Prisoner of Pinochet: My Year in a Chilean Concentration Camp.

Author:McSherry, J. Patrice
Position:LATIN AMERICA - Book review

Bitar, Sergio. Prisoner of Pinochet: My Year in a Chilean Concentration Camp. Trans. Erin Goodman. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

This powerful account provides an intimate view of the fate of Sergio Bitar and other high-ranking members of Salvador Allende's Popular Unity government after the 1973 military coup. Prisoner of Pinochet: My Year in a Chilean Concentration Camp was originally published as Isla Win Spanish, the basis for the 2009 Chilean drama film Dawson Isla 10. Bitar, who "always wished that English speakers could read this story about the Chilean September 11," recounts his year in captivity on Dawson Island (p. xvii). Bitar, a member of Izquerida Cristiana, the left-wing political splinter party formed by Christian Democrat dissenters in 1971, served as Allende's minister of mines prior to the coup. Like most Chileans, Bitar did not believe that a violent military coup could occur in Chile, one of the few Latin American nations with a long history of constitutional democracy. Bitar contends that his "generation was born and lived in democracy, and we believed it would last forever" (p. xv).

The first pages of the book give a riveting description of the day of the coup, September 11, 1973. Bitar heard himself summoned on the radio by the military, along with many others, demanding that he turn himself in. Bitar did turn himself in, and after several days of isolation and fear while he was imprisoned at the Military School in Santiago, he and other government dignitaries were shipped to Dawson Island, a frigid outpost in the far south of Chile. After listing the names of the detained government officials, he describes the detainees' pervasive feelings of terror and the harshness of daily life under military control at Dawson: the freezing cold rain, wind, and snow; the inadequate provisions and heating in the barracks where they were held; their capricious and sadistic treatment at the hands of high-ranking military officers who sent them to do backbreaking slave labor; the unannounced body searches; the simulated executions; and the isolation from their families and the world. Some of the more violent officers and conscripts would force the detainees to sing military songs.

Bitar also recounts...

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