On Monday, I wrote about visiting Puerto Montt, a medium-sized city in southern Chile. I only had a few hours, but I enjoyed walking around the downtown area beside Reloncaví Sound. But, as I alluded to at the end of Monday’s post, there is another side to Puerto Montt.
Far away from the tourist area where I was sits a somber memorial in the shape of a mural:
The mural commemorates La masacre de Puerto Montt (The massacre of Puerto Montt), a tragic and influential event in the history of Chile. In early 1969, a group of about 90 homeless families settled on empty land in the neighborhood of Pampa Irigoin in Puerto Montt. (I haven’t been able to find the exact location where events took place, but it seems safe to assume it was at least near the current site of the memorial.)
The families built temporary accommodations on the site, with the intention of using squatters’ rights to apply for ownership of the land based on occupancy rather than payment – a procedure which was legal in Chile at the time. Nevertheless, the nation’s Interior Minister, Edmundo Pérez Zujovic, ordered the national police (Carabineros) to tear down the encampment and evict the settlers. For four days, the police and settlers were locked in an uneasy standoff.
Early on the morning of the fifth day – March 9, 1969 – the police moved in. The police hoped to catch the residents asleep and evict them peacefully, but the residents had set up a simple alarm system consisting of tripwires connected to tin cans that would shake loudly when disturbed. The residents were awake, and angry.
And thus transpired what so often transpires when a crowd of angry but unarmed people meets a well-armed official force. Police fired rifles and threw tear gas containers into the crowd. When the dust settled, 50 residents and 23 police officers were injured. And 10 residents were dead, including Róbinson Montiel Santana, aged 9 months.
One end of the memorial is shown here – the names of the 10 victims, forming a rainbow.