Paloma Diaz

As Interviewed by Bela Madrid, March 16, 2013

Paloma Diaz: In Her Own Words

Itís very hard to count people, because we were not allowed to talk about these issues since people lived in fear. I know that previous to the dictatorship we had the government of Salvador Allende, and he was elected with support from a third of the population. The other third was the neutral and the other third strongly against. By the time the dictatorship came, it was hard to know what the majority was thinking because they were afraid of the coup, of the military coup. There was a lot of repression, people arrested and murdered. Over the years, the level of opposition to the dictatorship grew. As peopleís fears started to decrease, they became open to talk about these things

[People supported Pinochet out of] fear. You have the upper class that was afraid of losing their privileges like it happens in many other countries when thereís any reforms that take away their lands, their resources, their money, they were afraid and others were using those fears to intimidate others. They would say that people in the left would come and steal your kids and we would be a communist country where everything is controlled. They use a lot of fear in the campaign, of course, you have to see the role of United States during the dictatorship; they were a strong opponent of Allende. They helped to cultivate this climate of insecurity and fear.

All my family were pro-Allendistas, except my father, and the family was on the left, and I remember going very young to the marches to celebrate Allendeís victory. When the dictatorship came, the coup came, I was 9. And then everyone in my family never again spoke about politics for many, many years. But I knew in my heart through whispers by looking around that everyone was against Pinochet but we were not even allowed to speak in secret, we were so, so intimidated, we wouldnít even dare to discuss it in our families. But as I was growing older and became more conscious, you realize how much you lose by not having a real democracy.

Itís interesting; you could say I never really suffered social injustice. None of my family disappeared or was arrested but you see it all around in different levels of your life, even if youíre not involved in the movement it still affects you. People should realize that when youíre in school you should be entitled to learn about everything, well I was not. The military government reshaped the history of our country. We could not study what happened in 1973; we were not allowed to study that. The teachers were all appointed by the government. They all thought the same thing and they didnít encourage anything. Anyone that had a different opinion was not allowed in the country; they controlled the way you dressed. I remember, after the coup, they would arrest women for wearing short skirts or guys for wearing long hair because, according to the standards, the military regime they had for Chile, everyone was suppose to look like a military person.

You know whatís sad Ė I realize when I came back to Chile after many years, that my brother who is ten years younger didnít go through all that. So itís a different generation who didnít appreciate the vote, they took it for granted. I remember him telling me, ďOhhh, I wonít go vote for the president on Sunday; I think I have to go play some soccer that day.Ē And I was thinking, how many people in my generation were arrested so that you all could have the right to vote. And you guys should appreciate it! You donít know what democracy is until you lose it. We lost it; we know why itís important. We want people to be able to vote electoral presidents. We want people to not be afraid to talk about politics. We want people to be interested in the destiny of their country. Thatís the reason I kept on participating.

I have to tell you, I was not one of the bravest persons; some people really risked everything, like family. My priority was to participate, but also to finish college. I finished my college degree; I mean many of my friends didnít. But I also participated, I participated when the elections came, in the plebiscite, in the campaign for the ďNOĒ; and then I went to work for the new democratic government.

Itís funny because I think the [NO] movie really overestimated the design of the campaign, but I do have to say something: The left in Chile, like many in other Latin American countries, had this tradition of sadness, seriousness, dark colors. We cannot make fun of this because itís serious. I remember going to another country, Uruguay, during a protest, and I couldnít believe they were dancing. How could they not take this seriously? Theyíre dancing salsa in a protest. What kind of protests are these? It made me realize, in Chile, we really needed to switch the way we are doing things. We need to track and engage with younger generations. We need to make people lose their fear, and I guess the design was a very smart approach. Changing the colors, focusing on hope, focusing on alegria, happiness is coming. Instead of scaring people and talking about revenge or death, it was about Hope, a new beginning. In that sense it was smart. I donít think it was the only reason we overthrew Pinochet. It was about time, people were losing fear, we had international support, a social movement. We were becoming stronger.

I think the feeling was better than reality [after Pinochet was overthrown]. We all were too romantic in the idea that democracy is coming, everything is going to change. Like with Obama, we thought everything was going to change. Change doesnít come overnight. It takes a long time and people were impatient. Uh, we didnít even call it democracy at that time we called it transition. Still we had many of the inherited structures of the dictatorship, we had nominated senators, we didnít have rights to do many things, mayors of the cities were appointed by the government. I took a few years to rebuild the structures left by the dictatorship. I think until today we have some structures that are undemocratic.

I can tell you stories, like I remember once, the first time I went to a march in US, I was dressing up in special ways. I never ever wore tennis shoes and I remember wearing tennis shoes and a reversible jacket, and changing my hair. My husband looked at me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was dressing for the march. ďYou need to have running shoes, to run fast from the police. You need to have a reversible jacket so you can change quickly and the police wonít be able to recognize you And you need to change your hair so that when they arrest you they wonít know who you are,Ē I replied. He said, ďThatís not how you do marches in the US, theyíre pacifist.Ē I was so used to how they do politics during the dictatorship, it was confrontational. You might get arrested if youíre involved so you have to be brave, and only if youíre willing to be arrested.

One of the hardest parts is, I was not able to study many things I wanted to study. I wanted to be a journalist. I couldnít because most of the careers in journalism were closed by the dictatorship. They didnít want anybody to study careers that were going to be critical of the dictatorship such as sociology, anthropology, political science, journalism. But during the very end, they started opening the careers again. The universities were also separated because we used to have strong, large universities with large campuses. The dictator didnít want that, because when college students are all together, they talk to each other; they protest. They separated universities; one department was on one side of the cit,y and one department on the other side. You didnít have the college experience of being on a real campus like we have here. We didnít have the possibility to study many things because the history was completely censored.