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A walk with the ghosts of Chile's September 11

  • 14 September 2016


The cemetery was like a dreamscape. I wasn't sure that I was in the right place except that I had followed the cementerio signs from the subway and was standing at the gates.

Inside was another, smaller, world. I was reminded of the China Mieville novel where the two cities coexist within each other. Through the gate I could see a miniature Santiago de Chile, complete with elaborate mansions, low rise buildings, wide avenues, back lanes, and throngs of people moving among the concrete, overgrown gardens, and dust.

I walked in warily. Cemeteries are sensitive places the world over. A few years ago, I stood near Bobby Sand's grave in Belfast nervously watching a police car pass by me slowly. These places are filled with emotion, shared memories, and conflicting versions of the past.

I knew that it was not going to be easy to find the grave I was looking for that afternoon. The sun sat high above the nearby mountains as I finished the last of my water. It was 2pm and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Perhaps this was foolish, I thought, as I looked around hopefully for some kind of a sign. There wasn't one.

I don't speak Spanish but I knew that I had to try to ask someone. It wasn't an appealing idea. I felt like an intruder. The crowds of people roaming among the endless streets here were the bereaved. They were here to visit their loved ones, not help me tick a box on my tourist adventure.

However, I had little choice. It had been over an hour. I wasn't sure that I could even find my way back to the entrance. I stopped a friendly looking middle aged man.

'Victor Jara,' I said. 'Donde?'

He smiled and said a lot of things in Spanish while gesturing in a particular direction. I thanked him and headed the way he had pointed. It was hopeless. I took out my phone and typed 'jara grave santiago' into Google.


"I suddenly felt ridiculous. It was like writing down the name of a concentration camp and waving it around in a German city."


I didn't find a map but there was a reference to his grave in an article about the Pinochet era. It mentioned the proximity to the notorious Patio 29, where the general's victims had been dumped into unmarked plots. I shivered at the thought of one more staging ground for the regime's