Table Talk

Recently, we attended a barbecue hosted by one of hubby’s cyclist friends.  After a couple hours, the meat was finally ready and the men had exhausted the topic of cycling. Seated at the long table, I tried to follow the different strains of lively conversation. In spite of the decades I’ve lived here, I tend to be quiet at large social gatherings, self-conscious of my accented Spanish. This allows me to listen and observe – and learn, especially when it comes to politics.

Even after forty-one years since the military coup, the circumstances preceding and following the coup continue to be a frequent subject of differing and strong opinions. Last night was no exception as the conversation turned to Chile’s painful past during the Allende government and the military government that followed, now often referred to as the military dictatorship. (Interesting how one different word changes the perception.) What called my attention last night was the increased openness or maybe I should say a softening of the rigid stances of those on the pro-Pinochet, political right which were most of the guests present.  Everyone listened as one guest gave what I thought to be a balanced evaluation of the military government, summing up the good – the establishment of a successful economic program – and the bad – the serious human rights violations. No one disputed his points. Had they moved slightly out of their bastions of denial? Maybe it’s like the climate change deniers, when exposed to increasing and undeniable evidence, they began to listen.

I arrived in Chile a year before the coup so I experienced a before and an after as well as the return to democracy. What I did not experience and which must be factored into any understanding of the past was Chile’s political and social history prior to Allende. With the perspective of hindsight, those at the table may have gained a more objective view of their nation’s recent history, although expressing concern about the socialist direction of the present government, fearing a return to the past. Much of the population is too young to have that advantage of perspective over time while others seem to have forgotten or are easily swayed by clever slogans. And there are others whose pain and anger is so deep that they cannot forgive.

Chileans refer to this on-going struggle of settling differences as reconciliation, a painful process that nations, ethnicities and minorities throughout history have undergone and presently experience wherever violence and war are waged.

How relevant to our world are the lyrics to “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?

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