Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Professor Gladys McCormick
Professor Mauricio Paredes
Citizenship and Public Affairs
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
International and Area Studies | Latin American Studies | Modern Literature | Other Arts and Humanities | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures
Chile has fought for 21 years to overcome General Augusto Pinochet’s violent legacy, but moving past the pervasive influence of Pinochet’s 17-year reign is a difficult task, even today. The following work is an investigation on memory, and Chile’s struggle to come to terms with its memory of the dictatorship. The key questions asked are: How do Chileans remember the dictatorship? What does each individual’s memory mean to the collective whole? Why is confronting the past important to Chile’s future?
The investigation is divided into two parts: a journalistic portion in which individual accounts are highlighted, and an academic thesis recounting Chile’s memory journey from the fall of the dictatorship to the present, and analyzing the implications of Chile’s continued memory struggle in the 21st century. The first-person narratives add a rich, human aspect to the ideological struggle within Chile. The personal interviews and narratives are published online at www.christinemehta.com, and provide a foundation for the argument constructed in the thesis.
Chileans have tried to forget. Former torture centers are now office buildings, and the national soccer team practices on the field where political prisoners once stumbled blindfolded to interrogation rooms. Chileans say, “We have better things to worry about, like recovering from the earthquake.” But in the midst of economic and social progress, the Chileans are forgetting one thing too many: the consequences of forgetting for the next generation.
The generation that lived through the dictatorship is divided within itself in how it remembers the years of oppression: there are some that remember it fondly as Chile’s entry onto the world stage as an economic force; others remember the terror and death, and still others prefer not to remember at all. Between the division and tension created by a fractured national memory, Chile has become, in many respects, a politically muted society.
Today, that silence has indirect consequences: apathy and disengagement in young people. In Chile’s last election, just 9.2 percent of Chileans, 18-29 years old, voted. They say their disillusionment with politics stems from the failure of their elders to address the lingering policies left behind by Pinochet, policies that fail to represent their generation. To the younger generation, memory struggles and Pinochet’s regime are issues of the older generation. They have not realized that the problems of their parents are becoming their problems as well. Their attitude is an indirect result, coupled with other factors, of the previous generation’s reluctance to confront their own memories of the dictatorship and educate the younger generation about a past they feel disconnected from and fail to understand.
Using interviews, information from contemporary media, the work of Chilean memory expert, Steve Stern, a professor of history at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and dozens of archival documents found in Chile’s libraries and universities, I have constructed a picture of the state of Chilean memory politics today.
Mehta, Christine, "THE PINOCHET PROJECT: A NATION’S SEARCH FOR TRUTH MEMORY STRUGGLES IN POST-PINOCHET CHILE" (2011). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 214.
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