Allende, 50 years later

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By ARIEL DORFMAN*

How could the world have evolved, how different would it be, if the military hadn't overthrown Allende three years later?

Fifty years ago, on the night of September 4, 1970, I was, along with a crowd of my compatriots, dancing in the streets of Santiago de Chile.

We celebrate the victory of Salvador Allende and his left-wing coalition in that year's presidential elections. It was a triumph that transcended national borders. Until then, all revolutions had been violent, imposed by force of arms. Allende's Popular Unity proposed the use of peaceful, electoral means to build socialism, proclaiming that it was not necessary to repress or eliminate our adversaries to achieve lasting social justice, that structural changes in the economy could be effected within the limits and promises of democracy. .

It was a privilege to have fully lived that moment when dreaming the impossible was not just a slogan. I remember the Chilean people, the workers who built that country without enjoying its riches, traveling with their families through the center of the city, which always seemed strange to them, I remember how their rebellious and cheerful presence predicted a social order that recognized them as protagonists and engines of the future.

How could the world have evolved, how different would it be, if the military hadn't overthrown Allende three years later? What if other nations had been able to adopt that model of non-violent revolution to satisfy their own longings for liberation and equality?

The commemoration of this anniversary should not, however, be understood as an exercise in personal nostalgia. That moment, which presaged a future that never came, is more important than anything else because it continues to speak to us in so many ways. There are lessons to be learned from that supposedly remote 4th of September, especially in the United States today, faced with its own choice of historical dimensions.

By the way, nobody in the United States is proposing socialism as an option this coming November 3rd. No matter how delusional Trump is in describing his opponents as angry leftists. What will be decided is whether Lincoln's homeland will implement fundamental reforms or remain mired in the suffocating past. If Joe Biden, as seems more than likely, wins the next election race, American citizens – and I am now one of them – will have to ask themselves, as we did in Chile so many decades ago, a series of questions about how to carry out these reforms. At what pace should they be done? What measures must be taken quickly to ensure that there is no chance of a conservative regression? When is it better to slow down to win the support of so many voters who fear an undue disruption to their stable everyday life, the basis of their identity? When to negotiate, and when to insist on reforms that cannot wait? How to satisfy the legion of impatient and inspiring activists, who often confuse their desires with reality, and who want to move faster than most of the country can absorb? And how to isolate the most fanatical and well-armed antagonists, who will not easily relinquish their privileges, and who, with immense financial resources, will be willing to unleash violence to undermine democratic rules when they no longer serve them?

If we had known how to resolve these challenges in Chile, we could have avoided the catastrophe of a military dictatorship, and the subsequent seventeen years of brutal repression, the effects of which we are still experiencing. But, in addition to the mistakes we may have made, there is another factor that determined the failure: the United States fiercely promoted the overthrow of Allende, and, subsequently, supported and encouraged the regime of terror that supplanted him.

At a time when massive protests are shaking the United States, demanding that the country confront the inhumane and systematic way in which so many citizens, poor, black, Latino, immigrants, women and indigenous peoples are mistreated and brutalized, it is also imperative to recognize the suffering imposed to other nations for the incessant and brazen intervention of the United States in their internal affairs. And what better instance than the present one to ensure that such interference does not happen again?

Chile is not the only example of this blatant disregard for the sovereignty of others. There are the shattered democracies of Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Congo. But the destabilization of Chile, the murder of that hope we danced in the streets of Santiago half a century ago, had particularly perverse consequences.

The death of Chilean democracy – symbolized in the death of Salvador Allende, inside the Palacio de La Moneda, on September 11, 1973 – not only started a cruel tyranny, but also turned the country into an implacable laboratory, where the formulas of neoliberal capitalism that would soon prevail globally. Precisely this paradigm of wild development, the blind belief that the market dispels all problems, that greed is good, that the obscene concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few benefits the vast majority, is what is being questioned today. , with such vigor, in the United States and, admirably, also in present-day Chile, where a popular rebel movement has shaken the foundations of the political system that sustains capitalist supremacy – and, it must be said: reclaiming Allende's legacy.

It would be naive to suggest that, had Allende been successful, this neoliberal model would not have taken the world by storm anyway. As we know, unfortunately, other nations were ready to carry out this kind of disorderly experiment. However, it would be obscure to think that, if Chile's attempt to create a fair and dignified society had not been frustrated, we would have today a radiant example of how to get out of the inequality crisis we are suffering, and the divisions that afflict us.

When what are now my fellow Americans dance in their cities, as I plan to do with my wife Angélica, on the night when another election victory heralds the dawn of a new era, I would like some of them to remember that they are not alone, that there was , once upon a time, a land where other men and women danced for justice, in a land that is not so far after all.

* Ariel Dorfman is a writer, professor of literature at Duke University (USA). Author, among other books by The long goodbye to Pinochet (Company of Letters).

Translation: Victor Farinelli

Originally published in Page 12

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