In 1973, two coup d’états in Chile and Uruguay drove thousands of its citizens into exile, like María Eugenia, who will never forget how France’s “protection” saved her life and even allowed her to give birth to her daughter. .Marie- France.
On September 11, General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile and overthrew President Salvador Allende, who died soon after. From that day on, María Eugenia Mignot-Verscheure never forgot the “noise of a helicopter” flying over her Valparaíso.
Events happen quickly. His brother told him that he was on the “list of people to be arrested.” With their help, she took refuge with her French husband a few days later at the French embassy in Santiago.
“We said we will leave, with great pain, because we agreed with many friends to resist as much as possible,” this 75-year-old woman, with white hair, told AFP in her small Paris apartment full of memories.
The main concern of this member of MAPU, one of the Popular Unity parties of the leftist Allende, is the future of his child, who was finally born thanks to the “protection of the French embassy.”
Former ambassador Pierre de Menthon and his wife Françoise made sure she gave birth safely at a clinic near her home, where she took refuge, and the actions of another diplomat were key to moving them to in France.
“It’s over. She’s French and she’s going to France,” the latter said at the Santiago airport to a soldier, who let the family off the plane, assuring that his daughter “is Chilean and doesn’t (have) safe.” conduct.” explained Mignot-Verscheure.
“They didn’t dare stop us. We got back on the plane. The doors were closed and we arrived in France,” he recalled. Did you name your daughter Marie-France in honor of this country? “Unconscious, yes,” joked the woman, whose second daughter she named María Paz.
– “Open arms” –
The exile of Latin Americans is one of the episodes recounted in the National Museum of the History of Immigration, located in an art deco palace east of Paris. Between 1964 and 1979 alone, France accepted 15,000 Brazilian, Argentinian, Uruguayan and “especially Chilean” political exiles. More to come later.
Exiles interviewed by AFP agreed to describe the “open arms” welcome they received, in a context of tightening immigration policy in France.
“We are like a big family,” said smiling Leyla Guzmán, a 53-year-old Chilean who lived for a year as a child at the Fontenay-sous-Bois reception center, east of Paris, where she is now working as a municipality. official
At the entrance of the center, currently the Casa del Ciudadano, a plaque recalls that the Catholic organization Mission de France welcomed 771 Latin American refugees there between 1973 and 1987, almost half of them minors. .
Among the associations, left-wing mayors and authorities, “a whole network was created to welcome the refugees from Latin America in the best possible way. And everything possible was done to make the happy children,” he added.
And also the elderly. “We used to go to the ‘foyer’ to visit the colleagues who were there, spend a while, have coffee, eat barbecue,” recalled José Luis Muñoz, a 74-year-old Uruguayan who arrived in France in 1976 after the coup d’état of Argentina.
Muñoz, for his part, went through the Massy reception center and remembered how the French allowed them to “release”, get a job, “exist.” In his case as a social worker.
France is not the first destination for many. José Luis Rodríguez, also Uruguayan, 75 years old, passed through several Latin American countries before landing in Europe with a specific idea: “To let my parents know that I am alive (… ) I left my house secretly” .
– “Hope” Allende –
In a post-May 1968 France, the death of the Chilean president shocked a left that sought to achieve power with the socialist François Mitterrand at the helm. Those who disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship also mark the country.
“Allende represented almost the whole world left hope in this famous third way: a socialist, left wing, but at the same time democratic regime,” explained Philippe Texier, an 82-year-old former French magistrate who established the Committee of The jurors for Chile to publicly reject the Pinochet regime.
That plague “is a French story,” says the Chilean filmmaker Carmen Castillo, for whom, despite the “tear” of exile, it offers him a “gift”: cinema, where he seeks to “fight against the machine of oblivion.” .
For his work, this 78-year-old former MIR activist was awarded the French Legion of Honor in July, with the rank of “knight.” For him, it is a “recognition” of Chileans who are working to link Chile and France.
The legacy of exile is still there. In 2022, two children of exiled Chileans, Rodrigo Arenas and Raquel Garrido, became deputies of France.
“We were educated with a very strong political consciousness,” said Arenas, who came to France from his native Chile at the age of 4 in 1978. “So, for me, it’s a bit of the world of Star Wars, with Pinochet as Darth Vader. We are the Jedi.”