Photo: Scanpix. Montage: Sveriges Radio.

Sweden's links to the Chilean coup

"It was a terrifying episode."
3:31 min

On the 11th of September 1973, military forces led by Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile. Forty years on, we meet two people whose lives linked the coup to Sweden.

Today José Riquelme is a teacher, but in the early 70s, he was mayor of Chile's Caupolican municipality. He was one of the thousands of Chileans who came to Sweden as refugees.

Rolf Bengtsson, now retired, travelled to Chile from Sweden in 1972, as a volunteer at a Chilean university. Following the coup, Bengtsson was recruited by the Swedish Embassy to protect the Cuban Consulate which, like many buildings that came under Swedish protection at the time, sheltered hundreds of refugees.

"When I looked out, there were already machine guns pointing at us," says Riquelme.

He says that what still hurts him from that time, more than his physical injuries, is that the person who arrested and beat him, and stole from him, was an old friend from school who used to be a member of the Socialist Party.

Sweden's Ambassador to Chile, Harald Edelstam, recruited Swedes as Embassy staff. Bengtsson recalls his experiences as Assistant Secretary, protecting the Cuban Consulate and other buildings that flew the Swedish flag and offered protection to refugees.

"The buildings were filled with people fleeing the fighting. It was a terrible experience, because we never thought something like this could happen," says Bengtsson.

He says it felt completely natural to support Edelstam and the Embassy in their work to help as many people as possible.

Even during that dramatic time there's one event that stands out, he says.

"In March 1974, I was having lunch at one of these buildings with what must have been around 50 other people, when suddenly a group of soldiers poured into the courtyard of the compound. It was chaos, people were panicking."

"I took a couple of deep breaths and walked into the courtyard and started shouting at the commanding officer that this was the Swedish Embassy and that it was totally unacceptable that they were there."

"I demanded that they leave the Embassy immediately. The officer agreed to do so, but he wanted to have a list of names of those staying there, which he did not get. It was a terrifying episode," Bengtsson says.

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