Tell the Truth About the Past

How do people recover from political violence in places where democratic participation has been undermined? This is a question I’ve asked myself for years. How can we repair our hurt when one fell swoop changes our lives? What happens when due to a lack of protection of our individual rights, violence is able to viciously wear away the worthiness of every human being?

Today in many countries around the world, people are bringing attention to injustices caused to them in the aftermath of bloodshed and tragedy. The term reparation is a complicated one as it starts with an acknowledgement of harm. But helping those who have been wronged can obscure the amount of hurt people experience. And amends take time.

In countries such as Germany, Rwanda, Chile, Peru, Canada, U. S.A., governments have started to pay homage to humiliation and pain – to try to restore dignity to those who suffered injustices and acknowledge past mistakes. Some debts are monetarized, others are geared towards exploring particular circumstances to remember traumatic events in order to learn from them.

The term reconciliation, which the dictionary tells us is ‘the action of making one view or belief compatible with another’, is used to indicate a coming together from all sides. When we build a culture of repair we secure justice for those who experienced displacement and violence. People want truthful answers to questions in order to bring closure to their suffering.

In my family reconciliation has taken nearly half a century!

My relative, a young architecture student by the name of Luis Guendelman, was apprehended at his home in Santiago, Chile at 10:30 p.m. on September 2nd, 1974. He was one of thousands of people who were forcibly detained for political reasons during the military dictatorship of General Agusto Pinochet. Agents of the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) knocked on the door of his home, grabbed him and took him away in an unmarked van. His family and friends became extremely unsettled and started looking for him at police stations, detention centers and military barracks. They had no luck. Nobody claimed he was at their facility as there was no record of his arrest. Luis had been taken to one of several clandestine centers and illegal detention camps set up by the military in secret locations.

For decades relatives of those who went missing, tortured and made to disappear in Chile struggled for news from their loved ones. Investigations led nowhere, mostly due to an amnesty law passed in 1978 excluding those who committed human rights violations between September 11,1973 and March 1978, from criminal responsibility.

Investigators took years to discover the details about the events that ensued; how Luis was one of thousands of people who were forced into torture chambers and isolation. This past July 28, 2021 the Supreme Court of Chile found several former agents of the DINA responsible for Luis’s kidnapping and disappearance. These agents, who had already been charged with human rights violations, received sentences of 10 more years in prison. One ex-brigadier Miguel Krassnoff, who is now 75 years of age, is sentenced to serve a total of 600 years.

The court ordered the state to provide a small monetary compensation to Luis’s immediate family members. Was justice done?

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