In a brief walk around the center of the city with some local residents, we stopped at the presidential palace. It is a site that resonates history, including what Americans probably know best about Chile’s recent political happenings: the 1973 military coup that brought down an elected (though deeply troubled) government and put into power a brutal regime.
The president of Chile, Salvador Allende, died in this palace, probably by his own hand. For 17 long years thereafter, Chile was ruled by Augusto Pinochet, the army chief who led the coup.
Chile is South America’s most developed nation, in part because Pinochet liberalized trade in the 1980s, forcing companies to learn to compete in world markets. But it’s at least arguable that the dictator’s harsh rule slowed this vibrant people’s economic rise more than he helped it — and nothing justifies the horrors he and his regime forced on their people.
The press was a state lackey during the Pinochet years. It is free today. And a new generation of Internet journalists is rising to enhance and challenge the traditional media. I hope some of them will be among the students I meet here; they, as everywhere else, are the hope for our future, in whatever land we call home.