Chilean trade unionist Ernesto Leal Jimenez dies

This video, in Spanish, says about itself:

Chilean students view banned documentary about Pinochet’s coup for first time (ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

From ‘Chile, Obstinate Memory’ (1997) by Patricio Guzman.

By Roger Sutton in Britain:

Obituary: Ernesto Leal Jimenez

Wednesday 04 November 2009

Ernesto Leal Jimenez was born to communist parents on January 11 1938. At that time they were on the run, persecuted by the government of Arturo Alessandri for their part in organising the peasant struggle for better living standards.

His father, a self-taught man, was the Communist Party organiser for southern Chile and he and his wife were denounced as agitators and forced into clandestinity from their home in Valvidia.

Eventually, they settled in in the small industrial and naval town of Talcahuano, where Ernesto’s birth was registered.

His father helped set up neighbourhood committees to support communities in gaining access to clean water, better sanitation, housing and education.

Thus Ernesto grew up in a family passionately committed to protecting and promoting people’s rights and freedom.

He loved the sea and at 17 became an ordinary seaman. He probably would have remained in the navy for many years had he not been caught up in a police raid in the early 1960s.

Copies of banned works – including essays by Karl Marx – were found in his possession. This was an offence under naval law and after a brief court-martial he was discharged from the navy in disgrace.

Back in Talcahuano he worked for his father servicing navy ships and rejoined the Young Communist League, where he was elected political secretary.

The early 1960s were an exciting period in Chilean politics – Salvador Allende had embarked on a highly successful presidential campaign – and Ernesto rapidly rose to be in charge of regional affairs at the central committee of the Young Communist League. His recollections of working alongside the likes of Gladys Marin were an incredible source of pride to him.

In 1964 he married family friend and militant student activist Sonia Riquelme, with whom he had four children, Ernesto Jr, Juan, Rossana and Sonia.

It was during the Popular Unity government of Allende that he began working with the Chilean TUC but, like many Chileans, his life changed forever after the 1973 coup which brought down Allende’s socialist government.

During the violent repressions post-coup, he was arrested and tortured by the navy for his trade union involvement.

He never recovered from the beatings and electric shocks inflicted on him while he was detained.

Eventually released, he was exiled and threatened with the death penalty if he ever returned to Chile. He left for Argentina and was joined by his family in Buenos Aires.

Surrounded by horrific repression in Argentina he had to come to terms with losing everything, including his beloved country, while staying alive and trying to find a better life for his family.

In 1977, under the auspices of the UN, Amnesty International and British trade unions, he and his family were granted political asylum and provided with a home in Cowdenbeath by the Scottish NUM.

Then followed a move to Edinburgh, where Ernesto worked as a welder in the shipyards of Leith and joined the GMB union.

Those were the days of Margaret Thatcher and soon the yards were being closed and Ernesto “got on his bike” and found a job in the Faslane naval yards. But he was sacked when it was learned that his wife was outside the gates protesting against nuclear missiles!

Aberdeen and the Rob Caledon shipyards was his next port of call. He was blacklisted for being a trouble-maker following his participation in the unsuccessful struggle against its closure but through his union managed to get a job in the Loch Kern yard, welding the massive steel plates for the oil rigs.

In the late ’80s he moved back to London to work in the city’s building boom but when that ended it proved very hard to get a new job. He went on to work as a cleaner in the old Evening Standard building, witnessed the way cleaners were treated by sub-contractors, and began to organise them under the auspices of the T&G.

During this time he met Rosa Ramirez, also a cleaner and a Chilean exile, who took part in setting up the Latin American Cleaners Union.

He was really proud of “el sindicato” and the way its membership had grown not just in London but across the country.

While in London he was a key member of the London May Day Organising Committee ensuring the full participation of the Latin American communities. He worked closely with GLATUC and was a leading figure in fighting the Pinochet dictatorship – reminding everyone of the first September 11 massacre, the coup against Allende.

A tireless worker for his class, Ernesto was a quiet figure who commanded respect from all sections of the movement.

On Ernesto’s son, also called Ernesto: Is a refugee from Pinochet the victim of a witch-hunt? Here.

HMS Astute, Britain’s latest, state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered attack submarine has been unveiled, four years late and nearly £1 billion over budget, but the naval top brass are excited beyond measure: here.

Chile has resorted to laws last seen under the brutal former dictatorship to quell unrest by indigenous Mapuche demanding land and autonomy: here.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has created a government institute to protect human rights and to look into cases from the 1973-90 Pinochet military dictatorship: here.

Santiago – More than 36 years after he was tortured and gunned down in the days following the coup d’etat in Chile, singer Victor Jara was reburied Saturday in a ceremony attended by thousands. Jara was shot dead by the military four days after the 1973 coup in which General Augusto Pinochet seized power. Jara, who was also a songwriter and playwright, was arrested on September 11, 1973, and taken to the Chile Stadium, where he was tortured and subsequently killed: here.


4 thoughts on “Chilean trade unionist Ernesto Leal Jimenez dies

  1. Pingback: Chilean earthquake, Pacific tsunami warnings | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Chilean Pinochet dictatorship remembered in Britain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Hola. Hermosa historia, encantado y orgulloso estoy de ser su nieto.
    Solo quisiera saber por qué se ignoró el nacimiento de mi Madre Elena Leal (hija de Ernesto Leal Jimenez en Talcahuano, Chile). ¿O es una parte de la Historia que no se cuenta porque no era hija de Sonia y era una hija fuera del matrimonio?

    Saludos, muchas gracias.


  4. Hi, Eduardo, thank you so much for your comment!

    I have now restored broken links and the video in this blog post.

    I don’t know the answer to your question on your mother. The author Roger Sutton and the British daily The Morning Star in which he published may know.


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