05 March, 2000
Author: George Irbe
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Chile under Allende
Mark Falcoff, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, expert on Latin American history and politics, and author of "Modern Chile, 1970-1989: a critical history", has written an article titled "Who killed Latin democracy?". This article appeared in National Post on March 4, 2000. The article was timely in that it appeared shortly after General Augusto Pinochet was allowed to return home from Britain, where he had suffered a long enforced detention, in his own words, as "the only political prisoner in Britain". The detention was occasioned by a request for Pinochet's arrest and extradition to Spain to face charges of crimes against humanity which the general is alleged to have committed (and in a way, no doubt he did) during his dictatorial rule of Chile. It just so happens that the Spanish government is Socialist and the judge who issued the arrest order is even more so.
Since 1991 we often encounter the statement that 'Communism and real Socialism have been consigned to the ash heap of history.' Some of us dispute this assertion because we are not at all sure that is the case. The class of political ideologues collectively known as the Left is large and ubiquitous throughout the world. The Left remains, as ever, the incubator of new variants of coercive utopianism and totalitarianism, as well as the place for hibernating and recycling of already discredited older forms of it. The Pinochet affair reminds us exactly how influential and powerful the Left is. It also reminds us that the Left, since their first capture of power under the leadership of Lenin, have never forgotten or ignored their effective opponents -- those who have, or could, hurt them; to this day they observe the maxim that such enemies must be hunted down and put paid to with great persistence and tenacity.
So, that's what the effort to "get" Augusto Pinochet is all about. The Left thirsts for revenge against Pinochet because he was, in his day, arguably the smartest and most effective demolisher of Leftist totalitarianism that the world has seen. The Mark Falcoff article contains a very comprehensive account, reproduced here, on the progressive Allende take-over of Chile. As will be seen below, the destruction of the societal and economic infrastructure of Chilean democracy was already well under way, proceeding according to tried and proven Communist practice, when the army staged its coup. It was classic Sovietization of a nation in progress and Pinochet stopped it cold in its tracks. For that the Left must hound him to the very gates of hell, if need be.
-- -- -- excerpt from "Who killed Latin democracy" -- -- --
The harsh truth is that without Salvador Allende there would have been no Pinochet. The former was elected in 1970 with a bare plurality - slightly more than a third of the popular vote. Only Chile's firm tradition of recognizing the winner in its first-past-the-post electoral system assured his inauguration. Even so, to win the votes of Christian Democrats in Congress, he was forced to agree to a Statute of Democratic Guarantees that obliged him to recognize such liberties as freedom of the press and unfettered access to the electronic media.
Allende was a likeable man -- but remarkably ignorant, fatuous and weak. He thought of himself as both a democrat and a Marxist, and professed to see no particular contradiction between the two. Unfortunately, within his own government coalition (four parties, two of them formally Marxist), the lines were far more sharply drawn. Ironically, the Communists were the moderates of the piece, since they were carrying water for Moscow, which had other fish to fry in more central theatres of political conflict. (The great concern of the Soviets in Chile -- apart from not wanting to pay for another Cuba -- was not to scare off Christian Democrats and Socialists in Western Europe who might be toying with similar coalitions in the future). Allende's Socialists -- a somewhat sui generis party made up of social democrats, anarchists and Trotskyites -- were far closer ideologically to Fidel Castro's Cuba, which, by the way, maintained a remarkably outsized diplomatic and military mission in Santiago, and also the principal source of illegal weaponry that poured into Chile during these years. Intoxicated by their own rhetoric and ideology, and also deluded by the apparent proximity of total power, the Socialists and their allies on the farthest left (the so-called MIR) were impatient to move to a final confrontation with the "bourgeoisie". During 1972 and 1973 they actively took the initiative, seizing factories and farms, far exceeding the government's own program of reform and forcing the president to recognize their audacious strokes as faits accomplis. Unfortunately, the nationalized sector of the economy lost money so quickly that the only way to pay its workers was to print unbacked currency in massive quantities; the result was a hyperinflation hitherto unknown to Chile -- 600% in 1973. In the countryside, improvised expropriations -- some of the farms rather smaller than those marked for division by the existing agrarian reform law -- polarized opinion, produced a mini-civil war and greatly dislocated the provision of food to Chile's cities. The result was drastic shortages and a flourishing black market.
Meanwhile, the pell-mell expropriations of factories and the intentional bankrupting of large enterprises had another consequence, one not entirely unwelcome to the Allende government -- independent newspapers and radio stations lost a principal source of financing (advertising). Indeed, it is an inconvenient but incontrovertible fact that Chile would have had no independent press at all in the last days of the regime were it not for clandestine financing by the hated CIA.
Economic chaos and political polarization propelled Chile's middle class, many of whose members had voted for Allende in 1970, toward the right. The result was a new political coalition between Christian Democrats and Conservatives that obtained 56% in the March, 1973, parliamentary by-elections -- a decisive vote against the government but short of the two-thirds needed to impeach Allende. What the new congress could do, however, was to declare the regime "outside the law", which it surely was. At the same time, many members of the opposition were knocking on the doors of the barracks, virtually imploring the military to break the political stalemate.
As it happens, I was in Chile in August, 1973, which is to say, about 30 days before Allende's fall. A coup of some sort was almost universally expected, though no one was quite certain what form it would take or in what direction it would move. For his part, President Allende, from the very beginning, had assiduously courted the high command. He had invited several generals into his cabinet during 1972 and again in 1973. He even managed to seduce politically General Carlos Prats, the commander-in-chief of the army. A "left wing" military government was by no means unimaginable; one already existed in near-by Peru (with economic policies which were remarkably similar to those of Allende), another in Bolivia. Across the Andes in Argentina General Juan Peron was about to return to power with leftist support.
What many of us failed to see was that General Prats was increasingly isolated from his own officers, who shared the concerns and anger of the middle class. A little more than a week before the coup, he was forced to retire, replaced by his chief of staff, General Augusto Pinochet. On the day of the coup, the new army commander was a personality virtually unknown to all but a handful of Chileans. Small wonder that no one saw what was coming. Most Christian Democrats imagined that after a brief interlude, new elections would be called in which Allende's predecessor, Eduardo Frei Montalva, the former president, would be the inevitable victor. Instead, all politics came to an end, and many politicians, labour leaders, and intellectuals ended up in prison or exile. More than a thousand ended up in graves whose precise location remains to be revealed. Even General Prats, Pinochet's closest professional friend, failed to take the full measure of his successor. Permitted to emigrate to Argentina, he and his wife were murdered there a year after the coup, apparently on orders from Pinochet himself.
-- -- -- end of excerpt -- -- --
As stated before, the Communist take-over of Chile followed the same course which had been used successfully many times before in the countries of eastern Europe and Asia. Similar strategies were also employed in Central America and Africa. The Falcoff article describes how the standard communist modus operandi for the wrecking of a democracy proceeded in Chile:
-- -- Allende's coalition came to power with the endorsement of only a third of the electorate. It is telling that the democratic politicians did not trust Allende at all to act in the interests of democracy by forcing him "to agree to a Statute of Democratic Guarantees that obliged him to recognize such liberties as freedom of the press and unfettered access to the electronic media." That is truly the weirdest of agreements ever made in the governing of a democracy, but evidently it was made with great foresight by the democratic politicians..
-- -- The Cubans had already become well ensconced in Chile, maintaining a large military mission and supplying armaments to the Communist forces. The same thing happened also in Nicaragua. There is no doubt that the Cubans were only waiting for the time when their secret police experts could start helping the Chileans to construct the standard KGB-style apparatus for securing all the vital sectors of the state and for initiating a campaign of terror against the population in order to bring it into complete submission.
-- -- Expropriation and looting of property in the name of the state was rapidly dismantling the free-market economic system. The currency of the country was debased. The agricultural sector of the economy was destroyed, causing food shortages. Unemployment, dislocation, impoverishment by state-sponsored robbery, the rise of a black market -- all the standard methods for the material and moral destruction of the "bourgeois" society were at work in Chile in 1972 and 1973.
-- -- True to form, Allende refused to yield his hold on the levers of state power after a decisive congressional defeat in 1973. Retreating from power is not what communists ever do peaceably.
-- -- True to form, Allende attempted to corrupt the military leadership. Once the Communists own the military, their power is assured, and from then on all opposition to Sovietization can be ruthlessly squashed in a systematic manner without any significant opposition from within the population.
Allende failed to deliver Chile to the Soviet fold mainly because Chile had a mature culture of democratic politics, and a substantial middle class which treasured the traditions and institutions of that culture. It was the beleaguered middle class which called on the armed forces to unseat the rogue, Allende, who was "outside the law." Nevertheless, it was a close thing.
The Chileans were fortunate to have Augusto Pinochet ready to take command of the armed forces on their behest. He was a man with the necessary appreciation of the Left -- its organization and tactics -- and an understanding of what counter-strategy must be employed against it in order to defeat it decisively. That counter-strategy is not pretty. It is basically the strategy employed by the Communists themselves, which Pinochet turned back upon them. It involves sudden arbitrary arrest, without any evidence of wrong-doing as such, but simply on the basis of guilt-by-association or expressed sympathies for -- in this instance -- Leftist politics. This is followed by ruthless elimination of the arrested person without a trace. As the totalitarians say of their enemies: "the person must disappear into the fog of night" forever. This tactic works in two ways. First, it eliminates permanently the enemies one captures, and second -- and more importantly -- it spreads terror within the ranks of the organized elements of the opposition, inducing them to flee the country. That, in a nutshell, is the standard procedure that a Communist regime uses to eliminate internal opposition. Pinochet very adroitly used their own tactics -- which they could understand and appreciate the consequences of -- on themselves. Historically, Pinochet ranks among the very few who have succeeded in eradicating a Communist organization so completely and so permanently. Other examples that come to mind are Malaysia and Indonesia. Pinochet followed the Communist blueprint to the last detail: he even took care that a potential focus for regrouping of the Communists -- General Prats -- was eliminated.
There are many who are neither Leftists nor fellow-travelers of the Left, but who condemn Pinochet without a proper consideration of the issue. Condemning Pinochet is the trendy thing to do. These people should give the issue some further thought. Falcoff explains why the Soviet Union was rather cool towards Allende's revolution, but perhaps the main reason -- not mentioned by Falcoff -- is that the Soviets might have recognized Chilean society to be quite resistant against a totalitarian take-over because of its strong middle class. However, the Politburo surely would have been elated by a Communist conquest of Chile. Air, missile and submarine bases along the long coastline of Chile would have given the Soviets a strategic reach into the South Pacific region, as well as new opportunities to exert their influence on the adjoining states in South America. The non-Leftist Pinochet haters should ponder the consequences of this kind of strategic situation to the defense of the West.
Similarly, non-Leftists who condemn Pinochet for eliminating several thousand Communists or communist sympathizers, should contemplate what would have happened if Allende had succeeded in taking over the armed forces and the police, thus gaining total control of Chile. Again, the well-known pattern of Communist take-overs would be repeated. Many of the same Communists who were eliminated by Pinochet would in that case have been active participants in the terror apparatus which would -- in typical Communist fashion -- arrest, torture, kill, or imprison a hundred times more people than Pinochet ever did. As usual, the task of the Communist terror apparatus would have been the elimination of the middle class -- their "bourgeois enemies." The Soviet model for doing that would have been replicated in Chile (on a smaller scale than in the Soviet Union, just like in Eastern Europe and Cuba). Cheka-style "interrogation" centers and kangaroo "peoples courts" would have been established in the main administrative centers of the country. Many "socially undesirable elements" would not survive past this stage of imprisonment, finishing up in unmarked burial trenches. The rest would wind up in a miniature "Gulag" network of establishments where they would be starved and worked to death at a more leisurely pace.
Taking the above scenario down the actual historical path, we can see what Chile would have been like when the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991 by looking at the countries in eastern Europe. By then, Chile would have been under Communist rule for some eighteen years. Judging by what is the case in eastern Europe, after liberation from communism the Chilean economy would still have taken a generation to recover from its devastated condition, and Chilean society would take just as long to recover from the mutilation by totalitarianism of the morals and ethics essential in a free-market society. All things considered, Chile is fortunate to have had Pinochet. He sanctioned the killing of a few thousand Leftists, many of whom deserved their fate in light of the crisis facing Chile. But by his actions Augusto Pinochet saved an entire nation from immense damage. Call him a necessary evil. Sometimes there is no other option but to fight evil with evil means.
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