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REPORT FROM SANTIAGO: DEJA VU


Saul Landau

History

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.

But

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

Constitution.

Almost

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

17 years.

Pinochet

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

imagined opposition.

His

police and military killed 3,197, including some 1,200 disappeared. They

tortured tens of thousands, forced tens of thousands into exile.

Pinochet

destroyed the Constitution, Parliament, political parties, trade unions and free

universities.

To

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.

Under

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.

In

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.

In

2000, Ricardo Lagos, a socialist, won the election against a Pinochetista.

Will history repeats itself, as farce? Times have changed – for socialism and

for Pinochet.

On

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?

Pinochet

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

jefe.

Lagos

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

standing trial.

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."       

"Ridiculous,"

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

government.

Perhaps

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.

A

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

 

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