The Upside Down World News

"If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn't we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?" - Eduardo Galeano

Jewels of the Coup

By Pedro Lemebel
Translation by April Howard

De perlas y cicatrices: crónicas radiales (Of Pearls and Scars: radio chronicles) Lom Ediciones: Santiago de Chile, 1998.

Note: In the coup d'etat of September 11, 1973 in Chile, a military junta organized by Augusto Pinochet, amongst other members of the armed forces and the North American CIA, seized power from the populist government of president Salvador Allende, beginning a bloody dictatorship, the power of which lasted into the early nineties, and the resolution of which remains an unsettled issue in modern Chilean society and politics. The 'Declaration' or "pronunciamiento" is the term by which 'Pinochetistas' refer to the coup d'etat, while members of the left and center call it the "golpe" or "coup." This chronicle was written to be read over the radio in the station "Radio Tierra" in Santiago de Chile.

"The Jewels of the Coup"

And it happened in a simple country hung from the mountain range with a view of the broad ocean. A country drawn on the map like spun thread; a drowsy salt snake that woke one morning with a rattle in her face, to hear the broadcasts repeating nasally "All citizens must retire early at the time of the curfew in order not to expose themselves to terrorist treachery." The first few months after the eleventh passed, in the victorious celebrations of the beating wings of the coup, when the conquered went around escaping, and hiding people and carrying off people and saving people. To some uniformed head occurred the idea of organizing a donation campaign to help the government. The idea, no doubt copied from "Gone with the Wind" or some Nazi pamphlet, summoned the people to recover the fiscal coffers by contributing jewelry to rebuild the national patrimony, demolished by the rumpus of the Unidad Popular, said the blond women in their tea and canasta parties, organizing raffles and benefit parties to help Augusto, help him succeed in his heroic negotiation. To show the whole world that the coup had been only a little electric pat on the butt of a spoiled child. The rest was calumny from the international Marxists, who envied Augusto and the members of the junta, because they knew how to wear the pants and crack the whip to end that orgy of bums. Therefore, if you supported the military declaration, then declare yourself with something. A little ring, a necklace, what have you. Donate a brooch, or your grandmother's diamond, said Mimí Barrenechea, the gaudy spouse of an admiral and the most enthusiastic promoter of the campaign of gold and platinum trinkets received in the gala organized by the ladies in blue, green and pink who ran around receiving the presents like clucking hens.

In exchange, the military government delivered a tin trophy, made in the Presidential Palace in honor of the historic cooperation. Because with the cost of troops and bullets necessary to recover liberty, the country was bankrupt, added Mimí in order to convince the rich ladies that they did well to deliver their matrimonial rocks in exchange for copper rings, which in a short time left their fingers green, like moldy souvenirs of their patriotic generosity.

All of the press was at that gala, or better said, only "The Mercurio" and National Television, showing the rich and famous as they lined up to hand in the necklace of gems that the family had guarded for generations like a sacred chalice; the patrimonial heritage that Mimí Barrenecea received with emotion, telling her aristocratic friends: "Girls, we will use this to build the country!" she shouted euphorically to the same grey haired prunes who had accompanied her to bang pots and pans in front of the regiments, the same crowd that had assisted her with the cocktail parties at the Military Academy, the Union Club or Mimí's very own house, raising millions in charity to help the Army. Therefore, over here Consuelo, hey Pía Ignacia, sang out Mrs. Barrenechea, filling the little baskets stamped with the national seal, and the odds and ends of gold, platinum, rubies and emeralds tumbled out at her pleasant and snobbish step. With her familiar drunken humor, she imitated Eva Perón, snatching the jewelry from the necks of those friends who were loath to let it go. Ay, Pochy, you didn't like the declaration so much? You didn't applaud drinking champagne at tea? Then come on over with that little ring that looks like a wart on your arthritic finger. Get over here with that pearl necklace, darling, the one that you're hiding in your shirt, Pelusa Larraín, give it over for the cause.

Stung, Pelusa Larraín caressed her naked neck, bare of the divine necklace that she had loved so much, and retorted to Mimí: And you darling? What are you going to put in? Taken aback, Mimí looked around to see that all eyes were watching her. Ay, Pelu, in the hurry to succeed in the campaign, you think that I could forget? Well then, make an example of yourself with that expensive saffire brooch, Pelusa told her, snatching it from Mimí's lapel. Remember that charity starts at home. And Mimí Barrenechea gazed in horror at the sparkle of her enormous blue saffire, a gift from her grandma because it played tricks on the eyes. She watched it fall in the basket of donations and up to that point and no further lasted her enthusiasm for nationalist volunteer work. She fell into a depression, watching the basket wander away with the gems, asking herself for the first time, what would they do with so much jewelry? In whose name was the bank account? Where and when would the auction be, so she could rescue her saffire? But not even her husband, the admiral, could answer her, and he watched her sternly, asking if by chance she had doubts about the honor of the army. And it happened that Mimí was left with her doubts, because there never was an accounting for or recovery of that bejeweled collection for the National Reconstruction.

Years later, when her husband took her to the U.S. while on a business trip, and they were invited to the reception before the United Nations at the Chilean embassy for the recently named ambassadora of the military government, Mimí, in a long coat and gloves, entered on the arm of her admiral to the great room full of uniforms shining with medals, gold flecks and decorations clinking like Christmas trees. Between all the glitter of the gold chevrons and coat racks, the only thing she saw was a blue gleam on the scruff of the neck of the ambassadora. And there she stood, frozen steadfast on the marble staircase while her husband pulled at her sleeve and saying between his teeth, smiling, in a low voice: what's the matter, dummy, walk, everyone's looking at us. My-sa, my-safi, my-safifi, stuttered Mimí, watching the neck of the smiling ambassadora who stepped forward to welcome them. Respond, stupid, what are you doing, murmured her husband, pinching her so that she would salute the woman who looked glorious dressed in cloudless azul with the diadem trembling at her collar. My-sa, my-safi, my-safifi, repeated Mimí, almost fainting. What's that? The ambassadora didn't understand the babble of Mimí, whose wide eyes were hypnotized by the flashing stone. It's your brooch, my wife admires it very much, answered the admiral, saving Mimí from embarrassment. Ah, yes, it's precious. It's a little gift from the commander in chief, who has such good taste, and it really was a sacrifice for him to give it to me because it's a memento of his family, said the diplomat with emotion, and she continued greeting the guests.

Mimí Barrenechea never could recover from the shock, and that night she drank everything, down to the backwash in the glasses that the waiters were collecting. And her husband, mortified, had to drag her away, because Mimí found it necessary to intoxicate herself in order to escape the ache. It was urgent to become as smashed as possible in order to bite her tongue, to say not even one word, not to make a single commentary, while she watched, clouded by the alcohol, the splendors of her lost jewel multiplying the stars.