Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

The 503 Days of "El Piquete De Londres": A Diasporic Space and Moment

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

The 503 Days of "El Piquete De Londres": A Diasporic Space and Moment

Article excerpt

   Everywhere where Pinochet was, we went and stood outside, and    screamed and shouted, and banged drums, and cried and laughed, and    we spoke about the day's events, and we even had a barbeque outside    one of his residences. And for 503 days we followed that man    wherever the British authorities decided to put him. And it was an    international campaign. We had delegations coming from Belgium, we    had people coming from Sheffield [someone from the public shouts    "Escocia!"], Scotland, we had people from all over the world when    they could come and join the picket. And when Jack Straw, under the    guidance of the British government, decided to send Pinochet back,    that was something that ripped our hearts out. But there was also a    sense of keeping what we'd reestablished. What we'd reestablished    was a network of human rights activists that had already existed    from September 11, 1973, onwards ... And part of that were people    like me and Alicia and other young people who joined together with    their parents in those picket lines as we hadn't been able to do    back on September 11, 1973. We were those little kids running    around, pretty much like Lea is today [a girl who plays in the    scenario and starts grinning at the public when she hears her    name]. And we were able to take part in that movement. And there    was a strong sense not to lose that momentum when Pinochet just    went back. We could just go home and cry, and we did cry! But then,    we also made a resolution to ourselves: that we wouldn't let the    horrors of the Pinochet machinery be forgotten once again! (Ana,    public talk, August 2011, emphasis in the original speech) (1) 

Ana is a Chilean Londoner and an activist in her mid 30s. In the context of a Latin American festival in Machynlleth, Wales, she speaks energetically to an audience made up mostly of English, Welsh, and Latin American people, including an intergenerational group of (British-born) Chileans (see Ramirez and Serpente 2012). Ana is describing el piquete de Londres ("the picket of London"). This 503-day protest emerged during the government of the United Kingdom's trial to decide whether to extradite the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, to Spain on an arrest warrant that had been issued by a Spanish magistrate in October 1998. Like el piquete--that series of mobile demonstrations she describes--Ana's speech transports and moves those who are transiently congregated at that event. It takes our attention and emotional registers to different levels. Personal recollections, contradictory feelings, and bodily reactions converge in the making of a multicultural public in a distant town in Wales. Somehow, her mode of bearing witness to a pivotal moment for the Chilean diaspora resembles, consciously or not, the characteristics of the process that she tries to depict.

I argue that el piquete de Londres is crucial for comprehending the changing fields of belonging of an intergenerational group of Chileans who inhabit a post-dictatorial and diasporic context. As Ana's speech vividly illustrates, el piquete involved the assembly of a dispersed group and a form of mobilization in which political claims were performatively appropriated and led. Transnational connections and intergenerational interactions were also at play. El piquete comprised the emergence of public diaspora space through political claims that, as we shall see, have affective and "carnivalesque" dimensions. By "making noise"--as the picketers often describe what they did--"interferences" and "disturbances" intruded into the well-settled patterns and displays of the official national discourses (Attali 1985, in Puwar 2011, 332-333). With these actions, those who had not participated in the historical consensus in Chile and had remained largely unnoticed in the daily fabric of the city of London, became publicly perceptible and recognizable. Internal conflicts and differences also re-emerged. …

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