Through a yellowish-orange crack, a sepia-tinted eye from the past unblinkingly observes the scene
below. It gazes down at today’s generation of this university world, cell phones in their hands, and
seems to ask them: “Do you remember me?”
To activate a permanent encounter with memory is the motivation of a mural of large dimensions
created by the artist Francisco “Kochayuyo” Maltez, that was inaugurated October 25 in an exterior
courtyard of the University of Chile’s Social Sciences Faculty (Facultad de Ciencias Sociales de la
Universidad de Chile, FACSO). It was a collaborative effort between the Sociology Student Center, and
former classmates and relatives of students whose lives were cut short by the military dictatorship. The
project is sponsored by the Council of Vice Deans of the Juan Gómez Millas Campus.
At the inaugural ceremony attended by 200 people in the Julieta Kirkwood Auditorium, FACSO Dean
Teresa Matus expressed the university’s “unwavering commitment” to truth and justice. The Dean
quoted French hero Georges Danton, who said immediately before his execution in April 1794: “We will
not die because we shall be remembered, and we are not alone, even though those who will accompany
us have not been born yet.” Danton’s words resonated for many of those present.
The images of demonstrators marching with red flags in their hands along the upper section of the
mural and, lower down, a featureless soldier depict two visions of society that clashed. It was a
confrontation of ideas and power with brutal, lasting consequences both for individuals and the very
fiber of the University of Chile. The history of the events that unfolded at the School of Sociology
exemplifies what happened to the other social science schools before and after September 11, 1973.
Along either side of the lower half of the mural, which rises nearly 40 feet from the ground, a list of 72
names frames the image of a young man, his eyes blindfolded, lying dead. Numbers 48 and 50 are the
names of Jaime Robotham Bravo and Claudio Thauby Pacheco, respectively, both 24 years old, sociology
majors and Socialist Party members. The two friends walked as free men for the last time the night of
December 31, 1974.
Jorge Robotham, Jaime’s older brother and a member of the 119 Hopes Cultural Center 1 , is the driving
force behind this project. “My brother had a great social conscience. I believe that most young people
of those years did. He chose sociology as a career because of the critical analysis sociologists make of
the society that surrounds them.” 2
When Robotham realized, over a year ago, that on the premises of the former Education School (known
in Spanish as “el Pedagógico,” and today the Metropolitan Education Sciences University, the UMCE)
there was no vestige of the memory of those who lost their lives at the hands of the dictatorship, he
approached the Student Body Center to propose the creation of a memorial. Due to the complexity of
accessing public funds, finally the Social Sciences Student Center joined forces with the Popular Social
History Nucleus to raise the funds for a mural on the nearby Juan Gómez Millas campus.
“It is amazing that we were able to forge ahead with this student-based project”, comments Pablo
González, who represents the Sociology School Student Body Center. 3 He came to feel a special bond
with Jaime Robotham. For Pablo, “It was moving to see the effort Jorge put into positioning his brother
in the memory of everyone.” He adds, “Beyond political beliefs, probably we share a culture with that
generation.” The class of 1973 with its mini skirts, bell-bottom pants, professors donned in ties, and
opaque colors would seem to have little in common with today’s students. Yet Pablo is convinced “that
generation passed down to ours a culture that values freedom, social justice, and the quest for equality
Critical thinking under assault
Sociology, the line of study that unites Jaime and Claudio with the current generation of students, began
to develop as a profession in Chile in the early 1960s, explains the academic Rodrigo Baño. 4 In 1970,
Baño was one of the first to earn a degree in sociology in the country, after graduating from law school.
“The employment possibilities for those who studied sociology were fantastic,” he says, because
sociology has been established as an indispensable requisite for all majors.
In those years, the then college student Catalina Palma attended a master class on racism that changed
the course of her life. “This is for me,” she told herself. 5 She was studying math education but that talk
led her to switch to sociology. Her first-year general studies professor was sociology school director
Clodomiro Almeyda, a leading member of the Socialist Party who served as Foreign Relations Minister
under the government of Salvador Allende. “We were imbued with the excitement of the Popular Unity
(Allende’s coalition) and socialist thought,” recalls Catalina, who became a Socialist Party member in
those years. “Sociology gave you a different way of viewing society. It gave you analytical tools with a
critical perspective. You begin to stand before the world in a different way,” she notes.
The 1968 university reform and the inauguration of the Popular Unity government brought tumultuous
times within the college campus and outside its perimeter. Between work and political activities,
Catalina was barely on campus. During some time, she worked conducting public opinion surveys,
coordinated by Claudio Jimeno, sociology professor and presidential advisor who remains forcibly
disappeared since the day of his arrest at La Moneda on September 11, 1973. Catalina also participated
in volunteer work in the countryside and in overcrowded slums of Santiago. There were many meetings
in September of 1973, but “I don’t recall being especially aware that a coup was brewing. Never did I
imagine the horrors that were coming. We were very naive.”
Three months after the military coup, professor Baño was summoned to appear before a prosecutor. His
career had been investigated and the official had on his desk a case file containing his political history.
The attorney informed Baño, a Socialist Party member, that he could not continue at the university. In
response to an expression of rebellion from Baño, the prosecutor asked him to look outside the window.
On the street below, he saw university people being made to enter a military truck. “It’s your choice,”
the officer told him. Today, fifty years later, Baño remarks, “I am thankful that I only lost my job – the
lesser of the two evils.”
More than 3800 people like Baño, including professors, staff, and students were expelled from the
university in a purge of people deemed politically incompatible. In 1974 Catalina Palma, Jaime
Robotham, Claudio Thauby and most of their fellow sociology students were expelled. Then the school
of sociology was closed for a few years.
The political investigations and expulsions were not limited to the initial years of the military
intervention at the University of Chile. In 1980, Bernardo Amigo, today a professor and former vice
dean, was expelled as a student due to his political activism. The first mobilizations under dictatorship
had begun that year at the School of Education campus, which housed the social sciences. “We were
perceived as a threat- and they were right,” says Amigo. With the reactivation of the student movement,
repression and political investigations also reactivated. In the middle of the School of Education, a
supposedly secret office of the repressive agency, the CNI (National Information Center) operated.
Amigo was arrested, and in November 1986, his brother José Amigo, who in 1973 had been expelled as a
student of philosophy, was killed in a confrontation.
In 1981 the dictatorship began to consolidate its neoliberal policies. In higher education this was
accomplished by the General University Law, which forever altered the soul of the University of Chile.
The de facto decree opened the university to the market, shut down its branches in the provinces,
fragmenting it and fusing departments. At the School of Education, there had been not only education
but also all social science degree programs, such as sociology, journalism and social work. The social
sciences school was closed and its departments came under humanities, banished to a new campus far
away in the municipality of La Reina, in another part of the city.
The Social Work School was particularly hard hit. It was transferred to become part of the Technological
University in downtown Santiago on Dieciocho Street. Not until 2015 did the school of social work
reopen at the University of Chile, after nearly 40 years. “It has been a long struggle,” notes Victoria
Baeza, expelled in 1974, who had to wait until 1992 to receive her diploma in social work, through a
reparations program. 6
After the university restructuring and demolition of several buildings such as that of sociology, the
School of Education became the new Metropolitan Education Sciences University (UMCE). The
reorganization had been implemented to de-politicize the university. At the mural inauguration
ceremony, the UMCE Chancellor Elisa Araya expressed that still today there is “pain due to the
separation” of two institutions whose “paths intertwine.”
According to professor Baño, “The University of Chile was completely dismantled and never again
resuscitated as the institution it had once been.”
Pamela Fernández, who is pursuing a master’s degree in gender history and is a member of the Popular
Social History Nucleus, says, “At the point in time that thinkers today find ourselves in the world, I note
that my classmates have fewer dreams and less hope than students of the 1960s. That is one of the
greatest differences from 50 years ago.” At the same time, she underscores a positive note. “Thinkers of
the 19th century thought critically about the world. In the 20th century too, and today as well. New
fields of research have opened, as for example, gender studies that has won its own space.” 7
Francisco Maltez, who goes by Kochayuyo (an edible kelp common to southern Chile) to suggest an
identity oriented to marginality and the underdog, has left his visual imprint on many walls throughout
the country. However, the process of creating this mural stood out, in part due to its powerful social
message, but also because of the tremendous support he felt from its organizers.
Kochayuyo has a particular affection for this place because he studied art education at the UMCE, until
leaving it in his third year to devote himself to practicing urban art and teaching it to others. He hopes
the mural will evoke the fighting spirit of years long ago, the impact the dictatorship had on the
university community, and that it is possible to move forward. “I consider it very important to visibilize
memory and pain, and to have a clear position to confront negationism,” he says. “Although the
buildings here are new and it looks like a modern university, this space, this earth, contains a ton of
history. Many feet have trodden on this ground. Many people who walked here are no longer with us
and we must mark a precedent for current and future generations.”
While at first glance, somberness and sorrow dominate the mural, little by little, one discerns lights of
hope. The nasturtium flowers, with their regenerative properties, and the carnations that gradually
open from a bud to full bloom suggest a fertile soil and the capacity to heal pain.
From the right-hand corner of the mural, a tattered Chilean flag waves, without its star. “The star does
not belong to the military; it is ours,” Maltez explains. The artist’s intention happened to coincide with a
phrase from a song by Victor Jara that students chose to complete the mural: The star of hope will
continue to be ours.
Gazing at the mural, Catalina Palma regrets that the terror she experienced is so pronounced in the
work. But the names of Jaime, Claudio, and so many other dear friends also transmit to her the memory
of joy and the mobilizing capacity of the era prior to the coup. “This is my life. My identity. I would not
be the person I am today without this history.” Countless times, Catalina, who was imprisoned in
Argentina and then went into exile in England, has asked herself, “Why am I alive?” Now she answers
herself: “I am here because I am a living, breathing denunciation, in flesh and blood. They are always in
1 The Centro Cultural 119 Esperanzas (119 Hopes Cultural Center) is an organization of relatives of people whose names were
included in an orchestration organized by Chilean and Argentine intelligence in July 1975 that falsely claimed that disappeared
people in reality had killed each other in internecine fighting.
2 Jorge Robotham Bravo, 10/19/2023
3 Pablo González Pérez, 10/17/2023
4 Rodrigo Baño, 10/20/2023
5 Catalina Palma Herrera, 10/20/2023
6 Victoria Baeza, 10/26/2023
7 Pamela Fernández, 10/18/2023
Special thanks to Lucy Alexander Montecino.