Chile Announces Plan To Search For The Pinochet Dictatorship’s Disappeared

On August 30th, during Chile’s commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared, President Gabriel Boric announced the Truth and Justice Search Plan, an initiative to recover the remains of those who went missing during the period in which the country was ruled by a dictatorship. The commemoration was held at La Moneda, the presidential palace, and took place less than a month away from the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup which installed the military government responsible for the disappearances.

“Justice has taken too long,” Boric said during the ceremony. “This is not a favor to the families. It is a duty to society as a whole to deliver the answers the country deserves and needs.”

Following through on that duty is vital for Chile, both as an acknowledgement of the horrors its government perpetrated during the dictatorship and as a demonstration of the current government’s commitment to the needs of its people. Returning the deceased to their loved ones is a basic dignity that has thus far been denied to those killed at the hands of the dictatorship. The living, too, deserve to be provided with closure for what happened to their relatives and, if possible, the ability to give the remains a proper resting place.

Boric emphasized the Search Plan’s dedication to revealing what truly happened and confronting history, rather than shying away from the country’s violent past in order to protect his government’s image. “What we are doing here today is a gesture of democracy because it is an act of state that assumes memory in a way that is not fueled by resentment, but by the conviction that the only possibility of building a future that is freer and more respectful of life and human dignity is to know the whole truth,” he said.

This September 11th marked the 50th anniversary of the coup that ousted democratically elected president Salvador Allende and established a 17-year military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. During that time, 40,175 people were executed, detained and disappeared, Reuters says. Of those, 377 of those executed have not had their remains returned to their families, and only 307 of the disappeared have been identified, El País reports.

Many Chileans affirm that the military must have records of what it did to the citizens it detained. “Obviously the higher ranks of the Armed Forces are responsible,” Carlos González, who was himself detained during the dictatorship, told Reuters. “What did they do with the corpses? It can’t be that we don’t know what happened with around 1,000 Chileans. This just can’t be.”

Prior to Boric’s plan, efforts to address these statistics were led by family members through organizations like the Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared, founded by the late activist Ana Gonzalez, who spent over 40 years looking for her own lost family. Chile’s government kept a D.N.A. database for identificatory purposes, the International Commission on Missing Persons said, but otherwise played a passive role in the search.

“The state made the family members disappear and the state has to take charge,” Gaby Rivera, president of the Group of Disappeared Detainees, said. “And if we have to be there 50 more years, that’s how it will be.”

This active effort by Boric and his government takes accountability for the state’s actions in the past and stops pushing endeavors to remedy them onto the citizens. Though Chile has had difficulty reckoning with its history as a dictatorship, the national plan to search for those who were killed and forcibly disappeared during that time is an important step toward addressing, and being able to move on from, the country’s past.