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Chilean journalists protest right-wing newspaper's praising of dictatorship

CHILEAN journalists picketed the offices of right-wing national daily El Mecurio on Thursday after it published an insert praising the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

Members of the Press Association union were joined by Communist Party activists outside the newspaper’s Bogota offices as the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees (AFDD) president Lorena Pizarro announced legal actions against El Mecurio.

“That newspaper is condoning terrorism, while on the other side of that publication we have survivors, we have relatives who are directly affected by this new infamy,” he said.

A total of 60 signatories are believed to have paid £16,000 for the insert published on September 11, the date of the US-backed 1973 coup against democratically elected president Salvador Allende.

The military’s seizure of power led to two decades of dictatorship and the disappearance and murder of tens of thousands of Chileans under Pinochet’s brutal rule.

El Mercurio owner Agustin Edwards played a leading role in supporting the coup and his media group, which included newspaper and radio stations, was handed $1 million by the administration of then US president Richard Nixon.

Mr Edwards was described as “the leading Chilean collaborator in CIA covert operations to overturn the democratic institutions of his own country.”

The media played an important in the propaganda war by publishing anti-Allende stories while the US applied sustained external pressure — Nixon famously said that Washington must “make the economy scream.”

With the CIA bankrolling El Mercurio, which received around US$2 million funding in 1974, declassified reports show, the paper continued to report positively on the Pinochet regime to keep it in power.

Wednesday’s one-page insert was headlined: “On September 11 1973, Chile was saved from becoming like Venezuela.” 

It went on to praise the role of the military dictatorship, claiming that Chile was better off under Pinochet than under socialist president Allende, who was killed on the day of the coup.

But workers at the paper rejected the insert and held a protest on the steps of the newspaper’s offices.

“We are workers of El Mercurio and today we clearly say that the insert published today does not represent us,” they said in a statement.

As Chileans paid their respects to those who had suffered under the dictatorship, a number of right-wing parliamentarians walked out of Congress during a one-minute silence.

President Sebastian Pinera’s government refused to stage an official commemoration, in a break with the standard practice of the past.

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