Arrest and exile: Nayel Mehssatou's grandfather tells his story

When he traveled in 1967 to study sociology, Pedro Sepúlveda (80) would never have imagined that Belgium would become his refuge during a military dictatorship in Chile. Nor did he think that, 55 years later, one of his grandchildren would come to defend the Red. “A lot of water passed under the bridge,” says Nayel Mehssatou’s grandfather with a smile. From Colbún, in the Maule region, the writer relives his most difficult days and talks about the new Chilean promise.

“I am very happy with the appointment of Nayel to the national team. When he arrived in Chile, I went to see him at the hotel. He had been the first to arrive, so he was alone. We went to receive it and give it away with my son Patricio. We had lunch together”, says Pedro Sepúlveda in dialogue with AS.

– How many times have you seen each other?

– In Chile, four. The first was when he was younger, so I don’t think he remembers it. Later, when he was older, he spent several days with me in Colbún. When he was in the Sub 17, he also came for two or three days. He really likes the mountains, riding horses, running around and going to Lake Colbún. In Belgium, we also met several times.

– So you went back to Belgium?

– A lot of times. I worked for several years in the economic department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so I had to travel about four times a year. I held this position for a decade. I took the opportunity to visit my children.

– Why did you go to Belgium in 1967?

– I went to study for four years. I studied sociology and did an advanced course in economics. I left when I was about 26 and returned to Chile in 1971. I had obtained my law degree in Chile, but I did not graduate because in recent years I no longer felt like it. I finished it because there was a little left, but I wanted to study sociology and economics. I got a scholarship from the Belgian Development Cooperation Agency and went to study. We were about 20 or 30 people in different disciplines.

– In other words, he returned in full government of Salvador Allende…

– It’s true, we were already in the popular unity government. I supported him because he was a Mapu activist. I came to Linares and took courses at the State Technical University, now USACH, with headquarters in Talca. I also took courses in an institute of agrarian studies, which the Catholic University had. Until 1973…

– When was he arrested?

– From September 1973 to September 1974, in Linares. It was very hard. The repression was very massive, there were many people whose rights were violated. In Linares we have 60 missing and in all Maule about 125. It was very strong and I hope it will never happen again. They interrogated and tortured. Besides, they were people you knew.

– What does this refer to?

– Most of the case happened at the Linares Artillery School, which is a highly regarded institution. I studied at the Linares Institute, which is one of the most important schools here, and every Wednesday we went to the School of Artillery to play sports. Most of the army kids were our classmates, so the artillery school was like an extension of the school. Later, when we arrived as inmates, it was painful because it was our friends who treated us badly. But it’s over, I’ve turned the page and I want Chile to live better, with more harmony, progress and justice.

– How did you manage to go to Belgium in 1975?

– Belgium have been very good to me. The Free University of Brussels did the impossible to get me out of the clutches of the dictatorship and it succeeded. The fact that they cared about me was important because things weren’t easy. He had tickets and a job offer. When I was released, I had to stay four or five months because I had a sick son. Then I left and they made me feel very welcome there. I even did a postgraduate degree in international trade and economic integration.

– Did you become a writer there?

– Yes, I wrote several things in Belgium. There is a study on the cooperative and mutualist movement in Europe and I have my thesis, which was published at university, on agrarian reform in Chile. In Chile, I published an analysis on the social breakdown and now I have written an analysis on the first years of the dictatorship, combined with some current situations, such as the Constitutional Convention. It’s called ‘The truth also has its time’.

– When did you return to Chile?

– In 1993. I was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I told you, and I was regional councilor for Maule. I have been retired since 2015. After the military coup I was a member of the Socialist Party, but later I resigned from the party structures. I am independent, engaged in popular causes and in the democratic left from an intellectual point of view. Now I participate in the plebiscite, but only in activities, meetings and writing.

– And at the same time, enjoy his selected grandson.

– (Smile) It’s true. I am a fan of him and of the national team.

The reunion with Nayel Mehssatou


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