Carmen Aguirre Interviews
Carmen Aguirre broke a decades' long silence when she decided to write about her time as a Chilean resistance fighter during the Pinochet regime. She spoke to D&M about what it meant to finally tell her story.
What pivotal experiences led to your political convictions and ultimately compelled you to join the Chilean resistance movement at age 18?
The coup of September 11th, 1973, when Salvadore Allendeís democratically elected socialist government was violently overthrown. The effects of the coup on my family, including our subsequent exile in Canada. The effects of the coup on my country, with thousands of people being arrested, tortured and killed. I was raised in a socialist family, to be a critical thinker, and to fight for my beliefs. To me joining the resistance at age 18 was not a choice, but a given.
With your mother, stepfather and sister, you returned to South America and led a double life at the age of 11. How could your mother use her own children as a cover and put you in such a dangerous circumstance?
My mother never used her children as a cover. She simply wanted her children by her side while she led the life of an underground resistance member. She did not see the contradiction in this. She did not believe that she was putting us in dangerous circumstances, as naÔve as that may sound. She truly believed that if she and my stepfather were hyper-diligent in terms of security, we would be out of harmís way.
My mother was raised in a very safe, lower middle class home in Chile. Her parents were apolitical, her mother was a housewife who dedicated herself entirely to raising her children, and Chile was not living under a dictatorship during my motherís childhood. She had no experience of what it might mean to a child to live in a state of terror. She truly believed that if she followed the rules, her children would not be aware of any danger.
Have your political views shifted since the dissolution of the resistance movement?
No. I still believe in socialism, and I openly support movements around the world that fight for revolutionary change. I am deeply proud and supportive of the Bolivarian Revolution that has rocked Latin America since the late 90s. I believe that that ongoing revolution began centuries ago, and that our resistance movement was one of many that paved the way for leaders like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Jose Mujica, and the other progressive leaders who are in power in Latin America right now.
How do you express your political convictions today?
Through my work. I make my living as an actor and by writing for the theatre and the content of ninety per cent of my writing is political in a deeply personal way. I also facilitate Theatre of the Oppressed workshops around the province, and have been doing so since 1994.
Whatís the political environment in Chile at the moment?
Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire businessman who was one of Pinochetís economists is currently president of Chile. Chile has one of the most extreme divides between rich and poor in the world. In the last twenty years the Mapuche Nation has taken centre stage politically in terms of their battle for land and rights. The members of this nation are regularly jailed and charged with terrorism, as Pinochetís anti-terrorism laws have remained intact.
Do Chileans feel terrorized by authority today?
Certainly the Mapuches do. As the largest First Nations in Chile, they make up ten percent of the population.
Do you feel safe expressing your political views in Canada?
Yes, I do.
You are a mother yourself. Would you put your child in a circumstance similar to the struggle that you found yourself in as a child?
No. Having said, I would not change my childhood for anything.
From the Indian independence movement to the African National Congress to current protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the world has witnessed a whole range of popular resistance to oppressive ruling powers over the past one hundred years. Where does one draw moral lines with regard to armed resistance?
To quote Nelson Mandela, who took up arms against apartheid, ďThere is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon against the enemy. It is always the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle.Ē Non-violent resistance is a performance that requires an audience. How do hungry people go on a hunger strike? How do the jobless poor go on strike? How do starving people refuse to pay their taxes? Non-violent resistance is one of many tactics.
Something Fierce is the first account ever published about life in the Chilean resistance. Did you have any fears about making your story public? Whatís your motivation for doing so now? Why it is important to remember?
To remember, to commemorate a movement that, as far as I can tell, has not been commemorated on the international stage. It is a story that must be shared. In terms of themes, I was interested in exploring political commitment clashing with personal desires, I was interested in exploring the experience of the Generation of Terror, which is what the 80s generation in Chile who resisted the dictatorship is referred to, and, in terms of North America, I was interested in challenging the notion that a person who takes up arms against oppression is a terrorist, or is brainwashed, or, if they are young, is simply a child soldier who is incapable of making their own decisions. Chileís youth has always been combative, and that is where I come from.
I also think itís important to remember because Chile is a country that has suffered from a kind of amnesia since the fall of Pinochet. Needless to say, Allendeís death on the day of the coup has never been investigated by the Chilean state. There have never been trials for crimes against humanity, and Pinochetís constitution remains intact. Many resistance members who live in Chile are still very much afraid to speak about their involvement for fear of reprisals. Many have died and taken the stories with them. Because there are people who still live in fear, I was afraid that the story would die without it ever being told. It is a defining story, and, as an artist, I feel it is my responsibility to articulate it.
How is the book connected to Canada?
My stepfather, Bob Everton, was living in Santiago, Chile, when the coup happened. He, along with thousands of other internationalists, had moved to Chile in support of Allende. He was arrested after the coup and was one of three Canadians being held as a political prisoner in the National Stadium, which was being used as a concentration camp. He was released after two weeks, with the help of the Canadian Consulate. When he arrived in Vancouver, he, along with other Canadians, organized a cross-country caravan to Ottawa. Once there, they set up camp on Parliament Hill and refused to budge until Trudeau gave asylum to Chilean refugees. It was the first time in Canadian history that Third World refugees fleeing a right-wing dictatorship were accepted into Canada. Trudeau made a deal with Pinochet: Pinochet was to hand over political prisoners who were going to be sent to the firing squad and Trudeau would accept them into Canada. In this way, especially in the beginning, Canada received Chilean refugees who were labour leaders, political activists, part of the intelligentsia, resistance leaders, members of Allendeís government, and highly trained professionals who had supported Allende. Thousands of Chileans arrived, and by the early 1980s, there were Chilean housing co-ops in Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, and Vancouver.
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