Today marks 50 years in Chile since a violent coup by Augusto Pinochet against socialist President Salvador Allende led to two decades of military rule, with thousands of people dead.

The 1973 coup, in which tanks rolled into the streets and Hawker Hunter planes bombed the La Moneda presidential palace, had an impact around the world, marking the beginning of one of the most brutal in a series of US-friendly, right-wing dictatorships to rule in most South American countries until the 1980s, leading to mass arrests, torture and disappearances.

But, half a century later, in Chile the polarization is great. Victims of military rule and their families have stepped up pressure for justice and accountability, but politically the far-right has gained ground amid growing fears of rising crime. Progressive young president Gabriel Boric is under fire.

“Some people don’t know anything about what happened and don’t care, others are tired that … even 50 years later, many people still don’t know what happened to their missing relatives,” said Elvira Cadiz, who was six years old in 1973. .

“And until that changes, it will continue to hurt and divide.”

He remembers neighbors lining the streets and soldiers checking houses one by one in the working-class Estation Central neighborhood in the capital, Santiago, where he still lives.

While Boris campaigned for a major commemoration event on the anniversary of the coup he faced disapproval from politicians and voters. According to a recent Pulso Ciudadano poll, 60% of Chileans were not interested. Nearly four in ten said they held Allende himself primarily responsible for the coup.

This split in public opinion reflects some difficult years for Chile, which has become one of the most stable, economically successful and secure countries in South America.

Violent clashes over inequality rocked Santiago in 2019, sparking a movement to revise the Pinochet-era Constitution. But that was rejected by voters last year, in a major blow to the country’s progressives. Far-right leader José Antonio Cast, a known supporter of Pinochet, is now playing a central role in a second revision attempt.

“Polarization is as rampant as it has ever been since the return to democracy,” said Cristian Valdivieso, director of local consultancy Criteria.

“There is no future without memory”

Boris, 37, who was born more than a decade after the coup, will lead a ceremony today at the presidential palace where 50 years ago Allende gave a famous speech as his government collapsed, and later took his own life.

“There are some who call us to turn the page, to forget the past,” Boric, an Allende admirer, said recently. “But there is no possibility of a bright future without memory and truth.”

According to various Chilean human rights commissions, there are 40,175 victims who have been categorized as executed, disappeared, imprisoned, tortured for political reasons during the military rule. The regime also sent thousands of people into exile.

Pinochet’s rule ended in 1990 when most Chileans voted in a referendum in favor of democracy. He spent years fighting accusations of human rights abuses although he was never convicted of a crime, and died in 2006. But many army officers and former members of Pinochet’s secret police were convicted of torture, kidnapping and murder.

Gabby Rivera, president of the Relatives of Missing Prisoners Group, saw her father, Luis Rivera, being taken away in November 1975. For years, her family had various versions of his fate, including that his body was thrown into the sea .

“We live this date with pain, but also with hope, because today we see that there is a little light,” he told Reuters. “We don’t know if we will get full justice, but what we have to do is get to the truth, find out where they are.”

Hundreds of commemorations are planned today, and regional leaders such as Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez, Colombia’s Gustavo Perez and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are expected in Santiago.

Carlos Gonzalez, who was captured and tortured in 1976 and later exiled, said it pained him to see some downplaying the importance of today.

“We really feel that this date affects us, it makes you want to stone the TV when you see some people come out denying what happened,” he said.

“It’s good to talk about what happened. And, as a survivor, I feel it’s a responsibility to talk about it because there are so many who didn’t survive.”