We share an extract from Cristián Opaso’s book which reproduces a conversation with René Schneider, son of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the same name, who was assassinated in October 1970 in an attempt – organised and financed by the American CIA – to prevent the ascension to power of the recently elected president Salvador Allende. These efforts continued until 1973, when he was finally violently overthrown.
What the son of the murdered general says.
One of the subjects that fellow journalist Charles Horman investigated during the last months of his life was the assassination of former Army Commander-in-Chief René Schneider, a fact in which Charles was convinced the US government was involved. His intuition was largely confirmed in the US Congressional investigation and appears in detail in both the Covert Actions report and the Schneider chapter on plots by US agencies to assassinate foreign leaders.
In 2003, I spoke with the murdered general’s eldest son, the eponymous René Schneider. René is a television director and had been 61 years old when we met. At the time, his brother Raúl, a painter, was living in Paris, and Víctor, his other brother, was an army colonel on active duty and military attaché at the Chilean Embassy in Brazil.
We chatted at his house in Sebastián Elcano Street in the Las Condes district, where his mother, then 92 years old, still lived. The house, René told me, was preserved with the same decorations as in 1970, when, five blocks away, his father was shot in the street. The pictures painted by René Sr., remain on the walls. There is a medium-sized nude, oil paintings of flags, a portrait of Raúl, and a larger one of René senior with the figure of Lautaro in the background. There is also a display case with sabres and medals, several photos, including one of the former commander-in-chief, when he was a cadet at the Military School. We chat in the old living room, next to what used to be his father’s painting studio, and also in a sober adjoining room where he practices meditation.
René Jr. defines himself as a “monk” (but a libertine) and a “healer”, a destiny he would have acquired after being nominated by his Rosicrucian grandmother, of whom he has beautiful photos next to crystal spheres.
He tells us that the planetary situation is extremely fragile, but that it also represents the possibility of an evolutionary leap from an individual society to one where we are all mutually responsible…….
……….René surprised me by saying that, despite his frustration at the lack of justice both in Chile and in the United States, he values some of the gestures made by the army itself in relation to his father’s crime, referring to an army event to mark the 30th anniversary of his father’s assassination.
I countered that perhaps these gestures are not enough, and that the army should, for example, provide detailed information on what really happened to the disappeared detainees.
“Indeed, I know that the army knows things that it has to make known,” he says, “things that are not clear. You have to have the consciousness that there is so much pressure from all the retired generals, from the whole thing that is behind the generals in active service today. It is very strong. There is a whole society behind it. There’s the whole right wing that has been slower than the army to recognise things.” And he pauses before continuing, “The army is like the church. They are too monolithic institutions; they are like mammoths that move slowly. They don’t change overnight. Steps are taken very slowly. I do not know what will come in the future. I don’t know what might happen, but I do believe that these gestures should be encouraged. One could say I don’t care, or the other way around, but that’s not enough”.
But there is also something more profound that the son of the general assassinated just a few blocks from where we are talking recognises. “A sign of adulthood is when a person begins to walk on his own feet and begins to take responsibility for what happens to him. I think this country has to learn that. All right, the dictatorship was a piece of shit and whatever else we want, but stop blaming the dictatorship, that is, stop blaming Pinochet for everything that happens to me,” René continues, thinking carefully about his words.
“If society starts to see me in that way, in the sense that I am responsible for my destiny, it will be different. We can really aspire to a happy society, where there is joy.
Because our society is sad and we have inherited a sadness from the dictatorship and everything that has come after the dictatorship has been like a consequence. ……