Academic journal article Refuge

Internal Exile: Effects on Families and Communities

Academic journal article Refuge

Internal Exile: Effects on Families and Communities

Article excerpt


Military regimes throughout Latin America used a variety of tactics to instill terror in the population. In the case of Chile, the military dictatorship used torture, assassination, disappearance, exile and relegacion, or internal exile, in its quest to weaken social movements and control social and economic processes. This article will discuss the effects of relegacion on the families and communities that the relegados left behind, drawing on human rights literature and interviews of persons in the Santiago shantytown of La Pincoya.


Les regimes militaires partout en Amerique latine ont employe toute une variete de tactiques pour semer la terreur au sein de la population. Dans le cas du Chili, la dictature militaire eut recours a la torture, l'assassinat, la disparition, l'exil et le "relegacion", ou exil interne, dans ses efforts pour affaiblir les mouvements sociaux et controler les processus sociaux et economiques. Cet article discuteta des effets du "relegacion" sur les familles et les communautes que les "relegados" laisserent derriere eux, en se basant sur la litterature traitant des droits de l'homme et sur des entrevues avec des gens du bidonville de La Pincoya a Santiago.


During the twentieth century, human rights violations and political violence ran rampant in Latin America, as in other parts of the world. (1) The political violence unleashed by military regimes throughout Latin America led to immense and profound suffering throughout the continent. The military regimes used horrifically brutal techniques to subjugate those whom they considered subversive, or just to instill profound fear and insecurity in the population. These techniques included all forms of torture, mass detentions and arrests, exile, assassination, disappearance, arbitrary search and seizure operations, and internal exile, also known as relegacion. Poor neighbourhoods and rural peasant communities were especially affected and afflicted by these practices. Life was disrupted, families were torn apart, and whole neighbourhoods and communities were physically and psychologically destroyed. Such was the situation in Chile.

This article will specifically address how the human rights violation of relegacion in Chile affected families and the social fabric of communities. Relegacion, or internal exile, was the practice used by the military regime in Chile of sending someone, usually a well-known community leader, to a remote part of the country, effectively cutting her/him off from their natural systems of support. At the same rime, relegacion left many opposition organizations without their leaders, thereby weakening the opposition to the Pinochet regime.

The topic of relegacion has not been widely studied and there are scarce references in the literature to relegacion. This article will attempt, using information gathered in intensive interviews in the Chilean shantytown (poblacion) of La Pincoya, to contribute to the literature to understand the effects of relegacion. A number of key leaders in La Pincoya were subjected to relegacion during the military regime. Their neighbours and family members remember the personal and communal loss this relegacion had on the community and its organizations.

Review of the Literature

   And there they were, numbed in their millennial and captivating
   pain. They were there, inclined, dangling in an invisible net of
   suspended time. I approached them. I wanted to speak with them, but
   what could I ask them? How could I comfort them? By what right
   could I enter lives sealed by political violence? How to ask then
   what it means to be the mother of a disappeared? Of a political
   prisoner? Why should 1 see them cry? (2)

The above quotation from noted Chilean author Marjorie Agosin captures the essence of the consequences of human rights abuses across systems levels. "Dangling in an invisible net of suspended time" is how many people discuss the effects of relegacion; they felt that while their loved one or neighbour was internally exiled, life was on hold. …

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