Tag Archives: Pinochet

Chilean Adventures in the Spirit of Neruda and Mistral

3 Sep

HispanicLondon is about to undertake a voyage… to Chile!

It’s the wrong time of year for it- Santiago’s cold winter is turning into spring and a snowy view of the Andes is on the cards. But what better way to spend two weeks than backpacking around Chile, from Santiago to the Atacama desert in the north.

Santiago en invierno

The trip starts in Santiago where the schedule is packed and adventurous. There’ll be horse riding in the Cascada de las Animas and mountain walking in the Cajon de Maipo– hopefully with a visit to the hot springs! Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, had a summer house at Isla Negra outside Santiago, which should be well worth a visit for its “spectacular setting on a windswept ocean headland”, according to the trusty Lonely Planet. It was in this house where Neruda died of cancer after it was ransacked by soldiers loyal to Pinochet after his coup in 1973. Continue reading


Latin Americans celebrate their golden years in London

5 May

Amada Silva, 69, is the founder and co-ordinator of the Latin American Golden Years Day Centre in Lambeth, south London. Having fled Pinochet’s Chile in 1976 before coming to the UK and eventually setting up the centre, Amada’s life story is fascinating.

Amada at the day centre

In Chile, she worked as an MP for the Communist Party, and her husband, Fernando Vergara, was a bodyguard for Salvador Allende’s opposition to Pinochet before Allende was assassinated in 1973; both were dangerous careers under Pinochet’s military dictatorship. But just how dangerous was proved to Amada one morning in 1976, when her family received a tip that the military was coming for them that afternoon. “We had been worried for some months that the military would come but I didn’t believe it at first. I kept saying ‘no, I will stay where my people are’ but then someone more senior approached me saying it was true, and we had no choice. We didn’t have time to get many of our belongings. We had to just jump in the car and go. It was a close get away; I saw the military arrive at the house. It was a horrible moment but we got out of it.Continue reading

Gateway to Latin America: LAB chair, Sue Branford

21 Feb

For the past 34 years, the London-based research organisation, Latin America Bureau, has published groundbreaking books on Latin American issues and spread awareness through events such as lectures and workshops. Speaking to me from her home in Clun, Shropshire, chair of LAB, Sue Branford, tells me more about the organisation.

Sue Branford, Chair of LAB since 2003

Having been a member of LAB almost since its inception, and led the organisation since 2003, no-one knows LAB, or indeed the continent it represents, better than Branford. She has visited every Latin American country and most of the Caribbean islands. While working freelance for the Guardian and the Financial Times, she lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil throughout the 1970s, and returned for brief spells in later decades. She is fluent in Portuguese and speaks good Spanish.

She tells me how LAB was created, in 1977, by a group of writers, journalists and activists shocked by the military dictatorships of the likes of Pinochet, Videla in Argentina and Stroessner in Paraguay. During Videla’s ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina from 1976 to 1983 it is estimated some 20,000 people disappeared; human rights groups claim the figure is closer to 30,000.

Pinochet with his henchmen in the 1970s

“There was very much a feeling that we ought to show solidarity here in Britain with those suffering repression and disappearances in Latin America”, Branford enthuses. “There was a real surge of interest in Latin America after Pinochet’s military coup in Chile in 1973. Many refugees came over from Chile to escape the repression. Many countries in Latin America were under military dictatorships around that time, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia. Stories were beginning to be told of the horrors of these military dictatorships and the work being done in Latin America to mobilise against them was starting to echo around the world. We thought that needed more publicity. That’s where it all started from.” Continue reading