9/11s and Variations on a Theme

2 9/11s in 1′s life

September 11, 1973 scattered us in all directions. Barricaded in Antofagasta’s only public high school, Liceo de Hombres #2, we listened to the news which at times was contradictory and confusing until the inevitable reality of it all cut into us deeply. We couldn’t organize an armed resistance because the promised weapons never arrived and the nunchakus wouldn’t be sufficient. Instead we began to worry about the human situation. Two of my school companions were not able to return home, it was too dangerous and betrayal hovered too close. Both of them ended up as asylees in my house. One of them for almost two weeks .

My father was a respected country boy who did not object to authority. He was a bohemian; a musician who thought that enjoying a good poem and a cold beer was definitely in order. Politics does not fix anything, on the contrary it just leaves a big mess, he used to say. He always catered to my guests without asking many questions. It was almost like he never realized that I had turned the Condell street house into an embassy and in the process we just had saved the lives of two young students.

The same Tuesday, but twenty-eight years later, my friend Jorge calls me; “turn on your TV,” he says and hangs up. I have never been forced back into memory so suddenly. The burning palace, the buildings falling down. Now, facing the second 9/11 beneath the same shell of the uncertainty, predictably solemnizing death, the stench of an unhappy ending. It was just a question of time to unveil the events and begin learning about the fatalities.

With pencil in hand and with the precision of the architect that he is, Jorge arrived at the Grant Street apartment in Berkeley. “It cannot be,” he said turning off the TV. “Our 9/11 won’t be the same. There are too many coincidences. Sit… Between 1973 and 2001, there are only four Tuesday September 11s. Four Tuesdays in 28 years and two of them are separated by, by, by eleven years!” he said before opening the amber-type lager I had just put on the table. Concluding his calculation and getting ready to leave he turned back and said “we have to see and wait for the number of fatalities … ” What for? I asked. ” To compare them,” he said.

White Men’s Eyes Lie on Manna-hata

In 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson was hired by Netherlands’ Dutch East India Company to find the shortest route to the east, towards China in order to beat competitors in the trade with the continent of Asia. Hudson had already failed on two occasions. The original plan was to find a passage through the Arctic, northern Russia. But due to the dangerous ice, he was forced to turn back. Abandoning the original plan, Hudson didn’t return but continued traveling west. After four months of sailing on the Medialuna, the ship reached Newfoundland in what is now Canada. Lost, the expedition continued south along the coast of the North American continent. After intimidating and plundering an Indigenous village with muskets and cannons, Hudson and his men continued their journey. On September 11, 1609, the Medialuna entered the Rio Mohegan’s upper bay (Haudenosaunee language). From the mast’s tower the explorers saw and mapped Manna-hata, Island of Many Hills (Lenape language). For the very first time white men’s eyes saw Manhattan Island and on the same date 392 years later the island was shaken by the precise attack that included the thunderous collapse of the Twin Towers.

The 1st Chilean 9/11

The first Chilean 9/11 took place just 42 years after independence. After the victory of Manuel Montt Torres – who became president for two terms between 1851 and 1861 – there were popular armed uprisings in Concepcion and La Serena. Both were defeated in December 1851. But the discontent and political divisions continued through the next year’s parliamentary election of April 3. The opposition, divided, called for people to abstain from voting. One of the groups in government, the Pelucones was split between nationalists and conservatives over issues such as the role of state and church which further weakened Montt ‘s government. According to Chilean historian Francisco Encina, the Chamber of Deputies was dominated by the most violent fractions. The evening of September 11, 1852 , “the military coup couldn’t wait any longer,” wrote Encina. In an action of which the details are little known, an armed group managed to take the Artillery Barracks in Santiago and rioted in revolt against the government. The action was immediately repelled and eight mutineers were shot.

The Heads’ Plaza

Under the indolent morning sun, at the Santiago Plaza de Armas, Juana Cheuquepan sells her art; noted Mapuche’s chieftains busts and heads carved on sacred pieces of wood. There’s not much fanfare at the scene. Some European tourists take pictures of two giant sculptures; one is a head of a Mapuche toqui and the other one, on the opposite side of the plaza, a bronze statue of Pedro de Valdivia on a horse stained with pigeon shit. From that same plaza on September 11, 1541, Valdivia went south chasing Indians. The opportunity was seized by Chief Michimalonco who was waiting at the command of several indigenous columns from Maipo, Mapocho, Melipilla and other locations. Just 242 days after being founded, Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura was destroyed. Chief Michimalonco wanted to liberate their land and free the chieftains Quilicanta, Apoquindo and six other Picunches who were kidnapped by the Spaniards. The 55 Spaniards left by Valdivia to defend the city fought behind hundreds of Yanaconas, Inca slaves brought from the north. The ferocious attack ended when Valdivia’s mistress Inés de Suárez, decapitated all the defenseless chieftains and threw some of their heads into the same plaza.

Victims and relatives

Every Sunday, Juan Ramón sits to the side of the huge monument to the victims of the 1973 military coup in the General Cemetery of Santiago with a handful of flowers rising from his arms. The last time I saw him he covered his face with his left arm. The silence is interrupted at times by visitors that stealthily take his picture. Rita Lasar lost her brother Abe on the Twin Towers attacks. After the premeditated murder without trial of the US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, she courageously wrote in the New York Times: “I am a United States citizen; I was born here and have lived here all of my 81 years. If I were a threat to this country’s safety, I would expect to be caught and brought to justice. The idea that any president can kill an American citizen without a trial is abhorrent and frankly scares me more than any act of any ‘terrorist.’” The unconditional Juan Ramon is old enough to be a victim or family of any of the 3,216 executed political or missing from Chile’s 9/11. Rita is one of the founders of Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, one of the organizations of relatives of the 2,996 victims of the US 9/11.

Fernando Andres Torres is a short-story writer, poet and journalist. He is associate editor and U.S. correspondent for the web magazine Dilemas.cl and member of the ExposeFacts Advisory Board. Under the dictatorship of General Pinochet, Torres joined the Chilean resistance. In 1975 he was arrested by the regime’s secret police. While imprisoned, he recited poetry and handwrote messages with quotes about optimism and hope to pass among fellow prisoners. After being expelled and exiled, he continued to write poetry and short stories. Torres is currently writing a book of short stories based on his experiences as a political prisoner. He can be reached at: fernandofenatorres@gmail.com. Read other articles by Fernando.