FERNANDO GAHONA CHAVEZ was arrested September 8, 1975 as
he was coming home from work. His whereabouts are unknown
to this day and no one has been convicted for the crime.
Tribute to My Father
Another September. September 8. Thirty three Septembers. The
same number as your age when they made you disappear, the
same number of years I have counted that you do not return.
You know, it is not such a long time, relatively speaking.
It is about a third of the average life span of a human being.
Sometimes I measure the passage of time like a depression
or in terms of the so many times that anxiety became a panic
attack, social phobia, or strange symptoms. When I was a child,
it was headaches at sunset, that coincided with the hour when
you should have returned home but did not return. Arythmic
heartbeat, humid hands, insomnia, anguish that no medication
alleviated, pain, deep sorrow.
After so many years, I think the number of years is not the
most terrible part, nor the countless symptoms. Time is so
endless because it is rage, powerlessness, sadness, pain,
the profound and stark truth that no one or very few care
about your calvary, the unyielding and hateful wait for things
to change, that your death and so many others may have been
in vain, the horror of the state of things in which impunity,
silence, oblivion, are words that powerful people transact
every drop of your blood,
every piece of your wounded body
every fingernail ripped out
every lock of hair yanked from your head
every torn joint
every choking breath
each wish for them to let you die already, die and not feel
that numbing pain anymore every silence of your mouth
every silent scream
every where are my children? who is caring for them?
every where is my wife?
every time you pronounced my name and the name of my sister
multiplied by the silence when you lost consciousness
every time you woke up alive
every new companion who arrived to suffer the same fate
every time and every place lost
every scream withheld,
every strength destroyed,
every number forgotten
each address fading in memory
All the powerlessness, the humillation. The perverse knowledge
that at any instant they would kill you.
That, father, is what torments me. One can learn to live with
the anxiety of such experiences but one cannot live each day
without actions that repair the damage. What traumatizes is
not what happened, but what continues happening every day
that passes without peace or justice in your name. Thirty
three years without reparations for you, or for me nor anyone.
No one can make reparations for you because that would mean
restoring your life to the exact minute before you were abducted
and your murderers began counting the exact days when they
would kill you, the exact sufferings you endures, the word
torment that sealed your destiny forever. But I am alive and
every one of these thirty three years I have hoped for the
damage to diminish, each day especially since March 1990.
Each day I have hoped not only for you, but also for the thousands
of names of the other people who are absent and cowardly killed.
Each day I hoped that all the world would at last know the
truth, that all the world would know about your courage. I
kept hoping for justice and truth, and for the perpetrators
to be punished, so that no one forgets their names so that
never again would anyone have to live with that wound.
The years and the days and the minutes and the seconds have
passed. And there is no Truth in Chile. There is no Justice
in Chile. There is complicity in Chile with the criminals.
In Chile people forgive and forget.
In Chile people pretend not to see.
There is no memory in Chile.
In Chile there is no interest in this terrible truth about
the disappeared people.
In secret mass graves, thrown into the sea bound to railroad
Women and men tortured
Burnt alive with torches
There was no mourning in Chile.
In Chile generals of death earned promotions.
In Chile the daughters of the generals have pensions.
In Chile generals were awarded medals for their killings.
There are public tributes,
Private prisons like luxury hotels.
Cases are dismissed on account of amnesty.
In Parliament there are congressmen and senators who supported
There are supermarket owners and newspaper publishers who
paid for each Communist, Socialist, Christian Democrat, Mirista,
Marxist, liberation theologian, progressive Christian, Allende
supporter, every military officer loyal to the people who
the dictatorship murdered or disappeared.
Today the criminals are a daily part of our lives. They donŐt
pay for their crimes. They do not accept responsibility. They
uphold the democracy, the democracy that they never ever fostered,
democracy they abhorred, the same one they denounce with another
constitutional challenge. That democracy they call citizen
security, general education law, and secret laws. The same
democracy that turns its back to your sacrifice that made
it posible for those who govern today.
That is the reason this bitterness and sorrow do not fade.
They have erased your name and memory of you Because they
do not want to pick up another paper with your face and your
name printed on it. They do not want any more strikes or protests
in Congress or in the courts. They do not want the International
Penal Court ratified. They do not want to tell all of Chile
the name of every murderer, every accomplice, every person
who covered up a crimes. They do not want the State Defense
Council to stop appealing and allow the amnesty decree. They
do not want us to bring more cases to the Inter American Human
And they ask us to turn over a new leaf, to forget the generosity
of your life, to forget who we are.
But I resist that sentence. I resist that forced silence.
I resist being labelled a victim.
I resist being ordered to forgive.
I want truth. I want justice.
I want the guilty to be punished.
I want to hear the word genocide spoken.
I want to hear the word extermination spoken.
I want the truth about every secret prison, every corner where
torture was practiced, every stadium and building used for
sadistic practice of tyranny.
I want every street to bear the names of those who are absent.
I want a Rettig Report that names the traitors.
I want a Valech Report that identifies the power structure
I have had thirty years of forgetting and injustice.
So, after thirty years without reparations there cannot forgiveness
or oblivion in your name
your oriental, slanted eyes
your dignified spirit
your deep love
your life, your beautiful life that I have inherited. They
made you disappear but you did not disappear and you will
not disappear as long as someone remembers your name and calls
you to the present to help build the future.
companions, brothers and sisters, dear family:
First of all, I need to remember. I have go back in time thirty
years. I have to return to the day that changed life forever
for me and my family. I have to close my eyes, and despite
the horror, sit down and write
Why bother to write about it?
Simply because if I do not write, memory will be lost. Details
of the story will be lost. The story that began even before
certain individuals, whose names are unknown to me, shielded
by the abuse of violence endowed by the dictatorship, abducted
my father, my dad Alonso, on the street he always took coming
home from work, where my sister and I waited for him every
afternoon, ever since our family became just the three of
us, Evelyn, you and I, your son.
I explain how everything changed?
I ask myself this question because I know that my family as
well as my closest friends, those siblings like me who since
the time we were little kids or barely teenagers, we lost
our father or mother. Pronouncing the words "disappeared"
or "murdered" or "tortured" suffices to
comprehend the magnitude of the meaning of the word. But how
to communicate this meaning to other friends, who did not
go through this, people who despite our different life experiences
I began to appreciate and to love due to other circumstances,
those people who do not have pain engraved in their memory.
How can I explain how everything changed?
explain to them that my sister and I, from our roost up in
a tree, looked into a place called Cuatro Alamos? Squinting,
we would look on the other side of the wall and try to see
if that man far over there might be our Dad, my father Alonso.
How to tell you how after my father never came home again,
without understanding the reason, my sister Evelyn and I sought
the affection and protection of a father who would never return.
How to explain to someone who did not experience this and
maybe even today prefers to close eyes, ears, and doors to
what was happening around you, and yet you have become someone
close to me, dear to me.
Thirty years later I lack the words to explain how one feels
when, as a teenager, you learn how that your father was tortured.
Alonso had his feet bound in chains, he was electrocuted until
exhaustion, with such a tremendous thirst before he died,
hanging in a shower in a house, in a place in Santiago that
could be anywhere, with music playing at full blast to muffle
the screams for help or the silence of resistance. Thirty
years later perhaps I dare to tell it all, without expecting
anyone to understand, nor expecting that the life of anyone
will change as a result, without expecting to evoke astonishment
at what I will tell. I will tell just for the sake of telling
so that no one allows it to ever happen again.
also motivates me to write. In these thirty years I have had
the privilege to meet some extraordinary individuals. People
who are proud, sensitive, fighters, idealists, dreamers and
perseverant, all of which comprises a heroic legacy. During
these years many women have become pillars for me, keeping
hope, determination, and coherence alive.
lived with the dreams and hopes needed to resist not only
a dictatorship but also, now in democracy, the ominous invisibility
of the guilty who lusted after power and abducted, bound,
tortured, humilliated, abused, murdered, and hid his body,
his rough and hardened hands that were also tender and loving,
his beautiful transparent eyes full of life, of books consumed
in his gaze, his embattled, outer shell, accostumed to fight
for the life that gave maternal and paternal shelter to his
children, his mouth full of kisses for them, his full generosity.
time has gone by and neither I nor you nor anyone else knows
who was responsible for the crime. We do not know who killed
him, gave the order, carried out the crime. We do not know
who lacked compassion and who looked for a place on that wounded
body to inflict another wound. Nor do we know who shouted
at him to talk or else they would take his beloved children.
have I seen the faces of these criminals. But I am familiar
with their heartless spirit, their pettiness, their contemptible
smallness, filth, dirty hands that want to give affection,
the daily shame of knowing, the obligatory silence, the nightmares,
the terror of looking into the eyes of their own children,
the shame of their name.
taken pains to conceal their names. Today, despite the thirty
years that have passed, despite our efforts, our fortitude,
the daily existence, the struggle we, their children, my brothers
and sisters, insist on building this country with our dreams,
have only ensured that the forced, permitted, legislated,
and protected silence would be a constant reminder. Never
will we forget, never will we forgive and never will we reconcile.
were to ask why, I would tell you to look into the eyes of
your children or your parents or spouse or those you love.
Ask yourselves how you would feel if one day, any ordinary
day like today, a sunny day, a day with springtime in the
air, you told them "Bye", while longing already
to be back with them. But they never saw them again because
they were abducted, hidden, tortured, humiliated, murdered,
and disappeared. Your children, spouse, partner, friends,
neighbor, lover, parents, siblings, family, colleagues, ...
your pets... your room... your book halfread... your favorite
cup... your place at the table ... your hopes... your dreams...
were lost due to an intentional action by someone who wanted
to deprive them of all that. How would they feel, those people
who missed you in each and every space you left vacant.
had partial truth. We have not had justice nor reparations.
It is an imposition to ask us to forgive. Our lives changed
forever and that life makes us who we are today. I only ask
for truth,and that the perpetrators be brought to justice
and punished. I believe anyone would ask the same.
thirty years of your absence, father, nothing can set things
right for me. Nothing can undo what we endured. However, I
do ask the courts to punish the guilty because it is my legitimate
right. Never will I resign myself to the destiny they have
in mind. I want to know their names. I want to know who they
are. I do not fear them. It fills me with pride to look at
them eye to eye and demonstrate that their reign of death
did not succeed in turning us into beings like them. They
killed your body, father, but, look, you are still alive.
Look how memory resusitates you. You are still determined
to change the world. Look how we have grown up without being
consumed by hatred. But we are unbending in our demand for
I am writing this to tell you that thirty years are like yesterday.
The memory of my father is as alive as ever. Our Alonso is
here with us, connected to our lives, our achievements, our
whims. And he is with us. We, his family, are connected to
this story, which is rarely told, but is necessary and fundamental
so that they know that we have nothing to hide. Today, we
the accusers have triumphed.
to "Reclaiming Memory"