West German and Chilean Activists between Human Rights and Revolution

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 2:10 PM
Salon 3 (Palmer House Hilton)
Felix A. Jiménez Botta, Boston College
In 1970s West Germany, a grassroots movement composed of West German activists and Chilean exiles advocated for and end to human rights abuses under the Chilean military dictatorship. While many of these activists remained committed to a socialist transformation of Chilean (and West German) society and the overthrow of Chile’s military leaders, they deployed human rights discourses in order to be able to influence the West German government. While West German officials relented to grassroots demands for the acceptance of Chilean political refugees, the official policy was to normalize relations with the Chilean regime. By the early 1980s, Pinochet had institutionalized his rule by means of a referendum and a new constitution. At the same time, in Nicaragua and El Salvador, revolutionary movements had either overthrown long-standing dictatorships or seemed on the verge of doing so. Many West German and Chilean activists saw the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979 and the Salvadoran insurgency as a vindication of the military path to overthrow the Chilean military regime. These activists discarded the minimalist version of human rights argumentation that many had marshaled since the 1970s, and re-embraced ideas of revolutionary transformation. A number even traveled to the region in order to help build Nicaraguan Socialism or assist the Salvadoran FMLN guerrilla. This episode does not fit with the emerging consensus that argues that Latin American leftists, faced with state terrorism, definitively abandoned revolution for human rights. It shows that human rights remained a negotiated and contested vocabulary amongst Chilean and West German activists throughout the 1980s.
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