Chile’s new president Gabriel Boric on Tuesday called that the crimes of past dictatorships not be forgotten in order to prevent history from repeating itself.
The leftist leader delivered his remarks after an emotional tour of the former ESMA Navy Mechanics School concentration camp in Nuñez, Buenos Aires, alongside his Argentine colleague and host Alberto Fernández and Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero.
"I thank the invitation to tread these grim corridors where the flame of memory lives on, obliging us to remember and be aware that if we are here, it is thanks to those who were here before us," declared Boric on the last day of the first state visit of his presidency.
“We share a joint history of joys and also sorrows with the Argentine people and for us memory and unrestricted respect for human rights is fundamental. We’ll continue working on that. If we are in the presidency of the Republic of Chile today, it is thanks to the struggle of those who fell before us,” he told the press.
At the doors of ESMA (today known as the Museo Sitio de Memoria), where one of the main detention and torture centres of the 1976-1983 Argentine dictatorship functioned, an emotional leftist Chilean president embraced representatives of the organisations Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo – Angela 'Lita' Boitano, Nora Cortiñas, Taty Almeyda and Buscarita Roa (the only Chilean member of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo), all aged but very much alive.
They gave the distinguished visitor a white headscarf, the emblem of the Mothers, and a painting with another headscarf reading: "las Abuelas al presidente Boric. Marzo 2022."
"It was very moving. He’s young and has plenty of work ahead of him. We’re sure that he’s going to deliver to the people who voted for him," Cortiñas, 92, told AFP upon leaving the 17-hectare ESMA site where various human rights organisations have had their headquarters since 2004 with the museum formally inaugurated in 2015.
Apart from the entourages of both presidents, ESMA survivors (Anna Sofianttini and Alfredo Ayala) and representatives of babies illegally adopted during the dictatorship participated.
An estimated 400 babies were stolen after being born in captivity to their mothers, who afterwards went missing. Of these cases, 130 have recovered their identity. Five of them – Guillermo Amarilla Molfino, Leonardo Fossati Ortega, Manuel Gonçalves Granada, Camilo Juárez and Miguel ‘Tano’ Santucho – were present at the ex-ESMA last Tuesday.
"Horror and solidarity"
"Here you feel the horror and the solidarity. It’s shocking," Boric told journalists after embracing his visibly moved Defence Minister Mayra Fernández.
"Knowing what happened here, the horrors, what we do not want, that’s why we wish to fortify democracy, hence the affectionate embrace [with Boric] because it is not easy to listen to the narratives of what happened in this place. I thought of the people who passed through here, not even during my own lifetime," said the Chilean minister, the grand-daughter of the late president Salvador Allende who committed suicide during the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973, told AFP.
The visit to the place where some 5,000 people (most of whom were killed or went missing) were detained and tortured lasted over two hours and was considered "fundamental" by the Chilean president. Human rights organisations estimate a total of 30,000 people to have gone missing during the dictatorship.
Boric, 36, announced that Chile will support the candidacy of the ESMA Memory Museum to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Before visiting the memory museum, Boric inaugurated a business forum to boost investments by the public and private sectors.
"In Chile, the economy and productivity have been stagnant for several years. This has to do with a development model which has reached its shelf life and is exhausted," said Boric, inviting "all sectors to participate in what we want to construct and embark upon a new path."
After visiting ESMA, President Boric headed to the Fine Arts Museum which for the next three years will be exhibiting a series of seven paintings by the Argentine artist Ernesto Deira, which have been recently recovered after having been in Chile since 1971. Until recently these works were thought to have been destroyed upon Pinochet’s orders.
Boric also had an encounter with the local Chilean community scheduled before returning to Santiago.