Chile: An Articulate Voice for the Military Junta

The ambassador from Chile looks a bit out of place, seated on a deep couch and sipping coffee in a dark wood-panelled room of the Harvard Club in Boston. His well-tailored, pinstriped suit reveals the thick, muscular outline of a body surprisingly robust for a man of 57 years. His hands are large and his shoulders seem almost stony in their squareness. His neatly-combed silver hair and dark skin complement the angular features of his roughly handsome face.

Walter Heitmann is a man who looks as though he would be more comfortable in the uniform of an army officer than in the formal apparel of a diplomat. In fact, a few years ago he was one of the highest-ranking men in the Chilean Armed Forces, a general in the Air Force. His retirement in 1972 proved abortive when the military junta that ousted President Salvador Allende in September 1973 drafted him--and his fluent English--to serve the new government as its envoy to the United States. His articulateness in defending the military government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet and attacking its enemies were apparent in an interview with The Crimson before his speech last week to members of the Boston-based World Affairs Council.

"Everywhere I go they make the same demonstration," Heitmann said of those who were gathering to protest the overthrow of the Allende government and the junta's present repressive policies. "I bet the slogans they have here are the same they have all over the world. We have proof--it's only a matter of listening to Radio Moscow. These demonstrators here obey a central agency in New York." He touched on the same theme an hour later when, during his speech in a room of the Harvard Club, chants of "Viva Allende" were clearly audible from the 200 protesters on the pavement outside. "Your opinion groups are being led by foreign ideologies. Some words they are saying I've heard in San Francisco, Princeton, Berkeley, Europe, the Middle East, everywhere there are groups saying the same thing."

Radio Moscow, central agencies, foreign ideologies--these are terms used not so much by the representative of a nation as by the emissary of a creed. Walter Heitmann appears not so much as a petitioner of his nation's interests as the missionary for a political faith. Of the nation's political parties, all of which have been banned for the time being by the military regime, the ambassador says that only the Communist Party will remain outlawed. "We won't permit any political party which obeys foreign instructions and which belongs to systems outside the country, like Castro's Communism or countries in the Communist orbit." On the other hand, he continues, "If the Communists change their name to, say, the Progressive Party, and have a program of national interest, there is no problem at all. We want no foreign interests in our country. The Chilean government is for the Chileans, and not for others."

This adamant nationalism and its obverse side of virulent anti-Communism are two pillars of Heitmann's description of the military's economic plans. At first the jargon seems to be that of a socialist. "Under the new constitution, enterprises will have a social role, and they will have to give workers participation in profits. Workers will also have a voice in management." "Workers are getting titles of property. Sixty per cent of the land now belongs to farm workers." "The policy of the government is that all strategic materials--oil, coal, copper--are going to be managed by the state." Heitmann does, in fact, claim that Chile is a socialist country, along the lines of Sweden, Denmark or Holland.


But Chile's socialism, as Heitmann describes it, is far from the policies reigning before the military overthrew Allende. While the state is to own all natural resources, Chile will encourage foreign businessmen to invest in them. The government will resort to nationalization in the future "only if necessary." Foreign companies seized by Allende have either been returned or their former owners have been compensated. And later, in his speech, the ambassador tells his audience that the junta will retain power "as long as it takes to reorganize the country from a socialist system to a capitalist system." Elections can take place only after the "free market system" is reinstated.

The words "national socialism," whose abbreviation terrorized the world during the Second World War, still have a negative connotation in this country. Thus they never enter into Walter Heitmann's discussion of the Chilean economy. But his references to national ownership of resources, of worker participation in management, and the social function of corporations, together with his firm belief in capitalism and foreign investment, make Heitmann a clear, if unconscious, heir of the ideologies prevalent in the '20s, '30s and '40s, when leaders in Italy and Germany espoused a corporatism whereby all groups would contribute an essential share to the health of the whole society.


The involvement of the military in Latin American politics has, in general, differed little from one country to the next. In Argentina, in 1943, the army intervened and ousted a government characterized by political in-fighting that had created in the eyes of the military an image of civilian incompetence. In Brazil, in 1964, the armed forces assumed power when a left-leaning civilian president created deep social conflicts by his increasingly radical policies. In Chile, in 1973, the military took control of the country when it decided that the civilian government had adopted social and economic policies that had caused intense national instability.

But the Chilean situation differed from other Latin American national experiences in important aspects. Whereas the armed forces in such countries as Argentina and Brazil had a history of involvement in politics at the time of their coups, the Chilean military had abstained from political activity for 46 years. And whereas the previous experience with government had produced a certain level of political sophistication among Argentine and Brazilian military leaders, in Chile the military junta, on September 11, found itself in an unfamiliar position. Insulated from politics for decades, it had developed a parochial mentality comprised of intense anti-Marxism, a distrust of partisan politics, a craving for order and unity, and a puritanical morality. Reeling on the giddy heights of political power, the Chilean armed forces concentrated on both a justification of its intervention as well as a brutal repression of those working against what it saw as the interests of a united nation.


"The military takeover was the only solution to recover the democratic way for the future," Ambassador Heitmann says. "Close to 90 per cent of the nation supported it." He makes common appeals to democracy and the constitution. "I have many friends who voted for Allende and who agreed with what he promised. But once they found out he was passing laws without going through Congress and was organizing people in the countryside, he lost support. Allende promised a constitutional, pluralistic, democratic society, but he couldn't do it because Congress was against him. He did it through illegalities."

Constitutionality and national unity form the image in which the takeover itself is cast, despite reports of bloody battles in the streets of Santiago, the nation's capital. "The workers didn't fight for Allende. He thought all workers would appear in his support, but they didn't. Only "foreigners" and "extremists who shot against the army" were killed, Heitmann says, in accordance with the state of siege called by the military.

In ten days of fighting, Heitmann says, "the total figure of those who died--and 370 military men died--was around 800. Many people left the country, or have gone underground." The government executed 80 people, he claims, people who were found on the streets with guns and executed without trial. Then, "after ten days, tranquility came back to the country, and the military set up the government in accordance with the constitution." And at present, he says, "Chile is a constitutional government, with Congress declared in recess, and political parties in recess."

This portrayal of the legal foundations of the military junta becomes the groundwork for Heitmann's defense of his government against charges of widespread political repression and of liberal use of torture at home. "Torture is prohibited under law," the envoy says. "People have been rough with demonstrators, but the military has been punished for it." When confronted with a recent report on an investigation by the Organization of American States charging the Chilean government with "extremely serious violations of human rights," including extensive torture of political prisoners, Heitmann claims that the statements of people interviewed by the team of observers were "fabricated." "There is not a single torture that we know of and can be proved," he asserts. The 175-page report, compiled by investigators from five nations on the basis of visits to 12 military installations, catalogues 675 "complaints or denunciations" describing all types of sexual aggression, the use of electric current, beatings and torture. "There is no political persecution in Chile," says Heitmann. "There are no political prisoners."

Halfway through Heitmann's speech at the Harvard Club, the protesters who had been marching for over half an hour disband, and Heitmann no longer has to compete with their chants. But the ambassador knows that the questions remain: "We expected to get the support of the democratic world. But we have found there's a worldwide effort to create the image of a country where everyone is tortured and put in jail. Chile is an open country--anyone can go there." With the whirlwind of claim and counter-claim, assertion and denial that envelops the military junta ruling Chile, perhaps Heitmann's exhortation to his audience to "go to Chile to see it for yourself" was the most unquestionable statement he could have made.