The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Prince of Darkness

Each day Chileans are picked up for interrogation by the secret police. Some are held for weeks without charge, many are tortured, a few disappear altogether - Newsweek: 31 March 1975.


Anthony McIntyre • Fourthwrite, Winter 2006

While a young prisoner in the Crum in 1974, during an extended lock up imposed by prison management in the wake of a jail riot, part of the reading diet was religious magazines. Somewhere in their pages between letter writers' entreaties to St Martin de Porres and expressions of gratitude to other favoured miracle workers, were appeals for readers to write to the Chilean government to complain about the torture and murder so prevalent in the South American country. At 17 the detail escaped me but the image conjured from those magazines was that Chile of 1974 seemed a more appropriate setting than Africa to bear the title of Joseph Conrad's novel The Heart Of Darkness.

Later, during the blanket protest and early stages of the no wash campaign - before the only literature available, religious magazines, were withdrawn - republican prisoners could still be found reading the occasional article about Chile and the brutal regime there.

In the more relaxed post-protest environment many good books on Chile from its dark ages appeared on prison wings. Missing by Thomas Hauser which was later turned into a film and Audacity to Believe by Sheila Cassidy were straightforward accounts of how the regime was experienced by two people foreign to the country. Cassidy survived, Charles Hormon, the central character in Hauser's book did not. Both works were well thumbed through. Less well read but in the library nonetheless was the more analytical The Revolution Disarmed by Gabriel Smirnow.

It was not because early 19th century 'Liberator' of Chile, Bernardo O'Higgins, was of Irish stock that the country's politics figured prominently amongst republican reading habits in the H-Blocks. For republicans looking left and eager to be seduced by the guile of revolution Allende was an icon. He was dead proof that democracy did not work; it could not protect the revolution. Allende offered a Marxism that had been brought to office through an election. The US, playing on the famous Berthold Brecht line that the people had voted, the bastards, was aghast and set out to destroy Chilean democracy. CIA director Richard Helms said the country's economy must be made to scream. National security advisor Henry Kissinger was determined that the democratic outcome of the 1970 Chilean election would be subverted. "I don't see why we need to stand idly by and let a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people." In the interregnum between election outcome and presidential inauguration, Kissinger, a war criminal of Germanic lineage, set about organising the removal of the Chilean army chief of staff, Rene Schneider, a formidable bulwark within the armed forces against military interference in the electoral process. Armed with CIA supplied weapons his would be military kidnappers murdered him, having botched their attempt to snatch him.

In the latter part of the 1980s from my prison cell I entered into a correspondence with the Chilean writer Mariana Callejas. In 1978 she had featured in a documentary protesting the abandonment of her husband Michael Townley by the Chilean junta on whose behalf he had murdered while in the service of DINA. Amongst his many crimes were the 1976 murders of the former Allende defence minister Orlando Letelier and his secretary Ronnie Moffit in a booby trap bomb placed under Letelier's car in Washington. After his release from a Pinochet prison Letelier had been heading up opposition to the dictator's fascistic regime. The murder is extensively documented in Taylor Branch and Eugene Propper's book Labyrinth. It too found its way into the H-Blocks.

Although by now something of a societal outcast, Mariana Callejas in her letters was fluent, articulate and charming. She seemed quite contrite about her own involvement in DINA activities and professed to be working to expose the activities of the Pinochet regime. How forthcoming she was is a moot point. She knew her hands had been well soiled by the country's dirty war. In his 2003 book By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolaño modelled a central character on Callejas, Maria Canales. A literary figure, she hosted a writers' salon in her home while opponents of the regime were undergoing torture in her basement. In 1998 Manuel Contreras, former head of the DINA secret police, accused Callejas of responsibility for the 1974 assassination of General Carlos Prats and his wife in Argentina.

For decades Chile flourished as one of the world's most vibrant democracies. The 9/11 coup of 1973 put an end to that. At the milder end of the spectrum books were burned and movies banned. Political parties were outlawed and the country's largest union shut down. Army officers became university rectors and students were forced to quit their studies. At the more extreme end people were murdered, tortured, disappeared. Death squads, Mariana Callejas reportedly amongst them, travelled as far as Europe in search of dissidents. The Villa Grimaldi detention centre acquired a status similar to that of the Argentine Navy School Of Mechanics in Buenos Aires; both factories of torture and death.

What role Pinochet played in the planning the coup is debated and disputed. His own account places him at the centre of the plot, the chief conspirator plotting in secret since 1971. Others involved claim that because he was promoted to chief of staff by Allende on the recommendation of Carlos Prats he was not to be trusted and consequently played no guiding role. Conspirator or not he was the first to suckle from the corrupt realignment that the coup brought. Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 tears. His reputation for being a ruthless dictator was equalled only by his reputation for corruption. Ultimately, the embezzlement rather than the human rights violations caused his followers to turn their backs on him.

Communist guerrillas came close to killing Pinochet in 1986. His survival, however, did not bring the adulation he craved. Piece by sordid piece, the edifice that sustained him crumbled with each new tale to emerge about him. When it was announced that Thatcher's buddy had died at the age of 91, I hoped that somewhere people would be found standing for two minutes noise in celebration of his demise. The sad thing about the absence of an afterlife is being denied the satisfaction of knowing Augusto Pinochet is burning in hell.















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

27 March 2007

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Paisley and Adams: The Ghosts of Politics Past
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Democractically Elected Musical Chairs
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John Kennedy

Bun Fights & Good Salaries
Dolours Price

No New Era Yet
Republican Sinn Fein

The Cul de Sac called 'Futility'
Anthony McIntyre

Pathetic Claims
Joe McDaid

Gerry McGeough
Martin Galvin

Gerry McGeough & Political Policing
Anthony McIntyre

Miscarriage of Justice
Helen McClafferty

Racism Bridging the Sectarian Divide
Dr John Coulter

The Prince of Darkness
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What's All the Fuss About the Veil?
Maryam Namazie

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How I Almost Got My Ass Kicked at the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Lived to Tell About It
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The Protestant 'Pat Finucane'
Father Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus

Green Party Declines White House Invitation
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Assembly Needs an Opposition
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Belfast Hot Air
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Citizen Tom
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A History of Nationalism in Ireland
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Review of Challenging the New Orientalism
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Two Sides of a Coin
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Sinn Fein Batmen
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Colm Mistéil

Reject the 'New' RUC
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

32 County Sovereignty Movement: Water Charges Are Illegal
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The National Irish Freedom Committee on Gerry McGeough
National Irish Freedom Committee

NIFC Free Form Video Discusses Elections, Abstentionism
Saerbhreathach Mac Toirdealbhaigh

America's 'Global War On Terrorism'
M. Shahid Alam

Iñaki de Juana Chaos
Anthony McIntyre



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