September 14, 2003


Myth of Allende obscures reality (JAMES R. WHELAN, Sep. 14, 2003, Miami Herald)

On Sept. 13, 1970, The Herald's long-time Latin American editor, Don Bohning, rated Salvador Allende's electoral victory in Chile, nine days earlier, as the ''single most significant event in Latin America since Fidel Castro seized power more than a decade ago.'' The then-U.S. Ambassador, Edward M. Korry went further. In a confidential report to President Richard Nixon, he wrote: ``It will have the most profound effect on Latin America and beyond; we have suffered a grievous defeat.''

And, he added: ``It is a sad fact that Chile has taken the path to communism with only little more than a third of the nation approving this choice, but it is an immutable fact.''

Three years later, on Sept. 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown in a remarkably surgical military coup. Despite elaborate plans to train, arm and equip a clandestine militia, and to ring Santiago itself with fortified factories, the fighting on the llth took fewer than 200 lives on both sides.

In the aftermath, another journalist -- the talented British writer, David Holden -- wrote ``Salvador Allende died a lucky man. In life, he was a failure. Both his policies and his country were shattered long before the end. But in death, he achieved success beyond his dreams. Instantly canonized as the Western world's newest left-wing martyr, he became overnight the most potent cult figure since his old friend, Che Guevara.''

The British author, Robert Moss, went further: ``It was a bit boy scoutish of them, but the soldiers who overthrew Salvador Allende thought they had earned the gratitude of the American people, and of the West in general. For one thing, they prevented the transformation of Chile into a sort of Latin American Czechoslovakia, complete with Soviet bases. . . . Alas, how little these soldiers understood the mood of the times in Washington or London.'' [...]

Allende was, of course, ousted by a military coup headed by Augusto Pinochet. It was not a typical power-grab by jackbooted gorillas; the military acted reluctantly, and only in response to the clamor of the overwhelming majority of the Chilean people.

Pinochet and the other armed services took over a country whose economy, social and political arrangements had -- in the phrase of Chile's leading contemporary historian ''suffered a progressive decay, culminating in its later and total collapse -- the collapse of death -- in 1973. Many,'' added historian Gonzalo Vial Correa, ``are unwilling to admit the decadence and death of the system -- the military intervened because the conflict among civilians has become insoluble.''

Over the next 17 years, they focused first on fighting well-armed terrorist organizations and those who aided and abetted them. In those 17 years, 2,279 persons -- on both sides -- died or are missing, more than half of them in the first, conflictive 90 days after the coup.

Parallel with that, they set out to rebuild the economy and create a new and sturdy institutional framework; the Constitution created by a broad-based group of civilian experts, including two former presidents, is, by far, the most functional in Chilean history. Indeed, it remains in force 13 years after Pinochet voluntarily relinquished power to an elected government. The economy has made Chile the envy of all of Latin America.

Altogether, the Chilean revolution of 1973 was the most successful in Latin American history.

It also was the least bloody of any major revolution. And it also is the most reviled. But that would be a story for another day.

It is the sad lot of men like Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet to have saved their nations from communism and to be hated for it by even the decent Left.

Check out this remarkable post at Val e-diction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2003 9:39 AM
Comments for this post are closed.