A Controversial Columnist-The Interview
“Pinochet’s arrest and court judgement was all a lie…Everything they say is leftist propaganda and it’s accepted as the true version of Chilean history today.”
Hermógenez Peréz de Arce sat in his comfortable office, furnished with elegant chairs and heavy wood furniture, and adorned with wall-length portraits of his grandfather and great-grandfather. Dressed in a dark suit, the journalist, former politician, and long-time public Pinochet supporter emanated a casual sense of old-fashioned British refinement unusual for Chile.
Peréz de Arce was a well-known El Mercurio columnist for 25 years, but wrote editorials for the paper for nearly 46 years. In fact, his great-grandfather helped found the newspaper in 1900, and Peréz de Arce’s family remained closely tied to the paper. “My father wrote for El Mercurio, my uncle did, and then I did also. We were all wrapped up in the newspaper,” Peréz de Arce said.
He also served as a member of Congress under General Pinochet for eight years in the late 1970s to early 80s. “Certainly I knew Pinochet personally, he was an astute person, with a good judgement, and good sense of the people around him. He was not a dictator, there were many more liberties under Pinochet then there were under Allende,” he said.
Peréz de Arce’s is notorious in Chile for his vision of Pinochet and what he considers his brand of “rightist” politics. Beneath his distinguished facade, lies a rabidly right-wing capitalist and anti-Communist.
With a mind focused on economic policy, Peréz de Arce discarded the records of those kidnapped, killed, and tortured during the Pinochet years as “leftist propaganda,” and “victims of the radical Communist groups themselves.” Peréz de Arce maintained that the violence and repression under Pinochet came from Communist groups such as the MIR and Frente Popular were responsible for the majority of Chilean deaths and disappearances. “Besides, very few people were killed that first year after Pinochet came to power, and after 1973 only 1,300 more. An insignificant number,” he commented dismissively. He pulled from his pocket, a list of numbers he always carries with him. The numbers were the number of killed, disappeared, and tortured people from 1973-1990 according to a Chilean government-commissioned report (Commission for National Recovery and Reconstruction), which detailed numbers of human rights violations far lower than the officially-accepted numbers issued in the Rettig Report. The Rettig Report lists the total number of human rights violation at 3,917 people. The government’s commission: 1,907.
“You see? The left are trying to be the victims and inflate the numbers,” he said. “Everybody knew that the Unidad Popular [the Communist left] had huge stores of weapons and were planning a civil war. There was a need to destroy the extremist threat.”
“All of the horrors, all the torture in places like Villa Grimaldi and the National Stadium are false, invented. There was a convent of nuns living in front of the Villa Grimaldi who carried milk to the Villa Grimaldi every day. They would have heard screaming if there was any. It’s impossible that they tortured the prisoners there,” he continued.
Today in Chile, Peréz de Arce is one of a very small group of thinkers, however, his words carry weight, especially as a figure in the public eye. El Mercurio never asked him to step down, the paper always treated him with deference, but he resigned a few years ago saying “I got bored because the environment that has developed in this country doesn’t agree with me. There was a change in public opinion that left me isolated. I decided to give up writing as a columnist and now have my blog where I write what I want. Feedback doesn’t matter to me. Sometimes people comment, and not always good things, but I don’t care.”
Besides running his personal blog, Peréz de Arce has also published a collection of his El Mercurio articles called “Against the Current,” and books explaining his version of Chilean historical events and Pinochet’s arrest in London. The books are called “Europe Vs. Pinochet,” and “The Truth About Pinochet’s Trial.”