SANTIAGO, Chile The poster makes its plea from one of the pock-marked walls once splattered with blood at Londres 38, a former detention and torture center where 96 people were killed or disappeared during Chiles long dictatorship. It reads: Pinochet, may your legacy die.
Yet that legacy is far from dead. Gen. Augusto Pinochets loyalists on Sunday held their biggest gathering since his death in 2006, and it has ignited a national debate about the limits of freedom of speech as groups on the other side sought to block the event and then staged protests to try to disrupt it.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to try to disperse hundreds of anti-Pinochet demonstrators protesting the premiere of a documentary about the run-up to his dictatorship years. The film casts him as a national hero who saved Chile from communism and who died victimized by vengeful leftists who accused him of embezzlement and human-rights crimes.
Inside the theater, thousands of the former strongmans backers, known as Pinochetistas waved Chilean flags and held up photos of Pinochet. When his grandson, retired Capt. Augusto Pinochet Molina, took the stage, they gave him a long standing ovation.
The screening was organized by Corporacion 11 de Septiembre, named for the day when Pinochet seized power in a bloody 1973 coup that brought down the democratically elected government of Marxist President Salvador Allende.
We want to set the record straight on Pinochet, Juan Gonzalez, a retired army officer who leads the pro-Pinochet movement, told The Associated Press. We have stoically put up with the lies and cheating and seen how the story has been manipulated.
Although Gonzalezs own sister Francisca has said publicly she was tortured by Pinochets forces, Gonzalez disputes that there were human-rights abuses during the dictatorship. He says those killed and tortured were casualties of a war against leftist subversion.
Why cant we have a documentary if they have their monument to Allende, he said, referring to a statue outside the presidential palace with Allendes last words: I have faith in Chile and its destiny.
Relatives of the disappeared and more than a dozen human-rights groups sent a letter to President Sebastian Pinera asking him to ban the event. Presidential spokesman Andres Chadwick said on local TV Sunday that although organizers had the right to express themselves, he regretted having supported a government that committed human-rights abuses, and that it is not necessary to pay tribute to Pinochet.
Analysts say Pinochetistas such as Gonzalez are emboldened by the conservatives winning control of the government in 2010.
Still, last year, the government officially recognized 9,800 more victims of the dictatorship. That increased the total list of people killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons during Pinochets regime to 40,018. The government estimates 3,095 of those were killed, including about 1,200 of whom no trace has ever been found.
About 700 military officials face trial for the forced disappearance of dissidents and about 70 have been jailed under crimes against humanity.
Theres obviously an effort to revive and clean up Pinochets image, said Marta Lagos, head of the Santiago-based pollster Mori. Theyre saying: This is really a guy who deserves a tribute. So I ask: What would happen in Germany if someone would try to pay tribute to Hitler?