I. Restorative Justice and Testimony in Chile
In a recent New York Times essay on Pablo Neruda, Ilan Stavans made the claim that poetry is the "best antidote to oppression." "On its surface, a poem seems incapable of stopping a bullet," he wrote. "Yet Chile's transition to democracy was facilitated by the poet's survival in people's minds, his lines repeated time and again, as a form of subversion. Life cannot be repressed, he whispered in everyone's ears. It was a message for which he may have died, but that lives on in his verse." Literature has played an important role in Chile in the culture of memory that has developed in the wake of the 17-year regime of General Augusto Pinochet. During the darkest years of the Pinochet regime, over 3,000 individuals were "disappeared" or executed and over 30,000 were imprisoned and tortured. (1) Countless others went into hiding or exile. When democracy was restored in 1990, the Pinochet regime stood beyond the reach of the law because of a general amnesty it had granted itself in 1978. For Desmond Tutu, head of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Chilean blanket amnesty amounted to "national amnesia" and ensured that the past would return (29). "[T]he past, far from disappearing or lying down and being quiet, has an embarrassing and persistent way of returning and haunting us unless it has in fact been dealt with adequately," Tutu wrote. "Unless we look the beast in the eye we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage" (28).
The past has been particularly present in Chile in the post-Pinochet era. In the wake of excessive political abuse and limited political accountability, a culture of testimonial has taken root. (2) Two truth commissions were established to investigate human rights violations: the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation of 1990-91 (the "Rettig Commission"), which investigated politically motivated deaths, disappearances and kidnappings; and the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture of 2003-2005 (the "Valech Commission"), which documented additional human rights abuses, such as torture, rape and unlawful detention. (3) Based on testimony from family members of the victims and corroborating evidence, the 1,400-page Rettig Report contains thousands of short narratives that document the fate of individual victims of the Pinochet regime, as well as lists of detention centers and torture sites. An extensive reparations program was established in 1992 to help the victims of the families included in the Rettig Report. The Chilean case is part of a larger international movement to confront state-sanctioned violence through restorative justice processes. Since the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into the Disappearance of People in Uganda in 1974, truth commissions have been established in...
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