Other Discussions on Chile

Chile: The Continuing Historical Conflict

The subject of Chile arouses much passion on both sides; there is even disagreement about the facts. Both sides stress those which favor their case. We have not yet heard from the pro-Allende side. Unfortunately, my Stanford colleague Fernando Alegria, who was close to Allende and served as Counselor in the Chilean Embassy in Washington, is in poor health. One reason the subject arouses so much passion is that it is a critical case for U.S. policy in Latin America. Here is what Bill Ratliff, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, writes:

    I followed Chile very closely during the Frei and Allende years, spent time in the country while Allende was president, and included a chapter on the Marxist-Leninists of Chile in my 1976 book Castroism and Communism in Latin America. During those years I was Latin American editor of the Hoover Institution's Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, in which I wrote the chapter on Chile. At that time I was completing my PhD dissertation on Communist Chinese interest and influence in Latin America and had taken Chile as a primary case study.

    The Chilean situation in the late 1960s and early 1970s was infinitely more complicated than is implied in some of the comments made in this discussion up to now, as is inevitable when we must all write briefly - my words here are already too many - on such subjects. But for the sake of discussion and clarification:

    1. The comment that "the U.S. decided that Allende must go" is true so far as it goes but implies much more that is NOT true in the context of commentary over the decades and the whole fueled the bottom line conclusion that the US overthrew and directly or indirectly killed the only elected socialists president up to then in Latin American history. There is far more propaganda than fact here and in such popularized politically correct stuff as the film "Missing." Why? Too briefly, because this position fails to recognize that Chile was so highly developed politically and that Chileans are extraordinarily resourceful - to bring it up to date, look at the path-breaking reforms conducted by economic leaders during the Pinochet period - and quite capable of running, screwing up and resolving their own problems. This doesn't mean there was no foreign involvement, for of course there was from Cuba, the Soviet Union and the United States. But Chile's history during the late 1960s and early 1970s - as in most respects before and since - is Chilean, and the Chilean people themselves must overwhelmingly take pride in and responsibility for most of what happened.

    2. Allende's death was the obvious stuff for - and then less obviously of - propaganda against the post-1973 military government and, perhaps even more so, against the United States. The military government said it was suicide and had good medical reports to back it up its claim. Even Allende's widow accepted suicide until she went to Cuba and flip-flopped for reasons you may well imagine. From then on the charge that the US-backed or installed military murdered Allende was a heavy club used to pulverize the new government and the US. But truth sometimes surfaces. Today virtually everyone, even on the reasonable left, including - so I am told on good authority - some members of Allende's family, accept that it was suicide. Let us foreigners bury the murder business for good as most Chileans have already done.

    3. I do not believe Eduardo Frei was so unpopular at the end of his term as has been suggested by one commentator in this discussion. On the contrary, though he would have won by less in 1970 than he did in 1964, for many complicated reasons, I am convinced he would have won nonetheless if he could have run, which by the Chilean constitution he could not, and Chilean's followed their constitution as it was written, not revising it to allow a ruling president to run again as has become the fashion (for complicated and not always negative reasons) in the 1990s. The 1970 Christian Democratic candidate Radomiro Tomic, whom I interviewed extensively at the time, was a compromise within the party and a loser from the beginning. CD votes went both right and left in the election, away from the CD. Tomic's vote IN NO WAY represents what Frei would have received.

    4. Finally, we need to distinguish carefully between Chile's Maoists and Miristas. At the time, through interviews and combing of book stalls in the country, I assembled what is undoubtedly the largest collection in the world on the Chilean Maoists, whose couple hundred members were indeed active at the time in the context of the Sino-Soviet dispute. But although I was then completing a PhD dissertation on Maoism in Latin America, with Chile as a prime case study, and would have loved to find them major factors in Chile, they were not.

    The Miristas (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) were emphatically NOT Maoists and were indeed a major factor because of the havoc they caused pressing Allende to go faster than he wanted and infuriating the Communists who were the main institutional base of Allende's government. In the classifications of the day the Miristas were Castroite with Trotskyist elements. These were mostly kids with some adult support in the Altamirano wing of the Socialist party and all collectively they were the "ultra-leftists" in Chilean Communist Party critiques. (The Chilean socialists were fractured, all were to the left of the Communists, and many supported the Miristas.) I do not believe Allende was behind atrocities against communists since in the absence of firm support from his own party the communists were critical to his staying in power. The communists and Miristas hated each other, to be sure. They verbally attacked each other as often as they did the Chilean Right, and on occasion they clashed physically and killed each other, particularly in the universities.

    Where next? Fragments of truth and reams of cause-serving propaganda - frequently passed on unknowingly by people who didn't even support the cause - became the very stuff of so much commentary on Chile, US policy and all of Latin America for so long that even now neither Excedrin or time have been able to bring full relief. To my knowledge, the definitive study of how propaganda - from both sides, to be sure - dominated US policy toward Latin American generally and key countries specifically remains to be written, though some of us have tried to chip away at "correctness" in isolated areas. I tried to do some of this in my 1993 book The Civil War in Nicaragua, co authored with Roger Miranda, for years the chief aide to Sandinista Defense Minister Humberto Ortega. Hoover fellow Timothy Brown, a longtime foreign service officer with extensive experience in Central America, has just complete a PhD dissertation that when published will "revolutionize" studies of US policy toward Central America during the 1980s. Stanford Political Science Professor Robert Packenham, in his recent The Dependency Movement, which should soon be out in paperback, has extensively documented how politics dominated much of the official and outspoken Latin American studies field for many, many years in the United States, a fact now-retired Stanford Professor Gabriel Almond and some others noted many years ago."

My comment: As Pontius Pilate said, "What is truth?"

Ronald Hilton 12-22-97