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Full Circle

Day 170: Santiago

Chile, Santiago 
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Chess in the park.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThere is one place in this vast and wonderful museum of Chilean life and death which seems to achieve the most that a memorial can hope to achieve. It is a rectangle of marble panels one hundred and eighty feet long and twenty feet high, resting on a bed of massive boulders. It's called the Memorial to the Disappeared. Two sets of names cover the panels. At one end the 'Detenidos Desaparecidos' (those who disappeared in detention), lists names, ages and the dates they were taken. At the other, the 'Ejecutados Politicos' (those executed for political beliefs). The ages here range from three years-old upwards. They commemorate not some old and bitter colonial war but events that happened less than twenty-five years ago - the arbitrary arrests that followed the military overthrow of Allende's government in 1973 when Augusto Pinochet seized power. For the next seventeen years the country suffered severe restrictions of civil and human rights under a punishing dictatorship. Two thousand victims are listed altogether. When completed there will be four thousand names on the memorial.

It seems almost inconceivable that this urbane and civilized country should have allowed such fear, cruelty and hatred to run loose. Chileans of both the Left and Right now accept that the poison that entered the system in the 1970s was the fault of both sides.

'Everyone made mistakes,' says my friend Patricio, who I first met while passing through Santiago on Pole to Pole. This simple, powerful memorial is not just a list of names but a tangible act of expiation, an admission of national failure.
Santiago, Chile 
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The memorial to the Disappeared. General Cemetery, Santiago.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 170
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Santiago
  • Book page no: 228

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