Friday, May 31, 2013

She bought the night flight, but not the bill of goods

One might think it would be good riddance to Allende-ism, but Chile is flirting with disaster once again;
Former President Michelle Bachelet gained more support in this year’s presidential elections after the Communist Party (PC) officially endorsed her campaign Saturday.
The agreement came after weeks of negotiations between Bachelet’s Socialist Party (PS) and the PC. In return, the Communists hope to influence the Concertación coalition’s agenda in key areas such as education and labor reform, and may even land a ministerial position in a future Bachelet government.
Bachelet must be pretty desperate to align herself with the Communists who are only about 5% of Chile's electorate.  She also must be counting on Chileans having very short memories. Though her opponents won't let them forget the horrors of the recent past;
Both Pablo Longueira and Andrés Allamand, Bachelet’s conservative opponents in the Nov. 17 election, quickly pounced on the pact. 
Longueira, of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI), called it a “step backward” for the country, likening the PC to its “chavista” counterpart in Venezuela. National Renewal (RN) candidate Allamand, keen to position himself as a centrist candidate, lamented that the Concertación had distanced itself from the coalition that led Chile out of dictatorship. 
And the election laws have been changed since 1970, when Salvador Allende Gossens took the Presidency in a three way race, with a mere 37% of the vote.  Today that result would mean a run-off between the top two candidates, and to win you need a majority. If we were in Chile, we'd round up a few copies of Georgie Anne Geyer's 1983 Buying the Night Flight for distribution in the country.  At least the chapters that deal with Geyer's experiences with Allende, Castro and Che Guevara.

Geyer first met Salvador Allende in 1964, the day he lost the Presidential election to Eduardo Frei.  Six years later, with Frei unable to run again under Chile's law, Allende had a better chance.  In fact, he was so sure he'd win that Geyer, at that time, asked him, 'If you are elected, will there be elections again?'

His response, according to her notes, was, 'You must understand...that by the next elections [in 1976] everything will have changed.' Then he continued, 'We have different groups with us. Large groups of priests have clearly delineated a Christian-Marxist point of view. A large group feels that if you respect our belief, there is no problem. In '64, all the church was for the Christian Democrats [Frei's party]'

Geyer says he continued, 'We are going to win within the electoral system, but we'll build new institutions, make a new constitution. We are not going to live under the capitalist system. If we nationalize all this...mess of American companies, if we control imports and exports and carry through a real agrarian reform, what other things can you do?'

Unfortunately for Chile, when no one got a majority of the vote that year, the election was thrown to the Chilean legislature.  There not enough members took Allende's talk seriously, and voted to give him the Presidency since he'd won a plurality of the vote. It's hard to imagine that Chile will make such a mistake again.

In the years between the '64 and '70 elections, Geyer often visited Chile and got to know Allende and several other politicians well.  She not only interviewed them, but socialized with them; 'It was a refined conversation with them, and they agreed on the rules of the game: then.'

But there was something else going on back then in Latin America; Liberation Theology.  Geyer knew some of its adherents.  Of one, she wrote, '...impatient and driven by whatever devils or saints inhabited him (his friends insist there were quite enough of both), he joined the Marxist guerrillas. On February 15, 1966, the government announced that Father Camilo Torres had been killed in an encounter with Columbian troops.

Finally, in 1970 Chile gets an actual Marxist President, and Geyer writes, 'Now the legendary free air of Chile hung with new fears. Now the two sides no longer sat and drank and laughed and loved together, for one side no longer respected the rules of the game.  Whereas before I had always been on the friendliest of terms with Allende, now he refused to see most American journalists. The minute he became president, he was a different man; now he was in public the true Marxist the had always been inside himself.  Worse, it was the same with Augusto Olivares [Allende's closest adviser, and once, she thought,  a personal friend of hers].'

She has to admit that Chile was now different, and she was the enemy.

[to be continued]

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