Chile’s rightist government and center-left opposition held separate events here Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the bloody coup that ushered in 17 years of harsh military rule under the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The official observance was led by President Sebastian Piñera, a billionaire businessman who began amassing his fortune during the Pinochet era.
The opposition coalition headed by former President Michelle Bachelet boycotted the government’s ceremony, gathering instead at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights to hear a speech by the woman who governed Chile from 2006-2010.
Both Piñera and Bachelet condemned the human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime, which killed more than 3,000 people, jailed around 38,000 others for political reasons - most of whom were tortured - and forced tens of thousands into exile.
But while Piñera accused the Socialist president ousted by the coup, Salvador Allende, of undermining the rule of law, Bachelet said responsibility for the damage done by Pinochet’s rule lies exclusively with the perpetrators and defenders of the Sept. 11, 1973, putsch.
“The shattering of democracy and the bad public policies were generating a growing political, economic and social chaos,” Piñera said of Allende’s 1970-1973 administration.
“That doesn’t mean, of course, that all the responsibilities are equivalent, but that they were much more shared than what some people still maintain,” the president told members of the governing parties, many of them one-time Pinochet partisans.
Bachelet, who is favored to win the Nov. 17 presidential election, said it is “fair to talk about the intensification of social conflict” under Allende, who nationalized industries and implemented land reform.
“What is not fair is to talk about the coup d’etat as a fateful and inevitable destiny,” she told supporters of the New Majority, a coalition ranging from Christian Democrats to Communists.
Bolstering democracy in 1973, she said “would have required more democracy, not a coup d’etat.”
The issue of the coup hangs over this year’s Chilean presidential race, which pits Bachelet against Evelyn Matthei, candidate of the rightist coalition.
Chile’s constitution bars a president from serving consecutive terms.
The daughters of air force generals, Matthei and Bachelet were childhood friends whose paths diverged after the putsch.
While Bachelet’s father, who opposed the coup, died as a result of torture by his brothers-in-arms, Matthei’s dad became a member of the junta.
Bachelet and her mother were also tortured by Pinochet’s secret police, but colleagues of her father were eventually able to have them released and allowed to leave the country.
“Violations of human rights are never acceptable,” Evelyn Matthei said Monday