Thursday, 16 April 2015

Chile's other September 11th.

With no call until three a small group of us take a walk across town following the Calle Montijas into the Plaza des Armes and then onwards past the old church of Santa Ana and over the duel carriage way that marks the end of the compact city centre. We keep on Catedral and through the Burrio Brasil, a party area that stays up late, but sleepy now and abandoned to the the Kiltros who watch us warily, causing us to cross the road a few times. This is there territory and their time. Let sleeping dogs lie.

All the way we notice the carbineros are gathering ready for the strike. They hang round on street corners or sit in armoured trucks. smoking cigarettes and laughing. The show of strength is a little unnerving, but the business men and other commuters rushing to work don't bat an eyelid.

Finally we arrive at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights a huge, but rather beautiful in a National Theatre kind of way, concrete and glass building opened five years ago as a centre from which to research and reclaim the atrocities committed during the dictatorship.

The public part of the Museum takes us through the history from the day of the coup on the 11th Spetember 1973 right the way through to Aylwin's assumption of the presidency as a democratically elected head of state in 1990. On the way hundreds of stories, testimonies, newspaper cuttings and photographs tell the stories of the disappeared and tortured.

The first room is dedicated entirely to September 11th and plays Allende's final speech, broadcast on the last uncut radio lines from deep within the Moneda Palace. Harrier Jump Jets were bombing the palace and all four branches of the military had turned against him. He knew time was up, but there is something incredibly noble and brave in his final words.

'Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will be open again where free men will walk to build a better society.'

These are my last words and I am certain that my sacrifices will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice and treason.'

There's also a television monitor which loops the first hastily organised press conference held by the junta later that evening. Pinochet, supported by the heads of the navy, airforce and the carbineros looks into the camera and address the people of Chile in clipped and authoritative terms, assuring them of his patriotism and good intentions. Each commander then adds their own explanation. It reminds me of the Knights speeches over the body of Beckett at the end of Murder in the Cathedral. At the end of the broadcast the camera pans up from to focus on a full size portrait of O'Higgins. The message is clear - these are the 'true' patriots liberating the country from the tyrannical politics of Marxism.

The rest of the Museum deals with the repercussions. We split up and make our own journey through the exhibition, horror stories of exile and execution. The layout is designed to end in hope, however and the final rooms look at the plebiscite which saw Pinochet's final demise and the victory rally in the national stadium designed to be no less that a demonstration of rebirth for the country.

One image from this rally stood out. A elderly woman making her way into the centre of the pitch. She stands in the centre circle and begins slowly to dance alone. She neither smiles nor cries, but rather imagines her long lost love. She stands for so many.

We catch the metro back which rumbles underneath the demonstrations back to Belle Artes, where Jose and Antonia meet us for lunch. The restaurant has a small TV on the wall and we watch the water cannons turn on the protestors barely half a mile away. If this was going on in London it'd be global news, but again most of the diners barely glance up from their soup. It's a piece of theatre and everybody knows their part.

Julie and I swap groups this afternoon and I head off with Antonia to the Sename at Pudahuel where the older children are based. There's a similar set up here - although the two groups are working at opposite ends of the campus to keep a couple of the girls, who have a long running feud, apart. The most noticeable difference is that every window is barred. It's one less escape route from the classroom.

I begin with Alice, Dom and Alex who already have a good relationship with the group. Each of the participants come in with big smiles and hugs. Young Francesca has brought her eight month old baby Damien. He's passed round the group, who take it in turns to keep him occupied whilst the activities take place.

The real problem is that the focus in the room is split and several times the well intentioned exercise is disturbed by a new arrival or sudden exodus. The girls are struggling to hold the group and although the atmosphere is friendly and supportive it's clear that progress is slow.

Antonia looks worried. Some of the exercises have been repeated daily and the participants want more. They haven't really seen the purpose of the work and aren't driving towards the weekend's show.

Things fare slightly better when the sculptures move onto emotions - love, fear, hate, sorrow - but these results aren't capitalised on and again the class becomes distracted.

I head off to the other group where a dance routine is in full rehearsal. Ross and Amy are leading with support from Dannia and Hannah. It's a battle here as well. A couple of lads who'd been absent yesterday are back and their presence is proving an inhibitor to some of the girls. The St Mary's students persevere and manage to get the group into line by the end of the session. It's been hard work, but nobody gave up. Ross is slightly down, feeling that much of the work achieved earlier in the week has been lost.

I'm impressed, however. If what I've seen is the worst class of the week then things are going very well.

Back across the courtyard things have improved for the other group, who have also been choreographing a street dance, which everybody is enjoying and working hard to perfect. We do a quick debrief on the way back to the minibus. Most things are going right, but I'm still a little worried that our students don't have enough ammunition to keep the work alive. All in all they've got ten hours with their groups and they need to have better plans to keep developing and engaging the groups. We talk through a few more strategies and ways in which the participants contributions can be harnessed and turned into exciting Drama.

Back at La Cascona there's real excitement amongst the Galvarino group who feel they've made real progress. Chloe has been in role as a Grandmother and encouraged the children to make up stories about the adventures she's had in her life, which has worked brilliantly.

Tomorrow is the last chance we've got to put everything together for the sharings on Saturday morning.