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Salvador Allende Talks About Latin America


SALVADOR ALLENDE never saw himself merely as a Chilean. His concerns, naturally, were primarily with the situation in his own country, but as a true internationalist, his hopes never wavered that all of Latin America, the entire world, in fact, would eventually be liberated from poverty and oppression. Like Simon Bolivar, Benito Juarez and Che Guevara before him, his search for justice did not end at the borders of the country of his birth.

The following speech, given by President Allende in Mexico in December 1972, is an eloquent expression of his lifelong belief in the need for international brotherhood to counter tyranny and exploitation. The speech, delivered at the University of Guadalajara, refers insistently to the common problems faced by Latin American countries and the imperative for those countries to wage common efforts to combat them.

The speech is also useful in another respect: it gives a sense of Salvador Allende's cheerful energy, of his warm personality bubbling constantly from a fire within. He speaks not as a hardened theoretician, but as a friendly doctor, not as a president, but as a companero.

Companero is a difficult word to translate. The American press usually renders it as "comrade," a cold word linked to Stalinism and hardness. Actually, "brother" might have been a better translation, but we have chosen to leave it in Spanish. Suffice it to say that one of the first decrees promulgated by the Chilean military dictatorship outlawed the use of the word, that Allende used it often, and that the Chilean people called him el companero presidente.

This is Part I of President Allende's speech: Part II will appear on Friday. The speech was originally recorded in the Review of the University of Yucatan. It was translated by Juan G. Duran, assistant professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, and Daniel Swanson.

PEOPLE OF the University--I use this phrase to refer to all educational workers, from the President of this University to the most humble companero:


How difficult it is for me to express how I have felt in this brief yet long time of fellowship with the Mexican people--with your government. How can we express our thanks for what we, the members of the Chilean delegation, have received in support and in expressions of solidarity with our people in the hard struggle that we are fighting?

I, perhaps more than others, know perfectly well that this attitude of the Mexican people grows out of your past. We remember here how Chile was at the side of Juarez, the leader of Mexico's independence who extended the struggle across the whole continent. We understand perfectly well that in addition to these common roots, a common struggle against the conquistadores, Mexico was the first Latin American country, which in 1938, led by a distinguished man of this land and of Latin America, President Lazaro Cardenas, nationalized oil.

Because of that act, you, the Mexican people, learned immediately of the coward's attack, you had cause to feel a deep, profound feeling for your fatherland. Because of that act for a long time you suffered under the attack of the oil interests wounded by the nationalization. Because of that act, you, more than the other peoples of this continent, understand the hour of Chile, that it is the same hour that you experienced in 1938 and in the following years. Because of that the solidarity of Mexico was born out of its own experience and extends itself fraternally to Chile, and Chile is now following the same route to freedom that you followed.

PRESIDENT ECHEVERRIA spoke well when he advised me that in this trip it would be useful for me to visit a province. He told me about Jalisco and he spoke to me of Guadalajara and its University. I thanked him then, and now-- certainly--I thank him more. Because we have received the friendly affection of the Mexican people, of your women and of your men. What can be more important than to be in touch with the young people, and feel how they react strongly and vibrantly, with a clear revolutionary and anti-imperialist conscience?

Since the moment I arrived here, I understood perfectly well the spirit that exists here. Coming only as a messenger of my country, I could immediately sense your feelings from seeing the posters that greeted my arrival.

This is no traditional University: this is--as many other universities on this continent are not--a University that has been reformed. I believe that this is a University that is engaged with the people, with changes, with the struggle for economic independence and for the complete independence of our people.

I once went to a university--it has been many years, of course, don't ask me how many--but I got a college education. I went not in search of a diploma because I was a student leader and I was expelled from the university. I can speak to students from across the years, but I know that you know that there is no generation gap--there are young old people and old young people, and I place myself in the latter category.

But there are young old people who do not understand that to be a university student, for instance, is an extraordinary privilege in the enormous majority of the countries of our continent. Those young old people believe that the university has been created to train technicians and they think that they should be satisfied with merely acquiring a professional title. The degree gives them social status and boosts them on their way up the social ladder. Caramba, how terribly dangerous, the degree is, an instrument that gives them more income and better living conditions than the majority of the rest of our fellow citizens.

AND THESE YOUNG old, if they are architects, for example, don't ask themselves how much housing is needed in our countries, or sometimes, not even in their own country. There are students, who, following strict liberal criteria, make an honest living from their profession, but basically, they still think only of their own interests.

Back in Chile, there are many doctors--and I am a doctor--who do not understand or who do not want to understand that good health can be bought; and that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of men and women in Latin America who cannot afford good health. These doctors do not want to understand, for example, that more poverty means more sickness, and, in turn, more sickness means more poverty, and, therefore, if they perform their duty well for the patient who can pay, they do not think of the thousands of people who cannot afford to go to their offices. There are only a few doctors who struggle to establish government agencies to bring good health to the masses.

In the same way, there are teachers who are not worried at the fact that there are also hundreds and thousands of children and young people who cannot enter school. The statistics of Latin America are dramatic in their painful reality.

Today, almost all of our countries have been politically independent for more than one and one-half centuries, but where is the data that shows how much of our dependency and exploitation remains? Although potentially rich countries, the vast majority of our nations are poor.

In Latin America, a continent with more than 220 million inhabitants, there are 100 million illiterate or semiliterate people. In this country there are more than 30 million unemployed people, and, taking into account those who work only occasionally, the figure rises to over 60 million.

ON OUR CONTINENT between 53 and 57 per cent of the population suffers from malnutrition. Latin America lacks more than 28 million housing units.

Under these circumstances, one might ask, what will happen to the young people?--because this is a young continent; 51 per cent of the population of Latin America is under 27. It is a tragedy that I can say--and I wish that I was wrong--that no government, including, certainly, mine and those of my predecessors in Chile, has solved the problems of the majority of our continent regarding unemployment, malnutrition, housing and health care. To say nothing of better recreation and shorter working hours and more holidays for the poor.

Our nations have been surrounded and imprisoned by poverty and ignorance for one and one-half centuries. From the pain and suffering of the masses surge aspirations of reaching higher levels of material life, existence and culture. It is antihuman, it is anti-social, to deny this to man.

If these figures are bad today, what will happen if things don't change by the time there are 360 or 600 million of us? In a continent where the demographic explosion is compensating for the high infant mortality rate, our nations defend themselves. But despite this, the population of our countries increases vigorously. It is true that technological advance in the field of medicine has risen, and these advances have improved living conditions somewhat. Our average life expectancy has also risen, although, certainly, it is still much inferior to that of the capitalist industrial countries and the socialist countries.

But no government on this continent --there are a few democratic ones, there are some more pseudodemocratic ones, and there are even a few dictatorships--no government has been able to overcome these great problems. Some, especially the democratic ones, have made indisputably laudable efforts, laudable because they listen to the voices of protest, the aspirations of their people. They seek to advance in this frustrating attempt, in order to stop these problems from weighing heavily on our lives.

AND WHY DOES all of this happen? Because the inmense majority of our countries are single producers: we are the countries of chocolate, bananas, coffee, tin, oil or copper. We are countries that produce raw materials and import manufactured articles: we sell low and buy high.

By buying high, we are paying the high salaries of the technician, the clerk and the worker in the industrialized countries. Because our primary resources are in the hands of foreign capital, we ignore marketing strategies, we don't set prices or levels of production. We have had this experience with copper and you have had it with oil.

The great finance capitalists look at our countries for the possibility of obtaining great profits. Many times, because of the guilty complacency of people who don't want to understand the meaning of patriotism, they find those opportunities for gain.

But what is imperialism, young companeros? It occurs when the concentration of capital in the industrialized countries reaches the stage of finance capital and abandons investments in the metropolitan economies in order to invest in our countries. This capital, that has little use in its own metropolis, is therefore able to earn huge profits in our lands. These contracts are made between companies that are based here and the companies that own them from beyond our frontiers. The agreements are beyond our control.

Thus, we are countries that cannot take advantage of the surplus of our own production. This is a fact that this continent well knows--not because of social agitators with political last names, like the one I have of socialist--but because of figures provided by committees of the United Nations. In the past decade, Latin America exported more capital than it imported.

IN THIS WAY, a reality common to the immense majority of our countries has been produced: we are potentially rich, but we live poor. In order to continue living, we borrow. But at the same time we export capital. This is a typical paradox in the international relations of the capitalist system.

It is indespensable to understand what this system means to us. Internationally powerful countries base the growth and strength of their economies on our poverty and financially strong countries need our raw materials in order to remain strong. The reality of the market and price structure forces the nations of this and other continents deeply into debt, to the point where the debt of the countries of the Third World reaches the fantastic figure of $95 billion dollars.

My country is a democratic one with sturdy institutions, a country whose parliament has functioned for 160 years and where the armed forces--the same as in Mexico--are professional armed forces, who respect the laws and the popular will. My country is the second largest producer of copper in the world, the biggest strip mine in the world, and the biggest underground mine in the world. My country has run up a per capita foreign debt second only to Israel, which can be considered a nation at war. I must this year pay $420 million--which is 30 per cent of my government's income--for the interest and amortization alone. It is easy to understand why it is impossible that this situation can continue and this reality be maintained.

Add to that the fact that the powerful countries set the rules of commercial trade--they control transport, they impose the insurance rates, they loan us money with the stipulation that a high percentage of that money be re-invested in the metropolis. Besides, we suffer the consequences when the powerful countries or the most powerful country feels the need to devalue its currency. We pay the consequences. If the international money market trembles in the industrial countries, the repercussions here are much stronger, much harder, they weigh more heavily on our people. If the price of raw materials falls, the price of manufactured articles, and even of imported food, goes up. When the price of food goes up, we discover that there are customs barriers which impede products from those of our countries that export food from entering consumer markets in the industrial countries.

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