Salvador Allende (1908-1973)
"Social progress is not going to disappear because a leader disappears. It may be slowed down, it may be postponed, but in the end it cannot be stopped. In the case of Chile, if they assassinated me, the people would continue on their way; with the difference perhaps that things would be harder, much more violent, because it would be a very clear object lesson for the masses that these people would stop at nothing." --Salvador Allende, 1971
FORTY PER CENT of the pre-school age children in the slums of Santiago, Chile have IQ's of less than 80, their minds stunted by malnutrition. One-third of those who die each year in Chile are children. When Dr. Salvador Allende's Popular Unity Government took office in late 1970, one of its slogans was, "The only privileged ones will be the children."
Another doctor, Che Guevara, once remarked that a man knows what he is going to die for before he is 15 years old, and the youthful Allende cast his lot with the poor of Chile, the workers, the campesinos in the countryside--and the children, always the children. His thesis, written between prison terms and anti-government demonstrations, was on "Mental Health and Delinquency."
Salvador Allende was a medical student in Santiago when he helped form the Socialist Party of Chile in the early 1930s. He served briefly as Minister of Health in a left-leaning government in the late thirties, attempting to distribute milk nationwide to ward off gnawing malnutrition.
AS RESISTANCE grew among Chileans to the continued plundering of the country by North American businesses in league with a tiny yet powerful Chilean upper class, the Left grew slowly through the forties and fifties. A prominent figure in the Socialist Party, one of the Left's spearheads, Allende gained national attention. For the most part, he left medicine aside, realizing that the bent and broken lives of his people demanded political and social solutions.
Allende ran for president twice, in 1958 and 1964, losing narrowly both times before finally winning the office in 1970. He entered the Moneda Presidential Palace amid rumors of international intervention and rightest moves against his Popular Unity Coalition of six Left parties. Despite the threat from the Right, Allende and his supporters revolutionized Chile in their brief stay in power. Led by Popular Unity and other Left groups, Chile nationalized the industries of the North American plunderers, redistributed land and income and expanded the scope of popular decision-making in the factories and the communities. Hundreds of thousands of Chileans regularly clogged the streets in Santiago to demonstrate in support of what was finally their government.
Throughout all this, Allende avoided the role of popular liberator. He always realized that he only made history as long as he embodied the aspirations of the people of Chile. He was never a chief or a leader, but was known to Chileans as el companero presidente--comrade president.
Two weeks ago, Salvador Allende died, apparently by his own hand, as the Chilean military prepared to storm the Palace after a two-hour air and artillery bombardment. He died as he had lived, fighting for socialism, for justice, for the Santiago children who never got enough to eat. He fought with speeches and ballots, and now his remaining companeros will fight with guns.
POSSIBLY, Salvador Allende was a great man, one who will rank forever as a hero of the world's people. Certainly, he was a brave and dedicated man, whose acts, even to the end, never swerved from his ideals. But most of all, Salvador Allende was a good and decent man, a simpatico hombre, whose agony at the suffering he saw about him was matched only by his smiling determination to banish it from Chile forever.
Salvador Allende may be dead, but for those who will draw renewed strength from the courage of his life, he still lives.