15 Pinochet’s dictatorship and reflections on trauma in Chile

Pinochet’s dictatorship and reflections on trauma in Chile: How much have we learned in terms of human rights?

Nancy Nicholls Lopeandia

Thinking about trauma

The French neurologist and psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, who has developed the concept of resilience extensively, writes with respect to trauma:

We can only speak of a traumatic simation if there has been a fracture, that is, only if a surprise with cataclysmic proportions - or sometimes insidious character - submerges the subject, shakes him and sends him into a torrent, in a direction he would have preferred not to take.

(Cyrulnik, 2003, 33)

The author, therefore, emphasizes that the event that disrupts the life of an individual possesses the virulence of an extreme phenomenon of nature that produces a radical break in its previous conformation.

When speaking of trauma experienced by Chileans between 1973 and 1990 and which even has a current dimension, the "fracture with cataclysmic proportions” of which Cyrulnik speaks, was carried in actions based on the political power emanating from the state, which is why, unlike other traumatic situations caused, for example, by events in nature, in this case there is a socio-political dimension that cannot be underestimated. This is why several authors, when speaking of Chilean trauma, incorporate social and political variables, arguing that what is disturbed is the individual in his "biopsychosocial conformation” (Madariaga, 2018). Thus, in order to measure the trauma caused in individuals by their submission to the forms of coercion of the dictatorial regime, the individual cannot be separated from society, and it is society, and not only the individual, that is affected to the point of entering a process of extreme destrucmring. Along these same lines, Carlos Madariaga understands trauma as a “total social fact,” a concept he borrows from the anthropologist E. Menéndez, to allude to the overlaps between the psychic structure of individuals and the societal structure (Madariaga, 2018). In the 1980s, when repression had intensified in the context of massive national protests against the regime, the Latin American Institute of Mental Health and Human Rights (ILAS) adopted the following definition, by psychologist and psychoanalyst Maria Isabel Castillo, to refer to the trauma experienced by thousands of Chileans:

Extreme traumatization is a process that accounts for a specific type of traumatization, which is dependent on socio-political events. It is characterized by its intensity, permanence in time and by the interdependence that occurs between the social and the psychological. It is a specific type of traumatization, which exceeds the capacity of the psychic structure of the subjects and of society to respond adequately to this process. Its aim is the destruction of the individual, his interpersonal relationships and his belonging to society. Extreme traumatization is marked by a way of exercising power in society, where the socio-political structure is based on destructuring and extermination. The process of traumatization is not limited in time and develops sequentially.

(ILAS, 2019, 12)

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