SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile inaugurated a museum on Monday to thousands murdered, “disappeared” and tortured during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, stirring up bitter memories just days before a presidential vote that is expected to pave the way for a new rightist government.
Chile’s current center-left government says 3,195 people were killed or “disappeared” during Pinochet’s 1973-1990 rule and around 28,000 people, including President Michelle Bachelet, were tortured.
“The inauguration of this museum is a powerful sign of the strength of a united country, a union based on a shared commitment that we will never again suffer a tragedy like that which this place will always remind us of,” Bachelet told an audience of about 1,000 guests.
“In democracy, justice is done, and there will be justice ... which we never had in those years.”
The guests included three former presidents from the center-left coalition that has governed Chile since Pinochet’s dictatorship ended two decades ago.
But the event revived raw sensitivities and anger.
Some in the crowd heckled visiting Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, a prominent supporter of conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who is expected to win a presidential run-off on Sunday and end the center-left’s rule.
“He should leave!” people chanted, referring to Vargas Llosa.
“There are many people, important men like this writer, who don’t know the story and have no right to give lessons to our people,” said 84-year-old Ana Gonzales, whose two sons, husband and pregnant daughter-in-law all “disappeared” during Pinochet’s rule.
“We have lived and know the story of Sebastian Pinera,” Gonzales added. “We can’t let the right win. Not because they are the right, but because they are infected with the virus of Pinochet’s murderous policies.”
Political analysts played down the timing of the museum’s inauguration and said they did not believe it would influence Sunday’s vote.
Some of Pinera’s advisors worked under the dictatorship and his base includes former Pinochet supporters. But the airline magnate has long distanced himself from Pinochet and his legacy.
On Monday Pinera defended the advisors who had worked for the dictatorship and said his future government would include no ministers from Pinochet’s rule.
The inauguration of the museum in Santiago features personal artifacts and photographs of victims as well as stories of survivors. It came just over a year after Pinochet’s supporters opened a controversial museum of their own dedicated to the former dictator, replete with lead toy soldiers.
Pinochet died in 2006 without ever facing a full trial on charges of human rights crimes.
Editing by Simon Gardner and Chris Wilson