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Reigning in Santiago


By Gay Seidman

Avenue of the Americas directed by Jorge Reyes at Central Square Cinema tonight at 5:30, 7:15 and 9 p.m.

It's Raining in Santiago directed by Helvio Soto at the Orson Welles Cinema

SHORTLY BEFORE the Chilean army burst into Santiago's Moneda Palace on September 11, 1973 and overthrew the popularly-elected left-wing government, President Salvadore Allende spoke on national radio to the workers and peasants who supported him. "Workers of my country," he said, "I have faith in Chile and her destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seems to dominate. You must never forget that sooner or later grand avenues will be opened where free men will march on to build a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am certain the sacrifice will not be in vain."

Tapes of that broadcast are included in both Avenue of the Americas and It's Raining in Santiago, and the filmmakers' choice is not surprising. A moving testimonial to Allende's faith in Chile and her people, the speech marks the end of an unforgettable episode--three years during which a peacefully-elected government implemented left-wing reforms, three years during which Chile struggled against the crippling American economic and political intervention that finally led to a brutally repressive junta.

Comparing these two films intelligently seems virtually impossible. Although both portray Chile under Allende's Popular Unity government and the eventual overthrow of that regime, Avenue of the Americas takes a documentary approach, focusing on the life of the Chileans in the years before the coup, and on American involvement in the coup. It's Raining in Santiago fictionalizes the coup itself, in the tradition of Costa Gavras' Z. Together, the two films recreate the tragedy of Allende's Chile. Although a majority of the workers and peasants supported his government and its reforms, although the country's productivity increased and living standards rose, the middle class ultimately took the side of American capital and forced a return to the systematic exploitation of Chile's wealth by foreign companies and a domestic elite.

Walter Locke '71-4, who produced Avenue of the Americas, says he originally went to Chile in 1972 to see what was going on, to document the building of a socialist society. Produced by Locke, directed by Peruvian Jorge Reynes and written by Charles Horman '64 (one of two Americans killed during the 1973 coup), the film depicts those people who supported the U.P. coalition, recording their faith in Allende and his policies. When the truckers who formed the basis of Chile's infrastructure went on strike--supported by money from the CIA--these were the people who refused to slow production, who walked to work. These were not the people who decried shortages of consumer goods, set up a black market, and hoarded provisions whenan American trade embargo created a false shortage of foreign exchange with which to import luxury goods. The people who speak in Avenue are those who would have built Allende's "better society."

STANDING OUTSIDE A THATCHED HUT in the hills, a family of Mapucho Indians describe the way their lives havemimproved under the Allende regime. One man begins to sob, and a woman standing near him explains, "It's a very emotional thing for us." A coal miner says, "Before it was terrible because the 'momios' [the rich, the big landowners] ran things and threw us out when they were angry. Now we are in good shape. We work for ourselves and so for Chile." Their words are not forced--they come from the heart.

Interspersed among these statements and scenes of life in Chile--a young boy herding cattle on the pampas, the copper mines, a country road--Avenue presents the framework in which the U.P. government operated. Without becoming overly technical, the film gives the basic facts of Chile's history and economy: a history of domination by an elite working closely with American capital, an economy based on the extraction of raw materials and exploitation of cheap labor. In 1969, two-thirds of the Chilean people lived on less than $2 a day; 600,000 children had brain damage from malnutrition; 350,000 Chileans were homeless; 300,000 unemployed. And the copper companies continued to extract profits--$9 billion since 1900. Small wonder, then, that every worker interviewed in the film understands the meaning of U.S. involvement in the economy.

After presenting the living conditions of the Chilean workers, Avenue documents American interference in Chilean affairs under the U.P. government. Footage from Chilean news broadcasts and American Senate hearings illustrates the extent to which the CIA and the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT) fomented opposition to Allende's regime. By creating economic chaos, multinational companies and the CIA managed to bring small businessmen and other members of the Chilean middle class into the opposition.

Given the extent to which Americans identify youth with leftism, it is upsetting when a welldressed teenaged boy says he thinks "We should have a higher social standing, not so low." Another adds, "I think this government should go and be replaced by another one that's more right-wing." The members of the upper class stand in sharp relief against the workers who point proudly to a director's house that is now a daycare center, and the people who describe the changes in their lives and speak hopefully of a socialist future. The legality of Allende's government did not mollify those who saw their positions threatened by social reforms.

Avenue of the Americas is not perfect, of course. A lengthy string of interviews can become tedious, and often the film presumes a fairly extensive background in the history of the coup. But overall, Avenue gives an extraordinarily beautiful picture of Chile under Allende, and how the situation deteriorated in the final months. Not by concentrating on leaders and political maneuvering, but by letting the people on the streets and in the factories explain in their own words their goals and achievements, Locke and his companions show the tragedy of the U.P. overthrow.

While Avenue does include some footage, obtained from ABC, UPI and an East German news agency, of the coup itself, it does not concentrate on the event, viewing it more as the culmination of a long process of aggression against Allende's regime rather than as something that itself needs exploration. It's Raining in Santiago takes the opposite approach: starting at dawn in Valparaiso on September 11, 1973, Chilean director-writer Helvio Soto and his French cast recreate the atmosphere of that day, using flashbacks to provide the context in which the coup occurred.

It came as no surprise to anyone on the Chilean left: "It's raining in Santiago" was the agreed-upon signal that came over the radio informing U.P. supporters that the army was on its way. For months, the right had been creating an atmosphere of conflict; one coup had already been aborted. U.P. militants had already occupied factories and buildings in preparation for a coup, and in the Moneda Palace, Allende and the rest of the U.P. leadership viewed it as a final test.

With beautiful camerawork, It's Raining shows how the well-trained, well-equipped army moved in against the regime, how its tanks and machine guns crushed any opposition U.P. supporters could raise. That summer, the largely Christian Democrat parliament had permitted the army to collect most of the arms of the civilian population, leaving the militants nothing but makeshift tools with which to resist. True to the actual history, Soto spares the audience none of the horror of a poorly-armed struggle against the tanks--he shows the militants' optimism and then their defeat, in the same unyielding detail.

It's Raining is not a documentary. By portraying the personal conflicts of a few dedicated party leaders and supporters, Soto conveys the magnitude of their sacrifice, although his method unlike Renes's, does not really show why the lower classes believe so strongly in Allende. The flashbacks are often confusing (It's Raining presumes far more knowledge of Chile than Avenue), but they give a sense of what the militants were fighting for--a government whose policies were based on improving the lives of the Chilean people rather than improving relations with the west.

By presenting the story through the experiences of a few individuals--people close to Allende, a factory worker--Soto shows the nobility and courage of those who resisted the takeover and turned what was to be a bloodless coup into armed struggle. Allende and his aides die in slow motion, eerily, as if Soto wished to engrave their deaths indelibly in the audience's memory. The experiences and observations of Laurnet Furzieff, a French journalist who watches scenes in the street, the destruction of the Moneda Palace, and the grotesque rejoicing of the upper classes, lend coherence to the film. Furzieff's question to General Pinochet in a final press conference--"What will you do about the copper mines?"--elicits a response that indicates who will benefit most from the coup. "We will return them to their legal owners," the general says, "the American companies."

But scenes of the reprisals following the coup make it quite clear the junta will not return the government to its owners. In a stadium filled with students who resisted the army takeover, Victor Jarre, a young folksinger, is beaten to death, but he continues to sing "Venceremos"--we will win--until he is killed. Bodies floating in a river, bodies loaded on a truck--any U.P. supporters who survived did so by luck.

It's Raining in Santiago ends with another real event, the funeral of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda a few weeks after the coup. Although Neruda's mourners were already aware of the nature of the new regime, they showed their support for Allende and the U.P., chanting slogans of the left despite imminent reprisals. Neruda's funeral march becomes a wake for Allende's government, but it is clear Soto believes the spirit that kept Jarre singing lives on in Chile. Soto's vision is a romantic, idealized one--far more idealized than the vision of Chile presented in Avenue of the Americas--but it is probably necessary to be idealistic if one is to continue to have faith in Chile's future.

"At the closing of this historic chapter," Allende said in his final broadcast, "I will pay with my life for the loyalty of the people. And I say to you, they have the strength, but they will fail, because they cannot stop the social process with crimes or with force. History is ours, it is made by the people." Allende, Charles Horman, and more than 50,000 Chileans have paid with their lives for their dream of a better world. The people who made Avenue of the Americas and It's Raining in Santiago share that dream--a dream of a wealthy society in which all share in a country's wealth, where foreign capital does not exploit cheap labor, where children are no longer malnourished and no one is homeless. Both these films may be biased in favor of Allende, but it is hard not to be, given the nature of the junta and its supporters. And it is hard to leave the films without some faith that Allende was right, that the forces which created the Chilean junta cannot win in the long run. It would be hard indeed to continue living without such faith, however feeble.

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