Pinochet’s Chile: Those who went and those who stayed

Tony Gould

Nothing has really happened to me during these 16 years: I’ve not lost anybody, any relative or friend; one or two friends are now living outside the country, but that’s all. I never suffered anything; I’ve not been persecuted, nothing. Only once, I was under arrest for eight hours. Those eight hours were because I was visiting a friend who had been taken to gaol and I was held there for a little interrogation – quite cordial and friendly and respectful. So nothing happened to me. And yet I don’t think there is anything in my life that is half as important to me as the coup. The rest is nothing compared to that. Up to that point I was interested only in Medieval Spanish literature. Now I can’t understand it: how could I?

Jorge Guzman is an academic and a novelist – a highly intelligent and articulate man who was surprised to find himself talking to me about things he had never discussed with anyone before: about, for instance, the differences in experience and perception between those who went into exile after the Pinochet coup and those who remained in Chile. In the beginning, he told me, those who stayed (of whom he was one) were hated and reviled by those who had left the country; they were considered traitors and collaborators. Guzman found this perfectly understandable. But he was somewhat taken aback to discover, when he first went to the United States in 1975, that he had to prove he was not a fascist. ‘Are you staying there?’ he was asked. ‘If you said yes’ he told me, ‘you had to follow up with an explanation. Which I didn’t. I simply said yes.’ It was ridiculous, he said, this cleaving of the country in two: the good ones and the bad ones, with the good ones being those who had left. Later it changed, ‘and we became small heroes for having stayed.’

In Guzman’s view, the main difference between the exiles and those who remained during the Pinochet years is that the latter were obliged to ‘become reconciled with reality’. ‘Before the coup,’ he said, citing his own experience:

I lived among dreams, historical dreams, political dreams. I thought we could do anything. I mean, we were such fools that we thought this country was independent. That is really to delude oneself to the point of lunacy. We thought we were independent. Now, I live in reality and I have found out that I have to work with it, in it, for it, from it.

No longer content to be an expert on Medieval Spanish literature on the one hand, and a novelist on the other, he began to pay attention to Latin America:

You have to belong where you belong. And here in Chile you must be interested in Chilean history, in Latin American history and in Spanish history, with a view to knowing who you are, and to seeing the reality that surrounds you. We have been living for centuries trying to hide the fact that we are descendants of Indians and Spanish. The Spaniards and the Indians who are our grandparents are both denied by us. This is crazy, but Chileans, and Latin Americans in general, despise with equal force the Spaniards and the Indians.

With equal force? Well no, not equal, he admitted when I challenged him: more the Indians, but also the Spaniards. He went on to explain the point with reference to the Spanish and Latin American custom of having a double surname, the mother’s following the father’s. ‘If you are a Chilean and your name is, let’s say, Jorge Guzman MacPherson, you never forget the MacPherson. But if you are called Jorge MacPherson Guzman, you certainly forget the Guzman!’ As far as genes are concerned, there are, of course, some pure Indians and some pure Europeans: but culturally ‘one of the things that is characteristic of Latin America is the fact that we are all half-breeds.’ Latin Americans are different. That is why he called his latest book Diferencias Latino-americanas, and had two pictures of himself on the cover – in one bearded and wearing a conquistador helmet and in the other cleanshaven, in a woolly hat with earflaps. This is all part of the reality which those who stayed have had to come to terms with.

Another apparent difference is not so much between those who stayed and those who went as between the ones who stayed and their former selves:

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