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Chile: Four Years Later



ON SEPTEMBER 11, 1974, the residents of Santiago. Chile, woke up to hear tanks rumbling through their streets; four years ago, the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a military junta supported by U.S. arms and money; four years ago, the junta, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, initiated its reign of bloody terror, beginning with the murder of Chileans who tried to protect their constitutional right to choose their own government.

Since that day, Chile has become a byword in the annals of modern brutality. Pinochet's regime is believed to have killed as many as 20,000 Chileans in the six weeks following the coup, and has certainly killed, imprisoned and tortured many thousands more since then in its effort to eradicate those who sympathize with Allende's goals.

But Chile's experience is less significant because of Pinochet's bloodthirstiness than it is because of the nature of the government that preceded it, and the method in which that government was overthrown. Allende was elected by a popular vote on a platform calling for a peaceful transition to socialism. During its three years in power, the Popular Unity government--a coalition of Chile's leftwing groups--nationalized the country's coppper mines, gave the land of absentee landowners to the farmers who worked it, and took the first steps toward enforcing a more equitable distribution of income.

For the first time since the Spanish conquistadors came to Latin America, Chile's poor and working class had enough to eat; for the first time, they had elected a government interested in helping solve the problems of inadequate housing, unemployment and illiteracy that plagued them. The Popular Unity government was dedicated to eliminating the imperialist and monopolistic structure that dominated Chile's economy, in the hope that by doing so it would end the centuries-old exploitation of the Chilean people.

Observers will argue for years about where the Popular Unity strategy failed. A few will say it tried to do too much too fast, and so lost the support of the more moderate wing of Chile's left. Others will say Allende moved too slowly in his efforts to restructure Chile's economy and society, failing to create an alternative to capitalism attractive enough to bring the lower middle class into the U.P. coalition against the foreign and big capital that controlled the economy. Still others will say that the U.P. should have given up trying to conciliate the middle classes, and forced through more radical legislation, rather than abiding by the rules of parliamentary procedure; these observers claim the U.P. was naive in its belief that it could present a firm challenge to the capitalists without facing armed struggle.

But everyone who examines what happened will agree on one thing: a factor that no one in Chile foresaw became a keystone in the opposition's effort to undermine the U.P. No one predicted that American companies would place a silent boycott of Chilean copper after the mines were nationalized, or that American banks would refuse to lend the U.P. money. This quiet ostracism crippled Chile's economy, ending its sources of foreign exchange so that it could not buy the imported goods upon which it had relied. Shortages of luxury and some basic goods--created both by the foreign exchange shortage and by shopkeepers who hoarded the goods in anticipation of higher prices--further alienated the wealthier citizens of Chile from the U.P. The working classes were getting enough to eat, at last, but middle-class housewives were out in the streets demonstrating because they couldn't buy U.S. cigarettes.

Observers also agree that the CIA played a far larger role in Chile than the U.P. expected, or than Americans were told about. The American intelligence agency--in cooperation with America's International Telephone and Telegraph Co., which feared the U.P. would nationalize its Chilean branch--funded rightwing and fascist groups that tried to provoke chaos, preparing the way for a junta whose major bid for support came in the guise of promoting security for the middle and upper classes. The CIA also paid small shopkeepers to hoard goods, and truckers--who comprise one of the best-paid sectors of Chile's labor force--to go out on strike, virtually shutting down Chile's transportation system. And the CIA was instrumental in organizing the army officers who led the coup d'etat: the presence of a U.S. fleet off Chile's coast the morning of the coup was not accidental.

SINCE THE COUP, the junta has been even more repressive and reactionary than most of the people who originally supported it could have foreseen. Shortly after he took over, Pinochet banned all political activities--to the horror of the centrist Social Democrats who had previously gone along with the army. As more and more stories of mass murder and imprisonment leaked out, the American people learned with horror about the monster their intelligence agency had helped create. The awarding of a Nobel Prize to University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman last fall was roundly condemned: Friedman was one of the architects of the junta's economic policy. The New York Times reported last week that that policy, of inviting foreign investment and imports at the expense of a domestically-controlled economy, has turned Chile into "a bazaar filled with foreign goods that are snapped up by the well-to-do while millions of workers and their families are living hand to mouth." In many cases, workers are not living "hand to mouth" at all, but starving outright. At least 13 per cent of the labor force is unemployed, and 200,000 people are on relief, receiving a monthly income of $30.

American protests about the Chilean junta's brutality were redoubled this past year when President Carter began his campaign in support of human rights. In an effort to assuage international ire, Pinochet reported the junta had released all its political prisoners; the report was somewhat undermined when Amnesty International later revealed that at least 400 Chileans--and perhaps many more--are still in jail on political charges. More recently, Pinochet dissolved the DINA, the feared secret police that had imprisoned and tortured suspected leftwing sympathizers, and answered only to Pinochet and the rest of the junta. Like the earlier announcement that the political prisoners had been freed, however, the dissolution of the DINA was followed by the announcement that the junta was creating a new secret police agency, staffed with many of the same people who had worked for DINA--although not the most notorious. While it will not be so completely under Pinochet's personal control as DINA was, the new agency will still answer only to the junta. Not a particularly impressive improvement.

GIVEN THE FERVOR with which President Carter has promoted the idea that human beings deserve certain basic types of humane treatment, it is a little bit disturbing that after meeting with Pinochet last week, Carter told reporters he and the general found themselves in complete agreement on human rights. It does not appear likely now--if it ever did--that Carter will put the muscle behind the human rights drive he once promised by refusing all aid to the Chilean junta--surely one of the worst offenders. A different U.S. president felt no qualms about ending financial support to a peacefully-elected Chilean government, whose goal was only to improve the lot of its people. It is too bad Carter does not seem to feel he can go as far in the case of the junta, whose goals are far more questionable.

Four years ago, the Chilean army attacked with brutal force the hundreds of Chilean workers who fought to defend Allende's government. Hundreds of students who resisted the coup were rounded up and placed in Santiago's National Stadium, where more than 200 were shot as the other watched, helpless. Victor Jara, a young Chilean folksinger, sang to the people in the stadium as the junta's soldiers tortured and finally killed him:

Campesinos, workers and students,

The women of Chile also,

All of us together will be history,

We will accept our duties to each other.

Venceremos, venceremos,

A thousand chains will have to be broken,

We shall overcome,

Fascism will fall.

It is sad indeed that one of the chains the Chilean people will have to break through if they are to be free is U.S. economic support for the junta. Unless, of course, the people of this country join in the fight against the junta and all it stands for. In his last speech before he died, Allende told the people of Chile his death would not be in vain. It is up to us, in part, to make sure it is not.

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