forgotten causes lost friends

Friends sometimes just slip away, lost not by any conscious act but just by an accumulation of those insignificant, daily circumstances that slowly…

Friends sometimes just slip away, lost not by any conscious act but just by an accumulation of those insignificant, daily circumstances that slowly move people apart.

I haven’t thought about Carlos and his wife Maria in a long time.

Events this week reminded me of my former neighbours.

They had come to Canada from Chile as refugees in 1975. With tens of thousands of others they had been driven from their homeland by the brutal military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet who died at 91 last Sunday, unrepentant and unpunished for his crimes.

Slowly Maria and Carlos rebuilt their lives. Fortunately Carlos had a trade, which allowed him to support a growing family plus relatives joining them from Chile.

Carlos said that they had a ‘casa de goma,’ a rubber house whose rooms could be always stretched to provide the space for one more new arrival.

Generous to a fault, Carlos always was ready to lend a hand.

I learned about his life before Canada as he used his considerable skills as an electrician to help me wire an addition to our home.

He had been a shop steward at a mine in northern Chile when the US- backed coup smashed the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.

The wide net of repression caught even lowly shop stewards up in it.

Soldiers came for Carlos.

Jailed without any legal recourse, he and his fellow prisoners waited in fear filled uncertainty.

He told me that one morning the soldiers came and force marched them out of their cells. Herded up against a wall the soldiers formed up in a file opposite.

Their officer ordered them to take aim then commanded them to fire. No volley rang out. It had been an exercise in terror.

Pinochet launched an economic reign of terror as well.

His regime, directed by the Chicago Boys, “abolished the minimum wage, outlawed trade union bargaining rights, privatized the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and business profits, slashed public employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks and ran a fiscal surplus” as an Information Clearing House author, Greg Palast, wrote last Monday.

“Unemployment quadrupled, real wages fell by more than 40 per cent and by 1990,  the year ‘President’ Pinochet left office, the number of destitute doubled to 40 per cent.”

Palast noted that Chile managed to stay economically afloat because of the developments triggered by the agrarian reform instituted by the fallen Allende government along with the key export earnings of the government-owned copper mines — not because of any free-market miracle caused by the dictator.

My recollection of Carlos and Maria reminded me of other lost friends and forgotten causes.

Millions still live lives blighted by dictatorships and civil strife.

The Carter Centre cites 19 ongoing major conflicts around the world. You can easily double that number if you consider off-and-on conflicts in places like Kashmir, the Western Sahara or the Comoros.

We mustn’t forget them. Far-off struggles and the human suffering provoked by them should not be consigned to collective oblivion.

It was good to hear that a week ago Thursday, 25 Members of Parliament and Senators formed an awareness-raising pressure group, Parliamentary Friends of Burma, with our own MP, Larry Bagnell as chair.

True peace and security for the Burmese people won’t come easily just as it didn’t in Chile, East Timor, Algeria or South Africa.

We, in the international community, must help curb the well-known brutality of the military junta in Burma and seek the restoration of democracy there just as we must speak out against repression and violence everywhere.

Maybe as we pass the Hospice Yukon  Lights of Life tree in the foyer of the Elijah Smith Building or participate in the Blue Christmas service this Sunday at 4 p.m. in the United Church in Whitehorse we can turn our thoughts for a moment to the more than two million children who have died as a direct result of armed conflict over the last decade.

We might also think of the more than six million children permanently disabled or otherwise seriously injured by war.

We mustn’t forget nor lose hope.