REPORT FROM SANTIAGO: DEJA VU
repeats itself, wrote Marx, first as tragedy and then again as farce. First
time: Chile, November, 1970. In one photo, a helmeted officer just to the right
of and behind Allende's car wears a bored, or maybe slightly pained, expression.
General Camilo Valenzuela sits in the saddle, a gray uniformed, gray-faced
officer who had taken $50,000 from the CIA to organize a military plot to
prevent Allende from being inaugurated. The plot failed - then.
on September 11, 1973, Hawker Hunter bombers and heavy tanks fired missiles into
Allende's office in the Presidential Palace. The bloody coup succeeded in a
matter of hours, with the - still classified - United States playing the role of
military spy. Its ships, conveniently on maneuvers off the Chilean coast,
delivered information to the coup plotters about communications from all Chilean
military bases, so they could suppress units loyal to Allende and the
no one could have conceived of the obsequious, quintessentially moderate Augusto
Pinochet as directing such an extremely violent coup; nor could anyone have
predicted his metamorphosis into the tyrant who ruled amilitary dictatorship for
vacillated before joining the plot -- which he did at the last minute. Then, he
out-zealoused the most fanatic fascists in his junta in destroying real and
police and military killed 3,197, including some 1,200 disappeared. They
tortured tens of thousands, forced tens of thousands into exile.
destroyed the Constitution, Parliament, political parties, trade unions and free
fix Chile's economy, he asked the Chicago Boys to implement their unique brand
of free-market philosophy - which, by the mid 1980s, under military fascism,
began to prove beneficial for financiers and investors. Real wages didn't rise
to the level that workers enjoyed under Allende until 1999.
Pinochet's invitation, foreign and Chilean companies devastated the environment.
His government sold or leased pieces of Chilean forests to lumber companies.
Corruption accompanied his privatization plan; military officers became
millionaires. By the late 1980s, pressure led by Chileans who had regained their
courage and supported even by the United States - which routinely abandons its
progeny after they have done their service -- forced him to hold a vote. In a
1988 plebiscite, Chileans voted "No" to Pinochet's continuing.
1990, Chileans elected a candidate of the combined Christian Democrat and
Socialist coalition. The coalition won two elections in a row, presiding over
ten gray years of very slow transition to democracy. Pinochet named himself
chief of the army until 1998 and Senator for Life after that.
2000, Ricardo Lagos, a socialist, won the election against a Pinochetista.
March 11, 2000 Christian Democratic President Eduardo Frei (the son) placed that
presidential sash across the body of incoming socialist President Ricardo Lagos.
Would Lagos end up like Allende even given the obvious limits placed on
socialism by the times and the history of the last 27 years? Or become another
Clinton lite, a third-world version of Tony Blair?
had returned from England one week before, after spending 503 days under arrest.
This once Comandante en jefe had become for much of the world el Criminal en
said the courts would prevail. Families of the disappeared filed over 90
criminal claims against him. Judge Guzman Tapia has begun to call witnesses.
Disappearance means kidnapping, an ongoing crime. Pinochet disappeared people to
confound human rights monitoring groups. Disappeared persons leave no record. A
Chilean high court will soon decide if Pinochet's immunity will stand. If not,
the compromisers will return to the "health" issue to keep him from
On Sunday, March 12, 2000 some 250,000 people, mostly between 18-25 celebrate in Parque Forestal, in Santiago's downtown. Music blasts from speakers. Young people wave banners demanding that Pinochet face trial. Tattooed and punctured youth, pass bottles and joints. Groups rise from the grass and shout "Juicio a Pinochet" (Put Pinochet on trial). "On the day after Lagos' inaugural it's time to declare independence from the tight-assed years," said a young, bra-less woman, with pink hair. This is the time for the young people to come out of the closet and create our own freedom."
said one of the older onlookers. The military will never allow him to be tried.
"Pinochet has thrown fear like a blanket across this country," said
Carolina a student. "But now, after his detention in London and after four
countries are demanding his extradition, he no longer frightens me or my
friends. Maybe we're too young. We did not know the murders, the disappearances,
the torture, the constant sense of dread that the old goat's secret police
inflicted." The older woman said
nothing, a feint smile appearing on her lips. "Perhaps," she said.
Perhaps she was referring to candidate Lagos wagging his finger at the Chilean
military in warning not to overstep their boundaries and, later that night, to
his words from the presidential palace balcony stating that Chileans "will
always remember the traitors who bombed the palace." He called for the
elimination of "authoritarian enclaves" in Pinochet's constitution and
declared his intention to complete the transition from military to civilian
she was referring to the recent push by the Justice Department to reopen the
Letelier-Moffitt case. Indeed, Attorney General Janet Reno represented the US
government at the inauguration and she met with Hortensia Bussi Allende, the
widow, and with Sofia Prats, the daughter of the slain
general. The US Ambassador hosted Isabel
Morel de Letelier, the widow and her son Juan Pablo, now a socialist Member of
Chile's lower House. The FBI has sent a slew of agents to Chile to interrogate
witnesses. During Lagos' first week, Chile accepted US Letters Rogatory, asking
for assistance in questioning 42 witnesses, most of them high ranking military
or former military ands secret police officials that were connected to the 1976
Letelier assassination in Washington. A Grand Jury sits in Washington hearing
the evidence presented by an Assistant US Attorney. At the very least, they
could indict Pinochet for obstruction of justice. We may soon see the holes in
his immunity cloak. New documents emerged,
one signed by Brigadier Pedro Espinoza, former Number 2 man in DINA. The
documents point to a cover-up on the Letelier assassination, which Espinoza was
convicted of arranging. Espinoza invokes Pinochet's name as the author of the
Letelier assassination. Belgium, France, Switzerland and Spain have called for
his extradition for Crimes Against Humanity, genocide and Terrorism. In his
first week in office, Lagos promised to abolish compulsory military service and
replace it with a volunteer army that gets paid.
The new president has pledged to restore the infrastructure Chilean workers won over more than a century. Lagos promised to reform "harmful legacies of the military dictatorship that limit the exercise of democracy," like the nine non-elected Senate seats the military brass allocated for itself in perpetuity. He has already introduced legislation to help the unemployed and strengthen social security. Lagos will not alter the free market model. He accepts the corporate global system as a given. Under Lagos, Chile's working classes may restore their memory of struggle. They are regaining their courage. This may allow them again to make their own history - but with the immense limits imposed by our times and certainly not on the terrain they had chosen before a military coup inspired in Washington and the Board rooms of Santiago changed their destiny.
DIFFERTENT VERSION OF THIS APPEARS IN THE MAY, 2000 PROGRESSIVE
Saul Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Pomona, CA 91768 tel - 909-869-3115 fax - 909-869-4751