Chile opens Museum of Memory for dirty war victims

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile inaugurated the Museum of Memory on Monday to make sure the tens of thousands of people who were imprisoned, killed or disappeared during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship are not forgotten.

President Michelle Bachelet, who was herself detained and tortured during Chile’s 1973-1990 military regime, said the museum sends a powerful signal of the country’s “desire to never again suffer a tragedy like the one we are remembering here.”

“A tragedy that from the first day brought together denial and concealment, and the pain of captivity or death,” Bachelet said at the opening of the $22 million Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Chile’s capital, Santiago.

The inauguration stirred angry memories days before Chile’s presidential runoff election in which the ruling center-left coalition could lose power to the right for the first time since the restoration of democracy.

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who is in charge of creating a similar museum in his homeland, was booed as he gave his speech because of his support for conservative candidate Sebastian Pinera. Pinera’s presidential candidacy is backed by conservative parties, including two that at the time supported the dictatorship.

The museum contains more than 40,000 pieces including documents, wrenching letters, personal objects and art by prisoners, as well as the photos of the 1,197 people who disappeared during the crackdown by security forces on Pinochet’s opponents. Among the exhibits is a small metal bed that victims were tied to before receiving electrical shocks.

A commission established that 3,197 people died during the dictatorship, including those listed as missing. The commission said an additional 30,000 people were imprisoned and/or tortured.

As of last Aug. 31, 769 members of the armed forces and some civilians had been charged in the killings and abuses, of whom 276 have been sentenced. Pinochet died in December 2006.

“This is an act of reparation to the victims … a homage to the detained/disappeared who have undergone a nonexistence,” said Marcia Scantlebury, who was responsible for organizing the exhibits.