Allende, fifty years after

Fifty years have passed and President Allende’s ideas are still very much alive in Chile, as they are in Latin America and a large part of the so-called Third World. Years ago, in Guadalajara, we had the good fortune to observe a magnificent register of that speech before the professors and students of his prestigious University where the recently elected President of Chile expounded his thought, certainly revolutionary in its purposes, as well as unprecedented in its promise to bring about changes in democracy and freedom.

A masterful piece of oratory where, in addition to defending his convictions, he called on young students to take on a task that, of course, went beyond the actions of a single government or generation. A speech delivered in the heat of his unwavering values, without resorting to text or memory aids, demonstrating as so often his great talent and brilliant words. A set of proposals aimed at our countries reclaiming the ownership and management of their fundamental wealth, thereby consolidating the sovereignty bequeathed to us by our liberators and then trampled on by US imperialism. In our case, his will to nationalise, in addition, our large-scale copper mining and to give added value to those tons of metal that were going and today continue to go abroad and in which it is also possible to discover gold, silver, molybdenum and other important raw materials.

Its purpose, too, is to recover popular sovereignty in our countryside ravaged by latifundia and the exploitation of millions of peasants who could barely survive on their starvation wages. To diversify our agricultural production, to modernise farming, but, above all, to make those who cultivate the land owners and deserve to live in decent housing, so that their children have access to adequate food and a liberating education.

Promote, of course, an educational reform at all levels, in order to make the formation of children compulsory and to allow not only the children of the rich but also middle-class and working-class Chileans to attend university, when less than one percent of them had the opportunity to do so at the time. At the same time, they were determined to take important steps in the continuing education of adults and workers, where illiteracy levels were appalling. So much so that to this day it is acknowledged that more than 50 percent of our population does not understand what they read, nor do more than 15 percent of those in higher education.

Allende’s proposal also included the possibility of undertaking a constitutional reform that would moderate the excessive presidentialism and seriously seek to put an end to bribery and other practices that prevented the people’s access to Parliament and the municipalities. To convene, as soon as possible, a Constituent Assembly to re-establish our institutional framework, which was in itself a sham, in which the power of money and the mass media defined the country’s political, economic, social and cultural agenda.

An announced overthrow

By now no one can be unaware that, before Salvador Allende took office as head of state, preparations were underway in Washington to destabilise his government and replace it with one that was amenable to imperialist interests. Little by little, the enormous resources allocated to encouraging the seditious action of the big national trade unions, encouraging the coup d’état of the political right and other opposition parties, which were decisive in encouraging the military traitors and justifying the first violations of human rights, became apparent. This role shamefully also fell to the Christian Democrats, until then a party that had been promoting changes in favour of social justice, but whose main leaders succumbed to the bribery of Kissinger, the White House and the Pentagon. We also know about the millions of dollars allocated to the newspaper El Mercurio, owned by Agustín Edwards, who, in addition to being a coup leader, was also vice-president of Pepsi Cola. He was an abominable man who kept his power intact or even increased it throughout the post-dictatorship period, charming the successive governments of the so-called Concertación Democrática, the Nueva Mayoría and, of course, the right-wing itself, which has returned to La Moneda twice in the meantime.

Allende’s promises even materialised during his brief government, such as nationalising large-scale copper mining, handing over thousands of hectares of land to the peasants and initiating significant changes in the education system, which was also strongly resisted by the opponents who were called to collude to face the parliamentary elections that followed the triumph of the Popular Unity and in which, in spite of everything, the left once again emerged as the first majority, despite the terror campaigns promoted and financed also by the United States and the national economic power.

Although we did not fully foresee it at the time, on 11 September 1973, the criminal bombing of La Moneda was carried out by the Armed Forces, spurred on by the right wing and imperialism, in which hundreds or thousands of opponents were riddled with bullets from the first hour, the first confinement and torture camps were set up, while thousands of other Chileans were detained and tortured when they did not manage to escape into exile. Undoubtedly an unprecedented process of betrayal and insubordination against the established order, respected by Allende until his last hour, in which democracy and the changes undertaken in favour of the redemption of the oppressed were shattered in a few hours.

We already know that the President’s corpse left La Moneda without it being known for certain if he actually committed suicide or was assassinated by the first officers who entered the Presidential Palace. This does not really change the criminal nature of the bombing, even though the military, the right wing and other sectors have endeavoured, with the complicity of some judges, to establish suicide as the official truth. An “official truth” that would serve Pinochet to receive diplomatic recognition from many nations that, they say, would not have been in a position to do so if the deposed president had been assassinated.

Incidentally, more than a few people have become convinced of the assassination after an army captain testified before a group of detainees that he himself had shot the president in the temple, and boasted of exhibiting the late president’s watch as a trophy. There are several writings and testimonies on the subject, as well as a documentary by the filmmaker Miguel Littín.

The most important thing to note now in this historic commemoration is the respect that Allende’s example, his political consequence, his democratic trajectory and his heroic resolution to pay with his life for the loyalty of his people, as he promised in his no end speech, deserve in all sectors, as well as in the whole world.

Its unity, the Popular Unity and the conduct of its parties is to this day the subject of controversy and vilified attacks by those who were its opponents and who today continue to be militants on the right. However, no one or very few dare to discredit him morally and his figure is, 50 years later, the most valued president and political leader by the Chilean people. So much so that an interesting study carried out in 2008 by Televisión Nacional (with hundreds of testimonies gathered from historians, journalists and various intellectuals) concluded that for the vast national majority Allende is the most relevant figure in our republican history, equal to or above the tribute paid to our fathers of the nation, and superior to the prestige of Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Violeta Parra, Alberto Hurtado and other distinguished Chileans.

Permanent validity

In this sense, and despite all that has passed, 50 years is really nothing. Allende’s ideas are still as present as ever in the demonstrations demanding Bread, Justice and Freedom. Especially when they insist on the recovery of the copper deposits and now on the exploitation of lithium and other resources. When teachers march and paralyse their activities to demand more resources for public education, as well as the payment of the historical debt owed to them for so many years by the state. Hundreds of teachers languish without recovering this right taken from their pockets and their dignity.

Something similar is also happening in the current demands for a health system that guarantees adequate care for all Chileans. After the dictatorship and the governments that succeeded it consolidated the opprobrious private system of the isapres, which denies adequate care to the poor and the middle class, exhibiting long waiting lists for medical attention, where it is accredited that only in the last semester more than 19 thousand Chileans who required urgent surgeries have died. Allende, as a health doctor, would undoubtedly be supporting these demands today, as well as the end of the infamous PFAs that administer the contributions of millions of workers, who at the no end of their lives receive miserable pensions as if they were obliged to continue working. A system also privatised by the Dictatorship and which was even paid compliments during the time of the so-called Transition to Democracy, where in reality those who integrated these governments ended up being enchanted by neoliberalism, savage capitalism, and the inequalities propitiated by the market. Except, of course, for a few minimal exceptions, despite the socialist, social Christian or social democratic origins of their protagonists.

It is perfectly logical to assure that Allende today would be in favour of supporting the heroic struggle of the Mapuche people for the recognition of their rights to self-determination, the recovery of their occupied territories and full recognition of their cultural heritage. All of which will only be possible by neutralising the ecocidal action, for example, of the forestry companies that have taken over the area. Certainly, the late President could not consent to the militarisation of Araucanía imposed by governments that are said to be tributaries of Allende’s legacy, to the judicialisation of the causes of our founding people and to the well-known and repeated murders of community members and the repression that is now being unleashed on those who, until very recently, were recognised as leaders and even heroes by parties and movements that proclaimed themselves to be leftists. It is well known that what is happening in the south of the country is very similar to the tragic events of the so-called pacification of Araucanía more than a century ago, whose main perpetrators are still recognisable in the names of streets and public spaces. Even if the statue of General Cornelio Saavedra was ripped off its pedestal by demonstrators in 2020 and directed into the Lumaco River. Just as recently, the monument to General Baquedano, who also stood out in this dark episode of usurpation of Mapuche lands, has forced the authorities to remove it from Plaza Italia, right in the centre of our capital.

The Chilean people have the intuition that Allende would be today the leader he was of the socio-economic vindications of his time. His name is also recognised as one of the main fighters of our time. When social inequality prevails and marginalisation and lack of opportunities explain the development of phenomena such as crime and drug trafficking, scourges that even politicians who say they are progressive think should be combated with more powers for the police, more deterrent weapons and punitive sentences even for minors who commit crimes. That is why today they are again tempted to remove it to the streets and cities of the north and south. On the verge, once again, of a new and just social explosion, with no other pandemic in sight to contain it as was actually what happened and prevented what was an imminent institutional collapse.

“The left united will never be defeated” is one of the best-known slogans and the one that for the longest time has waved the banners of vanguardism and its mobilisations. Undoubtedly it was also Allende’s aspiration and achievement in reaching government when he was able to become the standard bearer of the left, after the pettiness that became ostensible between one and the other collectivity to achieve more hegemony in influencing presidential decisions. However, it is more than clear that it was the controversies between socialists, communists and others that weakened the Popular Unity government and to a large extent encouraged the coup. How could we fail to remember that, from the very heart of the left, Allende was called a “social democrat” and defended “bourgeois” democracy by leaders who, when Allende died in La Moneda, were already hiding in embassies and renouncing any attempt to resist the military’s fury!

In reporting this, we have no intention of justifying the action of the seditionists, who began to plot his overthrow before these contradictions manifested themselves. For them, Allende had to be overthrown only because of his programmatic proposal and the possibility that his experience could be replicated in other countries belonging to the US zone of influence, in the midst of the Cold War. In this way, it must be recognised how futile his attempt to gain support in the then Soviet Union and in the socialist world of Eastern Europe was.

The serious thing is that fifty years after his death, the situation of the Chilean left has only worsened in relation to the slogan quoted above, and today the panorama is frankly disastrous when the avant-garde referents multiply in all sorts of collectives and associations whose ideologies and intentions are practically incomprehensible to the country. Entities that usually have no more than a hundred active militants and lack internal democratic practices to define their leaders and proposals. A bunch of acronyms, nothing more than curious denominations, make up the so-called Frente Amplio, as well as the self-proclaimed democratic socialism. All of them show off their quarrels through the media, when between them they have not been able to fill a theatre or a stadium with their supporters and sympathisers for a long time.

There is no doubt that the main craft of these directives is to place their unconditional supporters within the state apparatus and gain access to government ministries and sub-secretariats, where quotas are the common denominator. And when this is not achieved, they set up foundations and other entities to receive millions from the Treasury which, of course, serve to finance their electoral ambitions and, incidentally, illicit enrichment. We already know that among all the episodes of political corruption, the courts are currently investigating the destination of some 30 billion pesos. In what is recognised as the most severe fraud against the national treasury in the entire post-dictatorship period.

To the consolation of this left that is degrading and reeling, the right is suffering a similar atomisation, as well as the multiple splits in the Christian Democrats, the PPD and other organisations that polls show them with less than three or four percent of popular support. The most voted party is the far-right Republican Party, but in any case, with less than five percent of electoral support.

Not to mention the political responsibility that must be assigned to the parties for the disappearance of former trade union and trade union leaders. Of the scant importance that the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores has today, as of those professional associations that were at the forefront of the struggle against the dictatorship. All of which are languishing in the struggle of their internal caudillismo and in which corruption scandals also stand out, which are triggered precisely when they have to “negotiate” with the governments of the day the amount of the minimum wage and the achievement of some labour laws.

Allende is definitely growing in the memory of the Chilean people, even though he is systematically ignored by the political and social leaders who proclaim his name. All this can be explained by the lack of ideas and programmes for action and, most especially, by the absence of media that promote ideological debate and raise awareness among Chileans, especially the younger ones.

It is well known that in the struggle against Pinochet’s oppression, spontaneous social and political organisations stood out, but also the media, whose mission was to denounce the abuses of the dictatorship and promote the recovery of democracy. At first, timid journalistic efforts grew in influence and had the merit of recording all the horrors committed against human dignity and the rights of the people in the midst of the dictatorship. However, even today it is assumed that all these references were exterminated by the first Concertación governments, when obscure characters such as Edgardo Boeninguer, Enrique Correa and other ministers and operators of La Moneda decided that it would be too risky to have magazines, newspapers and radio stations that could demand the promises made by the new authorities and, in doing so, unsettle the military, as well as embarrass the big Pinochetista businessmen who took their place in the new democracy. Incidentally, in complete impunity with regard to the companies and state resources appropriated under the protection of the tyrant and thief who governed de facto.

Time proved us right when diplomatic missions to Europe warned the governments that they should refrain from all aid to the Chilean media and to the prolific world of social and human rights organisations. A request that was undoubtedly heeded by the countries that supported these media and were even thinking of granting them definitive and substantive aid that would serve to consolidate them during the supposed democracy that was to come. Unfortunately, real politik was imposed on those countries that now wanted to do business in our country and gain access to our natural wealth. All this was happening, it should be remembered, while Patricio Aylwin’s government was writing off the debts of El Mercurio, La Tercera and other media, while renewing the million-dollar advertising contracts with the state that sustained them when their decline was imminent. The same advertising agreements that were also denied to the independent press and which, no doubt, would have continued to oppose impunity and advocate for a solid democracy and those economic and social reforms, many of which are still pending today. Just as they would have denounced the first acts of corruption that are now so widespread in our politics.

While it is true that those independent and dignified media managed to break the information blockade imposed by the dictatorship, today we should be grateful and applaud the fact that there are an infinite number of free websites on the Internet, which makes it appear very difficult for the political class to continue committing their inanities, without even the right-wing press being able to avoid them.

There are many hundreds of thousands or millions of Chileans who today live in disenchantment, because of what could have been and was not. Dismayed by the ideological betrayal and moral corruption of those who acceded to the government of our nation. We fear that the country is once again on the verge of collapse and that the bitter hours of our coexistence could return. But what we agree on and are encouraged by is that, in spite of everything, Salvador Allende’s ideas and purposes are still valid and his name is a cry and a battering ram of hope.

Juan Carlos Cartagena