The topics of fascism turned to discussions of populism as our topic moved into the case study of Latin America. What was interesting about this dialogue as a whole was the connection of this case study to central themes overall. Some that I found very prevalent that I will touch on are the promotion of fear, resistance, and ability to act in the context of larger global sentiments.
Key discussions from lecture regarded the disappearances that occurred in Chile and Argentina, and how this was a tool of oppression among the general public. People did not know how to react to these disappearances, instilling fear and uncertainty among those who were not associated with the military regime. This ability to instill fear is common among all the examples we have studied thus far as it is the easiest way of controlling people.
In terms of resistance, the grandmothers and mothers that protested in the Plaza de Mayo used the means they had under a restrictive government to gain information and counter the fear-based political climate.
Finally, the politics of the larger political context of the 1980s were highly problematic, as it promoted, from all parties, the want and desire to gain power in some capacity. In the wake of the Cold War, with the United States trying to promote anti-communism and Latin America wanting to secure power on the global scale, the polarizing political climate ability to consolidate power through populist authoritarian means was almost inevitable.
In our brief class discussion (as well, I should admit for honesty’s sake, a post-class smaller discussion with some fellow classmates) several topics were touched upon concerning dictatorships in Latin America.
The readings for this week mainly focused around the Pinochet regime in Chile. This regime has become notable for the intense brutality and torture undertaken by the military dictatorship that overthrew the previous democratically elected Socialist president. Thousands of people were executed or ‘disappeared’ to hidden torture camps were set up around the country.
The targets of these disappearances were largely young men (and sometimes women) who were classified as ‘subversive’ and scapegoated as communist agitators that wished to overthrow the state. To right-wing/military supporters of the state, the dehumanization of these people was a large part of their thinking and the specter of Socialist Cuba could justify brutal treatment in their perspective.
Male and female prisoners were often tortured in ways that was expected to ensure silence if they were released. Sexual assault was incredibly common against both men and women. There were many cases described where brutal treatment against women was used to emasculate their male relatives due to their inability to prevent their torture. The shame that both men and women felt because of the sexual and feminizing nature of their torture was a large part in why few spoke about it publicly afterwards.
Our discussion group felt that Chile has not successfully confronted the past as well as other post-dictatorship societies. Many of the army that committed human rights abuses still is in service and when Pinochet died, many, many supporters showed up to his funeral. This lack of culpability given to perpetrators may have lasting consequences for many victims of this regime.
Overall, these readings and the discussion was very hard to do. Reading about descriptions of torture and mass executions was something that was sometimes hard to get through. However, examining the event may have lessons for the future.
What happens to a dictator or members of their regime when it is overthrown? For those of you thinking about the Nuremberg trials, it may surprise you that the same type of outcome does not always happen for different regimes. In this weeks readings, both Teresa Meade and Temma Kaplan outline Chile’s fascinating political historical past– and how their former dictatorship walked away “scot free.”
Teresa Meade’s article, Holding the Junta Accountable: Chile’s ‘Sitios de Memoria’ and the History of Torture, Disappearance, and Death, discusses the interesting dilemma Chile found itself post-Pinochet (their former dictator). The new government lead by President Lagos failed to properly prosecute members of the former regime, many of who were still in positions of power. This lead to a lack of recognitions for the atrocities which were committed by the former government.
Temma Kaplan’s article, Reversing the Shame and Gendering the Memory gives a more chilling look into the realities of living under Pinochet’s rule, and the many atrocities women such as Nieves Ayress experienced. While many passages are difficult to digest due to their upsetting content, it is important to not only look at the experiences many had, but how the victims were often ostracized, ultimately giving the government more power in the end.
Finchelstein provides us with a background between the ideologies of both fascism and populism that can help us analyze what has happened in the past, both globally and in Chile. He discuses how both hold authoritarian notions, however fascism rejects the democratic process while populism works with it in order to establish power.
Politics are constantly in a state of change, Finchelstein poses the idea that populism is an evolved version of fascism, could this be true? Would you argue that Pinochet was a fascist or a populist? What were the benefits that the new government had to not punish the former government? How does this impact its people? What is the importance of properly acknowledging the past? How would you have acted in President Lagos’s place? What are the implications of not holding authoritarian powers accountable for their actions? Will this effect Chile in the future?
The idea of weaponizing rape is hardly a new concept–quite possibly the most depressing sentence I have ever written. However, being born in a first-world, fully developed nation that has never had to deal with anything in the way of an authoritarian dictatorship, it would be difficult indeed for anybody to grasp the idea of government-sanctioned systemic sexual assault. While reading Kaplan’s piece about Nieves Ayress’ experiences at the hands of her torturers, I found myself having to reread descriptions of the torture that she suffered because I could not believe what I had just read. Some of the details provided sound like something taken from literature by the Marquis De Sade.
Other than disturbing me greatly–and I do consider myself quite unflappable with regards to horror, whether its fictional or not–this article presented a number of striking points, some of which I had never thought of before. I had never considered the idea that (the threat of) prison rape could be used to disarm men (in this case, fathers, sons) who would resist their captors–“If you continue to resist, we will rape your daughter/you will be forced to rape your daughter.” Placing men, the usual beneficiaries of sexual violence, into states of submission through sex, something which would have been a nearly exclusively female experience, must have been additionally humiliating, given that Chilean society was incredibly patriarchal.
Additionally, the article talks about how being the victim of a rape in Chile would have been the equivalent of being a leper, something which would have been a very public source of shame. This coerced victims into a state of modesty that benefited those who had committed such atrocities. This could not be a more perfect definition of the term “rape culture”, this combination of societal ridicule (victim blaming) and internalized, privatized shame. The power of privatizing and internalizing atrocities like this really cannot be understated. Humans being the introspective creatures that we are, it really does not take much for our overactive minds to turn things that people do to us into happenings for which we see ourselves as responsible for. This shows a horrifying but remarkably deep understanding of human psychology. Regimes of this nature are, most regrettably, not stupid on the topic of fear.
In his piece “From Fascism to Populism in History”, Federico Finchelstein establishes what he views as the thin distinctions between the ideologies of populism and fascism. According To Finchelstein, both populism and fascism follow the same historical tradition of authoritarianism with differing approaches towards attaining and maintaining power. While fascism remains openly rejects the democratic process in favor of traditional despotism and totalitarianism, populism supposedly works within the confides of democracy in order to establish an authoritarian form of democracy. Taking this into account populism can be seen as the historical evolution of fascism following the atrocities committed by the fascist regimes of the mid twentieth century.
Finchelstein describes populism as authoritarian democracy which trumps the will of the majority often over the rights of minorities and uses the term populist pejoratively. In his criticism of populism however Finchelstein inadvertently reveals to me a dilemma of liberalism that being it’s source of political legitimacy. Finchelstein clearly argues that populism is inherently apposed to liberal democracy given it’s tendency to subject minorities to the will of the majority, despite this political legitimacy within liberal democracy is purportedly rooted in popular support. While the protection of minorities is widely seen as a fundamental characteristic of liberal democracy at what point does the rejection of the will of the majority in favor of a minority result in the political process losing its legitimacy? While few in our society would argue that ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities should not be protected from the so called tyranny of the majority, how far can this principle extended? Do the rights of an elite economic minority trump the desires of a potentially exploited economic majority?
In the late 90’s, Chile found itself in an awkward position of having just come out of a dictatorship, but all of the members of the previous regime were still in positions of power. Teresa Meade discusses the uncomfortable reality of post-Pinochet Chile where the government was unwilling to fully commit to recognizing the full atrocities of the previous government.
Meade argues that Ricardo Lagos, who was president after Pinochet attempted to maintain aspects of his Neoliberal ideals, along with the socialist ideals of Lagos’ own party. Although public monuments were erected, Meade argues that Chile had not fully recognized the past atrocities. This can be related to Temma Kaplan’s argument that Pinochet’s regime attempted to silence those that they tortured through their own shame.
A combination of an unstable political situation as well as the attempts by Pinochet’s government to silence their victims seem to have created an uneasy acknowledgement, but not a true acceptance of their past crimes. This creates the question of how it is best to acknowledge the tragedy of ones own past. There is a conflict in Chile between accepting the atrocities of Pinochet’s government and attempting to hide their shame in not prosecuting Pinochet nor fully acknowledging the mistakes made by his government.
This is perhaps best encapsulated by Meade’s description of one of these public monuments remembering the victims. While the monument remains not vandalized around it do not seem to fully grasp the scale of the atrocities the monument represents.
Much of the conversation surrounding the aftermath of the oppressive dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, at least among academics if not among the Chilean people, is about how the members of regime should, if at all, be prosecuted.
Following similar atrocities, such as the Holocaust, people who participated in the Nazi regime in Germany were prosecuted for their actions. But in Chile, this largely has not been the case. Clearly many Chileans just wished to move on from the memories of the regime, not bothering to push for the prosecution of many people who likely deserved to be. Many others, clearly did not feel the same way, arguing that many of the members of the regime, such as the men who tortured prisoners in the secret bases, should not be allowed to continue their lives as if nothing happened.
But if the decision is made to prosecute offenders, the question then become, who and how many people should be prosecuted. Some may argue that just the highest ranking officials should be targeted, as all other merely followed what their superior told them to do. Others would likely argue that following horrendous orders, such as repeatedly torturing several people, would justify prosecution, while others may argue that supporting a clearly oppressive and tyrannical regime in any sense is worthy of prosecution.
The opinion on where the line should be drawn likely varies from person to person, but most would argue that at least some people should face punishment.
I will admit that I did not enter this week’s reading with much knowledge of fascism and populism in Chile or South America generally. My knowledge mostly focused on the so-called “global north.” Therefore, I assumed that most countries dealt with past human rights violations a similar way. At a most simplistic level, they either attempted to deny it like the Armenian genocide, downplay it like slavery in the US, or build monuments and learn from it like in Germany.
However, Chile did none of these. In Teresa Meade’s article, she spoke of how the mass torture and killings in Chile have partly been swept under the rug. The right-wing party does not want to mention them so as not to need to take credit for the deaths, and the left-wing parties would like to govern without confrontation and admitting torture and murders without prosecuting them would be untenable. Thus, they have simply disregarded it, like a story that is neither good not bad, simply forgotten after reading it. It was unbelievable to me that this could be swept under the rug for convenience. How will Chile and the world learn from its past if it is not mentioned? If they had actively been denied like the Armenian genocide, then there would be a public discourse about them. This could be used as a method of education.
Luckily, It is true that some groups have attempted to bring these actions into the spotlight. However, they do not have the funding or the institutional aid in Chile for them to be very successful. For example, I had never heard of them before this week’s reading.
It is essential for us to know there past so that we do not make the same mistakes twice. Hopefully, Chile will continue moving in the correct direction. Yet, there is still much work to do. Chile is a demonstration that we cannot be ambivalent in the search for truth. We must actively educate ourselves and others about the past so that we may have a better future.
From my reading of the texts, the main conflicts arise from how torture and uncomfortable topics are handled in the media. From Ayress’ public account of her rape and torture to the archived methods of torment in Villa Grimaldi.
It’s clear that the media was not afraid to publicize these stories (although the articles are too short to fully explore this idea). I want to know more about the publication problems that were encountered. Were there oppressive censorship laws? Did journalists seek out victims or were they too afraid of the regime to bother?
Finchelsten’s chapter What is Populism in History talks about how populism governments make themselves appear to be outside the regular government, and that those who opposed to the “real” nation were the “real” bad guys. What was the journalistic opinion? Were the South American journalists targeted? Or were non-latin journalists the only ones available? Like how Ines Antunez snuck out Ayress’ memories and sought the help of foreigners.
Finally, who’s choice is it to publicize the discussions of rape? These stories do not hold back on garish details when it comes to how the prisoners were tormented, but what did they omit (if anything). It was talked about in the readings how there were potentially pornographic responses to the instances of rape. Were journalists within their right to ask about these stories if they knew they had happened? Victim’s were tortured through physical and verbal abuse regarding their sexuality, so is it ok to ask them to relive these tortures for the sake of a complete narrative?
Tactics an authoritarian regime, such as the one in Chile under Augusto Pinochet, often employ are those that are oppressive. Not only disallowing choice in the government but also the way the people have to be kept from expressing those choices. With all the atrocities that take place in a regime like the one mentioned above, there is the question of what happens after. In the case of Chile a democratic government was put in place so that is one arguably good outcome in the aftermath but what happens to the perpetrators of crimes against the people is also important.
The memory of the past does not go away as soon as a dictator is out of power and thus some sort of action is taken after to prosecute the criminals. However, when this does not happen and the criminals go free to live lives that are in many cases better than their victims the past is really not the past because there is was no punishment. The people who perpetrated that past are continuing to be rewarded for the crimes they committed and the people they hurt to continue to suffer. What can happen to a country that is not able to leave the past behind or if they can forget/forgive even if the criminals are not punished are questions that come to mind when thinking about a situation such as the one in Chile. Another question is what would happen to a country’s relationship with a county that has been liberated from a dictatorship if that country has been affected by the past doctor negatively and he is still living freely. These questions may only be answered as time goes on and in different ways by different people.