Who Owns the Past: Chile reverses decision of Pinochet government

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SANTIAGO, Chile, March 9 — Not long after seizing power in 1973, Gen. Augusto Pinochet built an Altar of the Fatherland and had the remains of Bernardo O'Higgins, the hero of Chilean independence, moved there. Chilean democrats have been struggling ever since to wrest O'Higgins from the military and restore his legacy to the entire nation, and on Thursday they finally succeeded.

In an emotional one-hour ceremony at a downtown square just off a boulevard named for O'Higgins and barely a stone's throw from the presidential palace, President Ricardo Lagos symbolically reclaimed "the Father of the Nation" for Chile's 15 million people.

The restoration of O'Higgins's tomb to civilian control is the culmination of a series of symbolic gestures that Mr. Lagos, a Socialist who leaves office on Saturday, has made during his six years in office. He began by reopening a side entrance to the palace that had often been used by Salvador Allende, the only other Socialist to govern Chile, and allowed the public to move through the main entrance and courtyard.

Then, just before the 30th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, a statue of Mr. Allende was unveiled on the main square that is just behind the palace, known as La Moneda, where he committed suicide on Sept. 11, 1973, after air force planes bombed it. As a parting gesture, Mr. Lagos plans this week to dedicate a small plaque inside the palace to officials killed with Mr. Allende in the coup.

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