14ymedio, Jorge González, Appalachian Mountains (Canada), September 14, 2023 — I belonged to a generation of young Chileans who, in the 1960s, joined left-wing parties en masse, They were a significant force in helping Salvador Allende win the presidential election. In the summer of 1964, a group of young communists, all of us from Santiago, formed a Chilean folk-dance group to promote Allende’s candidacy in Osorno province. When Allende visited the province, we were able to talk with him. We were impressed by the simplicity and affability with which he spoke to us.
We met again, he and I, in the summer of 1970, when the Popular Unity (UP) coalition government decided to hold a meeting to analyze the progress of its his first year in office. I was there to take the minutes of the meeting. On that day, he sat next to me so he could refer to my notes.
In the intervening years, everyone had done their homework. He was already president of Chile and I, a 26-year-old professor at the State Technical University, was a member of a group that advised the Communist Party leadership on theoretical matters.
For young progressives, Salvador Allende was the closest thing we had to an ideal leader and we enthusiastically approved when the Popular Unity coalition agreed to nominate him as the sole candidate from the left in the 1970 presidential election.
In 1970, no faction had the ability to achieve outright victory. Allende got the largest share of the popular vote and, in the Plenary Congress, he received the support of the Christian Democratic Party, thus confirming his election as president.
In those years, Chilean politics was divided into the so-called three thirds: the right, the center and the left. In 1970, no faction had the ability to achieve outright victory by itself. Allende obtained the largest share of the popular vote and, in the Plenary Congress, he received the support of the Christian Democratic Party, thus confirming his election as president.
Allende’s first distinctive feature was his style of governing.
It is said that, in Chile, the president is a king without a crown. The president is head of state and head of government, a person with extensive powers. Allende allowed his ministers and high-ranking officials to have broader decision-making powers than was usual. Such an attitude is common in the 21st century. That was not the case in 1970s Chile.
More important than his style of governance was his concern for improving the living conditions of disadvantaged sectors of society.
First, there was the situation of landless peasants. Ownership of agricultural land was concentrated in the hands of a rural caste whose origins dated back to colonial times. The living conditions of the peasants had changed little since then.
Allende took steps to complete the agrarian reform measures begun under the government of his predecessor, Eduardo Frei. By the time of the 1973 coup d’état, the government had expropriated virtually everything it was possible to expropriate under the Agrarian Reform Law of 1967.
Likewise, he understood that, to improve the situation of the underclass and promote the development of the Chilean economy, the state needed greater resources. To that end and in accordance with the UP program, he proposed that the Legislature nationalize large-scale copper mining operations, which was approved unanimously by Congress in 1971.
These two measures, which were carried out during his administration, make Allende the president responsible for the most important economic and social transformations in Chile’s history.
The Allende government, like all governments, made mistakes. The affected sectors exploited each of these mistakes to the fullest
Why was the coup d’état possible?
The Allende government, like all governments, made mistakes. The affected sectors exploited each of these mistakes to the fullest while the overwhelming majority of the Chilean press, radio and television amplified this smear campaign.
In my opinion, two mistakes for which he was personally responsibility were of great importance:
- He could not maintain or ensure normal life in the country. The extreme right and the extreme left joined hands to create a permanent climate of instability and insecurity. Allende did not make all the political and legal efforts necessary to contain the illegal actions and violence of the two sides. Above all, he did not know how to clearly differentiate the actions of the extreme left from those of his government.
- He did not know how to keep the government’s actions within the limits of it mandate. The electoral platform presented by the UP in 1970 was, essentially, a social democratic proposal. However, some sectors of the UP – and others outside it – insisted that the creation of a socialist system should be a key objective. Allende’s lack of a clarity in the face of these pressures led to a significant decline in public support for his government.
- Allende’s indecisiveness helped the most aggressively antidemocratic factions, both inside and outside the armed forces, take control of the opposition.Chileans awaited the right-wing, military-led coup with the mindset of inhabitants of countries ravaged by hurricanes. We knew it was inevitable. What we did not know was when it would happen or how intense it would be.The brutality of the 1970 coup stunned the entire world. That brutality was not limited to the initial military takeover, however. It was constant during the seventeen years of dictatorship.
Chileans awaited the right-wing, military-led coup with the mindset of inhabitants of countries ravaged by hurricanes. We knew it was inevitable. What we did not know was when it would happen or how intense it would be
All the power of the state was concentrated in the hands of four generals. Of them, only Augusto Pinochet had been legitimately appointed, by Allende himself. On day one, they set up an authoritarian, terrorist regime that effectively eliminated all the rights and legal guarantees Chileans had enjoyed.
Those who championed and carried out the coup justified their actions with statements about the allegedly undemocratic and anti-constitutional nature of the Allende government. The first constitutional actions of the coup leaders, however, were to dissolve the National Congress and bring the judiciary under their control. Of 5,400 appeals for legal protection filed between 1973 and 1983, the courts agreed to hear only ten cases, thus covering up the state-sponsored terrorism carried out by the coup leaders.
The concentration of power in a junta of four generals made possible the establishment of a so-called neoliberalist economy. Unfortunately, it is not just a figure of speech to say that, in Chile, neoliberalism was imposed through the use of blood and fire. It was the foundation that made the country’s subsequent astonishing economic growth possible.
Post-dictatorship civilian governments were bound by the rigid framework imposed by the 1980 constitution adopted during the military regime. Its constitutional norms embodied the main elements of the neoliberal model in which private-sector economic activities take precedence over a state-sector reduced to a minimum. Citizen’s rights to education, health and even access to water, among many others, are dependent their ability to pay for them.
This Constitution has been modified in some aspects, but it remains a fundamentally neoliberal Constitution. Efforts to replace it through a Constitutional Convention failed when citizens rejected the text proposed in the 2022 plebiscite.
Fifty years after the coup d’état, Chile’s political evolution has been to go from “three thirds” to a “quasi-pathological tie” between two sectors – left and right – that oppose each other in practically everything.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in El Independiente and reproduced here with the author’s permission.
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