A Brief History of the Merseyside Chile Solidarity Campaign
Written for the premier and special screening of the film “Cruel Separation” in 2008 by Angela Thew co-founder and first secretary of the MCSC.
When the military coup took place on the 11th September 1973 that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a Chilean vessel was in the Liverpool docks. The Dockers placed an immediate boycott on the vessel. That was the first official act of solidarity. Within 24 hours of the coup came the formation of the Merseyside Chile Solidarity Campaign (MCSC) – again, the first solidarity group set up in the UK.
Remembering, for example, sitting around the table in Rodney Street, Liverpool; at the fist meeting that formed the MCSC and being told that we were about to have a very important visitor join us; just as the deposed Chilean Ambassador, Señor Bunter was entering the room, all the lights went out! (due to industrial action by the miners). All very symbolic now when I think about it, as little did we know sitting in the candlelight that the coup led by General Pinochet would lead for 17 years of vicious military dictatorship, the violent death of almost 5,000 people and the torturing of tens of thousands of individuals with similar numbers of Chileans going into exile (and an unknown number of the ‘disappeared’).
Much of our solidarity work centred on the Chilean Exiles, some with their families, who arrived in Liverpool, who as often as not, were completely emotionally and physically traumatised. We also focused on the organising of conferences, workshops and social events, keeping the public informed of the role of the DINA (the Chilean Secret Police) and the human rights abuses taking place in Chile
The ‘Cultural Sphere’ was seen as a good way of keeping Chile alive in the minds of the public as well a way of raising funds for solidarity work, such as the famous Children’s Soup Kitchens in the Chilean Shanty-towns. Liverpool became a regular venue for sell-out concerts featuring exiled Chilean musicians, for example ‘Inti-Illimani’, ‘Quilapayun’, Angel Parra and the writing and music of the irreplaceable Victor Jara.
In the mid 80s an official delegation of women went to Chile (I had the honour of being a member) and the resulting BBS television documentary and a UN report on the treatment of women political prisoners helped keep the name of Chile in the public’s mind.
Much of the solidarity work in the following decade focused on raising awareness of the Junta’s attempts to introduce various amnesty laws for the military and our telling folks here about the movement to remove the dictatorship by democratic means. The plebiscite by which the people of Chile at last had a voice to say ‘NO’ to Pinochet resulted in the opening up of life in Chile and the start of the return to democracy.
Late in 1998 the headline ‘Pinochet arrested in London’ brought a new urgency to the campaign and importantly the issues to a younger generation of people. The Dictator’s detention of course ended in farce but I believe the events served their purpose. Although difficult to sum up 40 years of solidarity, a comment made at the time of the Pinochet arrest, says it all – “Allende and Pinochet – where are these two now? One is immortalised by a statue by La Moneda (Palace), the other has to pretend to be mad. History has put them in their place.