U2‘s PopMart tour touched down in Santiago, Chile in February of 1998. It was the band’s first-ever concert in the nation, and since many people couldn’t afford the ticket prices they decided to broadcast it live on television. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was still serving as the commander-in-chief of the army at this point, and the stadium the concert was held at (Estadio Nacional) was actually used by his regime as a prison camp after the 1973 coup d’état.
Countless young men were killed during the coup, and their mothers’ agony was immortalized in U2’s 1987 song “Mothers of the Disappeared.” With the entire country watching, U2 closed out the Santiago show by inviting the mourning mothers onto the stage to show photos of their children and say their names into the microphone.
Prior to playing “One,” Bono addressed the audience. “We want to thank you for inviting us into your beautiful, beautiful country,” he said. “And we wish you well for the future. But to go forward into the future, sometimes you have to deal with the past. I ask you, Mr. Pinochet, I ask you, tell these mothers where are their children. Just one thing. Tell them where are their children so they can bury them so they can say goodbye to them, so Chile can say goodbye to the past. God is your judge. Please, give the dead the back to the living.”
Not everybody in the stadium was thrilled by the political display. “Our audience was immediately divided,” Bono said later. “There was booing and hissing and cheers. Some people in Chile believed that General Pinochet was a necessary monster to hold back the bigger monster, which was communism. Some people did not want to rake up the past.”
Bono slightly modified the lyrics to “One,” leaving out the line “It’s too late tonight to drag the past out into the light,” and then the band closed out the show with an emotional, stripped-down rendition of “Mothers of the Disappeared” with the mothers still onstage.
Just one month later, Pinochet retired, and later that year he was arrested in London and charged with human rights violations. He died in 2006 of a heart attack.