During the 1970s through the 1980s, one significant phenomenon in Latin America was the prevalence of military dictatorships. In Ariel Dorfman’s native Chile, the military staged a violent coup in 1973 that ousted the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. It installed General Augusto Pinochet as dictator. In Argentina, Chile’s neighbor to the East and South America’s second largest country, a military coup in 1976 removed the democratically elected president Isabel Perón. The ruling triumvirate or junta of two generals and an admiral held power ruling until 1983. In Peru, Chile’s northern neighbor, the coup that deposed democratically elected president Fernando Belaúnde put two different military regimes in power between 1968 and 1975.
Popular opposition was widespread and severely repressed. The military governments formed secret death squads that pursued and murdered countless civilians. In addition, they caused the disappearance of even more victims, whose bodies were never found. One striking example of peaceful resistance was the formation of mothers’s groups who sought their disappeared children. The first such group was formed as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Many people who opposed the government policies were exiled while others voluntarily fled the country; some later returned from exile after democracy was restored, while many more never saw their homelands again. Many exiles actively campaigned for the return of democracy. Ariel Dorfman, like many other Jews, was among those who found safety by leaving Chile; although born in Argentina, he had lived in Chile since age 12. Discrimination against Jews was widespread under the Pinochet dictatorship, and Dorfman had served as an advisor to President Allende. These two factors meant he was highly threatened as long as he remained in Chile.