Pinochet was the midwife of Chilean democracy?


The brazenness of the American neo-cons in response to the military coup in Egypt continues to shock me. The latest gem is the Wall Street Journal’s declaration that “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” Pinochet a midwife of democracy? If you can make a statement like that, then how in the world can you say anything bad about Saddam Hussein or any other dictator who terrorized his people?

On September 11th, 1973, Pinochet, the head of the Chilean military, with the assistance of the US CIA and approval of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, overthrew Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, in a military coup. Allende had undertaken an aggressive program over the preceding three years to deal with the severe gap between the poor indigenous majority and the elite white settler class in Chile. Unlike Mexico and Central America where the Spanish colonists intermarried with the indigenous population a lot more and created a mestizo race, South American countries had much more rigid economic and racial boundaries between their native and settler populations, Chile being perhaps the most racially segregated country of all.

In any case, one of the things Allende had promised to do in his presidency was to nationalize several industries so that Chilean resources would not continue to be exploited by foreign companies, particularly in the copper industry which were dominated by the US Anaconda and Kennecott corporations. The largest US multinational operating in Chile at the time was International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) which owned 70% of Chile’s telephone industry and funded the national Chilean right-wing newspaper El Mercurio. When Allende was running for election, the president of ITT, Harold Geneen, organized an anti-Allende committee of US corporate interests and offered $1 million to the CIA to help coordinate his defeat in the election.

After Allende was elected, US banks cancelled all credit lines to Chile as well as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, even though the Allende government was faithfully paying back its prior loans. So the “chaos” that the Wall Street Journal speaks of was not without its own “midwives” in the US. I don’t have time to do the exhaustive research to explain the ins and outs of what Allende should or shouldn’t have done, the pace he should have moved, if there was a better way to help the poor underclass than what he did. I don’t have time to assess whether or not Pinochet did some helpful things for Chile while he personally embezzled $28 million for himself from the economy and oversaw the murder of 2,279 political opponents and the torture of 31,947 more.

Víctor_JaraThe most visceral story that I associate with the Chilean coup is the torture and murder of Chilean folk singer Victor Jara. Along with thousands of others of Allende supporters, Jara was taken to the national soccer stadium the day after the coup, September 12th. There, before the soldiers ultimately decided to kill Jara, they shattered the bones in his hands so that he could never play the guitar again. The military regime tried their best to burn all the master recordings that Jara had ever made, but a few were smuggled out and got into the hands of US folk singers Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger which was ultimately how I was exposed to them.

This was how the “midwife of democracy” for Chile “took power amid chaos.” Presumably before his hands were broken, Jara wrote a poem about the people in the stadium with him called “Estadio Chile” (Chile Stadium). What makes me tremble is that Jara actually speaks of “the military showing their midwives’ faces full of sweetness.” Midwives of democracy, indeed.

Estadio Chile

There are five thousand of us here
in this small part of the city.
We are five thousand.
I wonder how many we are in all
in the cities and in the whole country?

Here alone
are ten thousand hands which plant seeds
and make the factories run.
How much humanity
exposed to hunger, cold, panic, pain,
moral pressure, terror and insanity?

Six of us were lost
as if into starry space.
One dead, another beaten as I could never have believed
a human being could be beaten.
The other four wanted to end their terror
one jumping into nothingness,
another beating his head against a wall,
but all with the fixed stare of death.

What horror the face of fascism creates!
They carry out their plans with knife-like precision.
Nothing matters to them.
To them, blood equals medals,
slaughter is an act of heroism.
Oh God, is this the world that you created,
for this your seven days of wonder and work?
Within these four walls only a number exists
which does not progress,
which slowly will wish more and more for death.

But suddenly my conscience awakes
and I see that this tide has no heartbeat,
only the pulse of machines
and the military showing their midwives’ faces
full of sweetness.
Let Mexico, Cuba and the world
cry out against this atrocity!
We are ten thousand hands
which can produce nothing.

How many of us in the whole country?
The blood of our President, our compañero,
will strike with more strength than bombs and machine guns!
So will our fist strike again!

How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.
Will give birth to the moment.

How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
How hard it is to sing
How hard it is to sing….

2 thoughts on “Pinochet was the midwife of Chilean democracy?

  1. Pingback: It’s time for Mark Tooley to stop bullying Stanley Hauerwas and other pacifists | Mercy not Sacrifice

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