Paula Allen's The Women of Calama

Valley of the Moon. (Searching for the 'disappeared'.)

from The Women Of Calama. (1996) Copyright Paula Allen.

Paula Allen's ongoing projects deals with the women and the men who were 'disappeared' in Calama, Chile, and their ongoing search to find out the truth about what happened to their loved ones. In Paula Allen's lecture that she gave at The University of Michigan she explained the difficulty of getting to Calama. Calama is a 20 hour bus ride from Santiago, Chile. Calama lies in the middle of the Atacama desert. She takes this journey alone. It is a long journey that she sometimes dreads but adds that it is always worth the trip.

Paula Allen gives the following historical perspective that created the 'disappeared'. The events followed the military coup of September 11, 1973 in which President Salvador Allede was overthrown and General Augusto Pinochet seized control of the Chilean Government. Under Pinochet rule thousands of Chileans were tortured, executed, and 'disappeared'. "The Caravan of Death" made a stop in Calama to intimidate and spearhead any resistance to the new Marxist government. Although Calama was not the only city that was effect by "The Caravan of Death", there were four other cities they threatened. At the end of this terror a total of seventy-two men were 'disappeared', Calama lost twenty-six men. This horror took place on October 19, 1973. The twenty-six men were removed from their families and homes by Pinochet's men and were presumably executed by firing squad with their bodies buried in a secret grave in the desert.

Vicky and Violeta searching for the 'disappeared'.

from The Woman of Calama. (1996) Copyright Paula Allen.


Many of the wives, sisters, and mothers searched for the 'disappeared' following their absence. They meet clandestinely. They feared speaking out publicly, but needed an outlet to grieve. They searched secretly hoping the men were still alive. In 1985, through the support of the human rights organization in Santiago, the women of Calama made their group public, Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejectutados Politicos. They marched the streets of Calama demanding the truth, holding Pinochet accountable. Under the amnesty law the military is protected against their crimes committed during 1973 through 1978. Their demands were left unanswered.

Senora Leo at Home. (Her son was 'disappeared'.)

from The Women of Calama. (1996) Copyright Paula Allen.

Paula Allen began her project,The Women of Calama, in 1989. She was inspired by the movie, Dance of Hope . It is within this context that Paula Allen went to Calama seeking the women in the film who were searching the desert for their 'disappeared' loved ones. Her pursuit paid off as she was welcomed into their community. Over the years Paula has documented the achievements of the women. Paula's interest in this project stems from the voice that she heard from these women who still have not been able to grieve their losses. The women of Calama wear the photographs of their loved ones as badges of honor. The 25th Anniversary of the 'disappeared' was in 1997. Some relief in these women lives has been achieved. Although not all men have been found or identified those who have been found are a symbol of the women of Calama perseverance. Paula Allen continues here documentation of these women in hopes that their ordeals will not be seen in other communities and that through her she can use her photographs as a tool to give witness to the wrong doings of Pinochet.

Paula Allen's project delves into the psyche of women and shows the strength within. She inspires humanity cross-culturally.


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