Sacha Catherina Macfarlane died on the 29th November 1984, exactly one month before her twenty first birthday, when the car driven by Chilean diplomat Luis Felipe Lopez crossed the centre line and collided head on with the car in which Sacha was a passenger. Her sister Nina was in the car behind Sacha, and witnessed the crash (all three cars were BMWs), which some reports referred to as "an accident", which is an insult to Sacha and her family.
Luis Felipe Lopez was the driver of the car which collided with the one Sacha was in. Luis Felipe Lopez, official representative of the brutal and corrupt Pinochet regime in Chile was drunk, he stank of alcohol. He made a deliberate decision to drink and drive, and he killed a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her, in front of her sister.
Lopez then claimed diplomatic immunity and fled the country. Prime Minister David Lange postulated, like he did about Alain Marfart and Dominique Prieur after the murder of the Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira on the Rainbow Warrior, but nothing ever happened, and everyone else just forgot about it.
Sacha was 20 years old, and died a horrible and unnecessary death, Nina carries the memories of it forever. Day after day, year after year, all this time, I've been listening for the sound of someone saying "Sorry about Sacha. It was wrong what happened." But all there ever was was silence. Yesterday, something special happened, because a woman called Carol Cromie spoke up. Carol is the partner of Sacha and Nina's Dad, Kester Macfarlane. She wrote a poem, about Sacha, and it managed to encompass everything from the minute Sacha was conceived until this minute - the minute you're reading this. Everything her life meant, everything her death means. It's a sad, beautiful and very special poem. A fitting tribute to a special young woman whose life ended because of a drunk driver who got off scot free.
Mr Macfarlane, 67, said yesterday that the apology meant a lot to him and his family. “The circumstances and the ensuing publicity surrounding her death caused us unbearable and unnecessary grief” he said. It caused a lot of grief for everyone who knew Sacha, she was special. She was no ordinary young woman, she was like a shining light, like a beautiful tree about to burst into blossom. She was full of fun, full of promise, full of life.
Carol sent her poem to Chile’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, and to its embassy in Wellington, which responded by offering to hold a memorial service.
The apology was officially conveyed at the service at Old St Paul’s yesterday. It took twenty five years.
Mr Macfarlane said “The letter of apology is beautiful. It is a genuine apology, which lays the whole thing to rest as far as I am concerned. It was a little thing I needed to happen after all these years.” Mr Macfarlane also took the opportunity to point out that Luis Felipe Lopez was in New Zealand at the time as a representative of the corrupt Pinochet regime, and as such, shouldn't have even been in the country.
Never underestimate the power of words, the power of a simple, honest poem. This one healed a lot of pain, it made a lot of people think, and I hope it continues to make them think for a long time. It's a beautiful, beautiful poem, thanks Carol.
When it seemed like the whole world had forgotten the gross and outrageous injustice, after all these years have gone by, this poem is what changed everything, and healed the pain of injustice. Let it inspire us to write our own poems. Naming and shaming people works, things change, people acknowledge the truth, there is redemption, everyone can move on a bit. This is the poem that changed things:
I was in Santiago the other day, Mr Lopez, first time in my life,,
The power of words can conquer anything, release and unlock things, heal pain, sadness and bitterness.
It's easy, just say how you really feel, tell the truth. Thanks to Sacha's family for the poetry lesson.