Forty years after fascist coup, Chile may elect socialist, again

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Today, September 11, is the 40th anniversary of the bloody military coup that ended the life of Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende, and began the long dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Two months from now, on November 17, another socialist president, Michelle Bachelet, is likely to be elected with the support of the same left-wing forces that brought Allende to power in 1970.

Allende, from the Chilean Socialist Party, implemented progressive policies that threatened the interests of U.S. based transnational corporations in the fields of copper mines, which were nationalized, and communications. These corporations, aided by the Nixon administration, worked hard to destabilize his government and the Chilean economy. Finally, on Sept. 11, 1973, a military coup ousted Allende, who died in the fighting.

Subsequently, at least 3,000 left wing Chileans were murdered, tens of thousands tortured and many more driven into exile. The Pinochet regime, working with other South American dictatorships and the United States through "Operation Condor," sent its assassins to kill exiled Chilean political figures such as army leader General Carlos Prats, murdered in Argentina in 1974, and Allende's foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, murdered along with American colleague Ronni Moffit in the middle of Washington D.C., on Sept. 21, 1976.

Among those murdered was Bachelet's father, an air force brigadier general, who was tortured to death by Pinochet's henchmen. Michelle Bachelet was also imprisoned and tortured.

Pinochet stepped down in 1988, after negotiating a deal he thought would protect himself and his family from prosecution. Elections followed in 1989.

The initial elected governments after Pinochet's resignation were those of the centrist "Concertación" which included the Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Party for Democracy and the Social Democratic Radical Party, but not the Communist Party. The communists felt that the ideologically heterogeneous makeup of the Concertación, and the concessions it made to Pinochet in exchange for restoring elections, made it necessary for communists to act in opposition and run separate candidacies.

The Concertación's candidates won the elections of 1989, 1993, 1996 and 2000 and 2005. The president elected in 2000 was the Socialist Party's Michelle Bachelet. In that election, the Communist Party supported an independent dissident socialist candidate, Tomas Hirsch Goldschmidt, while the right-wing candidate was Sebastian Piñera of the National Alliance, who has connections with the Pinochet regime. Bachelet narrowly won the runoff.

Bachelet ran a popular center-left administration, in spite of protests by students, indigenous people and others over policies left over from the Pinochet days. She made headway on issues of labor and women's rights. However, the Chilean constitution does not permit reelection for consecutive terms. In the elections of 2009, the Concertación candidate was Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, and Piñera ran again as the right wing candidate. The Communist Party nominated Jorge Arrate. Piñera and Frei Ruiz-Tagle made it into the runoff, which Piñera won by a small margin.

Piñera's term has been wracked by massive demonstrations of students, workers, indigenous Mapuche people and environmentalists, all of whom object strongly to the president's right-wing policies that are seen as having roots in the Pinochet dictatorship. Students, supported by labor, have protested against privatization of education, and for quality schools for all. Environmental protests have taken aim at water privatization schemes that threaten to harm the environment. The Mapuche indigenous group, fighting to recover lost lands, has been subjected to repressive Pinochet-era "anti-terrorism" legislation.

The Socialist Party is running former President Bachelet as its candidate (the ban on reelection only applies to consecutive terms). This time, the Communist Party has decided to support her candidacy. The main right-wing candidate is Evelyn Rose Matthei Fornet, Piñera's former secretary of Labor and Social Security, running under the banner of the Independent Democratic Union. There are several other smaller-scale candidacies. At writing, polls are showing Bachelet far ahead.

The Chilean election is of great regional and international importance. There is a great struggle in Latin America and the Caribbean going on at present. On one side is the Bolivarian dynamic, which tries to build solidarity among the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, reduce their domination of their, and find forms of internal development based on human solidarity and social justice, not neo-liberalism. Aligned with this position are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and some of the small Caribbean states. On the other side is the Pacific Alliance, including countries with conservative governments dependent on the United States: Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru (Costa Rica and Panama are associate members). This alliance strongly supports neo-liberal, free trade policies and U.S. foreign policy. Geographically, the Pacific Alliance states are well positioned to be part of the Trans Pacific Partnership.

If Bachelet, with communist and socialist support, wins the election, she is likely to reorient Chile toward the Bolivarian dynamic and away from U.S. domination. There are powerful people who will want to try to prevent this.

Photo: On the 40th anniversary of the fascist coup, Juventudes Comunistas de Chile JJCC demand truth and justice for the dead whom they honor with a procession near the presidential palace La Moneda in Santiago, Chile. (Corrected caption, 9.16.13)

 

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  • I'm one of the many thousands who left Chile during the dictatorship so I cannot claim to be absolutely knowledgeable of the politics in my country but what I do know is that M. Bachelet did not do very much to bring the country to a democracy or even to economic independence which, given the price of copper for the last 30 years would have made Chilean people better off; as it is, almost three quarters of the profit for raping the country go to foreign companies and the poor starve. The Concertacion did nothing to change the constitution imposed by the dictatorship and is responsible for not taking excessive power away from police; now there is almost as much repression as there was during those dark years of the military, you just have to see what happened in the recent commemorations of the 40 years of the coup and the assassination of Victor Jara. The last 3 years of student demonstrations in the country are another consequence of Bachelet's government privatisation of education that were implemented by the current government . There are still many political prisoners in Chile, most of them Mapuche people fighting for their land rights agains the multinationals due to neoliberal policies. Chile is now at a crossroads, in danger of losing its culture, its food sovereignty; being taken over by corporation giants like Monsanto, Bayer and many others thanks to the "socialism" practised by the likes of Bachelet. We, the exiled have no right to vote in our country's election so I can only hope that my people have learned the hard lessons and opt for real change.

    Posted by Cecilia Nunez, 09/21/2013 6:21am (10 months ago)

  • Just a note on the photo here:

    The photo is in Santiago, the capital of Chile, to the presidential palace known as La Moneda.

    Posted by José A Cruz, 09/15/2013 8:56pm (11 months ago)

  • With la Concertación por la Democracia, the Pinochet regime put forth as a condition for a return to democracy was that the pro-democracy party would exclude the Communist Party from being part of any center-left coalition. The Chilean CP did not self exclude.

    A number of other parties, including the Humanist Party, later left the now ruling Concertación alliance because of this.

    The country is still under a Pinochet created constitution which create a bi-partisan electoral process. Chile used to have a proportional representative system.

    The bi-partisan system forces both center-left and center-right coalitional parties.

    Absent a change in the Constitution, there had been a negotiated change after years of Concertación politics with Communists, Humanists and other socialist parties outside the two-party system.

    The Concertación agreed to not run candidates in a number of districts so that Communists and other non-Concertación parties could run against the right.

    The result was a number of non-Concertación candidates being elected to the national legislature, including three Communists.

    The current tactic is to create a third electoral coalition composed of all the parties of the Concertación plus a number of other parties, including the PCCh.

    Posted by José A Cruz, 09/15/2013 7:46pm (11 months ago)

  • There was a "Constitutional coup" in Paraguay last year and now a right wing government is in power. It still belongs to some of the alliances but is very anti-communist and especially anti-Venezuela.

    Peru elected Ollanta Humala as a left-wing presidential candidate, but the Peruvian left is very disappointed with him, they see him as having betrayed his committments.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 09/13/2013 10:56pm (11 months ago)

  • Is Paraguay still in the Bolivarian group?

    I thought Peru elected a leftist as President....

    Posted by Eric G., 09/12/2013 8:01pm (11 months ago)

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