The Academy Award-nominated film “NO” re-opens a window on an inspirational moment in Latin American history, when Chileans used the ballot box to bring down the notorious dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite. The film portrays the successful media campaign behind the “NO” vote through the story of fictional ad man René Saavedra, who markets the anti-regime cause like a soft drink commercial.
Even more interesting is some of the history surrounding the event that the film leaves out, and the continued relevance of this historical moment to events in Chile today.
Genaro Arriagada, the brilliant PDC (Christian Democratic Party) tactician who directed the actual “NO” campaign, calls the idea that Pinochet lost the plebiscite to some TV commercials with a rainbow logo “a gross oversimplification” that ignores the reality of extensive organizing work by Chilean popular movements, unions, and political parties. In fact, popular resistance to the regime had begun to coalesce several years earlier around the anticipated plebiscite, which was mandated by Pinochet’s 1980 Constitution. The plebiscite was intended as an instrument to legitimize and perpetuate Pinochet’s rule for another eight years.