My Grandma Told Me… (by Pamela Jiles)

June 19, 2009 at 12:18 am (gay) (, , , , , )

Two ministers of this state paid tribute to the lead brain of dictatorship in Chile, Jaime Guzmán, and The President changed her mind about going at the last minute, but neither she nor any other government advisor did the least effort to remember the 100th and 101st of the most shameful part of Chilean history. Too little, to commemorate a day that shows the cruelty of the powerful against the poor ones in this country of us, and even when the remains of that tragedy are still visible: a pile of torn appart corpses that a lot of people tried to cover with facades.

My grandmother Elena Caffarena had only 5 years when this happened, but she remembered vividly what she saw that Dec 21st of 1907, when more than six thousand workmen and their families arrived after walking miles and miles from different places of The Pampa (nitrate deposits in the northern desert area of Chile), hungry and cold, to the city of Iquique. They demanded insignificant improvements to their appalling life conditions: to have scales where to weigh the meals they received in exchange for their fourteen hours workdays, and schools for their sons obligated to live with them in filthy barracks without the right to education.

The habitants of Iquique -supportive to movement of the Pampinos- housed them at the Santa María School, they brought them water, food and clothes. But the owners of the Nitrate companies refused to hear those minimum requiries, the government declared Iquique under siege, and demanded the working class and their family to go back to the nitrate deposits as soon as posible.

General Roberto Silva Renard, maximum military authority of the Tarapacá region (where Iquique is located), took over the charge on the situation. The O’Higgins regiment’s batallions, the cruiser Esmeralda and other war ships aimed their weapons towards the school. Facing the desproportioned threat from the protectors of our nation, the habitants of Iquique -who couldn’t leave their homes because of the siege- screamed claiming to the officers to at least let the children out. All of the habitants were willing to receive the criatures in danger.

Without paying any attention, General Silva Renard and Colonel Ledesma ordered to shoot when it was fifteen minutes to four of that december afternoon. “To more shots -informed Silva- and then use the machine guns against the comitee in the roof”. The habitants of Iquique witnessed from their own roofs and windows how the soldiers fired against the families.

The highest leaders of the Pampinos -José Briggs and Luis Olea- were in front of the crowd, facing the soldiers, as if they were trying to protect their people. Without running and with a chilean flag waving in the air, teh workers received the first bullets on their chests. Then, numerous women fell in front of the sons and daughters they want to protect. Faced with the impotence of the entire city, once and again the soldiers fired against the civilians gathered in the Santa Maria School. Once and again the survivors raised their flags. Once and again the habitants of Iquique begged to the soldiers to stop the massacre. Untill the silence was made, by killing the nitrate deposits workers, their wives and children.

The United Sates consul informed to the US government the bloodcurling scene: hundreads of corpses piled and torn appart bodies. The Peruvian consul noted: “I went inmediately to the place where these unfortunate events occured, with the 10th Firemen company, who dedicated themselves to recover the few survivors and carry them swiftly to the hospital. There’s a rumour about two sailors that were killed during the military intervention, due to their refusal to fire against the children”. Something similar was suggested by the British consul, who told that all the soldiers who didn’t want to participate on this intervention, were executed the next morning.

Three thousand and six hundread workmen, their wives and children were assassinated by chilean soldiers at the Santa Maria School, days before 1907’s christmas. In the following years, official history denied these facts, ignoring the survivors and erasing all the possible reminders of the massacre ’till today, when the authorities are still indiferent.

But the people from Iquique never forgot the horror that happened in front of their eyes. During the 103 years my grandmother lived, not a single day passed without remembering those who fell with their chileans flags waving. She told the story a thousand times -to her kids, her grandchildren, her greatgrandchildren- “to not let the martyrs of Santa Maria School die twice because of forsake”, she said.

Elena Caffarena did many important things on her long life, started epic battles that place her as the precursor og the femenin participation on chilean politic, and the jurist who got the right to vote as men did. But she always repeated that “if there’s something I’ve ever done that has been worthy, is to be courageous enough to cross the line of soldiers that blocked the school the next day of the massacre. With my sister, and scared to death, we left flowers for the dead children”.


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