Santiago, Aug 29 (EFE).- After covering the conflicts in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, Chas Gerretsen, now 80, never imagined that he would travel to Chile to photograph one of its darkest chapters: the overthrow of President Salvador Allende (1970-1973) and the establishment of Augusto Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship.
Having witnessed the bombing of the presidential palace, La Moneda, on September 11, 1973, the Dutch photographer recalls in an interview with EFE one of his most emblematic images: the former Chilean dictator attending the Te Deum liturgy one week after taking power.
Gerrsten’s photographs also brought him closer to Chile before and during the tragedy.
“I photographed streets, restaurants and buses full of people hanging out of windows and doors, and then the strikes. I photographed everything around Santiago,” he recalls from the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in the Chilean capital, where his unpublished archives are on display.
“NO WARS LEFT”
After working as a correspondent in Vietnam, where he filmed and photographed the onslaught against the Viet Cong and the conflict’s horrors, Gerretsen didn’t know where to go.
“There were no more wars (…) So I decided to go where I could find news and stories, maybe the Amazon. I bought tickets to Salvador de Bahía, but on the way they offered me an extra $100 to go to Buenos Aires,” he says.
While looking for work in Argentina, Time magazine suggested Chile.
The country was on the world’s radar: President Salvador Allende was promoting the “Chilean Way to Socialism,” a peaceful commitment to an egalitarian society in contrast to the Russian and Cuban experiences.
THE STRIKE THAT CHANGED IT ALL
When Gerretsen arrived in Chile, he “knew nothing about politics”. Having taken up photography at the age of 16 while cleaning windows in Sweden, he was more of an adventurer than a correspondent.
The Allende story brought him to one of the most polarized countries of the time. Some radical sectors of the left even labeled him a right-winger thanks to his appearance.
“Europeans and blue-eyed people were identified as right-wing (…) My sympathies were more with the left than the right. The left wanted to eat and the right wanted to keep what they had,” he says.
“Most of the people were very young, they even smiled during the fighting. I once photographed a girl with an ice cream in one hand and a rock in the other. But when the miners came, and the whole atmosphere changed,” he recalls.
“They were married adults who wanted more money. They had children and expenses. Then the “momios” (right-wingers) joined them, not only against the left, but against the government,” Gerresten adds.
After the biggest labor conflict faced by the government’s coalition, the El Teniente miners’ strike in April 1973, rocks were swapped with Molotov cocktails and people began carrying weapons in the streets.
“It became hostile and dangerous,” he points out.
Gerretsen captured shocking images of the bombing of La Moneda and took the last pictures of the palace aides seen alive, while they were being led from the burning building into the street where they were later shot and made missing.