Reckoning with Pinochet


Reckoning with Pinochet: The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989-2006
Steve J. Stern
2010, Duke University Press
549 pages

THIS is the third title in Steve Stern’s monumental trilogy about memory politics in Chile, The Memory Box of Pinochet’ Chile, and in itself a contribution to the social processes that have nurtured and strengthened democratic transition in the country.

This volume provides a comprehensive account of how Chile came to terms with the dark legacy of the dictator from the negotiations to chart the transition from his rule of 1989 until his death in 2006.

Battles over memory and how they shaped politics helped to make possible the country’s transition and have influenced similar processes throughout the world. It is hard to imagine, but we remain in the early days of what might be considered a “post-third wave” of democratic transition in which small countries like Chile coming to terms with relatively recent authoritarianisms have been pioneers and models. It is no exaggeration to say that the Chilean case contributed significantly to shifts in the world culture of human rights.

Stern has recognised this, and his analysis brings together the study of policymaking among elites, the efforts of human rights activists on the ground, international events, and the inside accounts of the truth commission to trace and understand battles over memory.

These are concrete and not merely discursive battles that seek to reconcile the horrors so many Chileans faced at the hands of the military dictatorship with the open freedom that torturers and murderers continued to enjoy as a result of the magnanimous compromises accepted by victims on behalf of a democracy for all.

Stern explores these public memory struggles in order to describe the slow and often strained advance by civil society activists and state actors towards a revival of democratic values in the face of considerable odds.

Reckoning with Pinochet is an essential contribution to collections on Latin American history, and should be placed on all decent recommended reading lists without a blink of the eye. – GO’T

Remembering Pinochet’s Chile

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