Refugee who fled dictatorship in Chile to study at Swansea: launch of new memoir

A refugee who fled to Swansea from the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1977, and studied social work at Swansea University, is to publish a book telling his extraordinary story.

Jose Cifuentes arrived in Swansea with his wife and one-year-old daughter, after being imprisoned and tortured by the Pinochet regime for working with the homeless.  Pinochet came to power in a military coup after overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende. 

400 x 269Jose told the South Wales Evening Post what happened:

"In Chile there is a massive problem with homelessness, unlike in the UK if you have no job in Chile you go without food and without a home, you are literally on the street.

"I was sent to jail for setting up a charity to help homeless people in a homeless town. I was motivated by my Christian faith but they labelled me a communist and threw me into jail.

"I was eventually released from prison under the World University Service and sent to Swansea University to finish my Social Work degree after a five-year gap.

"I was extremely lucky that I was an academic intellectual. If I was a white working class male I would have had no chance whatsoever."

Jose has lived and worked in Swansea ever since, and is now launching a book telling his story: 'Revolutionary Dreams from Chile to Wales' (published by Hafan Books).

  • The book will be launched on Friday December 9 at 7pm, at Volcano Theatre, 27 High Street, Swansea
  • All welcome
  • Free entry, but donations welcome
  • Proceeds to Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group
  • Bar and buffet available.  Welsh folk singer Dafydd Iwan will be in attendance.

The launch event is a collaboration between Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group and Amnesty International.

Jose Cifuentes said:

"Decent human beings who have the privilege to study or work in a university have the moral duty to try to offer its city the best values of higher education expressed through social justice, human compassion, freedom and peace.  A city without this can be pretty, but morally very ugly.

Thanks to many good people Swansea is a decent and welcoming place where members of the University have played a vital role."

£5.28 a day:  Swansea staff and students challenged to live on allowance received by asylum-seekers, to mark International Human Rights Day 2016  

Jose was also featured in a Guardian series focusing on the lives of immigrants and refugees who have come to the UK.   He explained:

“I was one of the few privileged Chilean political refugees who was given asylum in the UK at a time when refugees were made to feel welcome and were able to keep their dignity thanks to the World University Service, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some courageous politicians of the British government of the time and many generous ordinary people and trade unions.

This exceptional welcoming response to refugees from British society allowed me to restart my life in a very different country and with a totally unknown language. I graduated as an educational psychologist and I have worked and paid my taxes all my life in the UK.” 

Jose also told The Guardian about a photograph which showed him in a Chilean shanty town, on the day before the coup, when his life, and those of many others,was suddenly put in serious danger.

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“The photograph you see was, unknown to me, taken on the 10 September 1973 in a shanty town in the city of Talca in Chile, during the government of Dr Salvador Allende – the first ever pro-Socialist government democratically elected in the world.

On that day, in our shanty town, Población Arturo Prat, we were celebrating homeless people's victory in persuading the government to start building a modest but dignified small state for 360 humble families.

In the centre of the picture is German Castro, the president's regional representative, on his right (second one) is myself.

The day after what I call "the other 9/11" took place (ed note: the military coup that overthrew Allende). German and I had to run for our lives. Three weeks later German was executed by Pinochet's military forces and I was put in prison because I was deemed to represent a threat against national security.”