Chile – breaking the dykes

Gabriela Pinilla, Still from Bairro Policarpa, Acrylic on paper, 20 X 25 centimeters, 2011, Bogotá Colombia


From Salvador Allende to the current Constituent Assembly

The origin of all things

Night fell on September 4, 1970. It seems far away, it's been more than 50 years. He was a little chilly, but it's hard to remember. Nor do I remember whether it was possible to see him from the Alameda while he was speaking. Certainly yes. I heard him perfectly. In fact, I keep listening to it...

“Go home. I ask you to return to your homes with the healthy joy of the clean victory achieved. Tonight, when you caress your children, when you seek rest, think of the hard tomorrow that lies ahead…” I think that what weighed on us, mainly, was a feeling of disbelief, a certain stupor. Salvador Allende saw it more clearly: “think of the tough tomorrow ahead of us…”

His victory had just been confirmed, and it was close: Popular Unity, 1.075.616 votes (36,63%). The “independent” Jorge Alessandri, conservative, 1.036.278 (35,29%). Radomiro Tomic, Christian Democrat, 824.849 (28,08%). A triumph that had to be ratified by Congress, with Christian Democracy as the tip of the balance. In an attempt to create an unbreathable atmosphere, the right kidnapped and assassinated the commander in chief of the army, General René Schneider. Later he would assassinate another: General Carlos Prats, whom Pinochet succeeded in command. His old compadre, whom he had killed in Buenos Aires (where Prats had sought refuge after the coup), together with his wife, placed a bomb under his car. And the dictatorship was installed. But before that, they had tried to prevent Allende's election to Congress.

The memorandums of the multinational ITT, from September and October 1970, known months later, revealed the strategy: “At this moment, it seems difficult to defeat Allende in Congress. The defeated Christian Democrat candidate, Radomiro Tomic, still supports Allende and could take an important sector of the PDC vote with him. “Despite the pessimism, efforts continue to get Frei or the military to act to stop Allende. Efforts are also continuing to bring the far left into a violent reaction that would create the necessary climate for military intervention. "While his chances of success are slim, a blocking of Allende's rise to power through an economic collapse should not be ruled out."

ITT's second man in Washington, John Mac Cone, former director of the CIA, discussed the matter with the then head of the agency, Richard Helms. Later, the decision to overthrow Allende was taken by President Richard Nixon himself, at the suggestion of his then security adviser and later secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. ITT documents are available to anyone who wants to consult them. “Think of the tough tomorrow ahead of us…”, Allende had already said that same night. “We have triumphed to definitively defeat imperialist exploitation, to put an end to monopolies, to carry out a serious and profound agrarian reform, to control import and export trade, to finally nationalize credit, pillars that will make the progress of the country viable. Chile, creating the social capital that will drive our development,” he said that night.

“On this night” – he added – “which belongs to history”, he expressed his “emotional acknowledgment of the men and women, the militants of the popular parties and the members of the social forces that made possible this victory that has projections beyond the borders of the country itself ”. “It was the anonymous man and the ignored woman in Chile who made this transcendental social fact possible. Thousands and thousands of Chileans sowed their pain and their hope in this hour that belongs to the people”. “They are going to study the problems and the solutions, because we will have to get the country moving quickly”, he told the committees of companies, factories, hospitals, neighborhood councils and in neighborhoods and proletarian populations. And he added: “Chile opens a path that other peoples of America and the world will be able to follow. The vital force of unity will break the dikes of dictatorships. Latin America and well beyond the frontiers of our people look to our tomorrow”.

And the journey began

For three years, the eyes of the world looked to Santiago. The path began. The key to everything was to choke the economy, as ITT had proposed from the beginning. There were four points:

(1) Banks must not renew credits or must postpone their renewal;

(2) US companies must drag their feet when sending money, making deliveries, shipping replacement parts, etc. …;

(3) Chilean savings and loan companies have problems. If they are pressured, they will have to close their doors, creating more tension;

(4) We must withdraw all technical assistance and not promise any assistance in the future. Companies that can must close their doors in Chile.

The result was becoming evident. The economy began to fail, the right began to articulate better, the newspaper The Mercury, well financed by Washington, organized the ideas. In the end, they had more strength. With the government in shackles, the military turned to the coup and the ignominy began. And it's not over yet.

“We will do the impossible so that Daniel Jadue does not win the elections”, said Senator Iván Moreira, from the conservative UDI [Independent Democratic Union], a few days after the results of the Constituent Assembly, after the Communist Party (to which Jadue belongs) and the Frente Ampla formalized their joint participation in the primary elections to define the candidacy that will lead to the presidential elections in November. Jadue remains a candidate with great possibilities, which scares the right. Mayor of the Recoleta commune, he was re-elected with 64% of the votes. Behind was the UDI candidate, with less than 24%. Even further to the right, Republicans got 12%.

One day something has to happen

The second government of Michelle Bachelet ended. It was November 2017. Piñera was lurking again. I went to see him at his house, in Providencia. “Ahead – he said, pointing to the neighbor's house –, they are celebrating the coup, with a flag and a national song. It is a neighborhood of wealthy people. It is District 10, one of the most important in the country, a traditional bastion of the right”. But this time Let's go to Chile, the conglomerate that represented it in these elections, obtained 91.752 votes (21,6%). I appreciate the dignity, a left-wing group, received 97.244 votes (22,9%). Fernando Atria, academic, constitutional lawyer, was the first majority: 52.443 votes (12,3%).

But this story started earlier. Bachelet's government was ending. We sat down with Atria in his living room and started the interview. “There has been an epochal change in Chilean politics since the 2011 demonstrations. These demonstrations, which were not just student ones, produced a challenge to the neoliberal model. During this government, we learned what our problem really is: it is a political form incapable of producing significant transformations in the country”, he said.

Atria analyzed what she perceived at the time as a characteristic of Chilean politics, of its crisis. Politics, he said, “have become indifferent to the position of citizens, which leads to its delegitimization”. “This policy, neutralized, does not have the strength to face economic power. It only works when it responds to the interests of that economic power”. And he cites examples: “the Institutions of Previsional Health (isapres) were sentenced for ten years for the changes they make to their health plans. Everyone knows that if they bring complaints to the courts, these amendments will be declared unconstitutional. But despite this, only 10% of isapres members go to court when they feel affected. The other 90% won't. “Politics is on the side of the abuser, against the citizen,” he says. “This means that politics is increasingly viewed with distrust, with disenchantment. We are seeing a political form that is being delegitimized. Someday something has to happen; not tomorrow maybe, but someday. This is what we are experiencing today in Chile. The political form of the last 27 years has already reached its expiration date,” said Atria.

As the mayor of Valparaíso, Jorge Sharp, who was also re-elected with a comfortable majority, pointed out, the results of the elections in the region represent “the complete failure of the city's traditional party system”. In Valparaíso, Rodrigo Mundaca was elected regional governor with 43,67% of the votes, while in Viña del Mar, Macarena Ripamonti won the mayoral race. Both are part of the Frente Ampla. Or in Santiago, where Karina Oliva, from the small party Common, will face in the second round of elections for governor the Christian Democrat Claudio Orrego, of conservative tradition. the government Let's go to Chile ranked fourth. And the conservative Felipe Alessandri, who was seeking re-election as mayor of the capital, was in second place, behind the communist Iraci Hassler.

President Piñera himself recognized, in his own way, the failure of the government: “The citizens sent a clear and strong message to the government and to the traditional political forces. We are not properly attuned to the wishes of the citizens”. They dreamed of having at least one third of the Assembly, the “blocking third” that was established, against which no constituent article could be approved. But with only 20,5%, they were very far from the possibility of blocking that they dreamed of securing.

The solution to the Chilean political crisis would have to be equal to the problem, said Atria. And the only thing that is equal to the problem, he added, "is a Constituent Assembly". “A new constitution is urgent for the country. Is there a possibility of convening this Constituent Assembly? No! But the constitutional problem will be solved, by hook or by crook.”

for bad

It was resolved badly. There were no conditions to convene this Constituent Assembly. There were two years to go before the October 2019 eruption. Everyone was stunned by its magnitude. In the old Plaza Italia, in Alameda, in Providencia, there were millions of people. An irruption that demolished all resistance.

The consultation on the convening of a Constituent Assembly was approved by more than 70%. It was also decided that it would be composed of directly elected representatives. The other proposal was to integrate it in a mixed way, with a mix of elected representatives and acting parliamentarians.

Now the path starts again. Putting the Constituent Assembly in motion, but also targeting the elections, especially the presidential elections next November. Perhaps this is not the most appropriate calendar. It will be inevitable that the electoral campaign will be inserted in the Constituent Assembly. It will be contaminated.

For the constituent elections, the governmental right grouped in the Let's go to Chile, while the opposition was divided into a list in which the PC and FA stood out, and another, which grouped the parties of the old concertation, mainly the Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Party and the Party for Democracy (PPD), a conglomeration of diffuse positions. To these were added dozens of independent lists, the “Lista do Povo”, which ended up achieving an important representation.

But the electoral perspective divides them again, as was evident last Wednesday, when they had to present the lists for the primaries, in which they will define their presidential candidates. The PC and FA will have a primary between them. But the parties of the old concertation and independents will not participate in these primaries and it is very likely that, at least in the first round, they will bring their own candidates.

However, the Constituent Assembly will have to organize itself. One of the first battles is over operating rules. One of the bets is to obtain the release of political prisoners. Another is to open a space for people to participate, so that they can present constitutional initiatives. “Transparency, publicity, public hearings. There is an important first battle there,” said environmental leader and ecofeminist Camila Zárate, a newly elected independent candidate. “We also have to discuss the big issues: eliminating the AFPs [Administrators of Pension Funds], the deprivatization of water. I think these are the main debates, but also the reform or elimination of the Carabineros in Chile, how power will be reorganized, the mechanisms of direct democracy, with recall referendums. There will be several interesting points. But the scenario is favorable”, she says. “We want a feminist constitution and a constitution that protects animals. We want to build a plurinational state in the country. There is a very promising scenario”.

Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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