cannot solve the country’s problems, many of them exacerbated by Pinochet himself. And if this leads to disorders, Pinochet has promised that he is ready, like the Roman general Cincinnatus, to come out of retirement.

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Just yesterday, when actress Maria Elena Duvauchelle had driven me from the airport to the center of Santiago, we felt suddenly liberated by the realization that this was real, that soon we would cease to be strangers in our own land, that we would begin to have rights, that we were--amazing that one should even have to write the word-- persons. For Maria Elena, specifically, it meant that she would never again receive death threats, as she had several times since 1987, and that she would not be “protected” by a police major who turned out to be a member of a death squad. For me, it meant that my exile was really over. For every Chilean, democracy was not something abstract but the opportunity to be treated with dignity, to be given back some control over our bodies and our future.

Then three camouflaged army trucks spilling over with mattresses, furniture, and lamps crossed our paths and shocked us back into reality. Here in front of our eyes, Pinochet was stealing part of the country that our taxes had paid for. Pinochet’s booty, taken from government houses that tomorrow he would no longer command, mocked us with the idea that the general may, after all, be no more than loaning us a constrained country, already mounting in his imagination those steps he built for himself when he thought he would reign among us forever.

NOT EVERYBODY IN Chile, I find out, wants an abrazo.

With my eldest son, Rodrigo, a 23-year-old actor who returned to Chile just a few months ago to spend some time here, I mingle with the enormous crowd that awaits Aylwin’s arrival from Valparaiso. The problem is that when the new president finally appears, he passes in such a rush and with such a heavily armed escort that it is as if we had not seen him at all. The crowd is in a good mood, but I can sense its frustration: It is sad to wait this long, in this 92-degree heat, and capture no more than the blur of an image shielded by the same guards who only a few hours ago were defending the tyrant.

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Half an hour later, incidents flare up. An enormous multitude has filled the Alameda, and not far from where Rodrigo and I wait, fighting breaks out between bands of adolescents and carabineros, the militarized national police. We can see stones and sticks flying through the air, over the heads of the spectators, and as we try to press away, an armored vehicle charges into the crowd, spewing tear gas indiscriminately. Gagging, crying, our eyes and throats and skin burning, we escape--and end up several blocks away from where the incidents continue.

Whether the disorders were provoked by extreme-left guerrilla activists, as the police suggest, or right-wing provocateurs linked to Pinochet’s secret police, as other sources indicate, is for the moment irrelevant. What does matter is that roving bands of adolescents, drunk or drugged, their faces covered with bandannas, have joined in with gusto. To dismiss these actions as the work of marginals is to forget that more than half of Chile’s youth feel absolutely left out, unemployed and disaffected. We sit and talk to some of them and find them dazed, isolated, rebellious. Their hatred of the police is unlimited; they had all--every one of them--been beaten and been in jail, and not one had a job. These are the children of the dictatorship, its continuing legacy. Yes, Aylwin is their president, but they are not so sure that democracy will mean a difference, suspecting that they will be as excluded tomorrow as they have been yesterday. That night, I mention these youths to a friend who is working with the new minister of education and wonder whether cultural programs can be developed in the shantytowns where they live.

My friend smiles. “We’ll try,” he says. “Except for one problem.” He pauses. “Pinochet left us 10,000 pesos ($35) in the budget item to spend on those projects for the rest of 1990.”

Monday, March 12

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DURING THE 1973 COUP, Chile’s new military leaders, finding themselves with an excess of political prisoners on their hands, hit upon what they must have considered an ingenious idea: Turn the National Stadium, our largest sports arena, into a gigantic concentration camp. Then, a few months later, after thousands of dissidents had been arrested and tortured, after hundreds had been interrogated and executed, the authorities scrubbed the floors and painted the benches, and reopened the coliseum to the public. The referees again blew their whistles, the ball once again thudded across the field . . . and gradually soccer fans began coming back.

I have always refused to do so. Before I could go back to the place where I had watched so many sports events in democratic times, I desperately needed to witness some sort of act that would transform it, that would reject its purported normality as obscene and confront the terrible pain still echoing there.

What I was waiting for, I now realize, was an act of exorcism. Because today, under the majestic Andes mountains, the people of Chile performed that act. Aylwin, by accepting this place as the site of his first official encounter with Chile, by referring in his speech to the horrors that had happened here and pledging that “nunca mas,” never again, would they occur, helped us rid the stadium of its demons. Far more significant than his words, however, was the communal act of mourning that preceded them.

Seventy thousand people suddenly hushed as they heard a solitary pianist playing, down on the green field, variations on a song by Victor Jara, the celebrated protest singer murdered by the military a few days after the coup. As the melody died, a group of women in black skirts and white blouses emerged, carrying placards with photos of men whose kidnapings by the secret police have never been acknowledged by Pinochet’s government. These are the relatives of the “ desaparecidos ,” left in a particular form of hell, not knowing if their loved ones are alive and being tortured, or dead and namelessly buried somewhere.

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That very morning, I had been to see these women, to find out their plans now that there is a democratic government. After all, many people--even among Aylwin’s allies--feel that to normalize the country, it might be necessary to start forgiving the crimes of the past and start living for the future. The answer was calm and stubborn: Before the relatives forgive anybody, they first have to know the truth about what happened to their men, and once that is established, the criminals must be put on trial. When I press them, they admit that this might be difficult to attain, given that the Aylwin coalition does not have the votes in parliament to modify the amnesty that Pinochet offered to his own agents. But as we talked, I sensed the deepest of their desires: that the pain that the military regime had mocked should be publicly assumed and acknowledged by the community.

Now on the field, one of the women--a wife, a daughter, a mother--begins to dance a cueca, expressing all her immense solitude because she is dancing, alone, a dance meant for a couple. There is a moment of shocked silence--then people start, slowly, clapping along with the music, a savage, tender beating of palms that indicates that we are sharing this sorrow, that we are also dancing with all our missing loves of history, all our dead, and that we have brought them back somehow from the invisibility to which Pinochet has banished them. And as if answering us from beyond time, the Symphonic Orchestra of Chile bursts out with the chorale from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the song of the Chilean resistance, Schiller’s ode to joy, his prophecy of a day “when all men will once again be brothers.”

I have never seen--and never want to see again--70,000 people crying together as they lay their dead to rest.

In the years to come, we will have to repeatedly liberate all the zones, one after the other, that Pinochet invaded. That very night I visit La Moneda, the presidential palace bombed by Pinochet, where Allende died--a place I had not visited since the day before the coup. And later I put on the television, where I have not seen a friendly face for ages, and all of a sudden there appears a journalist, banned for all these years, who can now gain entry to every home in Chile. And the feeling of victory grows giddy: If we can reconquer so much of the forbidden country, it is because we have resisted. The dictatorship tried to isolate people from one another, to isolate the present from the past and the future. It only wanted people to produce and consume and dream of nothing else. Somehow we managed to reconnect Chile. That is why we won. Because we kept the future alive, anticipating these moments when we would be able to really cleanse Pinochet’s shadow from the land that he never managed to totally contaminate. We won because our love was fiercer than his hatred.

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But if we never want to lose our country again, then celebratory acts of magic are not enough. The poorest 20% of the population has decreased from consuming 7.6% of the national total in 1969 to 4.4% in 1989, whereas the consumption of the richest 20% has increased from 44.5% to 54.6% in the same years. Pinochet has increased a disparity that he did not, however, invent. How will the new government deal with Chile’s persistent poverty?

Tuesday, March 13

ALTHOUGH PINOCHET supporters feel uncomfortable when asked to address human-rights issues, they tend to grow extremely vocal on the subject of Chile’s economic indicators. “The rest of Latin America is a disaster,” a high school chum who is now an impresario tells me. “Look at us: 10% growth last year, a modernized export sector, gradual payment of the external debt, a streamlined state, telephone and fax machines, a moderate inflation rate. As long as the new government doesn’t come along and screw it up . . .”

Aylwin’s ministers have no intention of screwing it up, I discover as I hop around Santiago today gathering opinions. Even the Socialists--not a surprise, given the worldwide trend--do not feel they should tamper with a market economy that is making Chile the envy of its chaotic neighbors. But they dispute that it is anywhere near the “miracle” that the former government’s experts claim: Statistics show that Chile grew less (2.6%) between 1974 and 1989 than the rest of Latin America (2.8%).

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Carlos Ominami is an old buddy from the days of my Parisian exile. He also happens to be the new economy minister. “All commentators,” he tells me, “focus on the macroeconomic factors, but there’s a second story: the devastating social debt that has been incurred.” He ticks off a series of anecdotes: Women giving birth on the dirty floors of hospitals because all the beds are taken. Slum dwellers waiting four or five hours in line for an aspirin. Dilapidated schools. Overexploited workers with no social benefits or health coverage. Rising suicide rates because of unemployment. “Aylwin’s government is assigning priority to the 48.6% of Chileans living below the poverty level, those who go hungry every day. And we have to do so precisely when the economy is dangerously overheated; when inflation has started to rise alarmingly. And we have to do it with a budget that postpones social issues, with a state apparatus that has been mutilated by Pinochet, and without the personnel because the former government left thousands of its own technicians in key posts. And we can’t upset the entrepreneurs.”

It sounds like a task that, if not impossible, is fraught with conflicts: to satisfy the all-powerful social class that was the main beneficiary of Pinochet’s economic model, and at the same time attend to those who were its victims and who are the primary source of the government’s electoral support.

How is it to be done? Where is the money to come from?

Ominami’s budget officer insists that the new government will not pay for the social programs by printing money and with deficit spending. A law is being prepared that would raise the taxes of wealthier Chileans--presently at a low 15% to 20%rate. It is a solution the entrepreneurs will resist, according to Roberto Fantuzzi, a major industrialist. A maverick himself, Fantuzzi believes that it is time that some of the pain of the country should be felt by his colleagues, but he doubts that they, “holding all the winning cards,” will cheerfully accept a lowering of profits.

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So what happens if the entrepreneurs don’t want to cooperate, if they are not ready to reduce their consumption levels? What if there is no abrazo between workers and owners?

I speak to several ministers in the next few hours and they all agree that Aylwin’s style is not confrontational. “Things could get rough,” Alejandro Foxley, minister of finance, admits, “but for now we’ve got them sitting down at the same table--and that hadn’t happened in all these years.” And if the talks fail? Can the government simply impose the new legislation, including a law that makes it easier for workers to organize and strike?

“Not really,” says Rene Cortazar, the labor minister. The government may have a large popular majority in the House, but in the Senate the balance of power is held by nine senators designated by Pinochet. Each piece of legislation will have to be negotiated, and although there are positive signs that right-wing parties are willing to collaborate with Aylwin’s administration--Valdes, after all, was elected president of the Senate with votes from several Pinochet followers--it means that some changes will simply have to wait.

The one change that cannot wait, everybody agrees, is the democratization of the townships. Pinochet, in a much-needed reform, has decentralized power, giving local communities responsibility for education, health and housing projects--but he has designated 310 of the 325 mayors for the next four years.

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One of the few mayors that Aylwin could name is Antonieta Saa in Conchali, a sprawling impoverished suburb of half a million people on the northern outskirts of Santiago. I am glad to see Antonieta, who happens to be my wife’s cousin, in such an important post. A feminist, she was one of the few women given a job by Aylwin--a situation that irks the many female activists who were protagonists of the resistance against the dictatorship.

“They’ve unloaded all the problems at the local level, but not any money or participatory channels to deal with the solutions,” she says with a grin. “Decentralization doesn’t work,” she adds, “if it is authoritarian. The former mayor never once, in 10 years, met with the teachers or the hospital workers.”

Fortunately, Antonieta is not waiting for the new legislation that will allow the citizens of Conchali to elect their own authorities. She is bubbling with projects. “We’re going to use all the alternative non-governmental organizations that dissidents created all these years in order to survive, that made us self-reliant and independent from the state. If families discovered how to cook together in soup kitchens, why can’t they build together, organize ways of buying materials, help each other now?”

And if the 20,000 families of Conchali sharing the crowded, squalid rooms of their relatives cannot wait and begin to take over municipal lands and pressure her to act, what will she do? “People have to understand that we can’t solve in one day the legacy of 16 1/2 years. One million new houses are needed, and we can only build 40,000 in the whole country in 1990. I think people will be patient if they themselves set the priorities, if they understand.”

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And what about education?

She is glad I asked. Off we rush to School No. 134 of Conchali, three large wooden shacks nicely spruced up. The director tells me that last Friday, when the former authorities heard that this locale had been selected for the signing of the new government’s first international agreement for foreign assistance, they sent painters, carpenters and plumbers to clean it up--the first such visit since the school had been inaugurated many years ago. There is now a flurry of activity. While a group of children who do not quite understand what is going on watch and cheer and make jokes, Ricardo Lagos, minister of education, signs with Sweden’s vice-chancellor, Pierre Schorri, a protocol establishing that $5 million will be donated to Chile’s 900 poorest elementary schools. The money will be channeled through the Fund for Solidarity that Aylwin’s administration has set up--a direct-aid-to-the-poor sort of program that is supposed to attract dozens of friendly foreign gifts.

Late that afternoon, I find myself holding a long and serious conversation in Santiago’s central plaza with a diminutive 10-year-old beggar girl, Jocelyn, who happens, by an extraordinary coincidence, to be a resident of Conchali. When I ask her how long she’s been begging, she answers, “Since I was born. My mama begged with me in her arms right away.”

I ask her if she knows she has a new president, a new minister of education, a new mayor?

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She shakes her head quite emphatically, no, and happily licks away at the ice cream I’ve bought her.

The distance between us could not be greater. The transition I have been immersed in these days, that I have been working for during one-third of my life, has totally passed her by. And yet, after all, this is more her transition than mine. It will have been real, it will become something more than an illusion, only if, six, or if she’s lucky, 10 years from now, her own baby does not start begging as soon as it comes out into the world.

Wednesday, March 14.

I AM TO leave in a few hours.

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With Rodrigo, I go to the Vicaria de la Solidaridad, the Catholic Church’s human rights office, to buy some gifts for friends back home. I love the arpilleras-- tapestries woven by women in the slums out of colorful bits and pieces of material and through which, during the years, they have been telling the stories of their everyday lives. The one thing that was rarely missing from those arpilleras all this time was the military. No matter what the woven characters were doing--cooking, gathering wood, picking up pieces of cardboard to be sold to factories, hooking up illegal wires to power lines to heat their stoves in the winter--the brooding presence of darkness, of soldiers, of ghosts, inevitably erupted into the picture.

In the newest arpilleras, just finished, woven only yesterday, there is not one military figure, not one army truck, not one stretch of barbed wire. Just people working and people dancing.

The women have not depicted reality as it is but reality as they want it to be.

Will their dreams come true? Will Chile now be able to solve the problems that has mired it and the rest of Latin America in poverty for all our history? Or will the pressures from below, the accumulation of pain from the past, be so vast that the military will come back once again like a nightmare to repress the explosion of needs and desires that the present social system cannot satisfy?

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The answer may depend on the people of Chile, their patience, their passion, their maturity.

On the Sunday of Aylwin’s inauguration, I accepted an invitation to an early morning Mass at a small church near one of Santiago’s poorest shantytowns, La Victoria. When the priest asked the congregation to tell their stories and their hopes, many stood up. I remember two women above all. One addressed God as if speaking to Aylwin. Or was it the other way around? “I don’t want a raise for myself,” she prayed. “All I want, Lord, is bandages at the hospital where I work, so I don’t have to turn my patients away. Just give me enough so I can take care of those who are in need.”

Then another woman spoke of the Chile we were leaving. “It was a badly woven cloth,” she said, using imagery from her everyday life. “We got the stitches wrong. But this time"--and she paused and took a deep breath, “this time we can’t fail,” she said fervently. “We have to sew this one right.”


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