Commemoration of Salvador Allende: Belgium played 'exemplary role' in sheltering thousands of Chileans
Exactly 50 years ago, in 1973, Augusto Pinochet staged a coup in Chile. It put an immediate and tragic end to the presidency of Salvador Allende, an event that the Allende Committee 50 is commemorating in Belgium. "Belgium played an 'exemplary role' in sheltering thousands of Chileans," says Pierre Galand of the Allende 50 Committee.
Galand has been secretary-general of Oxfam Belgium for almost 30 years. But half a decade ago, he was a socialist senator and president of the Chilean National Committee, a body set up in 1973 after the coup led by Chilean general Pinochet that killed then-president Allende.
Brussels-Santiago air link
"At the time of the coup, the committee helped mobilise left-wing organisations, trade unions and NGOs to welcome thousands of refugees," Galand said. The Chilean collective for the reception of refugees, Colarch, then took over the organisation of the reception of the Chileans. Belgium played an important role, as the air link between Brussels and Santiago enabled the Chileans to reach Europe.
Galand estimates that Belgium took in at least 8,000 Chileans during the 17 years of Pinochet's dictatorship. However, this figure is difficult to verify, as some refugees only briefly stayed in Belgium before moving to other countries.
"I think in Belgium, we can rise above ideological divisions to respond to this kind of situation"
During this time, hundreds of citizens offered to take in Chileans fleeing the repression. "Belgium, both the authorities and the population, behaved excellently," said Galand. "I think in Belgium, we can rise above ideological divisions to respond to this kind of situation."
Although the Chilean National Committee has since been disbanded, Galand now heads the Allende 50 Committee, which was set up to coordinate commemorations in Belgium to mark the 50th anniversary of the coup.
"The purpose of these commemorations and mobilisations is to remind people of the Popular Union led by Allende," he said. "It is also an opportunity to remember how the West, particularly the United States, used all possible means to destroy this ideal." The CIA carried out several political destabilisation operations during Allende's presidency.
Some 40 events will be organised throughout Belgium until 18 October to commemorate the Chilean president. On 11 September, a large rally will occur at the Brussels City Hall. Participants will then march to Square Salvador Allende. Along the way, there will be speeches and a mobile fresco created by young Chilean artists will be unveiled.
A woman holds an image of Salvador Allende during a march marking the 50th anniversary of the coup led by Augusto Pinochet that overthrew Allende, in Santiago, Chile © PHOTO ZUMA PRESS