Redemption – The Story of a Man and His Nation

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Hong Kong played host to the Oscar nominee film ‘NO” from Chile in May. For Hong Kongers, the democratic message may have special meaning. For Chileans, it means so much more. This is the story of two men named Mario Artaza- one the Consul-in-Charge in Hong Kong – and their connection to their country’s defining moment.

In 1988, the people of Chile voted ‘No’. A joyful, forward looking and brave ‘No’. This was a ‘No’ that would take them past the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, beyond 3,000 murders, another 3,000 disappearances and 17 years of fear.

The story of the referendum that ousted a dictator recently came to Hong Kong cinemas. There were many in Hong Kong that were intensely interested in its story of how a referendum brought Chileans democracy. But for one diplomat in Hong Kong, the story was much more than that.

He spoke to Diplomat.

In 1988, international pressure on General Augusto Pinochet forced him to hold a referendum on whether or not the people would accept amending the constitution to allow him another 8 year term. His estimation of the people’s mix of gratitude and fear, led him and his advisors to believe that the referendum would be an easy win. It did not prove so.

The film details the opposition’s move to recruit a young advertising executive who leads the successful campaign. Every Chilean has a story related to their country’s rite of passage.

Mario Artaza is no different. In a personal moment, he told us about it.

“It was a very passionate time. It was a time of dreams.”

“I’m surprised the youth in Hong Kong wear black when they want to confront the government. We chose the rainbow.

We chose hope over sorrow and pain and negativeness.

We chose a path of joy, of common understanding.”

A Chilean in Exile

Mario spoke about the Chilean situation, Then he spoke about the Artaza situation.

“As I get older, I get more emotional about these issues.”

“My family paid a very very high price after the military took over in 1973.

“We arrived in Washington DC on September 2 1973.” At the time, Mario was 9 years old. He had a dream of following in his maternal grandfather’s footsteps. “My calling was to be a naval officer like my grandfather. His stories about his career motivated me to look at Chile’s history and adventures at sea. I was passionate about the Chilean Navy and the country’s naval heroes.”

It was not to be. By the time he was thirteen, the age at which young Chilean men began at the Arturo Prat naval academy in Valparsario, he and his family had already been in a self-imposed exile for four years. The dream of being a diplomat’s son in America had been shattered. Now he was an exile.

His father, Mario Artaza Sr. had been expelled from the diplomatic service for his political beliefs in late 1973. He had served his country in the diplomatic corps since he was 19 and knew no other professional life. Along with dozens of his counterparts, the son of a general had been shunned by the military. Fearing for his safety and family welfare, had no choice other than to stay in the United States and start from scratch.

In 1974, “my family slowly started to break up… My father had to leave home and go teach in California and my mother had to work in a department store, wrapping gifts, to make ends meet.”

“We, as kids, never suffered because our parents worked extremely hard to give us everything they had and never make us feel that we were going through a truly rough patch.”

Things were tough for a number of years until Mario Artaza Sr. landed at the World Bank and his mother at the Organization of American States. Mario gives credit to his American friends for making their exile a ‘golden time outside of Chile.’ “I am grateful for the education and the fundamental values which were entrusted to me by my Jesuit teachers and school friends, specially at Georgetown Prep, in Rockville, Maryland. I am who I am due to my formative years spent in the United States”.

Return to Santiago

He returned to Chile in late September 1982. His older sister never went back and now the family is scattered around the world. He became a journalist. As a journalist and sports broadcaster during his career for the national television service, he saw censorship first hand. “I saw shootings, I saw burnings, I saw arrests…” He did his time as a rebellious youth, was chased by the police and was on the streets with university friends when the results of the referendum came in.

“The night of the plebiscite made me wake up. I became a man of Chile. I had been a child for too long.”

The whole country woke up. The ‘NO’ forces took the day. “There were outside eyes on this election from every corner of the world.”

Mario Artaza also gives credit to the military for accepting the referendum results. It would have still been in their power to support Pinochet, but they did not. This cleared a path for for Chile to freely elect Patricio Aylin, the first post-dictatorship President (1990-1994). This enabled Chile to move forward

And move forward it did. Mario Artaza Senior was reinstated in the diplomatic service, finishing his career after serving as Ambassador to the US, the UK and finally as Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat. in Singapore in the year Chile played APEC host.

And Mario Artaza, Consul-in-Charge for Hong Kong and Macau, a diplomat like his father, became a Naval officer like his grandfather.

At times, he could not restrain the emotion from his voice.

“I believe that Chile, sometimes through me, has made a full circle.”

“Today, I’m a diplomatic officer.I am the first Chilean career diplomat to be incorporated in the Chilean navy as a reserve officer.”

“Chile has moved forward in terms of democracy, participation, equality and recognition of those who really served Chile for the betterment of the country.”

We find, in the redemption of a country, the redemption of a man.

We find the redemption of two men, both named Mario Artaza.


In a follow-up question for clarification, Mr. Artaza provided this interesting supplementary note about his family history. He was the son of a General and a naval officer, on both sides.

“My grandfather, Gustavo, passed away never seeing me as either a diplomat nor as a naval officer as he once was in his lifetime. Gustavo Loyola, my mother’s father, graduated from the Chilean Naval Academy in the early 1920’s. He was sent to study in the roaring 30’s to Europe and would receive France´s Legion of Honor for his writings.

My other grandfather, my father’s dad, was a general of the Chilean Carabineros. During the term of President Carlos Ibanez, he served as Undersecretary for Transport, with the first Japanese-made tram/buses imported and in operation in the city of Santiago during his tenure.”

On his father:

“My father rose all the way to Director General of Political Relations, a sort of primus inter pares in the Chilean Diplomatic Service. His final posting was as Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, in Singapore, during the APEC Chile 2004 Year. He is no longer a serving Ambassador, but does now teach in Chilean universities and write as well. In 2012, I had the opportunity to be responsible for a chapter on Chile/China relations in a book which was edited by my old man on Chilean Foreign Affairs between the years 1990-2009.

My father retired from the Service because he believes that at 65, one must give way to younger generations. He stated to me that he felt like McArthur, in that old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

photo bio

Former postings

  • Director (Program) at the APEC Secretariat, Embassy of Chile in Singapore
  • Director/Trade Representative of Chile, Embassy of Chile in the People’s Republic of China
  • Head of the Asia and Oceania Department of the General Directorate for International Economic
    relations, Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Other duties

  • Second Lieutenant, Chilean Navy Reserve

Education and background

  • School of Journalism, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, 1984–1988
  • Master Program on International Relations, University of Chile, 1988–1989
  • Chilean Diplomatic Academy, 1994