This paper examines the effect of the Pinochet regime in Chile on the poor, using arpilleras as a source of visual history on the topic. Arpilleras, textiles that were originally only created as works of folk art in the Chilean countryside, became an outlet through which impoverished women in Santiago both shared their experiences with each other and described those experiences to the rest of the world. Though the women were protected by the Catholic Church in Chile, the Pinochet regime nevertheless sought to repress them and criminalize their activities. This paper outlines the topic in three chapters, the first describing the historical origins of the arpilleras, the coup and the conditions that precipitated it, and the relevant theory and literature; the second presenting and analyzing actual arpilleras and the role of the Church in their creation; and the third describing Pinochet’s neoliberal policies, the effects of which are displayed in certain arpilleras. I ultimately argue that in addition to the well-known, vicious political repression and human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime, the neoliberal economic and social policies of the Pinochet regime had a highly negative impact on the poor. The effects of these abuses and policies on the poorest members of Chilean society may never have been known by the outside world, were it not for movements such as that of the arpilleristas.
Chapter 1: Background
Introduction to the Topic
On September 11, 1973—a date which Chilean author and former lobbyist-in-exile Heraldo
Muñoz refers to as “a different 9/11” in his political memoirs—the Chilean military overthrew the democratically elected Popular Unity government in a violent coup d’état (Muñoz 1). This event would eventually lead to the consolidation of Augusto Pinochet’s power as head of state (Arriagada 3-4). Those who suffered the greatest brutality at the hands of the military were the supporters of Popular Unity, a fairly radical group headed by Marxist president Salvador Allende and disliked by the privileged classes (Muñoz 1). The Popular Unity’s supporters included many people from the most impoverished sectors of Chilean society; during the coup and throughout the dictatorship they suffered the most at the hands of the military. Their suffering is represented in many artifacts of popular culture.
One artifact, director Andrés Wood’s autobiographical film “Machuca,” released in 2004
includes an incredibly telling scene. The protagonist, a young upper-middle class boy named Gonzalo Infante, meets and befriends a working-class boy, Pedro Machuca, during the integration of his school, as well as Machuca’s neighbor, Silvana. In the final scene of the film, the coup is underway and Gonzalo rides his bicycle to the slum where Pedro and Silvana live, where he witnesses the murder of Silvana, as she tries to protect her father while the military is clearing out the shantytown. Gonzalo himself is almost arrested but, poignantly, says “mírame” (look at me), and is allowed to go when the soldier notices his white skin, red hair and expensive clothes, escaping but leaving Pedro behind to an uncertain fate. This film, a post-dictatorship example of representations of its effects on the poor in popular culture and the wealthy boy with a conscience, is but one among many. It is also important to note that, despite the censorship and oppression that the regime exacted on Chilean society, artifacts of popular culture were created even during the dictatorship. One such example is the arpilleras, a traditional form of textile and folk art from the Chilean countryside that became highly politicized in its depictions of everyday life under the regime. Looking at and analyzing arpilleras, specifically those produced in Santiago between 1974 and 1989, this research will seek to examine the effects of the Pinochet regime on the poor in Chile.
This traditional form of textile art evolved into new forms of expression as it became urbanized. Arpilleras in the Chilean countryside were generally made of burlap with embroidering and featuring mainly pastoral scenes (Ubilla). While Chilean arpilleras originally depicted calmer scenes based on daily routines, an artist named Violeta Parra introduced changes to the art form in the 1960s; she introduced new themes, depicting the people and human experiences in addition to nature (Ubilla). During Allende’s Popular Unity government (1970-1973), a mural movement developed that featured political statements, denunciation and open discussion of sociopolitical issues, representation of the voice of the people (the poorer majority, rather than the rich, foreigners, or capitalists); while arpilleras made during Popular Unity maintained their traditional themes, those made clandestinely after the coup in 1973 reflected the themes of the mural movement and were often referred to as “muralitos” (Ubilla). Around 1974, women began to make arpilleras that reflected the political nature of the murals (which were all whitewashed by the dictatorship), and denounced the abuses suffered during the coup and under the new regime (Ubilla). Like Violeta Parra’s arpilleras, they incorporated popular life, and like the murals, they espoused political themes.
Theory, Definitions and the Relevant Literature
Before discussing the relevant body of literature about arpilleras, as well as the planned primary source research, it is pertinent to discuss theoretical sources that will be used in defining popular culture, as arpilleras will be considered artifacts of popular culture. In his work Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, John Storey notes that the way in which one defines culture as a concept depends largely on the context in which it is defined (Storey 1). This can lead to conflicting meanings and applications of the concept, yet there are certain broad definitions that one can utilize. Storey points to three varying definitions of the concept set forth by Raymond Williams, one of which applies in this context: “those texts and principles whose principal function is to signify, or to produce or to be the occasion for the production of meaning” (Storey 2). While Storey holds that in general, this definition applies most to works of “high art” such as opera, poetry and so on, the case of arpilleras under the Pinochet dictatorship presents a traditional, popular art form that, in becoming politicized, clearly sought to create meaning and significance.
Arpilleras can be considered artifacts of popular culture, a more specific concept for which Storey provides six varying definitions, again citing Williams to note that the term ‘popular’ itself can imply “’culture actually made by the people for themselves’” (Storey 6). Though the politicized nature of the arpilleras created under the dictatorship allowed Chileans to educate the international community about the abuses that the poor experienced under the regime, they also served the purpose of allowing women to come together and discuss what they were experiencing, with collectively created arpilleras as the result of this discussion – thus, the creation of the arpilleras was primarily by the women for the women (Ubilla). Of Storey’s six definitions, one stands out that follows the definition of the term “popular” in its conceptualization: “culture which originates from ‘the people,’” and in a sense, “popular culture as folk culture” (Storey 10). Arpilleras, as a traditional textile of the countryside, perfectly fit this folk element. Additionally, an author whose work is included in Eva Bueno and Terry Caesar’s volume Imagination Beyond Nation: Latin American Popular Culture, Oscar Lepeley, specifically refers to arpilleras as “a form of popular culture” while discussing their portrayal in Chilean theater during the dictatorship (Bueno and Caesar 143).
I will now discuss the relevant literature about arpilleras themselves. Marjorie Agosín’s Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras, Chilean Women and the Pinochet Dictatorship discusses the transformation of arpilleras from a traditional form of weaving/textiles in Chile that emphasized calmer daily life, to an active form of protest. Under the Pinochet dictatorship, arpilleras became visual descriptions (at times including words as well) of the abuses and tragedies that the poor experienced during and after the coup. Agosín describes the crucial role of the Catholic Church in aiding the women who searched for their disappeared relatives after the coup. Led by Chilean Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, this effort eventually expanded to include the creation of arpillera-making workshops where the women could safely weave. Another work by Agosín, Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love: the Arpillera Movement in Chile 1974-1994 provides brief historical background of the threat that Allende’s regime posed to the rich and powerful, the years of the military coup and what they meant for the poor, and (once again) the response of the Catholic Church to human rights abuses, going on to discuss the birth of the arpillera workshops and the arpilleristas themselves.
Mario I. Aguilar’s article, “Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, the Catholic Church, and the Pinochet Regime, 1973-1980: Public Responses to a National Security State,” further details Silva Henríquez’ crucial role in protecting the arpilleristas, arguing that the Cardinal took great personal risks to defend human rights as a result of his Christian values. Eliana Moya-Raggio’s article “’Arpilleras’: Chilean Culture of Resistance” briefly describes arpillera-making as a general tradition, and proceeds to discuss in-depth arpilleras as a method of artistic resistance to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Written during the 1980s (when Pinochet was still in power), the article describes the kinds of scenes that the arpilleras depict, who makes them, and what they represent to their makers. Moya-Raggio also discusses their meaning in the United States and Europe (they were shown in exhibitions there) as methods of conveying information about the dictatorship to outsiders. Betty LaDuke’s article “Chile: Embroideries of Life and Death” provides similar information and analysis to that in Moya-Raggio’s article, additionally contrasting the politicized arpilleras made in Santiago with the traditional arpilleras produced in Isla Negra, which will be discussed in this chapter.
The information in Agosín’s books and the three aforementioned articles will be used as background to compare to the testimony from interviews with Cecilia Ubilla, a Chilean exile who currently works at the University of California, San Diego and was heavily involved in the movement to publicly present arpilleras as a method of educating people in the United States about the dictatorship. Cecilia Ubilla, a supporter of Popular Unity, fled Chile after the coup, arriving in Los Angeles at 7 a.m. on June 16, 1974. She moved to San Diego, studying as a graduate student in the literature department at UCSD, and became heavily involved in solidarity activities, including film screenings and lecturing around the country about arpilleras. Thousands of arpilleras passed to her hands throughout the dictatorship, some of which were sold at presentations, but many of which remained with her. Ubilla’s testimony, the images of particular arpilleras in her collection, and information gleaned from one prominent dissertation on arpilleras, by Sharon Ann Taylor-Tidwell, will form the major part of my primary sources.
Additionally, historical sources will be incorporated in discussions of the Allende years, the coup, the Pinochet regime and its effects on the poor. In the following sections of this chapter, such sources will be incorporated and in the second chapter of this work, this historical information will be used to complement the sources on arpilleras as well as to enrich the analysis of arpilleras from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection (Agosín’s works will also figure in said analysis). These sources include Cathy Lisa Schneider’s Shantytown Protest in Pinochet’s Chile, Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela’s A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet, Spooner’s Soliders in a Narrow Land: the Pinochet Regime in Chile, and Steve Stern’s Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988. Chapter 3 of this work will compare and contrast the situation of the poor with that of the rich under Pinochet’s consumer culture-oriented social project, in which economic background and theory from David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism will be applied, as well as information from Brian Loveman’s Chile: the Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism and again Constable and Valenzuela’s A Nation of Enemies.
Pre-Coup Historical Background of Arpilleras
Sources that go into any detail on the pre-coup history of arpilleras are few and far between, perhaps because their lack of politicization before 1974 made them of less interest to the academic community. Such is the lack that the researcher has even come across articles that mistakenly claim that the very first arpilleras were produced after the coup; while it is probably that arpilleras were not produced in Santiago itself until after the coup, they were in existence in the countryside well before the coup. In her work Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras, Agosín notes: “we have not been able to determine the exact origins of the Santiago arpilleras. The tradition of using left-over scraps of material, out of which practical or decorative articles can be constructed…is very old and widespread. Within the area of Chilean popular art the nearest form to the Santiago arpilleras are the tapestries made by Violeta Parra in the 1950s” (Agosín 49). One important characteristic shared by Parra’s textiles and the arpilleras made in Santiago was the “[use of] very simple material such as feed sacks as a backing cloth (“arpillera” in Spanish means simply burlap—hence the name)” (Agosín 49). The lack of information on historical origins of arpilleras, especially those produced in Santiago, leads the researcher to rely on the testimony of Cecilia Ubilla, as well as Betty LaDuke’s short discussion of the arpilleras produced in La Isla Negra (which Agosín also mentions as being possible antecedents of those produced in Santiago), in briefly discussing the historical origins of arpilleras in general (Agosín 49-50).
Arpilleras originated long before 1973, a traditional form of embroidery/collage on burlap that women made in rural Chile and occasionally sold to tourists (Ubilla). The subjects of the arpilleras were pastoral, involving animals and daily life in the countryside; people were rarely included the images until Parra, famous for her art and folkloric music, included them in her arpilleras in the 1950s and 1960s, and political themes were never present until after the coup (Ubilla). In the 1960s, Parra and Pablo Neruda, the celebrated Chilean poet, began to promote the arpilleras produced by women in rural Isla Negra, whose themes focused on the past and folkloric imagery, representing an “escape into the pastoral” (LaDuke 33). LaDuke notes that after Neruda and Parra began to promote them, they were so popular that “they found it impossible to keep up with the demand” (LaDuke 33). In 1969, a woman named Leonora Soberina de Vera formally organized the women of Isla Negra and their work continued in its popularity, both at home and abroad, with each piece selling for about one hundred dollars (LaDuke 33). The military government supported the continuation of the women’s work in Isla Negra after the coup, even gaining them access to be shown in museums, whereas it attempted to stop women in Santiago from producing their politicized arpilleras and may have succeeded, had the Church not protected them (LaDuke 33).
Allende’s Government and its effects on the rich and the poor in Chilean society: why a coup?
Allende, the first Marxist to be democratically elected in Chile, came to power through a coalition in which the Christian Democrats agreed to support him, having won a thirty-six percent plurality rather than a majority in the 1970 presidential race (Constable and Valenzuela 23). Allende urged his supporters to “help him inaugurate a ‘second’ path to socialism, transforming the political and economic order within a peaceful, democratic framework” and “launched ambitious plans to nationalize copper mines, take over factories and banks, accelerate land reform, and raise living standards” (Constable and Valenzuela 24). He launched revolutionary reforms that aided students, women and the poor, among others. Taylor-Tidwell, who also interviewed Cecilia Ubilla, quotes her as saying: “[Allende] made it a law that every workplace had to have a day care center, if women were working there. The day care centers were free and they were run by professional personnel. They were located in the work place so that women could go there, on their breaks, if they wanted to see their children, or to breast feed their babies” (Taylor-Tidwell 5). Allende also implemented “economic reform programs [that] offered the lower classes opportunities they had never experienced,” especially in terms of land reform that more evenly distributed farmland among Chileans in the countryside, and educational reforms that created “tuition-free, open-admission policies” in Chilean universities (Taylor-Tidwell 6). These and many other well-intentioned reforms created “a euphoric time for students, professionals, factory workers, and peasant leaders caught up in Allende’s Popular Unity movement” (Constable and Valenzuela 24).
Nevertheless, the new government was not without its problems. First of all, Allende rather naïvely believed that he could institute numerous revolutionary reforms affecting the nation’s economic and social structures without causing huge inflation and without majority support in Congress (Constable and Valenzuela 24). By 1973, Chilean society was polarized by “a wave of shortages and strikes…with inflation approaching 300 percent over the previous year” (Spooner 31). In addition to the lack of majority support, many upper class Chileans, both socialites within Santiago and the more well-off farmers in the countryside, were horrified, feeling that “their property [was] being stolen and their privileges usurped” (Constable and Valenzuela 25). Those who opposed Allende, opposed him vehemently, and began to quite literally fight back against his policies and the attitude of his followers, whose “idealism,” as Constable and Valenzuela note, “was becoming tarnished by arrogance.” Ultimately during the ideological struggles within the government, “Chile’s tradition of political give-and-take was dismissed by the left as a bourgeois anachronism” (Constable and Valenzuela 25). Spurred by dreams and hopes of revolution, Allende’s supporters had perhaps overstepped their bounds, causing rather militant negative reactions from their ideological foes. Thus “investors took their capital abroad, and truckers fomented strikes that created shortages of staple goods and fueled the black market,” while, displaying an even more violent reaction, “right-wing ‘shock troops’ like Patria y Libertad (Fatherland and Liberty) blew up electrical towers and vandalized factories to heighten the climate of tension and fear” (Constable and Valenzuela 25-26).
Unfortunately for Allende’s supporters, his enemies found a powerful ally in the Nixon White House, which had attempted (but failed) to prevent his election, and inauguration (Constable and Valenzuela 23). By Nov. 9, 1970, the National Security Council had published an internal memorandum outlining how the United States government should act towards Chile, and the many ways in which it would put pressure on Allende (National Security Archive). The plan contains a decidedly militaristic element, noting that in attempting to oppose any Chilean policies that contradicted United States interests, “efforts should be increased to establish and maintain close relations with friendly military leaders in the hemisphere” (National Security Archive). The other theme prevalent in the document is economic pressure, asserting that guarantees of further United States financial assistance to Chile must be avoided, international financial institutions as well as other Latin American nations must be pressured not to invest in Chile, and United States businesses must be made aware of the United States government’s view of Chile and pressured not to invest there (National Security Archive). In addition to these pressures, the United States government actively sought to aid in any Chilean military efforts in a coup, initially giving aid to a failed coup intended to prevent Allende’s inauguration in 1970, then continuing to provide guidance and assistance up through the coup that succeeded three years later (Constable and Valenzuela, 23, 18).
On September 11, 1973, the coup began with aerial bombardment of the presidential palace, La Moneda, by the Chilean air force (Spooner 41). Within a few hours Allende, who had stubbornly held his ground inside of La Moneda, was dead; the official version of events is that he shot himself, and a Chilean doctor, Patricio Guijón, has provided testimony claiming that he witnessed the suicide, yet speculation occurred for years after about whether it was a murder or a suicide, and some still believe the former (Spooner 42, Constable and Valenzuela 17). Arrests and roundups by the military began immediately. In Santiago, “combat troops swept through working-class areas…seizing Popular Unity supporters…and fully expecting to encounter massive resistance,” but finding little, except in the case of a few militants in the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario, MIR, Constable and Valenzuela 17). Schneider notes that “there were few cases of armed resistance in even the most combative poblaciones” of Santiago (Schneider 76). The armed forces took control of the countryside with even greater ease, again contrary to their expectations (Constable and Valenzuela 18). Despite this ease, and the fact that the Chilean armed forces had control of the country by late afternoon, with a four-man junta (including Augusto Pinochet, who would eventually maneuver his way into being sole head of state) “[swearing] itself into power” by evening, with promises to “respect the 1925 constitution,” the military acted with violent brutality and took strong repressive measures to “[restrict] civilian rights and [expand] the purview of military courts” (Constable and Valenzuela 19). In a famous incident in Santiago that has become symbolic of the coup, “more than seven thousand civilians were herded into the National Stadium, where, as many detainees later described, they were brutally interrogated” and where many were murdered, including the celebrated folk musician Victor Jara, whose hands were broken before he was killed (Constable and Valenzuela 31).
Not only did the Chilean military act with excessive brutality considering the lack of resistance from most civilians, even those who opposed the coup, but it treated Allende’s “most vulnerable supporters” – peasant and labor leaders in the countryside, and the poor in Santiago slums and factories—with the most violence (Constable and Valenzuela 34). In fact, one did not even have to be a leader of any kind in order to invoke the regime’s wrath; even “government sympathizers without any known political affiliations” were attacked, most of whom “were poor and had participated in actions designated as ‘conflictive’” (Schneider 77). Schneider quotes an interviewee, Ana, who worked in a factory the Las Industrias neighborhood of Santiago as saying: “Tanks and helicopters surrounded us. A friend told me they had killed my husband and that I must flee before they arrested me”; on the day of the coup, the presidential palace was not the only area to be attacked—the factories were as well, with unarmed civilians killed and arrested (Schneider 73). Another interviewee of Schneider’s, from the neighborhood of La Pincoya, recounts a common scene that occurred there and in other neighborhoods: “We saw a long line of men marching with their hands over their heads escorted by a military patrol…They put all the men in the football field and began to select among them. Most of those they took never returned” (Schneider 76). The Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, otherwise known as the Rettig report, notes: “Roundups became routine in the countryside, and raids were common in the large factories in major cities and in the chief mining areas. In Santiago the more important shantytowns suffered large scale raids” (Rettig Report 155). The new regime exacted horrific levels of violence on the poor in both the countryside and in urban areas during and after the coup; in Santiago “[the military] scattered the bodies of the dead throughout the poblaciones, as both a symbol and a warning to potential opposition” (Schneider 75). The coup had an immediate negative effect on the poor in terms of repression and loss of life, which would affect the relatives of the disappeared and murdered, who were often women whose husbands had been arrested and disappeared, throughout the Pinochet regime and for the rest of their lives. As this paper will discuss in later chapters, as the regime progressed, the effects on the poor went beyond violence and grief to the economic hardships created by both the void that the disappeared men left behind as well as the regime’s economic policies.
The Role of the Church: the Pro Paz Committee, Precursor of the Vicaría
In the aftermath of the coup, the one institution that emerged with some power to help victims of the repression was the Catholic Church. Schneider notes that “initially, the Catholic Church was the only institution capable of confronting the regime,” quoting an outside source, she adds that this was largely because “’all other major social organization in the country had been outlawed or placed under heavy surveillance or in recess,’” and therefore “’the church was the one remaining institution allowed to function openly’” (Schneider 114). The attitudes of church officials about the coup varied; some bishops were “strong anti-Marxists who hailed the coup as an act of national liberation and ignored the severe repression that followed,” while others were more wary and critical of human rights abuses (Constable and Valenzuela 93). On the whole, however, the Church was a traditional, conservative institution; Schneider astutely notes, “its tradition of conservatism, its opposition to the Unidad Popular, and its claim to represent large sectors of society made it a potentially powerful enemy for the new regime” (Schneider 114).
Within this context, the Cardinal Silva Henríquez in Santiago emerged as a protector of human rights. During the Allende years, Silva Henríquez suffered criticism from both the political left and the right. As Aguilar notes, “some sectors of the Chilean press” began calling him “’the red Cardinal,’ associating him with the plight of the left-wing parties and the Communists” after he publicly greeted Fidel Castro (with Pope Paul VI’s encouragement) as well as publicly “[reiterating] the message of the bishops at Medellín for liberation from oppression that united all those challenging structures that oppressed the poor of Latin America” (Aguilar 718). Yet some Chilean leftists, including radical clergy members, criticized him “for his lack of support for those who associated the values of the Gospel with socialism, for example, the movement Christians for Socialism” (Aguilar 718).
After the coup, Silva Henríquez, though “more critical” than others, was “still reluctant to alienate regime officials, with whom he tried to maintain correct relations” (Constable and Valenzuela 93). The Cardinal even “agreed to bless the new authorities” (Constable and Valenzuela 93). Nevertheless, the Church and the military regime experienced a relationship that was “tense from the start” because of a declaration that Bishops José Manual Santos and Sergio Contreras wrote with Silva Henríquez that was released to the media days after the coup and “expressed sorrow for the violence and the blood in the streets” and “asked for compassion on the part of the authorities toward those who had ceased to be in power…also [asking] that the memory of the dead be respected, particularly that of President Salvador Allende” (Aguilar 719). The regime did not like the declaration all that much, and even made requests for certain changes in wording, attempting to censure it, not realizing that it had already been released and published (Aguilar 719). A few days later on September 18, while performing the Te Deum for the new government, Silva Henríquez “did not wear his Cardinal’s vestments, but the purple robe used on occasions of public bereavement”; though “most people did not notice,” in retrospect the Cardinal expressed a critical attitude from the start (Aguilar 720). Thus began the Catholic Church’s relationship with the new regime.
Ultimately it would be Cardinal Silva Henríquez’ active attempts (with the help of other Church officials) to aid the victims of repression that would anger the Pinochet regime the most. Though Church officials initially seemed reluctant to confront the new regime, and some clergy members publicly lauded the junta, “the regime’s increasingly brutal repression made political neutrality difficult for the priests and nuns working in the poblaciones….confronted with the violence and brutality directed against many of their own parishioners, and challenged by the victim’s families to defend them against the regime,” many clergy members, including Silva Henríquez, “became active human rights advocates” (Schneider 115, emphasis mine). Approached by so many of their own members who were suffering, and seeking to help those people, the clergy could not escape involvement and the risk of angering the junta. It is notable that, as churches began to open their doors to protect civilians, “the first to use the space provided…to denounce and oppose the regime, predominantly, were women” because they were “more likely to have connections with the local church and were, simultaneously, less likely to be targeted by the regime” because society’s traditional role of women as inferior, meant to be out of the way and in the home, made the regime think of them as less of a threat (Schneider 115). Among these women were the arpilleristas, who would become vocal advocates of the regime through their tapestries, as will later be discussed in this paper.
After visiting the infamous National Stadium where so many were being held, tortured and murdered on September 24, Cardinal Silva Henríquez became even more acutely aware of the abuses that the regime was exacting on countless people, although he was unable to “visit all the rooms where prisoners were kept,” as he had originally intended” (Aguilar 721-722). Not only did multiple prisoners ask the Cardinal’s help in notifying their families of what was happening, but “during the following days Silva Henríquez noticed hundreds of people requesting help at the archodiocesan offices,” at which point he became more organized in his response to these requests, enlisting the help of other clergy members (Aguilar 722). Just weeks after the coup, on October 9, 1973, Silva Henríquez’ efforts culminated in the creation of the Committee for Peace (Comité Pro Paz or COPACHI), representing “a vast collaborative and ecumenical effort with other churches in order to help prisoners and their relatives,” and “supported by several churches and religious organizations” (Aguilar 723). The work of COPACHI primarily involved “[helping] relatives of the disappeared and [providing] information to the press and to international organizations regarding human rights abuses in Chile” (Aguilar 724). The Cardinal was, nevertheless, cautious; he generally discouraged public denunciations of human rights abuses on the part of Chilean clergy members, even when Pope Paul VI suggested that such a declaration be made (Aguilar 723). Silva Henríquez was well aware of the dangerous climate in which the Church was maneuvering. Despite his caution, the military kept a close watch on COPACHI’s offices and by 1974 “had arrested and threatened [people] working for the organization” (Aguilar 724). After threats from Manuel Contreras, the director of the military government’s secret police/security forces, a somewhat disagreeable exchange of letters with Pinochet, and other tense situations that led to pressure from Pinochet, Silva Henríquez was forced to shut down COPACHI in December 1975 (Aguilar 725-726). Nevertheless, by early 1976 Silva Henríquez established the Vicaría de la Solidaridad, an organization under the Church’s auspices that would last throughout the dictatorship and under which the arpilleristas would produce their textiles, as we will see in Chapter 2.
Arpilleras: Visual History
La Vicaría de la Solidaridad (Vicariate of Solidarity), birthplace of the Arpillera Workshops
Cardinal Silva-Henriquez, was forced by the military government to close the Committee of Cooperation for Peace in Chile (COPACHI) in December of 1975 and thereafter established a new organization, the Vicaría de la Solidaridad, in 1976. This time, however, he orchestrated it so that it could not be controlled by the junta (Aguilar 726). Silva-Henriquez created the new organization as “part of the Archdiocese of Santiago” and therefore, “the military government was not able to close the Vicaría, which was a pastoral office within a church that was legally separated from the Chilean state” (Aguilar 726). The religious scholar Mario Aguilar posits that “while COPACHI was an emergency solution to the social problems posed by the military coup, the Vicaría represented the values associated with the social doctrine of the Church, and therefore its main role was to educate Catholics in the values and the practice of solidarity for the future, while helping those suffering due to political circumstances” (Aguilar 726). Other scholars, however, do not note any particular role of educating Catholics; Schneider, for example, states “except for its even closer affiliation with the church, the Vicaría was almost an identical replica of the organization the government had banned,” and the closer affiliation with the church seems largely a result of strategy, to avoid the interference of the junta from reoccurring (Schneider 118). Through the examination of arpilleras created in the Vicaría, this research will expand on the role of helping those who were suffering.
The Vicaría’s many services and activities for the poor included workshops for subsistence activities. One such workshop was that of the arpilleras; their “sale provided economic support, badly needed because of the high unemployment and, in some cases as well, political imprisonment of male relatives” (Stern 84). As previously mentioned, and as Stern notes, the arpilleras created in Santiago were “[adaptations of] an earlier Chilean folk art tradition from Isla Negra,” involving embroidery on burlap, and, importantly, “differed from the old because they became vehicles of social description and commentary on life under military rule, and because the female folk artists now included the urban poor and the politically persecuted” (Stern 84). The social commentary was a strong element; in Cecilia Ubilla’s words: “[The arpilleras] were pieces of denunciation. They were outright, very clearly questioning, denouncing, criticizing, and at the same time, putting forth a message, inviting people, enticing, trying to get the people to do something. They were dialectical pieces, denouncing and proposing a solution, so to speak” (Ubilla). Additionally, Stern notes: “the expressive function was also important. The hope and life suggested by bright colors and border yarn contrasted with grim realities…depicted in the picture” (Stern 84). The next section of this chapter will discuss specific themes prevalent in the arpilleras, analyzing visual examples taken from arpilleras in Cecilia Ubilla’s collection.
Themes of the Arpilleras
1. Human Rights
A key theme of the arpilleras was the disappeared, whose numbers rose steadily in the first years after the coup. As Sharon Taylor-Tidwell notes in her dissertation on arpilleras, the junta promised that the rule of law would prevail: “Pinochet told the country that in an attempt to heal the society, it was necessary to first purge those people deemed enemies of the state. Yet even this purging, he promised, would be handled with restraint. Those detained, he claimed, would be promptly charged. They would have the right to appear before a judge and could not be held for more than forty-eight hours. Most importantly, Pinochet insisted that all forms of torture would be prohibited,” yet “contrary to what the General promised, people were arrested by the military and executed on the spot or shot, supposedly while trying to escape” (Taylor-Tidwell 39-40). It is also important to note that while some people were fortunate enough to quickly secure passage out of the country, many could not afford this because of their poverty – and these were the people whom the regime repressed the most violently, because they had been Allende’s biggest supporters (Taylor-Tidwell 41).
Starting with the coup, the military “disappeared” thousands of people; citing information from the Ad Hoc Working Group of the United Nations in 1975, Schneider notes that “by mid-1975 the military had detained between forty and fifty thousand civilians, brutally torturing many of them…They summarily executed, or “disappeared,” over two thousand” (Schneider 3). The last of Schneider’s statements is notable in that it highlights the ambiguity of the situation of the arrested people – their relatives could never be sure whether they were dead or languishing in prison. Discoveries of mass graves, a famous example being that at Lonquén, when a group of people, including members of the Vicaría, decided to investigate rumors about remains in the bottom of ovens in Lonquén, a town in the countryside (Stern 156-157). Operating in secret, the group went to Lonquén and on November 30, 1978, “discovered an archaeology of death: skulls, bones, hair, clothes” in the ovens there (Stern 157). This discovery indicated the clandestine, extralegal nature of military executions, and the fact that the regime was lying about those it had seized. Below is an arpillera from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection that depicts the discoveries at Lonquén (Figure 1a):
The next arpillera (Figure 1b), also from her collection and interpreted with her assistance, emphasizes the uncertainty that the friends and relatives of the disappeared suffered:
The group of people at the center of the arpillera represent a mother and her children, the men on either side of them being their disappeared relatives. The red circle and arrows pointing to either side indicate a thought bubble – they are wondering whether their relatives are still in prison, as represented by the image on the left, or if they have been murdered and are now in a fosa, or mass grave, as represented by the image on the right. This was an uncertain, constant state of wondering that countless friends and family members of the disappeared experienced throughout the regime. A woman interviewed by Taylor-Tidwell describes the pain and anxiety: “’As soon as our relative is detained, the first thing we do is to initiate an appeal for protection…We couldn’t really say anything…People would arrive at the jails or any one of those places and ask for their relatives. They had no idea what was happening around them…And this is how we came to know about these types of places. We knew about Tres Alamos because we went there all the time immediately after the arrest…We also stood in long lines and they [the military] would eventually say that they were not there. Or many times at Tres Alamos, in case they did bring them there, we would bring soap, toothpaste, cake, something to eat…they [the military] would, very rudely, throw these things away’” (Taylor-Tidwell 43). Tres Alamos was a prison camp (one among others that included Dos Alamos and Cuatro Alamos) where the military was known to torture prisoners, despite the junta’s attempts to prove otherwise to the international press; the word alamo means poplar, and many of the arpilleras in Cecilia Ubilla’s collection contain poplars, which she points to as representing one or another detention center, depending on the number of poplars in the representation (Stern 120, Ubilla).
Tied to the themes of disappearances and mass graves are those of mass arrests, interrogation and torture. Most, if not all, of the thousands who were arrested, were interrogated under torture – most survived but thousands did not. “Disappearance” was in essence the amalgamation of arrest, detention, interrogation, torture and a death concealed and denied by the military. The official report of the Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission asserts: “In the case of disappeared prisoners…this Commission has arrived at a moral conviction that the so-called ‘disappearance’ is not a disappearance at all…In fact, all the cases which this Commission treats under this term involve an arrest along with, or followed by, methods to conceal it and official denials. Torture was generally used during such detention, and there is a moral certainty that it ended in the victim’s death and the disposal of the remains so as to prevent their being discovered” (Rettig Report 52). The arpillera below (Fig. 1c), again from Ubilla’s collection and interpreted with her aid, depicts the theme of arrest:
The men in green represent members of the military carrying out the arrests. The presence of women in the image indicates the fact that women often witnessed the arrests of their husbands and other male family members; the women in the bottom right of the image are confronting a soldier, asking why. Women did not passively allow their relatives to be taken away, yet were ultimately powerless to stop the soldiers. The civilians being arrested in the image are blindfolded and handcuffed, indicating a serious arrest, prior to torture.
The following arpillera (Figure 1d) depicts the theme of the interrogation and torture that followed arrest:
In the bottom right-hand corner of the arpillera it says: “Nadie será sometido a tortura o tratamiento cruel, inhumano o degradante” (“No one should be submitted to torture or inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment”). The visual depiction of people being interrogated and mistreated (on the left, whereas those people on the right represent people awaiting interrogation and torture) conveys what thousands of Chileans experienced during and after the coup on September 11, 1973 (and that their female relatives, creating these arpilleras, were aware of it). The embroidered statement reflects inspiration from the United Nations, which had declared an International Year for Human Rights in 1968. Among the United Nations’ human rights tenets is a ban on torture. The arpilleras contained this and other tenets underlining the human rights abuses of the regime and the works show Chileans turning to the United Nations and the United States Senate to help investigate and document what was happening.
2. Economic Privation, General Repression, and Subsistence Activities
Beyond depicting human rights abuses committed by the Pinochet regime, the arpilleras also conveyed the economic privation that the poor experienced after the coup of 1973, the repression that it exacted against the poor, and the subsistence activities that many turned to, with the help of the Vicaría de la Solidaridad, in order to survive after losing their male relatives, who had been the main bread-winners. This section will first look at arpilleras depicting economic privation and repression. I will then seek to demonstrate, through the analysis of certain arpilleras, that the themes of repression and subsistence activities are intertwined, as the military often intervened in an attempt to thwart subsistence efforts.
The junta’s repression of the poor involved a general economic and social repression that affected subsistence activities that had existed even before those of Pro-Paz and the Vicaría. The following arpillera from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection (Figure 2a) depicts how this economic privation affected the poor, especially children:
The various images in the arpillera indicate the past (a child selling something at a bus stop), versus the present (a bus that says “vendedores no” – essentially no one is allowed to sell items on the bus, and, in the bottom left “niños piden limosna” – “children beg”). The words “la granja” beneath “vendedores no” refer to a particular bus line in Santiago (Ubilla). Another image representing the present in the top half is the child by a house, underneath which it says: “este niño pide pan por las casas” (“this child goes to houses asking for bread”). In between the two panels is a statement, again influenced by the United Nations’ human rights tenets: “todo persona tiene derecho a tener infancia feliz” (“every person has the right to a happy childhood”). While selling items on the bus in order to help support one’s family is not the ideal activity for a child, having to beg is that much worse, and the arpillera indicates that begging is what children were reduced to under the new regime, because they could no longer sell knick knacks and candy on the buses.
Childhood poverty, as well as the abandonment of children, became significant problems during the years of the military dictatorship; Osvaldo Torres G. examines these themes in his book, Al Niño Abandonado en Chile: la Herencia del Regimen Militar. Torres G. divides abandonment into two categories: “those children abandoned on purpose and harmfully” and “at-risk youth or [youth] with [varying] degrees of abandonment” (Torres G. 13, my translation). The latter category includes children abandoned “because of direct socioeconomic conditions: unemployed youth; social, cultural or political segregation; children working as street vendors or beggars” (Torres G. 13, my translation). The arpillera above addresses this subcategory, as it denounces both the fact that some children are so impoverished that they must work as street vendors or beg, as well as the fact that under the new regime, they are prohibited from engaging in such activities, which constitute their only means of survival in many cases.
The economic privation and repression that the poor experienced under Pinochet also affected access to healthcare and public health centers that had become widespread during Popular Unity. The arpillera below from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection (Figure 2b), speaks to this theme:
The various doors and windows indicate the type of service (“dental” etc.) and towards the left-hand side there is a sign that says: “no hay números” (essentially “we can’t see you today”), indicating that the health center has reached the capacity of the number of people that it can help for the day; yet many people still wait outside. In addition to the issue of a lack of capacity to help those in need, Cecilia noted during interviews that another problem was fear; people feared that if they went to the health centers, the military might be there and question them. Not only were the health centers ill-equipped to help those who sought their services, but many others did not even approach the clinics because the military’s behavior during and after the coup instilled a constant fear of being detained by the police wherever they went. Beyond the state of shock inflicted by the military on any project Allende had begun or developed, Pinochet, with economic advisers trained in the United States, was privatizing public services such as health care. The result left medical clinics out of the financial reach of the poor. See Chapter 3 of this paper.
Pinochet also closed the public universities for a time until they could be purged of Marxist professors and left wing or relatively impoverished students. Allende had encouraged academic classes and research projects by leftists and had opened the doors of the University of Chile to the previously excluded. When Pinochet reopened the campuses they were run by military men, often retired ones (Stern 117). In Cecilia’s words, “public universities were considered centers of indoctrination for the left,” and in addition to public universities being closed, often entire sections of the universities that remained open were also closed – philosophy, sociology, and so on, in other words any discipline that was believed to lend itself to liberal thought processes (Ubilla). The arpillera below from Ubilla’s collection (Fig. 2c), discusses such closures via images as well as an attached note (Fig. 2d):
The arpillera depicts students arriving to their university, only to find that it has been closed. The accompanying note states: “La universidad se encuentra cerrada a la posibilidad de los estudiantes pobres pues los creditos fiscales solo son para los adeptos al regimen” – which translates to: “The university finds itself closed in terms of the admission of poor students since financial resources are only for supporters of the regime.” Under Pinochet, Catholic universities and private schools remained open but were immediately controlled by the military; the regime even attacked cultural changes and forcibly cut the long hair off male students. Specific people within universities were targeted; Steve J. Stern notes that “one aspect of the new climate was repression to rid universities of troublesome people” and therefore “in 1973 Admiral Hugo Castro, as minister of education, began the purges that in two years removed some 20,000 faculty, staff, and students, some seized by the DINA,” Chile’s secret police (Stern 184). Additionally, “although purges initially focused on the Left, from the start the point was to erase all dissident thought – including that of Christian Democratic intellectuals,” hence repression within universities was fairly widespread, affecting more than just the Left (Stern 184). Nevertheless, “some youngsters from families repressed, stigmatized, or alienated by military rule found their way into university life” and “in 1981, a fourth (26.1 percent) of entering university students came from…lower-class families more likely to have experienced or witnessed repression, along with economic hardship, in the 1970s” (Stern 185). Given the extremely repressive measures of the Pinochet regime in most spheres of life, it seems remarkable that even a fourth of the university students came from underprivileged, and potentially politically unfavorable (to the regime and its supporters) backgrounds. By then, of course, the university was being starved of resources and the increasingly wealthy segment of society was sending its children to the Católica (Catholic universities) or other private universities that the regime had encouraged to develop.
Beyond university closures, the new regime also closed down certain organizations and businesses, which had a markedly negative economic effect on the poor. The following arpillera from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection (Figure 2e) denounces such closures:
The image denounces the regime’s closure of textile factories (represented by the people outside of the abandoned/closed building that says “textil”) and its ban on trade unions (represented by the two buildings, again with people outside, that say “sindicato,” or trade union). The arpillera also includes a brief reference to the ever-present theme of human rights abuses, with the group of people in the bottom right wondering “donde estarán” (“where are they/where might they be?”) about their disappeared friends and relatives. The embroidered letters on the building in the upper left-hand corner (“FC Loza”), which has also been closed, most likely refer to a factory for making china or other kitchenware (Ubilla). Labor unions collapsed as a combination of political repression and economic causes. Schneider notes that among those targeted most by the new regime after the coup were “labor organizers, grassroots leaders, such as those belonging to the neighborhood councils” and that by 1975 “labor unions had been eliminated by the collapse of industry” (Schneider 94). Brian Loveman notes that “in the first months after the coup, the military government banned strikes, prohibited collective bargaining, and suspended the processing of all labor petitions,” as well as “[outlawing] the [Worker’s United Center of Chile, or] CUT, [prohibiting] union elections, and [assigning] military officers to mediate labor disputes” and “[barring] union meetings held without prior approval by the police” (Loveman 282-283). The economic crisis of 1975-1976 inflicted the final blow to unions, and working people were thrown into a sea of joblessness as factories and businesses closed (Loveman 94). Joblessness, factory closures and the weakening of labor unions will be examined as part of the economic theme in chapter 3, contrasting Pinochet’s neoliberal project with the harsh realities that the poor experienced as a result of his policies.
How did Chileans survive these disasters? A key means was the soup kitchen. After the coup, soup kitchens were organized as early as 1974, under the guidance of the Pro-Paz committee before it was disbanded, as part of its response to “the social and economic emergencies that accompanied political persecution and economic depression”; according to Stern, “some 350 soup kitchens fed about 35,000 children in Santiago and the provinces” (Stern 104). The following arpillera from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection (Figure 2f) conveys the military’s reaction to even the most basic of subsistence activities, the soup kitchen:
This arpillera depicts carabineros – members of the Chilean military – intervening in a soup kitchen and overturning the pot, thereby wasting the food and keeping the people from eating it. The embroidered script in the top left-hand corner reads: “a esto llego el pueblo chileno a la miseria de la olla común/los señores carabineros botan el alimento de los pobres” (“This is the point the people of Chile have reached – to resort to the soup kitchen because of poverty/the carabineros spill the food of the poor”). Discussing the arpillera with me, Ubilla noted that “señores” (the arpillera refers to the carabineros – a militarized national police – as “sirs”) “of course is very sarcastic,” as it addresses the carabineros as gentlemen, though they are far from behaving as such (Ubilla). The script embroidered on the right-hand side, beneath the path, reads: “Esta gente va detenida,” which is a colloquial expression in Chilean Spanish that essentially means, “all these people are being arrested,” indicating the criminal nature of the soup kitchen in the eyes of the regime (Ubilla). Military intervention in subsistence activities such as soup kitchens did not stem from something simplistic like hatred of or disdain for the poor, but rather because of ideological issues; in her dissertation, Sharon Taylor-Tidwell cites an outside source, presumably published during the time of the military dictatorship, that notes: “the [carabineros] have said repeatedly—and the official press and the state radio and television have broadcast the charge—that the soup kitchens are a Marxist invention” (Taylor-Tidwell 87).
Given that the arpilleristas depicted real-life experiences in their work, one can assume that the carabineros did indeed repress groups such as soup kitchens, because the junta saw them as breeding grounds for subversive, anti-regime thoughts and behaviors—however there is nothing in the academic literature that discusses specific incidents of the military disrupting soup kitchens. Nevertheless, as has been previously discussed, the junta strongly disliked the solidarity activities that the Pro-Paz Committee (and later the Vicaría) organized, as the regime saw them as subversive and organized by subversive people; in this case, the arpillera is the evidence that police invasions of shantytowns, which were common, included the destruction of food supplies. The academic literature does indicate that the military specifically targeted, and sometimes even murdered, people involved in the subsistence and solidarity activities of the church. For example, as late as “29 March 1985, three men were found in…Santiago…Their mutilation – deep throat slashes – sparked horror. Among the three was José Manuel Parada, the Communist sociologist and analyst who had worked with the Vicaría de la Solidaridad since its inception” (Stern 282). While Parada was a higher-profile member of the Vicaría than the average person who benefited from its subsistence organizations, especially due to his political affiliation, one must wonder if he would have survived had he not been involved with the Vicaría, had he kept a lower profile. The example of Parada’s death is closely related to examples of human rights abuses, which the academic literature emphasize the most; nevertheless Parada was involved in an organization that helped the poor with workshops and other subsistence activities, indicating the connection between his death and the repression of such activities. One must also wonder the fate of people such as those in the arpillera movement, who were presumably arrested while engaging in activities such as soup kitchens or other workshops.
Another subsistence activity is the one around which the work of this paper is built: arpillera workshops. The arpillera below from Cecilia Ubilla’s collection (Figure 2g) is an arpillera-within-an-arpillera of sorts:
The image depicts women inside of the workshop creating an arpillera together, as well as women outside gathering materials with which to make arpilleras, and cleaning and caring for the area outside of the workshop itself for the benefit of its members. The note in the top left-hand corner states: “Nosotros aquí en Chile hacemos tapices para poder subsistir a nuestra familia -Chile (89);” this translates to “We here in Chile make tapestries in order for our families to survive,” with the “(89)” indicating the year that the arpillera was made. The arpilleras, produced in workshops orchestrated by the Vicaría de la Solidaridad, provided a small sum of money to their creators through their sale in “discreet Church-sheltered shop[s]” in Chile, and abroad after being smuggled out of the country with the help of sympathetic foreign embassies (Stern 84, Ubilla).
Though the arpillera workshops managed to persist with the protection of the church, it was not without difficulty. The military regime, aware that the arpilleras depicted hardships that the arpilleristas and their families experienced as a result of the coup, viewed them as subversive and attempted to thwart the efforts of the arpilleristas, through direct repression as well as bad press. In interviews, Cecilia mentioned that many women would burn or hide the arpilleras in their homes if they feared that the military was coming, because of the potential repercussions of being caught with them as well as the desire that the textiles not fall into the hands of the military, never to be seen again (Ubilla). At times the repression was slightly more subtle and, naturally, the military sought to hide its involvement. Stern describes such an instance of more subtle repression in Battling for Hearts and Minds. Paulina Waugh, a Chilean woman, owned an art gallery in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago, in which she “displayed art by renowned Chilean artists” as well as the works of “less-well-known young artists” and “an unusual exposition, Christmas, 20th Century, by women from shantytowns,” which contained arpilleras (Stern 81). On 13 January, 1977, Waugh’s gallery was bombed, and despite what appeared to be a methodical, impartial police investigation, it became clear that “the DINA (secret police) wanted to destroy the gallery precisely because it had become a troubling ‘memory knot,’ a place to express and project into the public domain counterofficial visions of reality” (Stern 83).
The regime also attacked the arpilleristas through the media. For example, in 1978 the Chilean newspaper, La Segunda, published an article on arpilleras entitled “Los Tapices de la Difamación,” or “Tapestries of Defamation,” that sought to discredit the arpilleristas and their personal stories of repression. The article includes a various images of arpilleras with captions criticizing them, as well as the Vicaría. Underneath one it says, “Doscientos pesos paga la Vicaría por confeccionar esta infamia” (“The Vicaría pays two hundred pesos to make up this disgrace”); under another, the article reads, “Este tapiz, confeccionado e ideado por ‘artesanos’ de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad, muestra a un grupo de mujeres que, junto a sus hijos, tratan de ver a sus familiares imaginariamente detenidos a Dos Alamos. Cientos de estas ‘obras de artesanía’ han sido enviadas al exterior por intermedio de ese organismo dependiente del Arzobispado, con el objeto de desprestigiar a nuestro Gobierno” (“This tapestry, made and invented by “artisans” of the Vicariate of Solidarity, shows a group of women who, with their children, try to see their relatives, supposedly detained at Dos Alamos. Hundreds of these “handicrafts” have been sent out of the country through this organization that depends on the archbishopric, with the goal of discrediting our Government.”) (La Segunda, my translation). The writer questions the legitimacy of the women as artisans, by putting such a title in quotations, contends that they are lying, and harshly criticizes the Vicaría de la Solidaridad for helping them.
Beyond Human Rights Abuses: the Repression Imposed by Government Policy
The human rights abuses committed by the junta are well known, and have been discussed at length in this chapter. The second category of arpilleras presented in this chapter, however, which depict subsistence activities, general day-to-day survival, and economic and social repressions, tie in to Pinochet’s neoliberal economic and social policies, and thus deserve to be discussed further. These policies brought about many of the privations denounced in the arpilleras, and had a widespread effect on Chilean society, spreading much wealth among the few, and poverty among many. Chapter 3 will examine the background of neoliberal policy in Chile, and its effects in several key sectors.
A Free-Market Miracle?
Chile as the First Neoliberal State and Neoliberalization as Class Power
The Chilean junta and its the famous ‘Chicago Boys’ were essentially the forerunners of neoliberalization. As David Harvey notes in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Chile was the first state to implement neoliberal economic theory as policy (Harvey 7). According to Harvey, “neoliberalism as a potential antidote to threats to the capitalist social order and as a solution to capitalism’s ills had long been lurking in the wings of public policy” as early as the 1940s, with Austrian political philosopher Friedrich von Hayek and his followers, and rose to prominence with Milton Friedman’s work at the University of Chicago in the 1970s (Harvey 19-20, 22). This is where the Chicago Boys played an important role; they were “a group of economists” who were “known as [such] because of their attachment to the neoliberal policies of Milton Friedman,” having studied at the “University of Chicago…as part of a [U.S.-sponsored] Cold War program to counteract left-wing tendencies in Latin America” (Harvey 8). During Popular Unity, a group of “business elites organized their opposition to Allende through a group called ‘the Monday Club’ and developed a working relationship with these economists, funding their work through research institutes” (Harvey 8). Pinochet supported the ideas of the Chicago Boys, and after eliminating the threat of a rival member of the Junta, General Gustavo Leigh, in 1975, he “brought [them] into the government, where their first job was to negotiate loans with the International Monetary Fund” (Harvey 8). The Chicago Boys and the IMF proceeded to “[reverse] the nationalizations and [privatize] public assets, [open] up natural resources…to private and unregulated exploitation….,[privatize] social security, and [facilitate] foreign direct investment and freer trade,” and “the right of foreign companies to repatriate profits from their Chilean operations guaranteed,” in addition to which “the only sector reserved for the state was the key resource of copper,” a situation that Harvey compares to “oil in Iraq” (Harvey 8).
This chapter will outline the military regime’s neoliberal economic project and its general effects on Chilean society, going on to examine in further detail the extreme weakening of organized labor, the privatization of public services such as healthcare, and the disastrous effects of its economic policies on women and children. Through this discussion, I will seek to demonstrate Harvey’s argument that “neoliberalization is…a political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites” (Harvey 17). The crisis of capital accumulation in the 1970s represented “a clear political threat to economic ruling classes everywhere” because as a result of it, “discontent was widespread and the conjoining of labor and urban social movements throughout much of the advanced capitalist world appeared to point towards the emergence of a socialist alternative to the social compromise between capital and labor that had grounded capital accumulation so successfully in the post-[World War II] period,” leading to “communist and socialist parties gaining ground” (Harvey 15). Specifically discussing Chile, Harvey asserts that its “experiment with neoliberalism demonstrated that the benefits of revived capital accumulation were highly skewed under forced privatization,” as “the country and its ruling elites, along with foreign investors, did extremely well in the early stages” (Harvey 15). He further notes that “redistributive effects and increasing social inequality have in fact been such a persistent feature of neoliberalization as to be regarded as structural to the whole project,” and that “Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy, after careful reconstruction of the data, have concluded that neoliberalization was from the very beginning a project to achieve the restoration of class power” (Harvey 15-16).
The “Chilean Miracle”
Neoliberalization played a key role in the economic policies of the Pinochet regime, and served to strengthen and entrench its power. The results of these policies greatly benefited the upper classes (and sometimes the middle classes, although certain policies negatively affected them, as we will see) in Chile and therefore have come to be known as the “Chilean Miracle.” In reality, far from being a miracle, they devastated many Chileans, causing massive unemployment, and were implemented with the intent of re-establishing the power of the upper classes. In his work Chile: the Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism, Brian Loveman identifies several stages through which the junta solidified its power, describing the second stage as “the consolidation of General Pinochet’s control through the secret police and security apparatus and adoption of the shock treatment,” which was accompanied by “a radical application of orthodox monetary and fiscal policy combined with a number of politically motivated cuts in particular government agencies and public enterprises” (Loveman 264). Loveman notes that “consolidation of the military junta’s political power occurred simultaneously with the gradual evolution of a program of economic stabilization and deregulation. In the first eighteen months, economic policy, like the government’s political initiatives, had an ’emergency’ character” (Loveman 268). The government’s main goals during this period were ending hyperinflation as well as “deregulating the economy and reducing the entrepreneurial role of the state (thereby reducing the large losses in public enterprises),” and in order reach them it “devalued the Chilean currency, removed price controls from almost all commodities (October 1973), postponed scheduled wage increases (and then adjusted wages in relation to a doctored consumer price index), freed interest rates for capital market transactions, and modified taxes” (Loveman 268). Additionally, with the objective of attracting investment, “the government eliminated capital gains taxes and reduced taxes on corporate profits…returned to private ownerships more than two hundred firms incorporated into the public sector under the Popular Unity government,” and, “perhaps most importantly…drastically reduced government expenditures and employment in the public sector” (Loveman 268).
As the regime garnered support from its policies from its constituents in the upper classes, it instituted an economic “shock policy” that “was intended to eliminate inflation and institutional barriers to economic growth quickly and dramatically through intensification of the stabilization program already in place and the additions of new more radical policies” (Loveman 268-269). According to Loveman, “what followed included reductions of between 15 to 25 percent in government expenditures and large decreases in the size and role of the public sector; a temporary 10 percent increase in income taxes; a series of tax revisions to increase government income; and tightened monetary policy” (Loveman 269). The results for many Chileans were not pretty: “approximately 8,000 government employees lost their jobs and unemployment grew throughout the economy, while industrial output dropped 25 in 1975” (Loveman 269). Nevertheless, “inflation declined precipitously (from over 300 percent per year in 1974 to 84 percent in 1977) and the government deficit practically disappeared by the end of 1975” (Loveman 269).
Despite achievements such as those mentioned above, many Chileans suffered because of these policies. As Loveman notes, “the most evident and widespread impacts involved massive unemployment, reaching approximately 20 percent of the labor force, and a steep decline in gross domestic product-down officially by 13 percent in a single year,” and “grim, desperate impoverishment afflicted millions of Chileans” (Loveman 269). The impoverishment and unemployment that struck Chileans as a result of the government’s new economic policies led to a dramatic restructuring of the labor sector, in which “more and more poor Chileans performed occasional services (‘guarding’ cars, wiping windshields, shining shoes, working as domestic servants) and/or became itinerant vendors (ambulantes) of combs, gum, candy, pens, foodstuffs, or other low value commodities.” These activities in turn “created a more isolated, disorganized labor force, while contributing to feelings of social dislocation and to a preoccupation with survival on a daily basis” (Loveman 269). The irony is that the growth of the informal labor sector was repressed—one only has to look to the arpillera about street-vending children in Chapter 2 of this paper to realize the ironies of this situation, in which the poor were forced into unofficial labor, yet in many situations castigated for or simply barred from participating in it. Additionally, the results of the regime’s economic policies forced many women, especially impoverished ones, into the labor sector, because “the recession made working outside the home a necessity for survival,” a reality that contradicted the junta’s “intentions to reaffirm and support the traditional patriarchal family as the basic unit of Chilean society,” yet one that was its own doing (Loveman 270).
While so many Chileans struggled to survive, the elite enjoyed a much different experience. By the late 1970s, “the economic shock treatment gave way to impressive economic growth based on improved international prices for Chilean products, increases in agricultural, industrial, and mining exports, and large inflows of foreign investment and loans,” and manifestations of the economic policies’ effects on the upper classes manifested themselves in real estate speculation and the “new office buildings and shopping centers” that “dotted both downtown Santiago and the fashionable neighborhoods of the capital,” and the “luxury condominiums” that “decorated the coastline at Valparaíso” (Loveman 277). The government’s expenditures also highlight the distinctly exclusive nature of its policies in terms of whom they were intended to benefit. For example during the first two years of the regime’s existence, “with public expenditures declining by some 40 percent, military expenditures increased by over 30 percent,” and “officers achieved great economic gains and privileges, while the national police (carabineros) gained in status and benefits with their transfer from the ministry of interior and ‘elevation’ to co-equal participants in the junta with the other armed forces” (Loveman 274). The junta’s policies were essentially intended to benefit the elite classes of Chile, as well as the military, who were working their way into affluent circles of society through the regime. As the upper classes feted this supposed miracle, “opponents and critics of the military government pointed out that while the so-called miracle amounted to economic recovery, it was a recovery in which unemployment remained over 15 percent, the gains in consumption were concentrated among the top 20 percent of income earners in the country…and the foreign debt was burgeoning,” and intellectuals “such as Fernando Alegría, Poli Délano, Ariel Dorfman, Antonio Skármeta, and Hernán Valdés produced work with subtle ironies and/or horrific detail which focused on the human cost of the supposed economic miracle,” while arpilleristas, under the protection of the Vicaría, created textiles that spoke of the desperation that resulted from the junta’s social and economic policies (Loveman 279-280).
Organized Labor under Pinochet
A large part of the military regime’s economic program—as with any neoliberal state seeking to “disembed” capital from ”any previous “social and political constraints” or “regulatory environment[s]”—was the weakening of organized labor (Harvey 11). Though the regime initially “pledged to respect labor rights,” its actions contradicted its words, and soon after the coup “the armed forces cracked down on all organized labor identified with the left,” and “in November…disbanded the major, leftist-dominated labor federation, the Centrical Unica de Trabajadores (CUT).” One month later, the government “suspended all union elections and ordered vacant posts to be filled by senior company workers, selected by starting date and alphabetical order.” Anti-Marxist workers and labor leaders initially supported the regime and flocked to labor activities that it sponsored. One civil service union leader, Hernól Flores, commented in 1989 that “’the coup seemed like a necessary evil’” and workers such as himself “’believed the armed forces when the promised to respect labor rights,’” adding: “’How naïve we were back then’” (Constable and Valenzuela 226).
Unfortunately, the hopes of these anti-Marxist workers were naïve indeed. Pinochet severely repressed the labor sector, anti-Marxist or not, for the duration of his regime. In 1976, the Minister of Labor announced: “’it is not possible to introduce a new industrial relations system until the evils that brought us to this social crisis are extirpated. For this reason collective bargaining and union elections have been suspended’” (Loveman 283). As a result of economic depression and joblessness, workers engaged in “renewed strike activity from 1977 to 1978,” which the military regime responded to with “a variety of repressive measures,” such as “[arresting] numerous labor leaders, [firing] participants in…job actions, [sentencing] some activists to internal exile (relegación), and [dissolving] seven union federations affiliated with the [Confederación Nacional de Sindicatos]” (Loveman 284). Unions and labor were thus restricted until 1979 with the introduction of the Labor Plan, which, as mentioned in Chapter 2, was no less repressive than pre-1979 policies and sought to de-politicize and completely weaken organized labor, essentially prohibiting all union activity until further notice. Though the government proclaimed that these restrictions were “’emergency measures’ that would be revised as the regime developed a program to modify the old Labor Code,” the repression continued throughout the regime’s existence (Loveman 283).
In its new labor plan the regime nevertheless allowed “a system of collective bargaining and guaranteed yearly wage readjustments tied to the official rate of inflation,” and “union organization and bargaining between employers and workers were recognized as basic to modern industrial relations”; despite this basic recognition of unions, however, “the new regulations limited collective bargaining and strike action to individual plant unions or, in agriculture, to unions in individual farms” (Loveman 284). Furthermore, “strikes were limited to sixty days, after which time” the government and employers viewed “employees who refused to return to work” as having resigned, although they would be “’eligible for unemployment subsidies’” (Loveman 284). Labor federations and confederations were now barred from “participating in collective bargaining and a number of other ‘political’ activities,” whereas in the past they had been allowed to “act at regional or national levels” (Loveman 284). The government also created a list of firms and labor sectors where strikes were not allowed at all, in order to “avoid the possibility of simultaneous labor disputes or strikes” (Loveman 284). Additionally, “a spate of amendments to the new law” allowed “labor courts [to be] dissolved,” permitted “employers…to offer new contracts at less than the minimum wages and benefits reach in previous negotiations,” and “severance benefits were lowered, maximum shifts were extended from eight to twelve hours, and piecework rates were legalized” (Constable and Valenzuela 229). Even worse, “many occupational benefits” that one might argue were necessary for basic human dignity “were cut: maids lost maternity leave; stevedores were no longer protected against being ordered to lift more than 176 pounds at once” (Constable and Valenzuela 229).
The regime’s policies greatly reduced the presence of organized labor in general; Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela note that while there where 855,000 organized workers in 1972, by 1983, there were only 320,000 (Constable and Valenzuela 227). Constable and Valenzuela further cite a study that “concluded that, under Pinochet, unemployment was the most effective form of union repression, with a ‘wider effect than raids, prison, and exile’” (Constable and Valenzuela 227). While the regime was forced to meet the labor unrest of 1977-78 with outright repression, the unemployment that its neoliberal economic policies and new labor policies caused so weakened workers that “union leaders described their colleagues as passive and fearful of participating” (Constable and Valenzuela 227). Under such circumstances the study’s conclusions are hardly surprising. While the arpilleristas spoke out by creating textiles, such as the arpillera presented in Chapter 2 that denounces factory closures and union bans (Figure 2e), there was not much that they could do beyond this because the military had so effectively weakened the working class.
The Privatization of Healthcare
The military regime’s change in healthcare policy was preceded by a series of political purges reminiscent of those that occurred in other sectors of society following the coup. Joseph Collins and John Lear note that “at least one thousand doctors who had worked in the [National Health Service, or] SNS, medical schools, hospitals, clinics, research institutes and private practice fell victim to the reign of terror in the aftermath of the 1973 military coup” and “any health worker suspected of having actively supported or simply of being sympathetic to the Popular Unity government or to have opposed the coup even by giving emergency medical treatment to anyone wounded by the military was targeted” (Collins and Lear 96). As a result, such health workers were often fired and lost any retirement benefits that would have gone to themselves or to their families, and many experienced the kinds of human rights abuses depicted and denounced by the arpilleristas in their textiles; Collins and Lear cite the officially known number of executed doctors as twenty-two (Collins and Lear 96). The military regime also dismantled the healthcare sector, restructuring it so that “for ten years the health ministers were military generals and admirals with no previous experience in health policy,” in addition to which “all decisions were handed down without any participation by autonomous organizations of health professionals, let alone the general public” (Collins and Lear 97). The regime also closed down the National Health Advisory Council, “which for years had advised the government,” and destroyed the influence of the Medical Association, “which previously had legally sanctioned input in health policy matters,” by “[reducing] it to the status of a ‘voluntary organization’” (Collins and Lear 97). The junta seemed intent on installing military members in as many areas of public life as possible, whether it was education, health or labor, regardless of any lack of prior experience.
Similarly to the labor sector, Pinochet sought to “modernize” healthcare (his seven proposed modernizations were in “labor, social security, education, health, justice, agriculture, and regional administration”) (Constable and Valenzuela 191). The changes that Pinochet and the Chicago Boys brought about in terms of healthcare displayed a fervent belief in the market and privatization as the solutions to all problems, essentially viewing people in need of healthcare as consumers. To make matters worse, the regime turned healthcare into a privatized, consumer-oriented enterprise during a time when its other policies were putting Chilean health at risk. Collins and Lear point out that the widespread unemployment and low wages caused by the economic shock treatment drastically “[widened] and [deepened] poverty and malnutrition,” in addition to which “more people worked ‘informally’ and for subcontractors in the deregulated business environment which increased occupational health and safety risks” (Collins and Lear 97). Just as the military government was privatizing healthcare, which would make it less accessible to most Chileans who desperately needed it, “deteriorated living and working conditions made millions of Chileans more vulnerable to health crises and therefore in need of access to health services” (Collins and Lear 97).
After announcing the seven modernizations, Pinochet’s regime replaced state health insurance with “private health maintenance organizations called Instituciones de Salud Previsional (ISAPRES)” (Constable and Valenzuela 191). Loveman notes rather positively that Decree Law 2763, passed with the objective of “[making] the National Health Service more efficient,” gave “priority…to programs of maternal and infant care, along with nutrition education and feeding programs,” and ultimately “the SNS and other government agencies carried out effective programs…which allowed the country to reduce infant mortality and malnutrition-related disease” (Loveman 287). Nevertheless, Loveman notes that “public investment in new health facilities dropped as did refurbishment of old installations,” giving most of the credit for these improvements to the fact that the SNS was already “relatively sophisticated” when the military government installed itself, as well as to the “generally high quality training and performance of Chilean health professionals” (Loveman 287-288).
It is necessary to look at other areas of healthcare beyond the areas in which it succeeded, and to examine how overall access to healthcare changed under its policies. Constable and Valenzuela observe, “despite the regime’s success in preventive and child medicine, the deterioration in general health care was one of its most resounding public policy failures” (Constable and Valenzuela 232). Viewing the healthcare system as it had previously existed as “inefficient and controlled by ‘pressure groups’ of overly paid doctors and their middle-class, state-dependent clients,” the regime “[broke] down the [SNS] into twenty-six regional agencies and [turned] clinics over to municipal governments” and furthermore “encouraged enrollment in the new private health maintenance agencies, ISAPRES” (Constable and Valenzuela 232-233). The problem was that ISAPRES “favored healthy, higher-income people,” which makes sense because in a privatized system, profit is what counts—and for a private healthcare provider, healthier people are more profitable. (Constable and Valenzuela 233). Moreover, Constable and Valenzuela argue that the regime’s successes in prenatal and postnatal care “came at the deliberate cost of care for the elderly and chronically ill poor,” citing the fact that “investment in mother-child care increased seventy-eight percent between 1974 and 1983, while funding for hospital maintenance and equipment fell ninety-one percent,” in addition to which “overall state spending on health plunged from $283.6 million in 1973 to $134.2 million in 1976, then inched upward for several years only to fall even lower in the mid-1980s” (Constable and Valenzuela 233).
Not only did the lowering of the infant mortality rate come at a great cost to many other areas of healthcare, but access to healthcare, especially by those who needed it most, fell drastically as a result of privatization. According to Collins and Lear, by 1995 “access to healthcare [was]…based on income,” thanks to the legacy of Pinochet’s healthcare policies, and “between 1979 and 1985 the government issued a series of decrees that sharply reduced governmental and employer contributions to health care services, passing more and more of the bill to users through wage and salary withholdings and co-payments.” These policies “fostered the rise of for-profit providers of health services” (Collins and Lear 98). Taking a moment to reflect on the previous section of this chapter regarding labor, one can imagine how terribly this affected workers of both the lower and middle classes; in a system where employers could change one’s wages to below what had previously been accepted as the minimum wage, how could one survive if even more of that money was being taken out of that paltry paycheck to pay for healthcare? Not to mention those who were forced to work in the informal sector, where there was no official paycheck and therefore no ability to have any money whatsoever invested in healthcare. On top of which, in Loveman’s words, the SNS became increasingly a “provider of last resort,” and the agencies of ISAPRES would not take someone who was not upper-class and in good health, nor could anyone besides the wealthy afford to use their services (Loveman 287). By 1995, thanks to privatized healthcare, “consumers…[could] freely ‘choose’ from among a greater number of healthcare systems (both public and private) at various prices,” but as Collins and Lear aptly point out, “true to the ground rules of the marketplace, the actual determining factor is not ‘choice,’ but one’s ability to pay” and thus “with the new setup, a wider range of service providers offering an array of options [were] available to each person; they [were] not, however, necessarily accessible to that person” (Collins and Lear 99). Supporters of the Pinochet regime, may tout its improvements in the areas of infant mortality, pre- and postnatal care, but were the costs in terms of access and other areas of healthcare worth it?
Human Rights Abuses versus Social and Economic Policies
The sectors of Chilean society that Pinochet’s neoliberal policies seriously affected were widespread, so much so that it is impossible to discuss them all here. Suffice it to say that countless Chileans struggled as a result of his policies, both in the middle and the lower classes, and this struggle was ongoing; Chile experienced two serious economic crises during the Pinochet regime, one in the mid-1970s as a result of the Chicago Boys’ policies, and another in the early 1980s. Thus the necessity of subsistence activities and the poor quality of life that so many experienced under the dictatorship was a constant. The human rights abuses committed by the military during and after the coup were indeed atrocious, yet the junta must also be remembered for its economic and social policies, which compounded the grief of so much human loss with the nightmare of a daily struggle to survive. With organized labor weakened and the power in the hands of employers, with serious health risks but very little access to healthcare, with economic policies that forced women and children to beg in order to survive, yet attempted to prevent them from doing so, many Chileans suffered during Pinochet’s area of neoliberal “modernization.” The numerous arpilleras presented in Chapter 2 (and countless others) that focus on the privations that the arpilleristas and their families experienced under the military regime are a testament to this prolonged suffering, brought about by policies aimed at benefiting a select few, to the detriment of the rest.
As the arpilleras demonstrate, impoverished Chileans underwent a two-fold suffering as a result of the coup and military regime. They first suffered terrifying atrocities, harassment, torture, death, or the loss of loved ones, because they had been the primary source of support for Allende’s government. Those who survived then suffered the effects of the junta’s social and economic policies, which often left them destitute and scrambling for survival. The arpilleras are beautiful, poignant pieces of visual history, but one must remember that their primary purpose was to earn some extra money for the arpilleristas and their families. Every activity, every craft, was undertaken for survival, on top of which, as demonstrated by the arpilleras themselves, such activities were harshly repressed by the regime. Today, Chile is considered quite modernized and metropolitan in the world’s eyes. Was it worth it? Not in the eyes of many Chileans who suffered for this modernization. In fact, the huge disparity between rich and poor continues to exist in Chile today as a legacy of the Pinochet regime’s policy. The following sections will examine the legacy that arpilleras have left behind, as their true raison d’être (resistance or survival?) is still debated today, and the continued inequality that exists in Chile today.
Arpilleras: Acts of Resistance or Survival?
When the Pinochet dictatorship ended, the Vicaría de la Solidaridad’s activities came to a close as well, along with its arpillera workshops. The question remains: were the arpilleras created as acts of resistance to the dictatorship, or primarily for survival? The dictatorship, intensely paranoid of “subversive” behavior and ideas, would have had people believe that these textiles were created in order to subvert and resist its government; the newspaper article about arpilleras mentioned in Chapter 2 of this paper is one clear example of its paranoia. As Steve Stern notes, the “expressive function” of the arpilleras in describing what their creators were experiencing was indeed important, and as one of the women he interviewed stated, the creation of the arpilleras allowed “’other people [to become] aware of what was happening’” (Stern 84). Yet, as discussed in previous chapters, the creation of arpilleras within Chile was intensely repressed, despite the limited protection that the Catholic church was able to provide the arpilleristas. Their circulation was repressed as well, to the point that is likely that more foreigners saw them than did actual Chileans, either through university presentations such as those that Cecilia Ubilla did throughout the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, or by buying them as tourists in church stores in Chile. It seems that, realistically, the primary function of arpilleras was one of survival in a couple of senses. First, their sale provided a measure of economic survival for the women who participated in the Vicaría’s arpillera workshops. Second, the act of coming together to discuss shared experiences and weave the arpilleras together allowed the women a sort of emotional support in order to survive the horrors that they were living through. The legacy of arpilleras is meaningful, as they provide a visual history of what the poor experienced under Pinochet, but at the time that they were being created, it seems that their primary purpose was survival. Nevertheless those arpilleras that survived the dictatorship’s attempts at censorship have managed to provide the world with an alternative history, a history of the struggle to survive that so many impoverished Chileans faced—a history that otherwise may not have made into the books.
There is another legacy to discuss, that of Pinochet’s neoliberal revolution. The Vicaría, and all of its subsistence workshops, ended when the dictatorship was ushered out of existence, yet one might argue that such economic help is still necessary for Chile’s poor. Collins and Lear note that “with free-market policies, the rich got richer,” and did so “mostly at the expense of many middle-class Chileans: between 1978 and 1988 the richest ten percent increased their share of national income from thirty-seven to forty-seven percent, while the next thirty percent saw their share shrink from twenty-three to eighteen percent,” in addition to which “poverty widened dramatically: from seventeen percent of Chileans in 1973 to forty-five percent in 1990” and “among the impoverished, the percentage forced to live in extreme poverty more than doubled” (Collins and Lear 243). These inequalities continue today; when Chile finally transitioned to democracy in the 1990s, “a wholesale rollback of the neo-liberal model was not on the agenda” and “nearly-unregulated access to natural resources and cheap, ‘flexible’ labor remain the foundation of Chile’s economic ‘miracle’” (Collins and Lear 260). As recently as 1998, according to Loveman, “no improvement occurred regarding income distribution” and “the ratio between the top twenty percent of income earners and the bottom twenty percent remained at about fourteen to one” (Loveman 343). During the Concertación governments from 1990 to 2000, “the chasm separating upper class Chileans from those at the bottom of the social hierarchy remained the principal feature of the social topography” and “the top ten percent accounted for a bit more than forty-one percent of income,” whereas “the bottom thirty percent for less than percent” (Loveman 343, 346). The economic legacy of the Pinochet regime continued after its end, and still exists today, yet today the poor do not have access to the resources that the Vicaría once provided. It is a shame that more arpilleras are not made today, in order to continue to tell the history of a sector of Chilean society that is so marginalized, and so often overlooked.
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