Letters to my Father, Alonso



Cristian Gahona

ALONSO 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.


A 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 with
every drop of your blood,
every piece of your wounded body
every grill
every blow
every slap
every spit
every curse
every threat
every curse
every kick
every waterboard
every "telephone"
every hanging
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 ties,
Bodies dynamited
Cowardly assassins
Women raped
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 the tyranny.
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 Rights Court.

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 of death.
I have had thirty years of forgetting and injustice.

So, after thirty years without reparations there cannot forgiveness or oblivion in your name
your face
your hands
your embrace
your playfulness
your bravery
your optimism
your smile
your oriental, slanted eyes
your dignified spirit
your fortitude
your deep love
your Allendismo

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.



September 7, 2005


Friends, 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.

How can 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?

How to 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.

Happiness 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.

I have 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.

So much 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.

Never 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.

Many have 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.

If you 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.

We have 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.

Still, 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 justice.

Friends... 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.

Yuri Gahona.


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