By Elvira Osorio Seco
Santiago, Jun 25 (EFE).- During the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship, Chilean women whose fathers, sons, and brothers disappeared at the hands of the secret police knit colorful quilts backed with burlap, known as arpilleras, to tell their stories.
This year, as Chile and Uruguay observe the 50th anniversaries of the coups that installed repressive military regimes, women on both sides of the Andes are collaborating on a giant arpillera to mark the occasion.
Last week, the Chilean quilters sent their work to Uruguay for activities commemorating the events of June 27, 1973, when the democratically elected president, Juan Maria Bordaberry, dissolved Congress and instituted rule-by-decree with the backing of the military brass.
Uruguayan women will add to the arpillera and return to Chile in time for the 50th anniversary of the bloody putsch led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
“The idea is to go out into the street with the quilt, not to put it in a frame or on a wall. We carry it as a symbol of struggle,” Berta Valdebenito, an organizer of the 50 Years of Solidarity and Resistance initiative, tells EFE.
Pinochet’s regime killed some 3,000 people and brutalized tens of thousands of others.
Some of the women left to provide for themselves and their families when their menfolk were grabbed up came together to knit arpilleras.
Sale of the quilts provided them with an income and the creative aspect of the work gave them a way to express their rage and frustration.
The same spirit animates the 50 Years project.
“This is an act of memory to show was victims of the coup d’etat, each of us had a story during the dictatorship, suffered that repression, and those wounds are still present,” quilter Patricia Ruiz said at Casa Memoria Jose Domingo Cañas in Santiago, a Pinochet-era torture chamber transformed into a human rights center.
The coordinator of the project, Gonzalo Zuriña, tells EFE that the quilt is part of a broader program rooted in the shared experience of Chileans and Uruguayans with military coups.
“This has a tradition that is very established in Chile and it occurred to us, in line with the activities we have been developing, to begin this initiative that is associated with certain moments and elements of the history of resistance to the dictatorships,” he says.
During Pinochet’s rule, some arpilleras were smuggled out of the country to Chilean exile communities to get out the word about the atrocities committed.
“This experience helps many women to process and integrate the experiences they suffered during those years,” Patricia Ruiz told EFE. “I did not endure moments of maximum repression, but many comrades here did and this textile technique helps them to heal.”