Pinochet's victims should never be forgotten, says President Higgins


THE VISIT of President Michael D Higgins to South America had its first emotionally charged moments yesterday during a visit to Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago.

There the President met Jean Turner Jara, the widow of legendary Chilean folk singer and political activist Víctor Jara, who was tortured and murdered in the first days of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Mr Higgins, who campaigned for human rights in Latin America and whose poem The Wall is dedicated to Jara, had previously met his widow when he was the first international observer to arrive in Chile to monitor the plebiscite in 1988 in which the Chilean people voted to restore democracy.

In an impassioned tribute during which he recited several of Jara’s best-known works, the President said he had come to pay his respects to a figure whose “unquenchable song” was heard “far beyond Chile”.

Speaking near a wall covered with hundreds of photos of the victims of the Pinochet regime, the President described as “immoral and deeply offensive” telling survivors of torture and the loved ones of the dead that they must put it all behind them. “There are things that must never be allowed to be forgotten,” he said.

In response, a deeply moved Mrs Jara paid tribute to the President recalling the significance of support from human rights campaigners around the world during the long years of the dictatorship: “People in Chile heard it from afar and it was tremendously important.” She said many families were still seeking the full truth about what had happened to their loved ones: “I am 85 year old and I want to know what happened to Víctor before I die.”

Earlier Mr Higgins warned of “a gathering impatience” in Europe at the failure by the EU to implement a strategy on jobs and growth to balance austerity. He said he feared the delay in doing so could end up turning “an argument about the stability of the currency” into “a kind of legitimacy crisis in institutions themselves”.

The President made his comments after delivering his first major speech of his South American tour in which he harshly criticised the “extremist model of an unregulated banking system . . . aimed at maximising short-term profits that may have been legally compliant but was morally blind to its social consequences”.

Speaking to an audience of students and academics at the University of Diego Portales in Santiago, Dr Higgins said Latin America’s own debt crisis in the 1980s and its experience of the Washington Consensus response “went on to raise fundamental questions” about the reforms demanded.

Imposed by the IMF, World Bank and US treasury department, the Washington Consensus called for punishing austerity programmes across Latin America in response to its debt crisis. These had “the consequences of polarising societies across the region”.

He also attacked the teaching of a single economic “hegemonic” model, singling out for criticism the “extreme neo-liberal paradigm” of the Chicago School of Economics, which he described as “an ideological enterprise” designed “to serve particular interests”.

Quoting a number of leading Latin American economists and politicians in his speech, he argued that Latin America’s current policy mix of growth balanced with social inclusion had helped reduce poverty from 48.8 per cent in 1990 to 30.4 per cent by last year. Such achievements meant that in the struggle to build what he called “a new global ethic” the world “has much to learn from Latin America and from the courage of your leadership today”.