Independence Day in Chile is celebrated on September 18, and people usually take a whole week to celebrate and spend time with their love ones. But I already wrote about Independence Day in my first post at Willamette World News. Now, I will refer to a different date, October 5, which is the day that Chile regained democracy, or at least, when Chile took the first step towards regaining democracy.
According to the constitution that was established in 1980, there was supposed to be a referendum in 1988 to decide the future of the country. Due to the lack of transparency of the dictatorship, it was difficult to believe that open voting was going to happen. In 1987 the first step was made, and the registry of the voters was re-opened (actually it was restarted from scratch, due to the fact that it was canceled / destroyed in the seventies) and the citizen Nº 0000001, Augusto Pinochet was making a call for people to register to vote. This new referendum would decide whether Pinochet would remain as president for another eight years (option “yes”) or there should be a presidential election the coming year (option “no”).
Several parties in opposition to Pinochet formed a coalition that was called “Concertación de Partidos por el NO,” an alliance that had a simple goal, remove Pinochet from power. They did not have to have a candidate, all they had to do was present the fact that a country cannot work under a repressive regime. But, of course it was difficult to present the “NO” campaign. On one hand, it was necessary to accept and participate in the electoral process. But, what if the process itself was corrupted and easily manipulated by the regime? This was a chance they had to take. On the other hand, a major problem was the fact that apart from the leaders in the opposition movement who were already blacklisted by the regime, people who joined the “NO” campaign were exposing themselves to the regime and, to a certain point, risking their lives. Finally, there was an intellectual task, how to turn something that is intrinsically negative such as the word “NO” into something positive? It was necessary to create a campaign that was creative, happy, and snappy, and above all, not to resort to a campaign based on terror.
They created the “Happiness anthem,” being extremely careful to use the right words and avoiding musical styles that were associated with Allende’s government, so the people supporting Pinochet were not able to directly link the “NO” campaign with Allende’s supporters. The final product of the anthem was called “Chile, happiness is about to arrive” that you can see it in the following video.
Probably the biggest mistake made by Pinochet’s government throughout the campaign was to underestimate the importance of the television and radio campaigns that both sides had the right to produce. On September 5, 1988 at eleven at night, for the first time in many years, there were 15 minutes on television for those who were against the regime to express their ideas to the nation. Now, it is important to mention that, the NO campaign was supported by renowned men and women related to the arts, music and literature. Therefore, the campaign was absolutely artistic, attractive, and something that people wanted to see, even those in favor of Pinochet. It is a known fact that the next day, even some important officers of the regime were humming the NO song. The SI campaign tried to regain terrain mocking the NO campaign, creating spoofs from the NO campaign, and replacing the people in the video with masked terrorist instead of dancers, just to name an example. Finally, the campaign ended on October 2nd, with two massive rallies from both sides.
On October 5, 1988 the people voted. Men and women voted in separate locations. For some it was difficult because the places were the voting booths were located, had been the same places were they had been tortured in the past. In spite of the difficulties, people voted in peace and by four in the afternoon most people had complied with their civic duty. By seven thirty in evening, the first results were communicated by the government and they said that the option SI was winning with a 58% margin. This scared many people, because they knew that this was not true; the government was trying to manipulate the results. The people behind the NO option know that they were winning the election; nevertheless the government refused to acknowledge that they were losing, they prohibited transmitting by radio or television anything that might suggest a defeat on their side. After midnight, the Junta had an extraordinary meeting and, Pinochet decided that he should not recognize the election and take full responsibility for the consequences of ignoring the true results. Eventually that was not accepted by the other members of the Junta, and finally, at 2:00am the official results admit the NO victory. The NO option obtained 55.99% of the votes and the SI option 44.01%.
In December of 1989, there was a new presidential election, and the candidate for Concertación por la Democracia won. From that point, what is known as transition to democracy began.
Voting NO and electing a new president were the first steps that Chile took to regain Democracy. It has been a long and complicated process. Some say that the transition has been completed, while others say that the transition still has a long way to go. But what it is true is that regardless of whether the transition is completed or not, October 5, 1988 was a historic and significant day for the country. Even though is not a national holiday yet, it is still present in the memory of the people.