The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

Partners for change at the intersection of academics and advocacy.

Commemorating the 35th Anniversary of the Chilean Coup

Remembering the Past, Affecting the Present

Kate Hull, Rapoport Center Undergraduate Intern, Fall 2008

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Panelists Elizabeth Lira (l) and Joyce Horman (r) listen as Peter Kornbluh (center) describes the process of gaining access to documents with information exposing the actions of the Chilean government and secret police, and the level of U.S. knowledge and involvement in the death of Horman's husband, journalist Charles Horman.


Students, faculty and members of the Austin community join the Benson Collection and the Rapoport Center for a two-day conference on Augusto Pinochet's coup and the current state of Chile.

Joyce Horman stares at the screen from the front row of Mezes auditorium watching the movie Missing in a room full of UT faculty and students. For the rest of the audience, the movie tells the story of injustices that should not be forgotten and the many lives that were forever changed by the Chilean coup d'etat. But Joyce is reliving a part of her life.

Her husband, American journalist Charles Horman, was one of thousands disappeared and murdered in Chile by the junta in 1973. Following his disappearance, Joyce and her father-in-law, Ed Horman, spent years determining what happened to her husband and what role the U.S. government may have played in his death.

The Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice and the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin sponsored the screening and two days of events to commemorate the coup d'etat and celebrate Joyce Horman's donation of her extensive collection of documents related to her husband's kidnapping to the human rights archives at the Benson Collection.

“Our thanks and gratitude to the Center and Libraries for hosting this event,” Joyce said. “We are glad that the documents will be residing here.”

The first day of the event consisted of the screening followed by a question and answer session with Joyce and Peter Kornbluh, Director of the Chile Documentation Project of the National Security Archive. A panel discussion took place the next day with Horman, Kornbluh, and Elizabeth Lira Kornfeld, Chile's leading human rights psychologist and Director of the Center of Ethics at Universidad Jesuita Alberto Hurtado in Santiago, Chile.

The documentation of human rights violations is essential to preserving memory and history from which future generations can understand their nation's past. “For nine years after [the coup], there was silence about Chile. This movie was the first opportunity to acknowledge what was happening to a lot of people,” Horman said. “It gave a wide view to the world and to Americans for the first time.”

In 1973, the military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. In October of 1998, Pinochet was arrested in the UK following an arrest warrant issued by a judge in Spain. Joyce Horman traveled to London to formally protest efforts to obtain his release.

“It purifies the soul to be able to do those things,” she said. “It was the start of international litigation on human rights abuses.”

Pinochet's arrest and the public discussion of the human rights abuses put pressure on the U.S. government to allow Joyce Horman to view documents that were previously “classified,” Kornbluh said.

Kornbluh discussed the vital role which the right-to-know plays in matters of government and civil rights, and extended his comments to include other human rights.

He has helped Horman fight for access to documents related to her husband's death through the National Security Archive - an independent non-governmental research institute and library that collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

It has taken years of legal battles and relentless searching to piece together what really led to the disappearance and death of Joyce's husband. Eventually, Kornbluh and Joyce Horman were able to obtain over 24,000 documents with information exposing the actions of the Chilean government and secret police, and the level of U.S. knowledge and involvement.

“Chile is starting to be known now as one of the leading countries addressing the human rights atrocities of the past,” Kornbluh said. He accredited many of these advancements to the work of Elizabeth Lira Kornfeld and her colleagues.

Lira has written numerous books and articles on political reconciliation, and on the therapy and memory of victims of human rights violations. She spoke on the lessons of human rights violations and the successes of the dedicated individuals working for justice in Chile.

“When is enough justice done? When is enough truth enough? When have sufficient reparations been made?” Lira asked. What is certain is that there is much more to be accomplished in Chile, she said.

Pinochet died on December 10, 2006 before being tried in court. However, Joyce Horman and Peter Kornbluh are still fighting to get documents released and gain access to every last bit of information involving the death of Charles and the tragedies of thousands of others.

Listen to audio of the Chile panel discussion (Windows Media Player)