In Chile 1973, Sonia Hevia (above, right) received a knock on her door. “Sorry, your husband has been taken again,” a friend told her.
Pancho Hevia was a trade union leader and member of the Communist Party. He’d been imprisoned twice and told his family he’d been tortured.
“My father suffered a lot [because of] the physical and psychological torture that he went through,” Orieta Hevia explains.
“He was beaten, as well as tortured using electricity on his body. He was threatened with a tape of little kids’ voices… they told him that was us. They threatened him with our lives.”
The Hevias arrived in Australia in 1975 as part of the largest and most diverse wave of Chilean immigrants in history. They were exiles of the Pinochet regime.
“We had to leave the country or [my father] would have been killed.”
“We arrived in Australia, we were so happy to be free in Australia,” Orieta Hevia explains.
Pancho died here, 19 years later.
Australia has a long history of welcoming Chilean exiles. The first known arrival was former president General Ramón Freire, who eventually returned to his homeland.
That migrant history means Australia today has a vibrant Chilean community – one that comes together to celebrate events like Chilean Independence Day.
Chilean Fiesta, Bondi (Photos: Isabella Garrido)
But there are many who are concerned that Chile today is becoming increasingly like Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Rodrigo Acuña, associate lecturer in Spanish and Latin American studies at Macquarie University, shares that concern.
“The repression that is taking place in Chile is reminiscent or similar to what took place under the Pinochet administration,” he said.
‘The Piñera administration feels much more emboldened to go after sectors like the Indigenous populations, which are resisting the forestry industry, sectors of the mining industry, the student movement, and the teachers movement.”
Rising tensions in Chile’s south between government backed forestry and hydro-electric industries and the Indigenous Mapuche people have led to the deaths of many.
The Mapuche argue their leaders have been killed in suspicious circumstances.
Environmental activists fighting the privatisation of Chile’s water supply are repeatedly arrested and frequently threatened.
Who are the Mapuche?
Peaceful protests on social movements are constantly shut down by the Carabineros (the Chilean police force), such as the International Woman’s Day march in Valparaiso, and the strikes by teachers over the country’s deteriorating educational infrastructure and changing curriculum.
“Every 11th of September there are massive arrests,” Orieta Hevia said, referring to the day in 1973 when the Chilean Army staged a coup against democratically-elected Salvador Allende.
“And what happens is, these right wing vandals take over the protests and start vandalising the whole area, which means that most people get arrested, they’ll (the left wing) get blamed for it.
“History repeats itself. Not much has changed in terms of politics in Chile and there’s a whole generation who are in denial about what happened… “
Now a Lansvale resident, Monica Lizana believes that it’s since Chile returned to a democratic government, that things have changed for the worse.
Under the Pinochet dictatorship, she says, “it was safe, you can walk on the street at anytime. Not many criminal things like theft.”
Chilean prosecutors however, are pursuing those accused of human rights abuses during the Pinochet regime. Among them, Bondi nanny Adriana Rivas, who is accused of kidnapping offences during the dictatorship.
According to Human Rights Watch, the prosecutions include former police and military officers.
General Pinochet was charged and indicted for several human rights offences, before his death in 2006.
— Isabella Garrido
*Featured Image, Sonia and Orieta Hevias (Photo: Isabella Garrido)