Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship lasted 17 years in Chile from 1973 to 1990. Most Chileans remember this time as one of repression, abuse, and fear. During his rule, Pinochet and the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, otherwise known as the Chilean secret police, were responsible for countless disappearances, murders, and torture of any supposed government opposer. When one thinks of the broken families, scarred survivors, and lost lives, one imagines a community filled with grief and pain. While these sentiments, rightly so, exist and are present in Chile, there also exist sentiments of new faith in healing wounds and reconciling with the past.
I was fortunate enough to note this new faith after a trip with my study abroad program to Villa Grimaldi. Villa Grimaldi is one of the various centers that were utilized during the dictatorship for interrogation and torture of political prisoners. During the dictatorship roughly 5,000 prisoners entered Grimaldi, men and women alike. The most common form of torture used in the camp was electric shock. Other forms included hanging, underwater asphyxiation, beatings, burning, and rape (mainly in the case of women). During the dictatorship, Villa Grimaldi saw despair, suffering, and cruelty. But now, 27 years after the dictatorship’s end, Villa Grimaldi sees hope, love, and faith.
When you enter Villa Grimaldi, it is hard to believe this grassy area with roses and fountains was once a torture center. The day we chose to visit Villa Grimaldi was also misrepresentative of what I imagined I should have seen in this center. Rather than a dark somber cloud over the sky, there was sun. There was hope.
Today, Villa Grimaldi stands as a site where people go to remember victims of the dictatorship, but not to pity them. The area is adorned with a garden, fountains, trees, and colorful pathways. It is common for Chileans to visit the grounds on a warm spring day to enjoy the scenery, read a book, or chat with friends. The center has become a place that welcomes everyone. Walking around the grounds, it was hard for me to imagine the horrifying acts our guide described happening in such a serene place.
What I found particularly touching and representative of new faith in Villa Grimaldi was the rose garden. This garden was in honor of female victims of torture. The garden was filled with different roses for each name. Each rose bundle was distinct and belonged to a single woman whose name was written on a standing wooden plaque. This, like the rest of the grounds, was a beautiful celebration of lives that were cut too short. The flowers, our guide explained, represented reparation; planting something beautiful to remember the beauty of each individual, not the atrocities of the dictatorship.
Chileans have a reason to hurt. But what I have come to realize is that here in Chile exists hope and a new faith. Chileans have chosen to reconcile with their past by commemorating the lives of victims in an uplifting and inspiring way. Knowing and realizing this has made me think about how we in the United States can recognize our own acts of genocide, human rights violations, and other offenses through a positive lens.