Adriana Falcón Trafford is a West Hartford resident who came to Connecticut from Chile in 1974 to escape the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. This week marks the 45-year anniversary of the military coup in which brought Pinochet to power. Connecticut Public Radio's Where We Live reflected on the events and what they meant for Chile and for the world.
Below, Trafford tells her story of being detained and interrogated by the Pinochet regime shortly after the coup d’etat, and talks about coming to Connecticut. She shared her story with Where We Live producer Carmen Baskauf.
Trafford discusses her experience of the coup and its aftermath in her memoir Gracias: A Collection of Family Memories.
This text has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Coup and Detention
At the time of the coup, I was on the faculty of the School of Social Work of the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile. Administrators and professors who were supporters of the government efforts for a more fair society were fired on the spot.
The day they came for me, a friend was visiting. Had she not been there, I might have become another one of the desaparecidos, persons made to disappear by members of the military forces and the police and never seen again. I was thrown into cell #19 in the building of the Servicio Nacional de Investigaciones, the Chilean counterpart of the FBI.
Over a dozen women were huddled in horror, uncertain of their fate. The cell was small and dimly lit. The air was filled with the smell of sweat and the acrid fumes from the lavatory at one end of the room. Fear makes you sweat, and fear was our common denominator.
My name was called. I braced myself to face my inquisitors. Blindfolded, I could not see the faces of the two interrogators. They were seeking names of other supporters of the Allende government with whom I had done political work. I was stripped of my clothes from the waist up and threatened with electricity. I could hear the howling cries of those on whom electricity was being used on their bodies' most sensitive parts. I kept calm and refused to give any names. I appealed to them as people, members of a family, suggesting how they would feel if their mother, wife, daughter or sister were treated as I was.
Whether my words touched a human chord in their hardened hearts or whether it was divine intervention, I do not know. The fact was that no electricity was applied to my body and that these men did not attempt to touch or rape me. I was asked to sign the transcription of my interrogation, or so they said. I was not allowed to see or read what I was signing. They gave me back my clothes and guided me back to my cell.
The next day I was sent home until further notice. During the month on home arrest, I experienced the sense of absolute helplessness that is familiar to those living in a totalitarian regime where the population is stripped of all rights, where there is no independent court or due process, and where the force of the arms prevails.
Coming to Connecticut
In March of 1974, I was able to leave the country having obtained a research visa to travel to the United States with the assistance of the League of Women Voters Overseas Education Fund (LWVOEF). In 1963-64 I had spent a year in Massachusetts invited by that non-profit with other Latin American women to learn about the important role of the nonprofit sector in a democracy.
I have lived in Connecticut since my arrival in March 1974, working as a planner, researcher, and organizer with the Latino community for the first 12 years and later with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving as a program officer. I am now retired and living with my husband Rob. We have two sons, Dan (39), and Nick (36), and three grandchildren Dyllan (16), Logan (13), and Amaya (11). We live in West Hartford.
My husband and I travel to Chile every January, which is summertime there, to visit my extended family, as I am the oldest of seven siblings.
I was proud that the Chilean voters chose a return to democracy in 1990 after 17 years of dictatorship. We were in Chile when Michelle Bachelet was elected president in 2006. Her father, a general of the Chilean Air Force had been detained and killed by the military government in 1973. She was a medical doctor who was elected twice as President of the nation. The current President is Sebastián Piñera, a businessman.
Listen to the entire Where We Live episode on the Chilean coup here.