For women who commit their lives to mass struggle, there is always a choice that men never have to make. Namely to sacrifice the option of motherhood for revolutionary struggle.
But for many of the young women who joined the Revolutionary Left Movement [MIR, Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria] coalition in Chile to rise up against the 1973 bloody repressive coup by General Augusto Pinochet against the Socialist government of Salvador Allende, the choice did not exist.
And as fiercely committed young mothers already fugitives deep into the revolutionary resistance, they were not only torn between the political and personal in ways men never confront. But the parents of these offspring were also faced with the ruthless policy of the CIA-backed Pinochet regime of engaging in the kidnapping of their children as a negotiation tactic to force the surrender of these hunted revolutionaries. Along with the now well documented horrific secret adoptions of those children of the many subsequently slaughtered political martyrs in question.
And the documentary The Chilean Building [El Edificio De Los Chilenos] not only resurrects the simultaneous heartbreaking and inspiring buried history of those children hidden away in other countries by their parents for their safety. But achieves a rare intensity as well, chronicling that turbulent time. Because the filmmaker Macarena Aguilo, just happens to be one of those children back then, who surmounted the enormous challenges of that time.
Kidnapped and disappeared by the CIA when just a preschooler as an unsuccessful bargaining chip to force the surrender of her father in hiding, Macarena was released a month later. But fearful for her future, her father arranged for Macarena to be reunited with her mother already in exile in France. And eventually Macarena joined scores of other politically at-risk Chilean children at a commune set up for them in Havana. Which came to be known as the Chilean Building.
Winner of the Best Documentary at the New York International Latino Film Festival last year, The Chilean Building is an alternately euphoric and solemn collective recollection by many of those young spunky survivors and their parents and fellow comrade guardians, of the ‘tremendous invitation’ that welcomed them in Cuba. And the unique experience of a society where ‘everything Cuba does is for everyone,’ and every house belongs to everybody,’ in ‘a good place for children, because everyone loves them.’
Yet at the same time, the emotionally tragic truth for which neither the children nor parents have been able to achieve closure to this day. Namely, the utopian political dream tasted in Cuba – of a society dissociated from ‘consumption, individualism and competition for money.’ But necessitating the enormous personal sacrifices of those Chilean parents and children, that in the end left all their lives personally damaged, but bereft of an anticipated legacy that has never been realized in Chile.
The Chilean Building is an impassioned recollection of intimate and collective memory, through difficult testimony, and heartbroken yet politically resolute letters written by parents to their children from afar through those years, and the grown children today who sublimate those traumatic feelings through healing art. Along with moments of tender humor, as when one of them recalls with delight as an only child, being suddenly surrounded by sixty new siblings. And another expressing relief – perhaps regarding his own anticipation of parenthood in a very different, disillusioning world in Chile today – that in the Chilean Building in Cuba, ‘I didn’t have television to screw up my head.’
And a mother’s letter in particular written back then, magnifies and solidifies the sustained resilience of Macarena and those other young hearts and minds:
‘Tomorrow you shall begin a path with many other children, and you’ll have the loving hands of our comrades to carry you forward. If there’s anything I wanted to give you and learn with you, it is to live intensely, to love with your eyes. With a desire to feel and to always move forward, trying to stay true to what we’ve said. And if I leave you today, it’s because that small, honest commitment I gave you urges many of us, hopefully thousands, to go struggle with our comrades in Chile…And that victory shall be for you, for all the children of Chile.’
And no matter what the outcome, in a brokenhearted parent’s explanation for the hopefully comprehending mind of a child, it was about a time of ‘such monumental craziness, but we tried to do it well. We tried to do everything with our hearts.’
Candid and ironic, replete with raw feelings yet never truly defeatist, The Chilean Building vividly poses solemn questions about the price of struggle, but without ever quite relinquishing political hope. And as one can glean in tentative but miraculous ways as legacy, beyond the scope of this movie, such as in the case of Spanish judge, lawyer, and international jurist, Baltasar Garzon. Who leads the legal team representing Wikileaks and Julian Assange, currently seeking political asylum holed up for months in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, fighting anticipated US prosecution.
Garzon in fact, revolutionized the international justice system two decades ago by issuing an arrest warrant for Pinochet for crimes against humanity in Chile. For which Pinochet was never in fact brought to justice, but Garzon’s actions spearheaded the fight against such impunity in Latin America, and the rest of the world.
The Chilean Building is being released theatrically at The Maysles Cinema in NYC, August 13th through 19th – a Harlem theater devoted to the recognition of documentary film. More information is online at: