Manifesto in a Bottle: A Chilean prison camp’s history unearthed


The Pinochet dictatorship sent thousands to prison camps in remote and hostile parts of Chile. Some of them disappeared permanently. Others, like these leftists, survived…and so did their message to the world, nearly 40 years later:

At a meeting of former prisoners of the Chacabuco concentration camp, an old saltpeter mine in the Antofagasta pampa, on November 23 and 24, a group of former prisoners took on the task of locating a buried bottle with a message written in October 1974, when the camp was closed.

After a debate as to the exact location, and with great emotion, they excavated in the small yard at the house, and found an intact bottle. On the outside, one of the prisoners — a chemist — wrote “POISON”, and a terrifying formula, to frighten intruders away.

The letter, still legible on yellowed paper, is signed by four parties of the left, and is a testimony of revolutionary morale and commitment to the struggle which the assembly of ex-prisoners adopted that very day, as the “Declaration of Chacabuco”, in the theatre of the old mine.

The message remains fully relevant. The following is the complete text:

With the fall of the Popular Government headed by Salvador Allende, they installed in Chile a fierce dictatorship which shook the world with its cruelty and terror. There were thousands of dead throughout the land; so many others disappeared.

Thus they filled the prisons and concentration camps with more than ten thousand political prisoners. Through this camp alone passed 1,284 select leftist leaders, including minors and the very elderly. Here lived and suffered men from different regions of the land. From Copiapó, Antofagasta, Valparaíso, Santiago, Colchagua, O’Higgins, Linares, Chillán, Bío-Bío, Concepción, Arauco, and Osorno they came to this desolate place, symbol of the exploitation of saltpeter workers. Workers, peasants, employees, intellectuals, professionals, and students who distinguished themselves with their high morale and solidity in their principles.

The loneliness of the pampa came alive with the active creativity of the artisans and artists who were born in the shelter of loneliness in the days of captivity. Memorable were the shows that cheered the days of captivity from Sunday to Sunday. No one will forget the dance-hall, the bonfire, the theatrical works, the circus, the fecund activity of the artisanal workshops, their various expositions of copper, wood, loom, onyx, as no one will either forget the towers, with their uniformed guards and rifles aimed at the barbed-wire fence, the odious formations under full sun or night-time cold, the raids, the pillages, the national anthem and its ironic addition, our nobles…As no one either can forget the squalid ranch, the scraps of bread, the ring-shaped loaf and its derivatives, the ulcers and the neuroses.

But all of this was overcome with dignity and morale. They organized themselves by houses, pavilions and camps, united in all. The Council of Elders, which was the greatest organization, created public services for the detainees, such as well-being, the polyclinic, the school, the library, the sports association, the department of sanitation, administration, artisanal co-operative, etc.

There are events memorable for everyone: in homage to the martyred comrades, the dignified minute of silence on September 11, 1974; the loyalty and nobility of the comrades who travelled thousands of kilometres; the shooting of dogs in the camp; the mysterious explosions of the mines that surrounded the camp; the days without water.

Although they stayed alone in this place for more than a year, no one considered himself more or less free than the rest of his brothers in the street, since the land was one immense prison. The commitment to freedom was not an individual yearning, either, but a commitment to fight alongside the people.

To them came the constant strength, growing, of the solidarity of the workers of the world and their political vanguards, and of the democratic lands and peoples and international organizations, by way of the friendly sister voices of Radio Moscow, Havana, Progreso, Berlin, etc.

Today, being [illegible] and other concentration camps, we march with the inevitable conviction of the triumph of the socialist revolution in days not distant. Comrades, in your minds is present the necessity of the inevitable victory. We need only one victory: the final one.

Communist Party of Chile
Socialist Party of Chile
Movement of the Revolutionary Left
Movement of Unitary Popular Action

Chacabuco, October 1974

Translation mine.

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