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Message by the Vice-Minister of the Secretary General of Government of Chile, Carolina Tohá
Tohá, Carolina

Message by the Vice-Minister of the Secretary General of Government, Chile

Chile is a small and distant Latin American country, located on the edge of the South America, surrounded by sea and the Andes Mountains. As the rest of Latin American countries, our people is mestizo, a term that is particularly used in Latin America. It means a mixture of native people, Spanish settlers and other Europeans.

In spite that the mixture of races and diversity of our people is the fundament of our nation, it’s been only lately that we have learnt to be aware that this is a basic element of our identity, which enriches us and makes us stronger.

The problem of not accepting our diversity started already in the colonization period, wherein the living together between Spanish settlers and the native people was the most traumatic of the Continent. This was reflected by a war between both groups during three hundred years and ended with a painful process of pacification of the native people.
Since Chile became an Independent Republic, a slow process started to accept the kind of diversity that define us. Our Political and Social development during the twentieth century has always been headed to that direction, and was taking roots in our institutions and in our democracy.

However, this tradition was brutally interrupted in 1973 by the Military Dictatorship. During seventeen years the law and culture of intolerance was imposed in Chile. Those who thought differently were persecuted and repressed. Human rights were violated and many horrendous crimes were committed in the name of an “official truth” and a misunderstood national security.

The basic idea of the dictatorship was that differences were “dangerous”; that discussion led to “disunion” and “confrontation”, and that “uniformity was the only possible way to live together peacefully”. Intolerance was accepted as a norm to live together and as a form of social organization.

Fortunately, democratic values were deeply rooted in the Chilean people and were these values that allowed our country to confront the dictatorship and walk towards the reconstruction of our democracy.

During the last ten years, Chile has re-encountered a form of living-together wherein everyone has a place and is respected. But, at the same time, we have discovered that there are still strong traces left by the dictatorship.

Our main concern has been to heal the wounds from the violation of human rights during the dictatorship. The process of political and institutional normalization of the country nowadays allows the Justice Tribunals to do their job and to make sure that no one would be above the law, no matter his authority or influence. President Lagos’s government commitment is to respect the independence of the Justice Tribunals and to avoid any kind of pressure that take them away from their main task:: to find out the truth and apply the law on every citizen who has committed crimes or abuses. As a matter of fact, yesterday, former General Pinochet was indicted for his responsibility in many crimes.

At the same time, the Government has supported the work of “Mesa de Diálogo” Dialog Table, which is an historic effort of understanding between the attorneys defending the human rights, the Armed Forces and various ethic public figures of the country to help clarifying the state of the missing people. The Armed Forces released information concerning the location of the bodies of the missing people a few weeks ago, that was then forwarded to the Justice Tribunals. These facts are part of the recognition from the Armed Forces of the horrendous crimes that took place during the dictartorship, including the launching to the sea, rivers and lakes of the bodies of many people. These facts have really shocked the country and made us to renew our commitment that such crimes will never be executed again in Chile.

Furthermore, it was accepted the proposal of the “Mesa de Diálogo” Dialog Table, to reinforce human rights lectures into the educational system as well as modifying the education of Armed Forces looking forward for them to learn about the respect of human rights under all circumstances.

A second issue connected to intolerance that we have met during the last ten years of democracy, has been the situation of our native people. Since the establishment of the “Corporación de Desarrollo Indígena” Indigenous Development Corporation in 1993, a government policy of recognition and support to the various native minorities has been initiated. At present, our main goals in this matter are the following:

To obtain the approval of the constitutional reform that recognize the characteristic of “peoples” with their own identity and traditions, of the native minorities of our country.
To implement a strong social policy of access to land, productive development, education and health, that will allow indigenous peoples to come throughout social exclusion.

To develop the work of the “Mesa de Verdad Histórica and Nuevo Trato”, Table of the Historic Truth and New Treatment, with the aim to find the truth about the abuses committed against the indigenous during the past and suggest measures to repair the damage and to value our native cultures.

In this regard, we Chileans have traditionally tried to distinguish us from other Latin American peoples and identify ourselves as Europeans. In fact, our media use persons of European appearance to represent the Chileans. The seriousness of this problem increases because in Chile the groups of higher income are of European descendency while those of less income have more indigenous appearance. To recognize ourselves as a mixed people and to be proud of it is essential for this New Treatment to be possible.

On the other hand, we have a discussion going on in the Congress of a law intended to increase the penalty in cases of crimes caused by racist acts. Besides it will be added to the discussion of constitutional reforms proposed by the government, on the possibility of establishing a constitutional guarantee against all forms of discrimination: racial, gender, social origin or sexual preference.

During year 2000, the recent assumed Government of President Lagos had to face a difficult situation because of the organization of a Nazi Summit in our country. By using legal and democratic means we were able to disarticulate this event and avoided our country being a place to promote racial hate, intolerance and discrimination. At the same time, the Government is working to create a National Plan against intolerance and discrimination, in response to proposals made by organizations of the civil society representatives of the discriminated sectors.

Today, Chile is a country more conscious of its ethnic and cultural diversity, that is learning to make of this diversity a strength and not a reason to fear. Our country has known intolerance and discrimination in a very cruel way throughout its history. These experiences have hurt us as a country, but have also taught us important lessons. Today, we know that Chile is possible only if founded on the valorization of diversity and on values that recognize the possibility for everyone to live, to express themselves and to be respected.

In some way, mankind had arrived to this same conclusion and commit itself in an active and responsible way to build a better world for all people and for all persons. This occasion, now here in Stockholm is an opportunity to reinforce this commitment. My country joins in with strength and conviction. That is why I would like to express our deep gratitude to the Swedish Government and its Prime Minister Mr. Persson, for giving us such an opportunity during this event.

Thank you very much.

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