Chile: Pinochet torture centre now Allende museum

Chile: Pinochet torture centre now Allende museum

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Date: 3/10/06

Mood: Thinking Playing: El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido

From the Washington Post (USA):

Pinochet-Era Police Center to Become Allende Museum

By Eva Vergara
Associated Press

Sunday, March 12, 2006

SANTIAGO, Chile — The mansion was used as a domestic spying center by the feared secret police of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Now it will house artwork and be dedicated to the Marxist foe overthrown by the general’s bloody 1973 coup.

The Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum, due to open next month, will exhibit work by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Roberto Matta and Joan Miro.
Salvador Allende
“This is Salvador Allende‘s revenge,” said Jose Balmes, the Spanish-born director of the museum.

The remodeling of the mansion was a journey through the inner workings of the shadowy agency responsible for many of the dictatorship’s worst abuses.

Workers found passports, papers with instructions to agents, and diagrams of places under surveillance or targeted for operations.

“In the basement, we found a communications center used to tap telephones around the country,” Balmes said.

“There was evidence many phones were tapped.”

Some of the rooms in the big, two-story house in a middle-class neighborhood near downtown Santiago were used for interrogating detainees, although the place was not a jail, Balmes said.

The mansion served as the Spanish Embassy in the 1950s but then stood empty until the secret police took it over in 1973.

Another large house, Villa Grimaldi, served as a detention and torture center.

That site, in a southern suburb of the capital, has been turned into a memorial to victims.

Among those held there were Chile’s incoming president, Michelle Bachelet, and her mother, Angela Jeria.

The mansion converted into the Allende museum was purchased and remodeled with financial support from the Chilean government and European countries including Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden.

Spy equipment found there is being left untouched, as a reminder of what the house was before, said Balmes, 79, who came to Chile in 1939 to get away from Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.

“The place is a memorial,” he said.

Documents that the workers found were turned over to Hugo Dolmetsch, one of several judges investigating human rights abuses under Pinochet.

Many of the artworks to be exhibited come from a museum established by Allende in 1972.

Artists and intellectuals from around the world, such as Ecuadoran painter Oswaldo Guayasamin and Argentine author Julio Cortazar, contributed.

After the coup, the art disappeared.

It was not until civilian rule was restored in 1990 that the collection was traced to a basement at another Santiago museum.

Some pieces had been damaged, while others were well kept, Balmes said.

A few paintings were never recovered, including one by Miro, he said.

Another by Miro, a tribute to Allende painted in 1976, will be exhibited when the museum opens.

See also here.

Infamous Pinochet-era agent Osvaldo Romo dies: here.

History of economic neoliberalism in Chile: here.

Did US Intelligence Help Pinochet’s Junta Murder My Brother? Here.

Quique Cruz sums up the story of his long life journey towards the creation of an extraordinary work of art and human testimony called Archaeology of Memory: “The day after my nineteenth birthday, I was detained by Pinochet’s secret police and spent one month as a desaparecido in the Villa Grimaldi torture centre: here.

27 thoughts on “Chile: Pinochet torture centre now Allende museum


    (Aug. 9, 2007) President Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday inserted herself into an on-going polemic between the Catholic Church and the conservative UDI party by strongly supporting the Church’s call for a more fair distribution of Chile’s increasing wealth.

    Rightist Sen. Evelyn Matthei recently taunted the Church’s call for a more fair distribution of Chile’s wealth, saying Catholic Church spokesman Mons. Alejandro Goic knew nothing about economics.

    “I celebrate opinions I have heard suggesting that now is the time to work on narrowing the inequality gap we have in this country,” said Bachelet. “A country that is growing and developing like ours needs to understand that extreme inequality is a great national shame that is unacceptable (…) It is not about politics of the left versus politics of the right, or about being for or against business, or the government, or the opposition political parties. It is most certainly an issue that our government has assumed with great seriousness. But it is an issue that should unite all of us, so that it can be solved once and for all.”

    Mons. Goic, who recently worked to resolve the labor dispute at the state-owned Codelco copper mine, early this week asked the rhetorical question: “Is it possible to live on a minimum monthly salary of 140,000 pesos (US$280)? We must respectfully debate the unresolved debt that we have with Chile’s poorest. If we do not have social justice, then the conflict will return.” Bishop Goic also suggested Chile businessmen should pay their workers an ‘ethical’ salary and allow them greater organizing rights.

    Matthei, a vice-president of the conservative UDI party, took strong exception to Bishop Goic’s comments.

    “Mons. Goic needs to explain himself to the Chilean people,” said Matthei. “He has no idea about economics and should not be meddling in these very complicated matters. What I want to know is, what if a small company is not able to pay the minimum wage? Are we then going to say that the salary is not ethical enough and shut down the company? It is not possible to define what is or what is not ethically sufficient.”

    (Ed. Note: The “fair salary, fair society” polemic is getting much greater attention in Chile’s media, due in part to growing labor assertiveness in various sectors of the economy and the Catholic Church’s decision to involve itself in the issue. See today’s stories on Chile’s fresh fruit sector, as an example of the widening debate.)

    By Anne Pallisgaard (


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