Three decades later, Joyce Horman still hasn’t discovered the truth about what happened to her husband in Chile. But she has her theories.
In 1972, in a letter to his parents in New York, Charles Horman described an investigation he had conducted into the murder of the head of the Chilean army, Rene Schneider. Horman concluded, “An interesting thing is the enormous number of people who knew about it ahead of time, including [former President Eduardo] Frei, his Ministers, the CIA, the American Ambassador, and several senators. I got interested and started reading court records and police statements and talking to people. The whole thing is like a novel; like Z.”
This paragraph is laden with portent and grim irony. Within a year, Horman would meet the same fate as Schneider, killed at the hands of the CIA-backed Chilean military. Within a decade, the director of the film Z, Costa-Gavras, would turn his attentions to Horman’s death and present to the world another compelling tale of murderous statecraft.
Horman was an occasional Nation contributor, penning three articles for the magazine in the late 1960s. Radicalized by the events of that period, he trekked down, along with his wife, Joyce, through Central and South America to observe Salvador Allende’s “socialist experiment” in Chile. Together they participated in the women’s liberation movement and the poor people’s campaign. It was thus as an inquisitive, idealistic young man who had, in the words of Marc Cooper, “stumbled into the front row of history,” that he met his death in the military coup of 1973.
With her parents-in-law now both dead, leadership of the “Charlie Horman Truth” campaign rests solely with Joyce Horman. In the week before I went to see her at the end of April, the case was back in the headlines. Over in London for one of his fabled lecture tours, Henry Kissinger had again escaped the clutches of the law when the British Home Office refused the request of Baltasar Garzón, the tireless magistrate investigating the deaths of Spanish citizens killed during the coup, to detain and question the “good doctor.” I put it to her that, despite the great advances made in the past three years, it was still only a distant hope that any Chilean, never mind American, official would ever be brought to book.
“For those who lost loved ones, I don’t think it is as much about individuals, as bringing the crimes to light in a court of law. Even in Chile, however, there is still a great deal of tension about this, especially as the right continues to try to intimidate, to obliterate the unmasking of a lie among the next generation. That’s what makes it important that we insure that the Chileans get all the resources and support they need to pursue this line of litigation.”
To this end, she is hosting an evening at New York’s Studio 54 around the date of what would have been Charlie’s 60th birthday. “The event is about two things: the ongoing efforts of Pinochet’s victims within the Chilean political and legal systems. The second is to highlight the contribution of the film Missing, whose twentieth anniversary it also marks. This was a breakthrough film. Any movie of today that deals with human rights has to acknowledge that it stands on the shoulders of Missing.”