Victor: An Unfinished Song
Contents of the Book:
* An end and a Beginning
3. Our meeting
4. In theatre and Song
5. The Mid-Sixties
6. Song as a Weapon
7. The Doors Open
8. ‘Where the Potatoes are Burning’
9. ‘The Best School for Song is Life Itself’
10. Without Knowing the End
11. The Coup
12. An Unfinished Song
Here we have transcribed chapters 10, 11, 12.
CHAPTER 10: WITHOUT KNOWING THE END
There was a momentary respite at the end of the year . The presence of representatives of the Armed Forces in the Cabinet had brought about an uneasy truce. Although we didn't know it, it was our last Christmas together and in spite of everything it was a festive occasion. For Victor to be relaxed and at home, even if it were only for a couple of days, was already something to celebrate, and apart from that there was really a lot to be happy about. Tremendous progress had been made in the last two years. Although there were so many difficulties and scarcities affecting everyone, the majority of people were better off than they had ever been. No one would go hungry that year, nor would any child be without toys at Christmas. We had our place in a great struggle which seemed to be winning through against enormous odds and powerful enemies.
Meanwhile, there was a chance to enjoy being a family for a moment and we made the most of it. Christmas meant eating out in the garden, late at night on the 24th, under a brilliant starry sky, with the smell of charcoal smoke in the air. It meant a lighted Christmas tree, a pine that we had planted several years previously which Victor decorated with the help of all of us. A warm, windless night, with the shouts of excited children in the background, a table out on the grass under the mimosa tree.
Quena was there, with Luchin asleep already, and Patricio, now a close friend of us all. Manuela was 12 years old and her first boy friend had come to dinner. Victor was quite disconcerted at how quickly time passes and small children develop. We ate a duck which Monica's family had sent from the country and which for the last few days had been rooting up the grass in the garden. Everything was normal and homely, even though the conversation could never stray far from the political situation and the vital need to win the forthcoming elections.
When the visitors had gone and the children were in bed, there was a quiet moment when Victor and I sat outside under the night sky waiting for everyone to be asleep before playing Father Christmas. It was getting cold, and I remember Victor saying, 'This coming year is a crucial one, Mamita. I wonder where we shall all be next Christmas?'
From then on there was no pause, no free days for Victor, just an endless round of intense activity. During the hot summer months of January and February 1973, which in most years were a period of suspended animation, the election campaign went into full swing. The opposition were doing everything in their power to obtain a two-thirds majority in the Congress in order to be able to impeach Allende. However, the most reactionary among them considered the election to be a useless exercise. 'Una meta sin destino' were the words of Onofre Jarpa, leader of the National Party - 'a blind alley'.
Opposition propaganda was directed principally towards women, to convince them to vote against Popular Unity, no doubt calculating that the problems of distribution and scarcities had affected them more than anyone else. For the first time, during this campaign, the opposition used pamphlet songs in an organised way, in an attempt to counteract the influence of the New Chilean Song Movement. It was a sign that they recognised the political power of song. However, few artists supported them and they only used song at the lowest level - as sheer propaganda - putting topical words to ready-made cumbias or other popular rhythms or, as in one television commercial, using the recognisable tune of Victor's 'El hombre es un creador' to accompany filmed scenes of street riots of their own making and their slogan 'Allende = Chaos'. In most countries it would have been actionable. There was no question of them being able to compete with the song movement as a cultural phenomenon with real roots among the people.
The work of artists in support of Popular Unity was better organised than in previous elections. Instead of everyone working rather haphazardly all over the place, individuals and groups were asked to support one particular candidate intensively so that the work was more evenly distributed. Apart from singing in all the national demonstrations, Victor campaigned for Popular Unity in the mostly working-class districts to the west of Santiago, including the neighbourhood where he was brought up. Travelling in an old bus together with Inti-Illimani, he spent the summer campaigning for a woman candidate of the Communist Party, Eliana Arambar. They sang in factories and on building sites, in the street to people fixing the drains, in poblaciones, schools and markets, going out early in the morning and coming back at night tired out after performing a dozen times in different places.
Victor not only supported Popular Unity with his songs and in the introductions with which he interspersed them, but for the first time in his life, at Eliana's suggestion, he made campaigning political speeches. It wasn't a moment to hang back and say, 'No, I can't. I'm an artist, not a politician.' It made Victor very nervous because he wasn't used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed. The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.
The results of the election were awaited with the same suspense as if they had been for a new President. We knew for certain that Eliana would be successful, but when it became clear that Popular Unity had won a larger percentage of votes than when Allende was elected - an improved vote in mid-term elections was almost unprecedented in Chile - and that the women's vote had held up in spite of the propaganda directed at them, the opposition recognised that they couldn't hope to defeat Allende by democratic means. With Popular Unity taking more than 40 per cent of the vote, they had failed to reach the two-thirds majority they needed. At that rate, another three years of Allende's government would probably mean an overwhelming victory for the Popular Unity candidate in 1976. At that precise moment, the decision was taken to overthrow Allende by a military coup.
The menace was there all the time. We could see it painted on the walls: the initials 'SACO' with which Patria y Libertad announced a wave of violence - 'System of Organised Civic Action' was their euphemism - and 'Djakarta is coming', a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.
In May, one of the first victims was a young building worker, Roberto Ahumada, whom Victor had met during the March election campaign, working for Popular Unity in the población which was his home. While marching along the Alameda in a peaceful demonstration against violence and right-wing terrorism, he was shot dead with a bullet which appeared to have been fired from the roof of the Christian Democrat Party's headquarters.
Victor was personally very affected by his death. He had seen this young man working with such enthusiasm and dedication, had met his wife and family and knew the atmosphere of his home. For Roberto Ahumada, imagining his inner thoughts, Victor wrote his song 'Cuando voy al trabajo' ('On my way to work'), a love song with a premonition of death. It also expressed Victor's own feelings.
On my way to work
I think of you,
through the streets of the city
I think of you.
When I look at the faces
through steamy windows
not knowing who they are, where they're going,
I think of you
compañera of my life
and of the future,
of the bitter hours and the happiness
of being alive,
working at the beginning of a story
without knowing the end.
When the day's work is over
and the evening comes
throwing its shadow
over the roofs we have built,
returning from our labour,
discussing among friends,
reasoning out things
of this time and destiny,
I think of you, my love,
compañera of my life and of the future.
When I come home, you are there,
and we weave our dreams together ...
Working at the beginning of a story
without knowing the end.
On 26 May, from his home by the sea in Isla Negra where he had retired because of his ill health, Neruda broadcast on National Television. In his speech in the Stadium at his home-coming in December, Neruda had reminded us all of the horrors that the people of Spain suffered during the Civil War and warned that there were some Chileans who wanted to drag the country into the same sort of confrontation. 'I have the poetic, political and patriotic duty to warn all Chile of this imminent danger,' he said.
Now his message was still more urgent and he called on all artists and intellectuals, in Chile and abroad, to join him in an attempt to alert people to the very real danger of a fascist takeover; to make them realise what a civil war, so blithely talked about as 'inevitable' by some sectors of the opposition, would really mean in terms of human suffering.
The whole cultural movement responded to Neruda's call. Exhibitions and television programmes were organised; a cultural open-air I marathon' took place in the Plaza de la Constitución. It lasted several days and hundreds of artists, poets, theatre and dance groups, musicians and song groups took part. It was a great anti-fascist event to which thousands came, and there were similar events all over the country. Victor's contribution, apart from performing as a singer, was to direct a series of programmes for the National Television Channel with a common theme: a warning, relating documentary material about Nazi Germany and the Spanish Civil War to the situation in Chile, to make people aware of the real dangers of the same things happening here and now. Victor had put to music one of Neruda's latest poems which had the refrain 'I don't want my country divided . . .', and he sang it as the opening theme for each programme. Many other artists took part with dance, poetry, theatre and song.
As winter approached, life became more and more difficult. It became almost a full-time job just to do the shopping, as queues became longer, swollen by people involved in the black market who made a profession out of it. Monica and I shared the queueing between us, but Manuela also had to do her bit. Even bread became scarce, because the October transport strike had seriously affected the wheat harvest.
There were voluntary work par-ties every weekend, workers did voluntary overtime, skilled students helped out in the factories and mines while others joined in the harvest or the distribution of food. People of all ages took part, from primary school students to old-age pensioners. Some of Manuela's most vivid memories of Victor are from this time. Together they used to set out on expeditions to do voluntary work. In the autumn they had gone out into the country n ear Lonquen to help with the maize harvest, stripping the ripe cobs from the stalks in the warm sun and then resting in the shade of the fragrant eucalyptus trees at midday. Victor took out his guitar to sing a few songs and then passed it round so that everyone could play or sing something. They arrived home late, treating each other as compañeros, full of shared jokes.
When the office staff and supervisors at the El Teniente copper mine came out in a strike inspired and planned by the Christian Democrats, the students and staff of the Technical University gave intensive support to the majority of the miners who continued to work - in spite of threats and intimidation - in an attempt to maintain the copper production so vital to the national economy. Bus loads of technically skilled students made the journey south to Rancagua and then up to the mine, high in the cordillera. Victor went with them on more than one occasion. I remember driving him down to the Technical University early one morning to join the bus. As we waited for it to fill up with students, I got into conversation with two hippy-looking gringos with a guitar, who were sitting on the campus steps. They told me that they wanted to go to the mine to show their support for the miners and maybe sing a few songs to tell them that many Americans condemned the policies of the US government.
Apparently the Chilean students didn't trust them and hadn't given them permission to get on the bus. As the conversation progressed, they introduced themselves as Phil Ochs and Jerry Rubin. I took them over to where Victor was deep in conversation with the organisers of the expedition and he intervened to allow them to go with the group. They spent all day with Victor, going into the mine with him. They heard him singing and talking to the miners and were impressed with his easy relationship with them and how much they appreciated his songs. Victor gave them a chance to speak and to sing a few songs, translating for them, and then all together they sang Pete Seeger's 'If I had a hammer'. The three of them had such a good time together that in the evening, when they reached Santiago, Victor took them to the Peña, where they were warmly received.
During these months, Victor was busy with Los Siete Estados, working with Patricio, Celso and the National Ballet, as well as composing and recording new songs. I was involved with my teacher's course, and already seeing the first results as I went the rounds of their practice classes in primary schools, in community centres in the poblaciones, and in the larger satellite dance schools. It was a small start, but one which promised well for the future, especially as a new scheme had just been approved which would give scholarships to primary school teachers interested in specialising in dance, and new facilities for students to come from the provinces to study. If we could continue the multiplication process, within a few years dance would really be a part of the education system.
Meanwhile, revelations about the covert activities of the CIA in Chile had started to appear in the Washington Post, and we knew that the same conspiracy against Allende must be continuing. But there were more and more problems within Popular Unity itself - there was no unity of command in the face of powerful enemies. Different solutions were put forward by different sectors. Some, including the Communist Party, wanted to pursue the goal of a dialogue with the Christian Democrats in order to avert the threatened civil war; others wanted no compromise, were demanding an outright confrontation, although how people without weapons were to win military victories against a modern army was not clear. It seemed suicidal, and if the government were to attempt to 'arm the people', it could only precipitate a military coup.
At the same time, the idea of a dialogue seemed difficult if not impossible. It was not easy to make a distinction between the Christian Democrat leadership and the truly fascist elements within the opposition. They seemed to work together, hand in glove, and to use the same methods. Victor and I used to discuss this problem. Even on a personal level, or among our neighbours, it was almost impossible to begin to communicate with people who we knew were trying to sabotage the government and to shut the door on the progress that was being made for the deprived majority; people who would go to any lengths to hang on to their own comfort and privilege, even to the extent of conspiring with the fascists.
Although those in opposition were more and more aggressive, they did not have all the initiative. The working class was constantly mobilised to counteract violence in the streets. Committees of defence were set up in factories, universities, schools, government buildings, to prevent sabotage or occupation by the opposition. Our Faculty had to be guarded twenty-four hours a day, with teachers, ballet dancers, students and all the staff taking turns to keep night-watch, sleeping on improvised camp beds in offices and studios. As Victor was working with the National Ballet he also did his share of this, although I and other mothers would always be at home at night because of the children. It was already painfully clear to me that our different responsibilities would separate us even more as the revolutionary crisis deepened.
Victor himself had several lucky escapes from gangs of Patria y Libertad when he was out late at night. I didn't learn of these until later, as he didn't want to worry me. On one occasion, also, the paramilitary brigades of the National Party were lining up and drilling in the street outside the Faculty with no interference from the police, when a girl on one of the upper floors of the building couldn't resist the temptation to pour a bucket of water over them. As they rushed around the comer to attack the entrance, Victor was coming along in the opposite direction. 'There's Jara!' they screamed, 'Get him!' But the guards on the door opened it quickly, and as he slipped out of his attackers' reach, the doors slammed in their faces.
Once we were on our way to the centre in the citroneta. when we stopped at a traffic light in Avenida Colón, beside an enormous light-blue Chevrolet. The driver, glancing sideways, recognised Victor and leaning over took an enormous knife out of the glove compartment and brandished it at us, his face distorted with hatred. As the lights changed and the cars behind began to sound their horns, he drove off with a dramatic squeal of tyres. That was in broad daylight.
On another occasion, late at night, when votes from an internal election were being counted in the foyer of the theatre on the ground floor, a group of thugs tried to break down the glass doors to beat up the small group of people inside. Only the arrival of a group of students, summoned rapidly by an emergency telephone call, saved the situation. The leader of the attackers was an elected deputy of the National Party.
This sort of incident was a daily occurrence. We worked to a background of shouting in the street, the noise of breaking glass, the crunch of tear-gas grenades exploding, and their sickly, stifling fumes seeping up even to the seventh floor. Several times a week we would have to run the gauntlet of a street riot in order to get to work, taking refuge in shops or arcades until these too became so chronically full of tear-gas that the air never cleared. The 'destabilisation' process was in full swing.
In response to the growing menace of fascism, Victor wrote another song which was to prove prophetic. One of his favourite poets was Miguel Hernandez who had been born a peasant and died in one of Franco's prisons. He kept his complete works, together with a copy of the Bible, on his bedside table and it was on a verse from one of Hernandez's poems that Victor based his song 'Vientos del pueblo'. It was arranged with Inti-Illimani, in some concentrated sessions in the workshop at home.
Once more they want to stain
my country with the blood of working people
those who talk of liberty
but whose hands are marked with guilt;
who want to separate
our children from their mothers,
and want to reconstruct
the cross that Christ bore.
They try to conceal the infamy
they have inherited from past centuries,
but the mark of murderers
cannot be wiped from their faces.
Already thousands and thousands
have sacrificed their blood
and its streaming rivers
have multiplied the loaves.
Now I want to live
together with my child and brother
in the new world that all of us
are building day by day.
Your threats do not intimidate me
you masters of misery,
the star of hope
will continue to be ours.
Winds of the people are calling me,
winds of the people are bearing me,
they scatter my heart
and blow through my throat.
So the poet will be heard,
until death takes me away,
along the road of the people,
now and for ever.
When Victor came to record this song, he commented to the members of Inti-Illimani who were in the studio with him, that the line 'until death takes me away' was 'too depressing' and he changed it, then and there, to 'while my heart goes on beating'.
The rehearsals of this song must have been heard all over our block, with drums and quenas sounding through the tidy, well-kept gardens of our neighbours, many of whom were now our mortal enemies. Even those who we knew had all Victor's records and presumably liked his songs, avoided us now. We were no longer dealing with a normal political situation. For me it was difficult to adjust to that reality, but Victor had already faced it. His song was an expression of the time we were living in, a reflection of his own mood of determination. It was necessary to go on working harder than ever.
Towards the end of June, Victor left Chile to visit Peru where he was invited by the National Institute of Culture to give a series of recitals in different parts of the country. As I came back from seeing him off at the airport, I was rather scared at the prospect of being alone, but at the same time almost relieved that for a couple of weeks at least he would be safe. I knew that if any crisis developed, Victor would be sure to be in the midst of it and in personal danger.
For Victor it was perhaps the culmination of all his journeys and one which took him to the roots of a Latin American cultural identity. He was at last able to visit the ruins of Macchu Picchu, to touch the massive stones, to share the feelings of Neruda and so many other Latin American artists. He did so in the company of an anthropologist, a Peruvian Indian, who was working in the excavations. Mariano Sanchez Macedo insisted on taking photos of Victor with his guitar among the ruins, or poised high above them on a rocky peak overlooking the Inca citadel, with the sky and the high Andes around him. This experience was for Victor a confirmation of so much history, so many aspirations shared, so much suffering in common with his own people.
When he came home he wrote about two incidents that he felt gave the essence of what this journey had meant to him. Although he had performed in great concert halls and in television studios in Peru, it was not these experiences that stayed with him. Two small encounters as told by Victor sum up, I think, his whole attitude to his work and to life:
Salazar, a worker of Lima, had heard me sing. He was different from the other people who came round after the concert to ask for an autograph or to see if I were real. He said to me, 'I should like you to come and see my home, to meet my wife and children and all the other people who live around us . His invitation was so direct and sincere that I accepted it.
We took a bus towards the outskirts of Lima. A crowded old micro. It was a grey, overcast day ... (just like in the old song) ... We came to Coimas, a new working-class district rather like the Población José Maria Caro here in Santiago. Lots of children playing football. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. We began to walk and meanwhile he explained to me about all the voluntary work that was done by the community, like installing a supply of drinking water, bringing electricity, making a place for the children to play. We climbed up and up through narrow streets. Suddenly I stopped and turned round and saw in the distance the tall buildings in the centre of Lima and all around me hills covered with the tiny dwellings which make up the 'mushroom' communities. We passed a food store and Salazar bought some bread and eggs. I bought some chocolate for his children. We went on climbing. He never stopped talking, telling me about his life. It was as though we had been friends for years.
When we arrived at his house, he introduced me to his wife. She was dark-haired and simpática, but she became very nervous. By coincidence she had just been listening to me singing on the radio and it seemed altogether too surprising that this Chilean should suddenly appear in her home. But over tea and fried eggs, we quickly understood one another. With the children playing all around us and showing me their homework, we talked about everything important to us: home, children, Peru, Chile, revolution, changes and so on ... then they showed me their house. You could see the love and the hard work of a man and a woman in each centimetre of cement, in every piece of wood and in every nail of that home, humble perhaps, but with a human warmth which great mansions would envy.
Salazar confessed to me that he had known beforehand that I would go with him to his home. Otherwise he would have been too shy to ask me. He knew, 'because I was singing for them and he felt that I was part of them.'
This is not the first time that something like this has happened to me. Sometimes I feel that I am losing my way, that other sorts of interests are undermining my conscience and separating me from everyday things, from simplicity ... but this sort of experience is a profound stimulus. It strengthens me and makes me feel that what I am doing - and how I am doing it, is valid.
Salazar came back with me. We walked down the hill together and he accompanied me all the way back to the centre of Lima.
Then, near Cuzco, I sang to a group of peasants. They sat there with their ponchos, their traditional hats and ojotas (rough sandals). They looked at me as though they were surprised. I was also surprised. So many years of history seemed to pour over me at being there together with them. Songs began to sprout, one after the other. I talked to them about Chile, about the Araucanian south, about Angelita Huenumán, about the land, the agrarian reform. I told them Chilean riddles ... some of them smiled, but shyly. The sunlight was transparent and you could hear the rushing of the Apurimac River. There was a feeling of restraint as when tears want to flow, but we hold them back. When I had finished, one of them came up to me. He spoke to me in Quechua and began to sing. I felt as though we had clasped hands. With a mixture of exaltation and joy, I heard the Quechuan song. A song with the antiquity of the high mountain peaks and the lyricism of the rivers.
Song is like a noose with which we can either join our feelings or with which we can strangle them. There is no other alternative. Singers who laboriously pursue personal glory, who profit from innocence and purity, will never understand that song is like the water that washes the stones, the wind which cleans us, like the fire which joins us together and that it lives within us to make us better people.
Violeta said, 'The song of all of you is my own song and her words are as eternal as the mountains, as the stones of Macchu Picchu.
Only a few days after Victor left for Peru, on 29 June, there was an attempted military coup. I was already at work in the Dance Department that morning when we heard the news that tanks were advancing on the Moneda Palace, only a couple of blocks away from us. We shut and guarded the doors, prepared to face a siege, as we listened to gunfire and waited for news of what was happening. Radios were our only link with the outside world and the mood was one of being prepared for the worst. I remember being grateful for the presence of tough male dancers, who night after night had been guarding the building and training in self-defence - perhaps foolishly, because there was little that they could do without arms to defend us against a military attack.
We learned that the uprising was confined to a single tank regiment, led by a Colonel Roberto Souper. A much more ambitious and complex military plan had been called off at the last moment, and only Souper’s regiment had not received, or possibly not obeyed, the message of cancellation.
We heard that the Palace Guard had proved loyal to the President and that, as the mutinous tank regiment neared the Palace, General Carlos Prats, in his role of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, had gone out on foot to meet them, armed only with a sub-machine gun. He had ordered the officers commanding the tanks to surrender. Seeing themselves isolated, without the support they had anticipated, they obeyed and the tanks turned round to go back to their barracks, while Souper was placed under arrest. The crisis was over and the Armed Forces as a whole had apparently shown their loyalty to the constitutional government. But twenty-two people died, among them a Swedish photographer whose cinecamera remained running as he was shot by a rebel officer. The film was retrieved and shown later all over the world.
That same morning, coming out of a block of flats in the barrio alto, Patricio had seen several Chevrolet vans being loaded with brand-new sub-machine guns, passed from hand to hand by a chain of tough-looking men. Without knowing it, he had been living for months above a secret arms store of Patria y Libertad. Only once had he noticed any sort of suspicious movement, although he had registered the frequent visits of a tall, blonde American. Later we were to learn that the Tancazo, as the abortive military coup came to be called, had been directed, if not initiated, by the fascist party in combination with their contacts in the Armed Forces. As if to underline their guilt, Pablo Rodriguez and a number of the other leaders of Patria y Libertad immediately sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy.
A great rally took place that same afternoon in the Plaza de la Constitucion. People came from all over Santiago, summoned by their trade unions, to hear Allende speak of the loyalty of the Armed Forces. The Palace Guards were the heroes of the day and we shouted slogans such as 'Soldier, friend, the people are with you!' It seems cruelly ironic in view of later events. Meanwhile, the news reached Peru and Victor's recital in the Municipal Theatre of Lima that evening became a fervent demonstration of solidarity with the people of Chile and of support for the Popular Unity government, which was a symbol of freedom and independence in Latin America. As the concert ended, the entire audience poured out of the theatre in an improvised march through the city centre.
Victor, nervous about our safety, managed to phone us the next day, and a couple of weeks later, when he got home, he swore that he would never leave us again. Manuela, who was not usually so demonstrative, clung to him and burst into tears of relief at having him back home with us. Victor himself was even more affectionate than usual and wanted me to accompany him as much as possible on the innumerable errands that he had to carry out after his journey: going to the National Television Channel on San Cristóbal Hill, dropping into the office of a magazine to be inter-viewed, taking an article he had written to a newspaper, collecting tapes at a recording studio. He wanted my company and would put his hand on my knee whenever the car stopped at the traffic lights as if to reassure himself that I was there. That Victor had premonitions of his own death, I have no doubt. If I think of his nightmares, I would say even of the manner of it. It can be felt in all his last songs, and he would even joke about it.
One day at breakfast, for some reason I was cross with him, and Manuela and Monica sided with me against him. It was a women's club against the only male in the house. I think that Victor said that it wasn't his job to make the toast and we all joined in telling him off for having macho attitudes. Suddenly he said, out of the blue, and only half-joking, 'You'll be sorry later. You should make the most of me while I'm here, because you'll be a long time without me! I shall never get beyond forty.' We all laughed at him, but I knew that he meant it.
Victor was prepared for whatever was in store, but he was far from sad or depressed. On the contrary, he was full of energy and even happiness. In an interview in August 1973 he was asked what sort of man he was, whether shy, bold or passionate, and he answered: 'I think I'm passionate because I am full of hope. Bold, just because I suffer from shyness. But above all, I am a man happy to exist at this moment. Happy to feel the fatigue of work. Happy because when one puts one's heart, reason and will to work at the service of the people, one feels the happiness of being reborn.'
As a symptom of his unfailing sense of humour and love of a joke - even in the situation in which we were living - Victor was at this time working on an album called Canto por travesura, which was a collection of funny, rather bawdy peasant songs from the south of Chile. It included 'La beata', once banned, now recognised for what it was, a typically Chilean folk-song. And there were other songs containing jokes and riddles.
Victor wanted to give people a chance to laugh - 'We Chileans are naturally a very cheerful people with a great sense of humour. We need to be reminded of it. Also, I think that in our enthusiasm for Andean music from the north, we tend to forget a whole region which is rich in folklore - the south of Chile.' Canto por travesura was due for publication in early September, ready for the Fiestas Patrias. Although the album was pressed, it never reached the shop.
In the wake of the Tancazo abortive coup, Allende made a final attempt to reach an agreement with the Christian Democrats. But they no longer had any real interest in negotiation, and within Popular Unity, too, there was no longer a consensus. The far right now concentrated their efforts on the military. Despite the failure of the Tancazo, they knew that they could rely upon many of the officers. But there were others, 'constitutionalists', who would have to be removed.
The first casualty was Allende's naval aide-de-camp, Commander Arturo Araya, who was assassinated by gunmen at the end of July as he stood on the balcony of his house. He had been a key figure in maintaining contact between the President and the loyal sections of the naval high command. But the most important obstacle that stood in the way of a coup was the Army Commander-in-Chief, General Prats.
Prats was a man of progressive ideas, a determined champion of the Schneider Doctrine of the neutrality of the Anned Forces and their loyalty to constitutional democracy. Now the wives of a number of the most senior army generals were pressed into action against him. They staged a demonstration outside his house, waving white feathers, insulting him, and accusing him of cowardice: for not intervening 'to save Chile from Marxism'. As Prats himself expressed it later in his diary, 'behind the skirts of their wives' were hiding the generals themselves, by this action embarking on mutiny. His own position had become untenable and he saw no alternative but to resign.
Finally, the golpistas, those plotting a coup, hit upon a means of bringing the Armed Forces into direct conflict with the workers. They dusted off the Arms Control Law, an almost forgotten measure passed by Congress the previous year, and began a campaign of denunciations that at particular places arms were hidden. The law gave individual armed forces and police officers carte blanche to carry out raids without reference to higher authority, and the most right-wing ones used the pretext to raid the nationalised industries, working-class districts, hospitals, universities - anywhere where there was strong support for Popular Unity. The caches of the landowners and Patria y Libertad went undisturbed.
Helicopters flew low over the working-class district of San Miguel, graves were dug up in the nearby Metropolitan Cemetery on the pretext that workers had stores of arms hidden in them. In Punta Arenas, Lanera Austral, a large wool industry, was attacked in a full-scale military operation in which a man was killed.
Our Faculty also was ransacked, in spite of the almost sacred principle of university autonomy which normally prevented the police from entering university precincts without special permission. Again and again, during the month of August, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, the police came to search the 'red' Faculty. They never found any arms, for there were none to find. But a gang of armed fascists attacked the building, smashing down the doors and plate-glass windows.
The second bosses' strike began on 26 July. As in the previous October, it started with lock-outs by the lorry- and bus-owners, but this time it was a battle to the death. The majority of workers were trying to keep the country going; the bosses, with the power and finance of the multi-nationals behind them and the technical advice and direct support of the CIA, were trying to bring the country to a complete halt, to an accompaniment of bombs, assassinations, riots, terrorist attacks of all sorts.
As a family we were told that we should make plans for a place of safety to which I could take the children, away from our own home. Victor would not be with us. He would be carrying out whatever task might be allotted him. I understood that in the case of a civil war he would have to go and fight to defend the revolution. His military training would be useful, although it was almost twenty years since he had had a gun in his hands and he neither possessed nor wanted to possess one.
A small house was offered to us in Isla Negra, a primitive house intended for a holiday by the beach, near Neruda's home. We went there once to try to prepare it. In winter it was lonely, but here I was supposed to hide with Amanda and Manuela hoping that nobody would recognise whose family we were. We took insulin for Amanda, a small store of emergency food, counting on the availability of fish or seafood and driftwood for fuel. We thought we might be safer than at home where we were undoubtedly on the blacklist of the local fascists. The only problem was that to get there we should have to travel along roads which would certainly be controlled. That little refuge remained an impractical dream, but it was the scene of Amanda's last vivid memory of her father.
She was 8 years old and on the winter afternoon that Victor brought us to Isla Negra, he suggested that they should go for a walk together along the coast. A huge red sun was slowly sinking into the Pacific Ocean as they went along the coastal path which wound above craggy rocks, with the great breakers crashing and dissolving among them. Victor walked in front with his long brown poncho, Amanda skipped along behind on the narrow path. I saw them disappearing in the distance. The path, which seemed to go on for ever, the wind and sun and the sense of space and solitude, inspired Victor to make a song. As they went along, he started to invent words and music, asking Amanda's advice. She made her own suggestions which became part of the song and she felt very proud to be helping to make it. Together they went along singing it, not wanting to turn back but to go on and on, while the sun slowly disappeared ...
Just a few miles away in that apparently empty ocean, US warships were already nearing Valparaiso to take part in joint naval exercises with the Chilean Navy. On our way home next day, on a lonely road, we came near to being attacked by a mob of armed men who came running down a hill, clambering over fences to reach us. On the crest of the hill we saw a group of lorries lined up against the skyline: one of the camps of the bosses' strike.
The song of Isla Negra. was lost because it was never recorded, but during those weeks Victor was composing one which he felt that he had to write before it was too late, to express his reason for singing. He was quiet as he worked on it, introverted and withdrawn. I could hear him singing gently in the workshop as I worked in the house. Then he came to call me to ask me to listen to it. Although it was a very beautiful song, my heart contracted as he sang it to me. I knew that Victor was writing his testament.
I don't sing for love of singing,
or because I have a good voice.
I sing because my guitar
has both feeling and reason.
It has a heart of earth
and the wings of a dove,
it is like holy water,
blessing joy and grief.
My song has found a purpose
as Violeta would say.
with a smell of spring.
My guitar is not for the rich no,
nothing like that.
My song is of the ladder
we are building to reach the stars.
For a song has meaning
when it beats in the veins
of a man who will die singing,
truthfully singing his song.
My song is not for fleeting praise
nor to gain foreign fame,
it is for this narrow country
to the very depths of the earth.
There, where everything comes to rest
and where everything begins,
song which has been brave song
will be forever new.
3 September 1973
Today we are celebrating the third anniversary of Allende's election, although the more important purpose of the great march which has been called for today is to defend the Popular Unity government and to prevent it being overthrown by a military coup. Everyone understands that we are fighting for our lives, but we don't seem to know by what means, with what weapons. We only know that it is necessary to demonstrate clearly that Popular Unity is a great force to be reckoned with, that the people are beside their government in spite of all the problems. In the last few weeks there have been repeated calls from the CUT to come out on to the streets to frustrate terrorist attacks, but today is different. Four great columns starting from different points of Santiago will converge on the Moneda Palace to salute Allende and the leaders of Popular Unity.
As we leave the house, we see that even in our neighbourhood, we are not the only ones - many of the families who have been working in the JAP are also starting out, packing flags and banners into their cars - but we are in a minority. The other houses are quiet and closed, only the children, playing as usual in the street, observe our departure. Earlier I have seen groups of construction workers marching down Avenida Colón towards the centre, four or five miles away. There is no public transport because of the lock-out by the bus-owners, but the workers are determined to be there in the march today, and will walk all the way if necessary.
The last month has been terrible, with the continuation of the lorry-owners' strike, which neither the sacrifice of the MOPARE drivers, risking their lives along the roads, nor the mobilisation of voluntary work - sadder, but better organised than before - has been able to break. Food is scarce, unless one is involved in the black market; paraffin and gas, too. The doctors and dentists have come out on strike now as well, although many doctors are continuing to work in the hospitals.
One night, about two weeks ago, as Allende was speaking on nation-wide television (Victor and I were watching together) there was a power cut which affected the whole central zone of Chile. As the lights went out and Allende's image flickered off the screen, we knew that something terrible had happened, that it wasn't just a local failure. Luckily the transistor radio worked and we could listen to Allende calling for calm. Some of the right-wing radio stations were urging people out on to the streets, in an effort, I suppose, to cause more confusion.
The lights went on some time later, but the impression lingered it was such a scientifically planned attack, by terrorists who had inside information about the key points where the bombs had to be located to cause maximum effect. It could only have been planned by the military, or with military advice.
There is so much talk of civil war, but it is difficult to envisage how it will come about. I have been involved with the other women in the neighbourhood who support the government, trying to make contingency plans for what might happen . . . storing medicines, bandages, learning first aid, trying to think up safe places for the children, in general trying to prepare ourselves for whatever might come.
I was desperately anxious about Amanda. Would her insulin last out? It was already difficult to obtain. Would there be enough food to maintain a regular diet, would we be able to reach a doctor in an emergency? It all seemed too horrifying to be real. If you looked around at our quiet street, everything seemed quite normal. The pink cherry trees had flowered as usual in the early spring, there was sun and wind, the children played and quarrelled with one another, people went quietly about their business. Only the shuttered shops and the queues outside the baker's were a sign that all was not well ... that, and the fact that as evening fell, the 'tom-toms' would begin.
Moments of the past weeks flash through my mind ... I am in the garden, the winter sun is hot on my back ... it must be the weekend because we are all at home. Victor is in the studio - I can hear him singing quietly ... he has just played me the first version of 'Cuando voy al trabajo' and I have the melody and the sense of it in my head - 'working at the beginning of a story, without knowing the end'. I feel the grass under my feet, the plants and the trees of the garden all around me, with the comfort of Victor's presence, the sound of his guitar, the knowledge that Manuela and Amanda are safe, playing nearby and will soon come in for tea ... I have a sudden shudder of horror as though time froze for an instant ... a feeling that just because of its normality, I am going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.
But now we are on our way to the centre, or rather to the elegant Avenida Providencia, where our column is due to assemble. A wide street, lined with boutiques. We are glad, when we arrive, to find a gigantic mass of people already assembled. The march is so big that it is quite impossible to begin to judge numbers; you can see neither beginning nor end of this column which spreads the entire width of the avenue. We must be marching twenty, thirty abreast ... and this is only one of four such columns. Such is the sense of discipline and organisation that we feel like a great army of men, women and children assembling, but there are no arms, only hand-painted banners which all declare their bearers to be against fascism and terrorism and ready to defend their government. The mood, though, is a grim one. There can be no celebration. It is quite frightening to march between those high buildings knowing that they are full of enemies. However, when it is our turn to march past the now empty headquarters of Patria y Libertad, a roar of triumphant defiance surges from the crowd.
Today everyone has turned out, even those who do not usually bother to come on marches. We are surrounded by friends, although Inti-Illimani are still in Europe and so are the original Quilapayún. But the other Quilapayún groups are here as is the entire Peña with their own banner; we see some theatre friends for the first time for months. When Amanda gets tired, one of them gives her a piggy-back ... there are dancers, painters, poets, actors, playwrights, just in our small section of the match. It is not really a question of marching, but of shuffling along, a few paces every few minutes, such is the crush and the difficulty of advancing towards the centre ... There is a great cheer when, from a distance, we see the column from the south of Santiago pouring into the Alameda at right-angles to us, but then we turn into a side street beside the Santa Lucia Hill and lose sight of them among the narrow streets in the heart of the city ... here the crush is almost unbearable and we stand for hours, feeling trapped, waiting our turn to advance towards the Moneda Palace.
Victor is way ahead of us. He has been roped in to help carry the banner behind which we are marching, 'Trabajadores de la Cultura en contra el Fascismo'. It is symbolic that he is not marching with us, his family, today. Although he loves us as much, perhaps more, than ever, he has moved from beside us on to another plane, far away from the cosy domesticity that he himself has always valued so much. I understand that and I understand that he has no choice. He is making himself ready to confront fascism, hoping to take his place in a movement of resistance to it, whether in open struggle or in hiding.
To do otherwise would be to betray all the values that he lives by, including those of peace and love. He hates violence as much as ever, but is being swept by the course of events and by the strength of his own convictions to be ready to fight, by whatever means at his disposal ... I know he is anxious about our safety, although he tries not to worry me too much. I was surprised by his enthusiasm when I told him that I had received a visit from a mustachioed English gentleman who looked as though he were a member of the Country Club - one of the local British residents, checking on his flock in case of emergencies, with instructions about what to do in case of a crisis ... they know that something bad is about to happen.
As we emerge, at last, into Plaza de la Constitución, it is already completely dark. Little by little we edge forward until it is our turn to pass the long platform where Allende is sitting with all the leaders of Popular Unity ... they must have been here for hours already he looks tired ... one by one we recognise and salute them, although we notice that the new Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Merino, Leigh and Pinochet, are not among them.
Everyone is shouting 'Allende, Allende, el pueblo te defiende!' and 'El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!' We feel the great power of all that mass of people and think that it will be impossible to kill us all ... more than a million of us saluted Allende that day.
At last we catch up with Victor, who is waiting for us as we get past the platform. He takes Amanda in his arms so that she can see and we stand there for a moment looking at the people passing in front of the Moneda Palace ... the same sort of people that we had seen celebrating in the streets in 1970 ... but what a lot has been achieved since then, in spite of all the difficulties. Now there is a sadder, grimmer, but just as determined mood.
The great march of 3 September 1973 turned out to be the people's farewell to Salvador Allende.
Of the following week, I can remember little, except the struggle to keep going, to go on working, giving classes in an atmosphere of increasing tension, the sense of a terrible threat hanging over us for which we were completely unprepared, especially as it never seemed clear what form the danger would take.
Were we waiting for some sort of signal to evacuate the children from the homes of popular Unity supporters? Homes that would be in danger in case of civil war? Our neighbourhood was not easy to get out of, bounded by the cordillera to the east and the Canal San Carlos to the west. The few routes of escape could be easily cut off.
One night, when I was on duty in the JAP, in Alberto's shop, helping to distribute rice and tea to a queue of people, I heard the news that the Christian Democrats were uniting with the ultra-right in Congress to declare Allende's government illegal, even though they didn't have the necessary two-thirds majority to impeach him. This laid the way open for the Armed Forces to act. It was frightening news - Popular Unity was completely isolated.
People were talking about a plebiscite; Allende was closeted in his house in Tomas Moro, just a few blocks away, trying to get an agreement in his Cabinet about whether to accept the idea, or not there seemed to be no firm policy in face of crisis ... Rumour said that a military coup would occur before Fiestas Patrias on 18 September, because with so much subversive movement within the Armed Forces it seemed impossible for the President to review the traditional army parade.
I tried to discuss the situation with Victor, to ask him what the solution was. I asked him, 'But how can we defend ourselves if we have the Armed Forces against us?' He just smiled ruefully at me and said, 'I think that that is the crux of the problem.' A civil war implied a confrontation between two sides, but what would those two sides consist of? These questions went round and round in my head, but neither Victor, nor anyone I knew seemed to have the answer.
On Monday 10 September I went to work as usual to the Faculty building in the centre. It was a political duty to keep working normally and I knew that the students would be there, even though ugly incidents took place every day around us. That morning, as well as taking my usual classes, I was directing a seminar on movement for teachers working in the theatre school. Victor dropped me off at work and continued eastwards to the Technical University where he had to do a radio programme. He was happy, because he was taking a recently recorded tape to be played for the first time. It was a song he had made at the request of the building workers' union, a kind of trade-union hymn. He was anxious that they should hear it and tell him if they approved. Victor admired very much the militancy of the building workers who were firmly behind the Popular Unity government and had their own victims, like Roberto Ahumada.
Later, in the afternoon, Victor came back to fetch me. I had not yet finished work, so he went upstairs to talk to Quena while I tackled what was to be my last class in Chile, with a group of young men and a percussionist. I remember that it was a good class.
As soon as I could get away, I rushed upstairs to find Victor installed in the office of the Ballet with a cup of tea. Señora Marta, who cleaned the floors and made tea in a little cubby hole which she had converted into a regular kitchen, was looking after him. Whenever he came, she insisted on stuffing him with food and drink as a way of showing her respect and affection. Victor drew me to him and made me sit on his lap. I can still see his tender smile as he looked at me and, for the first time in years, called me 'mi gringuita'. I can only think that his subconscious was rejoicing that I had the protection of a British passport.
We said good-bye to Quena and thanks to Marta and went home. It was fairly quiet as we drove up towards the mountains, but the evening papers had glaring headlines which announced that the pilots of the National Airline (LAN) were taking all the planes to the Air Force base of El Bosque 'for safe keeping' while the strike was on. It sounded as though the scene was set.
CHAPTER 11: THE COUP
11 September 1973
I wake early as usual. Victor is still asleep, so I get out of bed quietly and wake Manuela who has to get to school early. I go downstairs to put the kettle on and a few minutes later Monica appears, rubbing her eyes and yawning. Everything is normal, within the abnormality in which we are living. It is a cold, cheerless, overcast morning.
We have breakfast, Manuela and I, and set out for school. It isn't far by car, but difficult to reach by public transport even if there were any. Luckily we still have some petrol. We are obviously the only people stirring. Everyone else seems to have decided to stay in bed, except of course the maids, who get up early and go to queue for bread at the bakery on the comer. Monica had come back with the news that Allende's car has already raced down Avenida Colón accompanied by his usual escort, much earlier than usual. People in the bread queue and in the newspaper kiosk were saying that something is afoot.
Manuel de Salas is full of students. There is no sign of the strike here. Only a tiny percentage of families are not supporters of Popular Unity. On the way home I switch on the car radio and the news comes through that Valparaiso has been sealed off and that unusual troop movements are taking place. The trade unions are calling for all workers to assemble in their places of work because this is an emergency, a red alert.
I hurry home to tell Victor. He is already up when I arrive and is fiddling with the transistor radio trying to get Magallanes or one of the other radio stations that support Popular Unity. 'This seems to be it,' we say to each other, 'it has really started.'
Victor was due that morning to sing at the Technical University, at the opening of a special exhibition about the horrors of civil war and fascism where Allende was going to speak. 'Well, that won't happen,' I said. 'No, but I think I should go anyway. While you go and fetch Manue from school - because it's better that you're all at home together - I'll make some phone calls to try to find out what is happening.'
As I drove out of the courtyard again, our neighbours were beginning to gather. They were talking loudly and excitedly, already beginning to celebrate. I passed them without glancing at them, but looking back in the mirror, I saw one of the 'ladies' squat down and give the most obscene gesture in Chilean sign language to my receding back.
Back at the school, I found that instructions had been given for the younger students to go home, while the teachers and older students were to stay behind. I collected Manue and, on the way home, although the reception was bad, we heard Allende on the radio. It was reassuring to hear his voice from the Moneda Palace ... but it sounded almost like a speech of farewell.
I found Victor in the studio listening to the radio and together we heard the confusion as almost all the Popular Unity stations went off the air when their aerials were bombed or they were taken over by the military, and martial music replaced Allende's voice ...
'This is the last time I shall be able to speak to you ... I shall not resign ... I will repay with my life the loyalty of the people ... I say to you: I am certain that the seeds we have sown in the conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans cannot be completely eradicated ... neither crime nor force are strong enough to hold back the process of social change. History belongs to us, because it is made by the people . . .”
It was the speech of a heroic man who knew he was about to die but at that moment we heard it only in snatches. Victor was called to the phone in the middle ... I could hardly bear to listen to it.
Victor had been waiting for me to come back in order to go out. He had decided that he had to go to his place of work, the Technical University, obeying the instructions of the CUT. Silently he poured our last can of petrol, reserved for emergencies like this, into the car and as he did so, I saw one of our neighbours, a pilot of the National Airline, look over the balcony of his house and shout something mocking at Victor, who replied with a smile.
It was impossible to say good-bye properly. If we had done so I should have held on to him and never let him go, so we were casual. 'Mamita, I'll be back as soon as I can ... you know I have to 90 ... just be calm.' 'Chao,' . . . and when I looked again, Victor had gone.
Listening to the radio, between one military march and another, I heard the announcements. 'Bando Numero Uno ... Bando Numero Dos' . . . military orders announcing that Allende had been given an ultimatum to surrender by the commanders of the Armed Forces led by General Augusto Pinochet ... that unless he surrendered by midday the Moneda Palace would be bombed.
Monica was preparing the lunch, and Amanda and Carola were playing in the garden, when suddenly there was the thunder and whine of a diving jet plane and then a tremendous explosion. It was like being in the war again ... I rushed out to bring the children indoors, closed the wooden shutters and convinced them that it was all a game. But the jets kept on diving and it seemed that the rockets they were firing were falling on the poblaci6n just above us towards the mountains. I think it was at this moment that any illusions that I may have had died in me ... if this was what we were up against, what hope could there be?
Then came the helicopters, low over the treetops of the garden. From the balcony of our bedroom I saw them, hovering like sinister insects, raking Allende's house with machine-gun fire. High above, towards the cordillera, another plane circled. We could hear the high whine of its engine for hours on end - the control plane, perhaps?
Soon after, the telephone rings. I rush to answer it and hear Victor's voice, 'Mamita, how are you? I couldn't get to the phone before ... I'm here in the Technical University ... You know what's happening, don't you?' I tell him about the dive bombers, but that we are all well. 'When are you coming home?' I’ll ring you later on ... the phone is needed now ... chao.'
Then there is nothing to do but to listen to the radio, to the military pronouncements between one march and another. The neighbours are outside in the patio, talking excitedly, some are standing on their balconies to get a better view of the attack on Allende's house ... they are bringing out the drinks ... one house has even put out a flag.
We listen to the news of the Moneda Palace being bombed and set on fire ... we wonder if Allende has survived ... there is no announcement about it. A curfew is being imposed. Quena rings to know how we are and I tell her that Victor isn't here, that he has gone to the university. 'Oh, my God!' she exclaims and rings off.
We have to assume now that all the telephones are tapped, but Victor rings about four-thirty. 'I have to stay here ... it will be difficult to get back because of the curfew. I'll come home first thing in the morning when the curfew is lifted ... Mamita, I love you.'
“I love you too…” but I choke as I say it and he has already hung up.
I did go to bed that night, but of course I couldn't sleep. All around the neighbourhood in the darkness you could hear sudden bursts of gunfire. I waited for morning wondering if Victor was cold, if he could sleep, wherever he was, wishing that he had taken at least a jacket with him, wondering if, as the curfew had been suddenly postponed until later in the evening, perhaps he had left the university and gone to someone's house nearby.
It was late next morning before the curfew was lifted and the maids trooped out to buy bread at the corner shop. But today the queue was controlled by soldiers who butted people with their guns and threatened them, I longed for Victor to come home, to hear the hum of the car as it drew up under the wistaria. I calculated how long it ought to take him to make the journey from the university ... As I waited, I realised that there was no money in the house, so I set out to walk the couple of blocks to the little shop belonging to Alberto who had always co-operated with the JAP and might be able to change a cheque for me. On my way, two trucks zoomed past me. They were packed with civilians armed with rifles and machine guns. I realised that they were our local fascists coming out of their holes into the light of day.
Alberto was very scared, and with reason. In the preceding weeks
he had already had a couple of bombs exploded outside his shop. But he was good enough to change a cheque for me and asked after Victor. I hurried home, and on my way, bumped into a friend, the wife of one of the members of Inti-Illimani who lived nearby. She was in a state of shock too, and all alone, because Inti were in Europe. By mutual consent she came home with me and didn't leave until several days later. She had been ill the previous day and had not gone to the government department where she worked. Now she was in agony, thinking about what might have happened there and how her colleagues had fared.
Together now we waited, but Victor didn't come. Glued to the television, although near to vomiting with what I saw, seeing the faces of the Generals, talking about 'eradicating the cancer of Marxism' from the country; hearing the official announcement that Allende was dead; seeing the film of the ruins of the Moneda Palace and of Allende's home, endlessly repeated, with shots of his bedroom, his bathroom - or what remained of them - with an 'arsenal of weapons' which seemed pathetically small considering that his detectives had had to protect him against terrorist attacks. It was only late in the afternoon that I heard that the Technical University had been reducida - captured - that tanks had entered the university precincts in the morning and that a large number of 'extremists' had been arrested.
My lifeline, although a dubious one because it had ears, was the telephone. I knew that Quena was trying to find out what had happened to Victor. She better than I could try to find out discreetly. I was afraid to act, afraid of identifying Victor before the military authorities. I didn't want to draw attention to him ... perhaps anyway he had managed to get out of the university before it was attacked ... that was my hope.
Wednesday night passed, another cold night, bitterly cold for September. The bed was large and empty and there was an agonising vacuum at my side. I slept fitfully and dreamt of Victor's touch, his warm limbs entwined with mine. I woke to empty darkness and in an agony of fear for him ... I remembered his nightmares.
Next morning, still no news. I tried to phone different people who might know what had happened in the Technical University. Nobody was sure about anything ... then Quena again ... she had found out that the detainees from the UTE had been taken to the Estadio Chile, the big boxing stadium where Victor had sung so often and where
the Song Festivals had taken place. She wasn't sure if Victor had been among them; the women, most of them, had been released and had given her the news ... only they weren't absolutely sure that Victor had been arrested with the rest because they had been separated from the men.
In the afternoon the phone rang. Heart jumping, I ran to answer it. An unknown voice, very nervous, asked for Compañera Joan ... 'Yes, yes,' then there was a message for me: 'Compañera, you don't know me, but I have a message for you from your husband. I've just been released from the Estadio Chile ... Victor is there . . . he asked me to tell you that you should be calm and stay in the house with the children ... that he left the car outside the Technical University in the car park, if maybe, someone can fetch it for you ... he doesn't think that he will be released from the stadium.'
'But compañero, thank you for ringing me, but what did he mean by that?'
'That is what he told me to tell you. Good luck, compañera!' and he hung up.
When Quena rang a few minutes later, I gave her the news. She began to do everything she could to find out more, to find out what would be the best way of trying to get Victor out. She even went to see Cardinal Silva Henriquez, asking him to intervene. What immobilised me was the fear of identifying Victor, if they had not already done so, his own instructions to me, which I assumed were for the best, and my blind faith in the power and organisation of the Communist Party which would, I thought, know the best way of saving people like Victor.
Even now, at this stage, I had no real idea of the horrors that were taking place. We were deprived of news and information, although rumours were rife. A responsible political leader phoned me to tell me that General Prats was advancing from the north with an army ... this must be the beginning of the civil war about which we had been warned. (Only later did we learn that General Prats had been imprisoned and that, during the night of 10 September, even before the coup really began, there had been a purge of all officers suspected of supporting Allende's government.)
During the short time the curfew was lifted on Friday, I decided to make the journey across Santiago to fetch the car. I thought we ought to have it in case it were necessary to leave home in a hurry. It was my first excursion outside our neighbourhood and in the midday sun everything looked unnaturally normal: the buses were running again, there was food in the shops. The only abnormality was the number of soldiers in the streets, at every comer, but there were plenty of people about, walking hurriedly, their faces emptied of expression. As the bus made its slow way along the Alameda, we passed the Moneda Palace or rather the shell of it, roped off from the square. Many people were passing up and down in front of it, I suppose with curiosity to see the results of the bombing and the fire, but no one showed any feelings at all, either of rage and sadness or of satisfaction.
Central Station and the stalls outside were as busy as ever. I got off the bus and hesitated on the comer of the side road leading to the Estadio Chile. I stood looking at the crowd of people outside, the guards with their machine guns at the ready. It was impossible to get near it, but anyway, what could I do? I walked the few blocks to the Technical University ... the campus and the new modem building were strangely deserted ...
And then I realise that the great plate-glass windows and doors are all broken, the façade of the building damaged and bullet-scarred. The car park in front, usually full to overflowing, is empty except for our little car looking solitary in the middle of it. There must be military guards about, but I don't notice them. I see only an old man sitting on a wall some distance away. I put one foot in front of the other until I reach the car, fumbling for my keys, and I find that I am stepping in a pool of blood which is seeping from under the car ... that where there should be a window there is nothing ... the car is full of broken glass. I think, 'This can't be ours' and begin to try the keys to see if they fit. Then I see that the old man is walking towards me. 'Who are you?' he shouts at me. 'This is my car,' I stutter at him. 'This is my husband's car. He left it here.' 'That's all right then,' the old man says. 'I was looking after it for Don Victor. Look, I found his identity card on the ground. You'd better have it,' and he passes it to me.
But where did all the blood come from, whose blood is it?' I ask.
Oh, I expect someone knifed a thief who was trying to steal it. A lot of blood has been spilt around here lately. You'd better go as quickly as you can. It's not safe.' And he helps me clean the broken glass from the car seats so that I can drive it and sees me on my way.
That was Friday. I don't know how I got through Saturday. People phoned me. I phoned people. Marta came to see me. Angel had been arrested and taken to the National Stadium. Bad news of other friends came to me. The Popular Unity leaders were all detained or in hiding, being hunted like criminals. Other friends had disappeared.
As I lay down on the bed on Saturday night - I can't say to sleep staring at the ceiling through the long hours of the night, a different sort of cold hopelessness began to seep over me. Suddenly, with my heart thudding, I sat up abruptly. Victor wasn't there.
As soon as it was light I went to the wardrobe and began to get out clothes which I had not used for ages ... respectable, Marks & Spencer clothes, which would make me look like a foreigner. I put my hair Up, put dark glasses on and tried to steel myself to go to the British Embassy to ask them to help Victor. It was too early, of course. I had to wait for the curfew to end. As it was Sunday, I had to find the Ambassador's residence rather than go to the Embassy itself in the centre. It was one of those large mansions of the barrio alto with high wrought-iron gates and railings, closed and with a police guard outside. No sign of life. I rang the bell and waited until one of the servants came out. 'I am a British subject. I need help.'
I thought that he would open the gate, but no. He told me to wait. I waited. The police outside were looking me over. I wondered if I looked British enough. Then the main door of the mansion opened and a very obviously British young man approached the gates. 'Oh, sorry about all this cloak and dagger stuff. Orders from above, you know, What can I do for you?'
I told him in incoherent and stuttering English, which wouldn't come out properly, that my husband was in the Estadio Chile, that I feared desperately for his safety and could they help me. Peering at me through the firmly locked gates, he said, 'Oh, but is he a British subject? You know we can't do anything if he is not British.' 'No, he's Chilean, but I fear that he may be in special danger, because he is a well-known person. Please see if you can do anything to get him out ... if they know that the British Embassy is concerned about him, perhaps it will be better.'
'Well, I don't think that there is very much we can do, but under the circumstances, perhaps the most appropriate thing would be for our Naval Attaché to make enquiries about him with the military authorities. I'll see what we can do ... I can't promise anything. I'll ring you if I have any news.'
So I came home, wondering if I had done the right thing, hoping that I hadn't betrayed Victor. If he had thrown away his identity card it was because he hoped he wouldn't be recognised. Unless he were already dead.
Monday is a blank. I suppose I went through the motions of being alive. By military decree we must put the flags out tomorrow, to celebrate Chile's Independence Day, Fiestas Patrias.
Tuesday, 18 September
About an hour after the curfew is lifted, I hear the noise of the gate being rattled, as though someone is trying to get in. It is still locked ... I look out of the bathroom window and see a young man standing outside. He looks harmless, so I go down. He says to me very quietly, 'I am looking for the compañera of Victor Jara. Is this the house? Please trust me - I am a friend,' and he brings out his identity card to show me. 'May I come in for a minute? I need to talk to you.' He looks nervous and worried. He whispers, 'I am a member of the Communist Youth.'
I open the gate to let him in and we sit down in the living room opposite each other. 'I'm sorry, I had to come and find you ... I'm afraid I have to tell you that Victor is dead ... his body has been found in the morgue. He was recognised by one of the compañeros working there. Please, be brave, you must come with me to see if it is him ... was he wearing dark-blue underpants? You must come, because his body has already been there almost forty-eight hours and unless it is claimed they will take him away and bury him in a common grave.
Half an hour later, I found myself driving like a zombie through the streets of Santiago, this unknown young man at my side. Hector, as he was called, had been working in the city morgue for the last week, trying to identify some of the anonymous bodies that were being brought in every day. He was a kind, sensitive young man and he was risking a great deal in coming to find me. As an employee, he had a special identity card and showing it, he ushered me into a small side entrance of the morgue, an unprepossessing building just a few yards from the gates of the General Cemetery.
Even in a state of shock, my body continues to function. Perhaps from outside I look very normal and controlled ... my eyes continue to see, my nose to smell, my legs to walk ...
We go down a dark passageway and emerge into a large hall. My new friend puts his hand on my elbow to steady me as I look at rows and rows of naked bodies covering the floor, stacked up into heaps in the corners, most with gaping wounds, some with their hands still tied behind their backs ... there are young and old ... there are hundreds of bodies ... most of them look like working people ... hundreds of bodies, being sorted out, being dragged by the feet and put into one pile or another, by the people who work in the morgue, strange silent figures with masks across their faces to protect them from the smell of decay. I stand in the centre of the room, looking and not wanting to look for Victor, and a great wave of rage assaults me. I know that incoherent noises of protest come from my mouth, but immediately Hector reacts. 'Ssh! You mustn't make any sign ... otherwise we shall get into trouble ... just stay quiet a moment. I'll go and ask where we should go. I don't think this is the right place.'
We are directed upstairs. The morgue is so full that the bodies overflow to every part of the building, including the administrative offices. A long passage, rows of doors, and on the floor a long line of bodies, these with clothes, some of them look more like students, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty ... and there in the middle of the line I find Victor.
It was Victor, although he looked thin and gaunt ... What have they done to you to make you waste away like that in one week? His eyes were open and they seemed still to look ahead with intensity and defiance, in spite of a wound on his head and terrible bruises on his cheek. His clothes were torn, trousers round his ankles, sweater tucked up under his armpits, his blue underpants hanging in tatters round his hips as though cut by a knife or bayonet ... his chest riddled with holes and a gaping wound in his abdomen. His hands seemed to be hanging from his arms at a strange angle as though his wrists were broken ... but it was Victor, my husband, my lover.
Part of me died at that moment too. I felt a whole part of me die as I stood there. Immobile and silent, unable to move, speak.
He should have disappeared. It was only because his face was recognised among hundreds of anonymous bodies that he was not buried in a common grave and I should never have known what had happened to him. I was grateful to the worker who drew attention to him, to young Hector - he was only nineteen - who decided to take the risk of coming to find me, who had searched for and found my name and address in the records of Identificaciones, asking co-operation of other people in the Identity Bureau. Everyone had helped.
Now it was necessary to claim Victor's body legally. The only way was to take him immediately from the morgue to the cemetery and to bury him ... those were the regulations. They made me go home and fetch my marriage certificate. So once more, this time alone, I had to drive across Santiago, now decked with flags for the celebration of Independence Day. I could say nothing to my children yet ... the morgue was no place for them, but my friends had been calling, students, wanting to know how we were. One insisted on accompanying me, a good friend who called himself a momio. By strange coincidence his name was also Hector.
The paper work, complying with all the regulations, took hours. At three o'clock in the afternoon I was still waiting in the courtyard leading to the basement of the morgue where I was told that Victor's body would be released. Other women were here now, scanning the useless lists that were posted outside which gave just a number, sex, ,no name', found in such and such an area. And as I waited, every few minutes, through the gate from the street came a closed military vehicle with a red cross painted on its side, driving down into the basement, obviously to unload another batch of corpses, and out again to search for more.
At last everything was ready. With the coffin on a trolley we were ready to cross the road to the cemetery. As we came to the gate we met a military vehicle coming in with more corpses - someone would have to give way. The driver hooted and made furious gestures at us but we stood there silently until he backed out and let Victor's coffin pass.
It must have taken twenty minutes or half an hour to make the long walk to the very end of the cemetery where Victor was to be buried. The trolley squeaked and rattled over the uneven ground.
We went on and on, Hector, my new friend, on one side, Hector, my old friend, on the other. Only when Victor's coffin disappeared into the niche that had been allotted to us did I almost collapse. But I was without feeling or sensation, only the thought of Manuela and Amanda at home, wondering what was happening, wondering where I was, kept me alive.
The next day, the newspaper La Segunda published a tiny paragraph which announced Victor's death as though he had passed away peacefully in his bed: 'The funeral was private, only relatives were present.' Then the order came through to the media not to mention Victor again. But on the television, someone risked his life to insert a few bars of ' La plegaria' over the sound-track of an American film..
CHAPTER 12: AN UNFINISHED SONG
It took me months, even years, to piece together something of what happened to Victor during the week that for me he was 'missing'. Many people could not even speak about their experiences, were afraid to testify, could not bear to remember. Under such horrendous pressure and suffering people lost the sense of time and even of which day of the week events occurred. But gradually, by collecting evidence from Chilean refugees in exile who shared experiences with Victor, were with him at given moments, I have managed to reconstruct, roughly, what he endured while I waited for him at home.
When he reached Plaza Italia on the morning of 11 September, Victor found that the centre of Santiago had been sealed off by the military, so he turned south down Vicuña McKenna and then west again along Avenida Matta, thus making a wide detour to reach the campus of the Technical University on the far side of the city. He saw the movement of tanks and troops, heard the shooting and explosions, but managed to get through. When he arrived at the Department of Communications he learnt that the radio station of the university had been attacked and taken off the air very early that morning by a contingent of armed men from the nearby naval radio station in the Quinta Normal. He must have arrived just about the time that the Moneda Palace was being bombed. From the university buildings it was possible to see the Hawker Hunter jets, to hear the rockets explode as they landed on the Moneda Palace where Allende was holding out and to see the smoke rising from the ruins as the building was destroyed by fire. Soon afterwards, Victor managed to get his turn on an overworked telephone to tell me that he had arrived safely and to ask how we were getting on.
There were about six hundred students and teachers gathered in the Technical University that morning. At the opening ceremony, President Allende was to have made an important speech announcing his decision to hold a national plebiscite to resolve by democratic means the conflict threatening the country.
As the first military bandos threatened that people on the streets were in danger of being shot and killed and that a curfew was to be enforced from the early hours of the afternoon, Dr Enrique Kirberg, the Rector of the University, negotiated with the military for the people gathered there to stay put all night for their own safety, until the curfew was lifted the next day. This was agreed upon and orders were given for everyone to remain within the university buildings. It was then that Victor must have phoned me for the second time. He didn't tell me that the whole campus was surrounded by tanks and troops.
Through the long hours of the evening, listening to the explosions and heavy machine-gun fire all around the neighbourhood, they tell me that Victor tried to raise the spirits of the people around him. He sang and got them to sing with him. They had no arms to defend themselves. Then in the staff room of the old building of the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, Victor tried to get some sleep.
All night long the machine-gun fire continued. Some people who tried to get out of the university under cover of darkness were shot outright but it was not until early next morning that the assault began in earnest, with the tanks firing their heavy guns against the buildings, damaging the structure of some, shattering windows and destroying laboratories, equipment, books. There was no answering fire because there were no guns inside.
After the tanks had crashed into the university precincts, the troops proceeded to herd all the people, including the Rector, out into a large courtyard normally used for sport. Using rifle butts and boots to kick and beat people, they forced everyone to lie on the ground, hands on the back of their heads. Victor lay there with the others, perhaps it was on the way out of the building that he had got rid of his identity card in the hope that he might not be recognised.
After lying there for more than an hour, they were made to get into single file and trot, still with their hands on their heads, to the Estadio Chile, about six blocks away, subjected to insults, kicks and blows on the way. It was when they were lining up outside the stadium that Victor was first recognised by one of the non-commissioned officers. 'You're that fucking singer, aren't you?' and he hit Victor on the head, felling him, then kicking him in the stomach and ribs. Victor was separated from the others as they entered the building and put into a special gallery, reserved for 'important' or 'dangerous' prisoners. His friends saw him from afar, remember the wide smile that he flashed at them from across the horror that they were witnessing, in spite of a bloody face and a wound in his head. Later they saw him curl up across the seats, his hands tucked beneath his armpits against the penetrating cold.
Some time next morning, Victor evidently decided to try to leave his isolated position and join the other prisoners. Another witness, who was waiting in the passageway outside, saw the following scene. As Victor pushed the swing doors to come out into the passageway, he almost bumped into an army officer who seemed to be the second-in-command of the Stadium. He had been very busy shouting over the microphone, giving orders, screaming threats, He was tall, blond and rather handsome and was obviously enjoying the role he was playing as he strutted about. Some of the prisoners had already nicknamed him 'the Prince'.
As Victor came face to face with him, he gave a sign of recognition and smiled sarcastically. Mimicking playing a guitar, he giggled and then quickly drew his finger across his throat. Victor remained calm and made some gesture in reply, but then the officer shouted, 'What is this bastard doing here?' He called the guards who were following him and said, 'Don't let him move from here. This one is reserved for me!'
Later, Victor was transferred to the basement where there are glimpses of him in a passageway, there where he had so often prepared to sing, now lying, covered in blood, on a floor running with urine and excrement overflowing from the toilet.
In the evening he was brought back into the main part of the Stadium to join the other prisoners. He could scarcely walk, his head and his face were bloody and bruised, one of his ribs seemed to be broken and he was in pain where he had been kicked in the stomach. His friends wiped his face and tried to make him more comfortable. One of them had a small jar of jam and some biscuits. They shared the food between three or four of them, dipping their fingers into the jam one after the other and licking every vestige of it.
The next day, Friday 14 September, the prisoners were divided into groups of about two hundred, ready to be transferred to the National Stadium. It was then that Victor, slightly recovered, asked his friends if anyone had a pencil and paper and began to write his last poem. Some of the worst horrors of the military coup took place in the Estadio Chile in those first days before it was visited by the Red Cross, Amnesty International or any representative of a foreign embassy. (In spite of legal proceedings and inquiries by lawyers, I have never been able to discover the names of the officers who were in command of the Estadio Chile.)
Thousands of prisoners were kept for days, with virtually no food or water; glaring spotlights were focused on them constantly so that they lost all sense of time and even of day and night; machine guns were set up all around the Stadium and were fired intermittently either at the ceiling or over the heads of the prisoners; orders and threats were blared over loudspeakers; the commanding officer was a corpulent man and only his silhouette could be seen as he warned that the machine guns were nicknamed 'Hitler's saws' because they could cut a man in half ... and would do so as necessary. Prisoners were called out one by one, made to move from one part of the Stadium to another. It was impossible to rest. People were mercilessly beaten with whips and rifle butts. One man who could no longer bear it threw himself over the balcony and plunged to his death among the prisoners below. Others had attacks of madness and were gunned down in full view of everybody.
As Victor scribbled, he was trying to record, for the world to know, something of the horror that had been let loose in Chile. He could only testify to his' small corner of the city', where five thousand people were imprisoned, could only imagine what must be happening in the rest of his country. He must have realised the monstrous scale of the military operation, the precision with which it had been prepared.
In those last hours of his life, deep roots of his peasant childhood made him see the military as 'midwives', whose coming was the signal for screams and what had seemed to him, as a child, unbearable suffering. Now these visions became confused with the torture and the sadistic smile of the Prince. But even then, Victor still had hope for the future, confidence that people were stronger, in the end, than bombs and machine guns . and as he came to the last verses, for which he already had music inside him - 'How hard it is to sing, when I must sing of horror . . .' - he was interrupted. A group of guards came to fetch him, to separate him from those who were about to be transferred to the National Stadium. He quickly passed the scrap of paper to a compañero who was sitting beside him, who in turn hid it in his sock as he was taken away. His friends had tried each one of them to learn the poem by heart as it was written, so as to carry it out of the Stadium with them. They never saw Victor again.
In spite of the fact that large numbers were transferred to other prison camps, the Estadic, Chile remained full because more and more prisoners were constantly arriving, both men and women. I have two more glimpses of Victor in the Stadium, two more testimonies ... a message for me brought out by someone who was near him for some hours, down in the dressing rooms, converted now into torture chambers, a message of love for his daughters and for me ... then once more being publicly abused and beaten, the officer nicknamed the Prince shouting at him, on the verge of hysteria, losing control of himself, 'Sing now, if you can, you bastard!' and Victor's voice raised in the Stadium after those four days of suffering to sing a verse of the hymn of Popular Unity, 'Venceremos'. Then he was beaten down and dragged away for the last phase of his agony.
The boxing stadium lies within a few yards of the main railway line to the south, which, on its way out of Santiago, passes through the working-class district of San Miguel, along the boundary wall of the Metropolitan Cemetery. It was here, early in the morning of Sunday 16 September, that the people of the población found six dead bodies, lying in an orderly row. All had terrible wounds and had been machine-gunned to death. They looked from face to face, trying to recognise the corpses and suddenly one of the women cried out, 'This is Victor Jara!' - it was a face which was both known and dear to them. One of the women even knew Victor personally because when he had visited the población to sing, she had invited him into her home to eat a plate of beans. Almost immediately, while they were wondering what to do, a covered van approached. The people of the población quickly hid behind a wall, in fear, but watched while a group of men in plain clothes began dragging the corpses by the feet and throwing them into the van. From here Victor's body must have been transferred to the city morgue, an anonymous corpse, ready to disappear into a mass grave. But once again, he was recognised - by one of the people who worked there. When later the text of his last poem was brought to me, I knew that Victor wanted to leave his testimony, his only means now of resisting fascism, of fighting for the rights of human beings and for peace.
There are five thousand of us here
in this small part of the city.
We are five thousand.
I wonder how many we are in all
in the cities and in the whole country?
are ten thousand hands which plant seeds
and make the factories run.
How much humanity
exposed to hunger, cold, panic, pain,
moral pressure, terror and insanity?
Six of us were lost
as if into starry space.
One dead, another beaten as I could never have believed
a human being could be beaten.
The other four wanted to end their terror
one jumping into nothingness,
another beating his head against a wall,
but all with the fixed stare of death.
What horror the face of fascism creates!
They carry out their plans with knife-like precision.
Nothing matters to them.
To them, blood equals medals,
slaughter is an act of heroism.
Oh God, is this the world that you created,
for this your seven days of wonder and work?
Within these four walls only a number exists
which does not progress,
which slowly will wish more and more for death.
But suddenly my conscience awakes
and I see that this tide has no heartbeat,
only the pulse of machines
and the military showing their midwives' faces
full of sweetness.
Let Mexico, Cuba and the world
cry out against this atrocity!
We are ten thousand hands
which can produce nothing.
How many of us in the whole country?
The blood of our President, our compañero,
will strike with more strength than bombs and machine guns!
So will our fist strike again!
How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment…