Less than a month after the 1973 military coup that toppled the leftist government of Salvador Allende. Enripue Fernandez was ordered into exile by the Communist Party of Chile.
One of Fernandez' comrades had been arrested and the party leadership feared that this comrade, under torture, would reveal the names of the others in his cell.
"They started taking people from the party who worked with me," Fernandez recalled the other evening, describing the circumstances that propelled him into more than four years of exile, first in Mexico and later in Eastern Europe. "At any minute, they could have taken me. The party said I should go."
What is interesting about Fernandez, an artist who asked that his real name not be used, is that he is now back in Chile, one of perhaps 5,000 leftist to return after fleeing after the coup.
Over the past year, there has been a growing stream of political exiles who, like Fernandez, decided they could return because the likelihood of their being jailed or harassed by the military government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet had diminished.
That does not mean they are free to organize politically or actively participate in the Communist Party, which is proscribed like every other political group. The fact that Fernandez was allowed back into the country also does not mean that the government is willing to let all political exiles return.
Indeed, as many as 50,000 of them, along with their families, are still abroad and, despite increasing agitation on their behalf here, the Pinochet government has steadfastly refused to allow them to return.
But quietly, and in increasing numbers, those who did not seek asylum in embassies here after the coup and those who managed to get out before being arrested, are being allowed to return.
The government knows who they are and they know it. But it appears that if they do not become overly visible they can stay.
Fernandez is a committed Communist who detest Chile's current military government, laughs at the Carter administration's human rights policy and says he would gladly give his life for the "socialist democracy" he would like to see for his native land.
He agreed to talk about his years in exile and his life since returning here last May because he said he hoped his experience would help bring international pressure on the military goverment to allow other exiles to return.
Fernandez said he had no intention of presenting himself as an example of the improving human rights situation here. He did acknowledge, however, that, while two or three years ago he might have been arrested had he returned, "now I'm not afraid anything will happen."
In fact, Fernandez, 30, his wife and three children have recently bought and moved into a little rowhouse in the center of Santiago.
They have resumed the upper middle class life they left when they fled five years ago. They do not like the authoritarian military government here nor its economic polices. They usually refer to the government as "the fascist dectatorship" and say the biggest change they see here is that before the coup people worked for their ideals and now they work only for material posseions.
"Money is the great god in Chile today," Fernandez said. But, despite everything, he said he is far happier in his own country than in exile, which he described as agonizing, disorienting and miserable experience despite the fact that his family's material needs were taken care of by the Eastern European country where they lived.
Fernandez said he began to regret his decision to leave Chile almost from the minute he boarded the plane to Mexico.
"You begin to think you should't have left, that maybe nothing would have happened," he said,
"The repression was not mathematically certain. There were people with higher positions in the party who continued to live here and continued to work without problems.
"There were other people who had no responsibility in the [leftist] parties who were tortured and killed. But you always think that maybe you could have stayed and it would have been alright. That is what weighs on your mind the most."
For most exiles, Fernandez said, a period of guilt set in during the first years they were abroad.
"You are sitting in Paris or London or Berlin drinking a whiskey when suddenly a film about concentration cam ps in Chile would come on television," he said.
"You think you should be there with your comrades. 'Why am I mot,' you ask yourself. Always, every day,you ask yourself this."
Because exiles never know how long they will be abroad, Fernandez said, they cannot make plans for the future. Thinking they will be able to return home at any time, they are reluctant to accept any work or commitment of more than a few months.
For example, Fernandez said he and his wife did not buy anything for the home they were given in Eastern Europe for almost a year after they moved into it, largely because psychologically they did not accept the idea that they might be there permanently.
"You don't make plans for the future," he said.
Perhaps the worst aspect of exile he said, was the realization, after a while, that he and his family were losing their culture and identity as Chileans.
"The problems of your new world become your problems and suddenly you realize that none of htis has anything to do with Chile," Fernandez said.
"The NATO armies in West Germany become a problem for you. Your children are speaking another language and they are forgetting their own.
"You want to give your children their culture. You want them to understand the poems that you write. But, finally, it all begins to seem exotic for them and for you as well. You become desperate to return because you know, if you don't, you will lose yourself."
This Fernandez said, "is the situation of all Chillean exiles today. After four or five years outside Chile, they are losing their identity, their culture, their soul. It is one of the cruelest aspect of the dectatorship's refrsal to allow them back."
For the Chilean government, however, these exiles are "enemies." A few like Fernandez are allowed back but the government has said the most prominent ones may never be allowed to return. The military says it is determined that Chile will never have another leftist goverment.
Yet, the 50,000 or more political exiles are a problem that many observers here think must be settled if Chile is ever to return to normality. So far neither the government nor leaders of the exiles abroad have proposed a solution or a compromised acceptabel to the other.
The exiles are still working to bring down the Penochet government which does not make the military authorities here look favorably on their plight. The government, on the other hand, has said it may never let many of the exiles return, a position not likely to moderate the exiles' determination to bring Pinochet down.
For Fernandez, the decision to return a year ago was relatively easy and, he believes, the fact that he was allowed back was simply luck. His name apparently was not on any list. Maybe the comrade who was captured in 1973 did not talk. He says he was not ordered back to Chile by the Communist Party, that his decision to return was a personal one with which the party "agreed."
"I had to choose between two bad things" he said "losing my identtity and returning at whatever cost. There wasn't really any choice. I had to come home."