Sunday, December 05, 2004

Absolutely, positively, the last comments on Chile...

[Updated 8 Dec: Removed unnecessary personal abuse and cleaned formatting]
The End! After writing what seems like thousands of words on the thread that began with my dismissal of the credibility of Christopher Hitchens and went on to encompass the merits of Vanity Fair, General Pinochet, US foreign policy in the seventies, the role of Henry Kissinger in human rights abuses under Southern Cone military dictatorships, the Freedom Institute's supposed support for said abuses, the merits of market liberalisation in Chile, relative military strength of the two blocs during the Cold War and overarching theories of international relations, I should offer some last words, lifted from the transcript of a conference at Princeton.

I'm surprised that nobody either seemed to notice or comment on the fact that some of the FI's respones and my own postings are similar.

Anyway, I finally got some time today when I was in the library to look at some books and papers. I found some articles on economic and human development in Chile in old issues of the Journal of Economic Perspectives from spring this year while looking for something else. Apparently Chile comes out top of the class on growth, averaging 4.9% since 1990, compared to a flat zero for Venezuela, was more financially stable than any other LatAm country and saw its life expectancy and literacy improve to second place in the region, according to a paper by Arminio Fraga, the ex-Brazil central bank chief.

I came across this paper online too, an extended conversation among some Chilean politicians and American academics and policy-makers which contained interesting snippets among an extensive discussion of events before and after the coup. To quote from it:

"From 1964 onwards when Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, was elected president, polarization increased very rapidly. You had an essentially reform-minded Frei government which was keen on what was called at the time structural reforms, especially agrarian reform, which was carried out with the blessing of the Alliance for Progress [JFK's "Marshall Plan" for South America, launched in response to the Cuban takeover] – so that it was not an anti-capitalist government at all."

"In turn, in 1967, the Socialist Party formally declared itself Marxist-Leninist
and accepted armed struggle as a possibility for the seizure of power."

[In 1973]But the seizure of private enterprises went further than the government had intended and moved into the medium-sized and smaller enterprises, and along with the rhetoric of the party leaders very deeply alienated the middle classes. The Popular Unity leaders described the middle classes in the most extreme rhetoric as exploiters and the enemy of the people, a group (which was a majority in Chilean society) that would inevitably side with the oligarchy when the day of confrontation came. The alienation of the middle class had tremendous consequences because it led the middle class into a strongly anti-Allende posture."

Whatever the US guilt feelings were at the time or are today, I really believe that the Americans were in no way decisive in terms of the outcome.

"Then afterwards imagine what the right thought after backing the 1964 Frei administration when Allende came to power in 1970. They thought it was the end. They thought that they were in a democratic system that was absolutely unable to stop what they thought and believed to be a totalitarian threat. Were they just guessing when they spoke of a totalitarian threat? The answer is, no. The speeches of those days,the books that were written by the leaders of the left were absolutely clear on their goal. The goal of the Chilean road to socialism was socialism, not in the way that socialism is understood by the left today, but in the way that socialism was understood by the left in the 1960s: a dictatorship."

"By 1973, not many people in Chile believed that the country was going to make it to the next elections in 1976. I was in the country several weeks before the coup and everybody talked about the coming event. The coup was not a surprise. The surprise was in its violence, in its ferocity. There were many different coup scenarios, but one that I kept hearing was that the government of Allende would be replaced by some sort of government of national unity, maybe with some generals and nonpolitical figures like judges, which would call new elections in which EduardoFrei would be eligible to run again. Of course we know that did not happen. But that was the perspective of the time."

"My conclusion in 1976 – and nothing has changed it in the interim – was that the United States was not directly involved in the coup. The emphasis there is on the word, directly. “Missing” is wrong in that sense. A good movie, but like most things we remember best, it never happened or it did not happen that way. The US did receive reports about coup plotting, but everybody has testified that there were coup rumors every week during that period, and in the end they all turned out to be wrong. So the US was getting information about coup plotting from some of its CIA relationships, but it was not directly involved, and the Chilean plotters had some reasons not to want the United States to be directly involved, nor even to tell them or to seek or ask their advice."

"It is also important to understand the suspicions within the military of some of the international political connections that Allende and his people were trying to push the army to make. For example there was a very large Cuban Embassy in Santiago, much larger than any country of Cuba’s size would normally have, including an outsized and very active Cuban security detachment. President Allende’s daughter even married one of the Cuban embassy security people. Then there was Allende’s constant attempt to get the Army and the Navy to buy Soviet equipment."