HERE in Lima it is still easy to find pirated tapes of Chilean folksinger Victor Jara. Author of lyrics like "Liberate our people from the dominion of the exploiter," he was one of the thousands forced by the Chilean army into the Santiago soccer stadium during the 1973 overthrow of Socialist Salvador Allende. In the stadium with his guitar, Jara began to sing some of his most popular songs; the waiting crowd joined in. The soldiers grabbed him, pulled away his guitar, and chopped off his hands--challenging him to "Try playing now" before killing him. The crowd watched, then followed him to their own deaths.
The October 5th plebiscite, in which Chileans voted a decisive "No" to General Pinochet's dictatorship and brought presumably free elections in 1989, was watched in Peru with anxiety and a queer feeling of clairvoyance.
Inflation has hit 114 percent for September alone, 634 percent so far this year. Police officers in the center of Lima spray black water and bullets into brick-throwing rioters. I have also seen them shoot tear gas into protest marches of shantytown mothers with babies on their backs.
With widespread rumors of an imminent coup, the Peruvian military has published several statements promising to "respect democracy"; a once-popular, supposedly populist President Garcia has nevertheless sent his wife and children out of the country. Peru's United Left party now has an excellent chance of winning the 1990 elections--if these elections are held.
Chile's United Left won the 1970 elections with Salvado Allende. Soon after, the United States began a trade embargo and bribed workers to start a transport strike, paralyzing internal production. Three years after the free elections, the CIA, the Chilean military and $10 million from the United States contributed to the coup that killed the president and installed Pinochet's dictatorship, now 15 years old.
Pinochet ran a bloody and restrictive campaign. One protest just before the plebiscite ended in three deaths and 846 arrests; a Chilean music festival three months ago banned a Peruvian singer whose song, "Don't Make Love to Me" had a chorus of "No, no, no, no, no." In Peru--where lack of censorship allows the sale of Victor Jara's music--Chile's neighbors and exiles voted with speeches, conferences, and wishes. They, for now, are safe. But in Chile, with Pinochet conscious of the strong opposition, terror grows.
THE mail in Peru is erratic, but the optimistic consulate counts only a few days until I receive the absentee ballot for my first presidential election. I registered in my home state, where a vote for the Democrats weighs more than in Gov. Michael Dukakis' Massachussetts.
Peruvian friends are pleased with my choice. Dukakis talks peace in Central America, speaks Spanish and studied at Lima's University de San Marcos. Vice President George Bush is a former CIA head, part of an Administration that broke U.S. law to continue Nicaragua's civil war and a supporter of the Republican tradition in foreign policy. Every Republican since World War II has aided the bloody overthrow of a Latin American government.
In the United States, we have the luxury of knowing our fate won't change that dramatically from one administration to the next.
The switch between Democrats and Republicans does not bring real structural change for the U.S. But, in Latin America, the outcome of the U.S. election can mean civil war, military dictatorship or economic ruin.
Patriotism, according to the Republican rhetoric, consists of a smug satisfaction in our supposed greatness, not in improving the political and economic lives of the voiceless. A Republican Administration has meant and can mean different things for different groups: for an oil company, a tax break; for a university student, taxes on scholarships and cancellation of loans; for a Salvadoran illegal alien, unemployment and deportation; for a Chilean singer, loss of guitar, hands and life.
When we as Americans vote, we vote not just for the United States, but for all America--North, Central, South and Caribbean. We vote for those who are permanently absent from our country's priorities, though permanently subject to its policies.
No matter how foolishly the Republicans grin on TV, "Liberty and Justice for All," is not a reality in the U.S., and not even a question in the rest of the hemisphere. But voting for the Democratic ticket--with its serious and sensitive foreign policy--can be a step in that direction.