A Personal Story

by Carmen Cruz

I'd like to tell you a story about a man I know.

Imagine this... you're 22 years old and live in Chile. You're newly married with a baby on the way. You're one of the leaders of a workers union party at your place of employment (this is how Chile is. It's an extremely politically motivated country). Next thing you know, the President of Chile (your country, your home) has been assassinated. The extreme right wing military has killed your president and taken over the entire country. It's a coup. The leader of the military imposes a dictatorship style regime and anyone that is left wing, or doesn't have the same beliefs as this 'new order' is now on a wanted list. Curfews have been imposed and if you're caught outside after this curfew, you're either arrested or killed. Loved ones are disappearing at an alarming rate, never to be seen again.

Now back to the 22 year old man. That's you. YOU are on that 'wanted list'. You find this out and take your new (and pregnant) bride and try to flee Chile. You get to the border of Argentina. As you try to cross, the border guard realizes that you are one of the 'wanted individuals'. He is required to arrest you immediately. You and your wife beg and plead for mercy. You don't want to go to jail, just for having different beliefs. Your wife needs you, and so does your baby. Lucky for you, the border guard takes pity on you and decides not to arrest you. He says that he can't let you and your wife cross, but he'll pretend that he never saw you. He turns you away. What to do next?

At this point, you're not too sure where to go. You find out that more and more people are disappearing. Some of them strangers. Some are coworkers, friends, or even family. They're being tossed in prison and no one knows what's being done to them there.

You decide to head back and try to find a place to hide. You can't go home, and you can't go to any of your family's homes either. That's the first place the military will look. Friends can't be 100% trusted at this point. Friends of 20 years are suddenly turning a former comrade in, in hopes of avoiding the wrath of the Chilean military.

So where do you end up? You and your pregnant wife end up staying in a shack at a graveyard. Your brother-in-law works there, carving tombstones, and is able to hide you. This is where you stay for a while. When you get desperately hungry, you end up killing a friends pet rabbit, the one you were in charge of taking care of, in order to eat.

The military are everywhere and eventually, it's your turn.

You're caught. By this time, your wife has had your baby, and you're torn away from them both. You end up in prison. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months. You hear screams and cries. You're scared. You're periodically dragged into a room and questioned about 'conspiracies'. You have absolutely no idea what these men in uniform are talking about. They don't believe you, so they torture you.

**For the respect of all those people who were imprisoned, I won't go into detail.**

Your wife comes to visit you as often as she is allowed and updates you on what's been happening; who has been imprisoned, who has 'disappeared' and who is dead. She tries to sneak in some food for you every once in a while, and on one particular visit, even notices some blood coming out of your ear. You never tell your wife what has happened to you in there. You can't. You won't.

You become pale, gaunt and feel as though you're losing your mind. You're starving and weigh less than 100 lbs. The torture continues.......

A year later, you are released from prison. Even though you're free, you'll never be the same.

Canada (amongst other countries) has intervened and is allowing Chileans to come into Canada with a political refugee status. You are one of the lucky people chosen. You go to Canada. You don't speak a single word of English. You end up working in the back of a Chinese restaurant, washing dishes, in what seems like a frozen wasteland where you understand no one. You're working and saving money to bring over your wife and new baby daughter. You're sleeping at the YMCA and taking English lessons. Eventually, you're able to bring your wife and daughter to start a new life in Canada. And life continues....

That man is my father, Ruben. He was tortured and suffered the unimaginable, all because of his beliefs. Thousands upon thousands of Chileans have either died or 'disappeared', never to be found. My father, and so many others experienced things we'll never have to go through. We're lucky. We don't really have to worry about that happening in Canada. And we each have a voice. A voice that we can use to stand up for, and express what we believe in. I'll be doing that today, May 2nd. I'll be going to vote. I hope you do too.


P.S: Here's a link to a song that Sting wrote about this Chilean tragedy. It's called, 'They Dance Alone'. In Chile, we have a traditional dance called the 'Cueca'. It's danced in pairs (man & woman). Sting sings about how the women, having lost their husbands, fathers and sons, now have to dance alone.