In Chile, football is, as in the majority of South American countries, a national passion. Fiery matches take place on weekends at the National Stadium, the largest in the country. In the stands the color red dominates. It is that of the national team, which here faces Brazil, Argentina, Colombia… But for others, this red is a symbol – that of the blood shed in this enclosure after the coup against Salvador Allende , September 11, 1973.
A global symbol of repression and torture
In the days following the bombing of La Moneda, the presidential palace, the National Stadium in Santiago quickly became an international symbol – one of repression and torture. The photos of the end of the austral winter, taken with the approval of the junta, went around the world. We see, in black and white, men, generally young, standing in the stands, parked behind the fences, under the chilling surveillance of soldiers, weapons in hand.
The images show fear, anguish. But they silence the noises, the cries. “We heard shots, screams,” says Roberto, arrested on September 11, 1973 at the Communist Party headquarters, a few streets from La Moneda. “I was 17 years old, I was active in the party’s youth movement. On September 11, early in the afternoon, the army began to attack the headquarters, where I happened to be. There must have been around forty of us. I was asked to leave, I was so young. But I wanted to stay. I still don’t really know why. We had no weapons, apart from the light ones of the security service. I was given a fire extinguisher. I had to put out the fires and protect the bookstore, the Karl-Marx bookstore. »
At the headquarters of the Communist Party, a fire extinguisher against the tanks
A derisory fire extinguisher as the tanks roll over Santiago and the army burns the country. When Roberto leaves the headquarters of the Communist Party hands on the head, like the others, he receives the blows, first. Then he experiences the mock execution. “I refused to say where I lived,” he remembers, still moved. I was told that my whole family would be shot… I said nothing, I was lined up at the wall with others, and they shot above.”
A few days after his arrest, he was taken to the stadium, along with so many others. He will spend nearly a month there, before being released thanks to the lack of organization of the soldiers, who no longer knew where he had been arrested. “I saw so many bodies, executions,” he recalls. Memories that he has long kept for him. And if he took his granddaughter to the stadium a few years ago, because she asked him questions, he didn’t tell her everything.
Today, Roberto returned to the stadium, to reunite with former inmates on the 50th anniversary of the coup. “I don’t often come to these meetings, but this year it’s a little different…” In the preamble to the meeting, the former young communist with white hair asked for a minute’s silence in memory of those absent, before going back upstairs. hide his red eyes in the bleachers and light a cigarette.
A football stadium, but also a place of memory
In the enclosure, a small part of the stands have been preserved as at the time. “A people without memory is a people without future”, can we read on a low wall, between the wooden benches of the time. From outside, we hear noises. Other noises. These are those of the construction sites in anticipation of the Pan American Games which will take place at the end of the year. The stadium is not a sanctuary.
But survivors and families fought to protect the memory of certain places. One end of the stands, of the locker rooms where fifty prisoners were piled up, has retained the spirit of the dark days. To mark the 50th anniversary, a brightly colored fresco was painted, in tribute to the victims, beatings and bullets.
For the past few years, visits have been organized every Saturday, to remind the youngest of the horrors of 1973. In a corner of the stadium, photos are exhibited under the concrete bleachers, naked as in the days when the military reigned terror .
José Manuel Mendez Ulloa, then a young worker in a glass production factory, gives his testimony to visitors. The military suspected the factories of being used as arms caches, and raids were numerous there from September 11. He spent fifty days here, locked in the locker rooms under the stands with his companions in misfortune. They could then only access the stands and the open air in turn, and in silence.
A birthday like no other
Fifty days of dreading beatings, abuse, and without the slightest contact with the family, as he recounts half a century later, under the moved eyes of a hundred visitors of all ages. He is asked about the rare food, about life in the underground locker room. He says that the prisoners, to comfort themselves, had only one recourse: to sing together.
Of all these songs, one remained forever present in his memory. “When I was arrested, I was 24 years old,” continues José Manuel. But I was 25 years old here, in this locker room. And as there was a list with the names and dates of birth of each of us, my companions surprised me by singing “happy birthday” that day… Since then, on each of my birthdays, it is their face singing that I see, their faces one by one. »
How many people experienced the fate of José Manuel? It is estimated, due to a lack of official documents, that 7,000 to 20,000 of them, depending on the sources, were detained at the National Stadium between September 11, 1973 and November 7. Because at the beginning of November, sport resumed its rights. For one of the most sinister and ridiculous matches in history, between the Chilean team and that of the USSR, absent because refusing to play this qualifying match for the 1974 World Cup on this place which has become damn.
The eleven players of the Chilean team nevertheless showed up on the pitch for a ghost match, with the approval of the International Football Federation. For Fifa, Chile had won. But the rules of the game had changed, for seventeen years.
A national search plan for the disappeared of the dictatorship
To mark the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état, the government of Gabriel Boric announced at the end of August a set of measures aimed at finding the bodies of the missing. The fate of nearly 1,200 people remains unknown. For decades, this search was almost exclusively the responsibility of families, and only 307 remains were found. Funded by the State, this plan aims to reconstruct the trajectory of victims after their detention and disappearance. Most of them were workers and peasants with an average age of around thirty.
The figures of repression under Pinochet
On September 11, 1973, With the support of the CIA, Augusto Pinochet organized a military coup against the socialist president Salvador Allende, democratically elected three years earlier.
Several commissions set up after the return of democracy in 1990, as well as judicial investigations, have shed light on human rights abuses during the Chilean dictatorship.
The number of deaths and victims of enforced disappearance is estimated at at least 3,200. Furthermore, the Valech commission, in 2004, recorded more than 40,000 cases of torture.