Forty years after the coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile remains a wounded, divided nation where the past lives in the present.

The nation’s enduring rifts are visible in the glaring contrast between the entrenched poverty in Santiago’s shantytowns and the country’s elite, who enriched themselves during the dictatorship as the Pinochet application of policies designed by the “Chicago Boys” who had learned from Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. 

History is alive in the homes of people like Ana Gonzalez, a woman whose husband, two sons and daughter-in-law were disappeared during the dictatorship.  

And it’s a force in the November presidential election featuring Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei. The daughters of Air Force Generals played together as children, but their lives were changed permanently by the coup.   

Matthei’s father Fernando joined the junta. Bachelet’s father Alberto remained loyal to Salvador Allende and the constitution, paying for that decision with his life.  

Yet there are also glimmerings of Chile coming to terms with its bloody past. Among the most important: this September 11 saw an unprecedented outpouring of memory-related activity. Where Chile goes from here will offer a true compass of the future of the country. While the past remains an important part of the present, the future is emboldened by a new generation of ‘changers’ who hold high hopes for their country’s future.

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