Allende and the popular unity

Ricardo Israel

By: Ricardo Israel - 17/09/2023

Share:     Share in whatsapp

Between 1970 and 1973, the integral or global vision of society predominated in the majority and on both sides, one that surpassed and went beyond what politics could do, more typical of the extremes, losing the rationality that the debate needs. public for a democratic solution. When dialogue was attempted, it was a deaf one, with ideology and prejudices prevailing. In both sectors, the extremes prevailed, since the coup conquered the majority of the Christian Democrats (DC), which meant that a political solution could not be achieved, also fought by the UP ultras.

It must be said that this correlation of forces in the opposition led to the majority of the country, if not in favor of the coup, at least not condemning it. There are no opinion studies, but only the judicial action and the position of the so-called “Group of 13” in the Christian Democracy was left for later, in exchange for the support given to the Coup by important leaders of the time such as former president Eduardo Frei. Montalva and the future president Patricio Aylwin, and say that they supported the coup but were important in the recovery of democracy, as was the Catholic Church, one of the most important institutions in the defense of human rights (HR). .). The above is not contradictory, it is just the history of Chile and its dynamics, told as it happened and without bias.

It is part of a search process, which led between 1932 and 1970 to have very different governments, one after another, right, popular front, former dictator (Gral. Ibáñez), social Christianity, a process that characterized the country's democracy during the validity of the Constitution of 25, only that with Allende he accelerated it.

That is to say, what happened to his opposition also happened to the Popular Unity (UP), which mostly abandoned the revolution “with empanadas and red wine” in favor of the socialist revolution. It was not something isolated, since his predecessor defined his reformism (1964-70, Frei government) as a “revolution in freedom.” Curiously, the party that distinguished itself in supporting the gradualism of an increasingly isolated and lonely Allende was the PC, above even the moderate Radical Party (PR), whose youth was defined as revolutionary, because that concept was in the air as a symbol of an era, where many did not doubt that the revolution was coming, only that the debate focused on whether it was going to be by weapons or for a minority of those days, by electoral means.

It seems to be another party considering its positions today, but the Chilean communists of that time disagreed not only in Havana itself and in Chile with a Fidel Castro who criticized them then as "reformists", but also those communists ideologically combated those who From the left they despised Allende as the Revolutionary Left Movement, before and after the coup, since they accused them of “adventurers” who, together with the ultras of Allende's party, the Socialist Party (PS), had created conditions that helped and They favored the Coup d'état. They seem like two communist parties when comparing that party whose first document of its leadership within Chile in 1974 criticized “ultra-leftism” with the one that today commemorates the 50th anniversary, but it is only one. The explanation could be that, Between those dates, that directive was captured clandestinely and then made to disappear by the dictatorship, like many other militants, in addition to those who suffered torture. This process is also suffered by the first internal leadership of the PS, who is also among the missing, and whose first document also criticizes the ultra-left for creating the conditions of the Coup. In other words, those who were underground had a broader vision than just “oligarchy” or “imperialism.” whose first document also criticizes the ultra-left for creating the conditions of the Coup.

Between 1970 and 1973 the history of Chile accelerated, and not just politics, since society itself had a great level of division and polarization, even at the family level, and the way Allende died does not change the gradualism that characterized his long political life, which included having been a minister, senator and four presidential nominations, where unlike other socialists who were later on his left, he always supported the PC due to the illegalization suffered under the government of González Videla and unlike other socialist leaders , was never part of the government of General Ibáñez in the 50s, who was elected to be a kind of Chávez, sweeping away his adversaries, and was an impeccably democratic government.

Allende as a myth is a later creation, due to the way he died, fighting. His last well-known farewell speech was heard by few people, as it was only broadcast by one radio station, as most of it had already been silenced by airplanes. There everything indicates that he already knew how he was going to die, anticipated by his admiration for Balmaceda, the losing president of the civil war of 1891, and that he committed suicide on the last day of his mandate in the Argentine Embassy, ​​where he had sought refuge, also in September. For the rest, Allende apparently was serious when he said that he “had the flesh of a statue.”

Allende's political life was most often in the minority in his own party, so much so that he was proclaimed as a presidential candidate in 1970 with the support of only a minority of his leadership, since the majority saw him as a reformist and social democrat. words that then had a negative connotation, a vision that would totally change, just because of the way he died.

His new image was the result of fighting in La Moneda and his suicide. Without that way of dying, in our days perhaps the idea of ​​a tragic figure who suffered a political defeat would predominate. His death and the fact of having attempted a revolution through electoral means, and its impact, above all, in Europe and the intervention of the United States transformed him into a heroic figure, admired in many places, which is not contradictory, since , again, is the history of Chile, analyzed without bias or subsequent partisan agendas.

In this regard, there is probably no country in Europe, Western or Eastern, or in Latin America where today there is not a street, square or statue with his name. Also in Africa and Asia, but in smaller quantities and importance. Fifty years later he had tribute ceremonies, with politicians in high positions, who issued statements about how his death, the Coup, and the subsequent violation of human rights influenced his vocation and militancy.

Furthermore, in many of those countries, the condemnation of the Coup was more unanimity than in Chile, for example, in France. And it was not a unique case, since the phenomenon of incorporating different political visions occurred for many years, since the condemnation of the Chilean dictatorship had a rare (quasi) global unanimity, because it was, above all, a small nation in the southernmost part of the world, managing to add the former USSR, its communist satellites, social democratic and social Christian Europe, the third world of that time (not just Cuba), and the USA based on Carter and his human rights policy, countries that financed, together with private foundations, a network of offices dedicated to promoting this solidarity,

In this regard and in comparison, the many military coups that Latin America then suffered, including Argentina, did not and cannot say the same.

What then was Popular Unity, the coalition that nominated him as a candidate in 1970? Allende was elected president by 36.2% of the votes. At that time, the forecasts were also wrong, and he surpassed the person who the polls indicated as the winner, the right-wing Jorge Alessandri (34.9%) and the Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic (27.8), to the left of Frei, and with a program similar government.

The difference was small, confirming that Chilean politics at that time was divided into three thirds. For Allende it was the fair increase, in relation to his previous nominations, where he obtained 29% of the votes in 1958 (Alessandri won) and 34% in 1964 (Frei won). According to the electoral system then in force, it was up to the Plenary Congress (sum of senators and deputies) to choose between the first two majorities, and the verdict of the polls had always been respected. On this occasion, the DC demanded and obtained a “Statute of Democratic Guarantees” to be incorporated into the Constitution.

This allowed him to take office, in addition to overcoming a strong campaign against him, which speaks well of the democratic system, which was able to overcome an attempted coup that failed and attempts at corruption by congressmen. The United States, with instructions from Nixon and Kissinger, was behind it as reported by the Church Commission of the US Senate. There was also a conspiracy to kidnap the commander in chief of the Army who supported respect for the Constitution. According to what is known, the United States withdrew in recent days, but the plotters decided to press ahead, assassinating General Schneider.

Under these conditions and with these difficulties, Allende assumed the government, whose mention and study is key to understanding the subsequent radicalization that culminated in the coup d'état. To this day, it continues to be debated why Chile could not reach an agreement between the UP and the DC, which was always the way to have the majority necessary for the transformations that both wanted, not only the best way to gain followers in democracy, but also a majority that could have transformed the coup into a minority, in addition to having reduced the ultras of both sectors to marginality. I believe that the reason is found in the predominance of ideological visions that were exclusive in Chile at that time. Neither common sense nor the serenity required to achieve agreements in democracy predominated. Not only Marxism but the vision of the “own path” of the DC, influenced by religious millenarianism, a “communitarianism” that as an organization of society did not exist anywhere and the ideas of Jacques Maritain. That is, the predominance of ideologies over negotiation.

Furthermore, it was the agreement between the DC, the social democratic center, and the non-communist left (the PC was left out) of the coalition that managed to defeat Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite and that gave rise to the successful transition achieved by the Concertación de Partidos. for Democracy and its four consecutive governments. The PC only returned with Bachelet II in 2013, in what was known as the “New Majority” (but that is another column).

In Allende, above all there was a desire for social justice. He was never an ideologue, and unlike other left-wing politicians, I don't think he read Marx beyond the Communist Manifesto any more than he was a follower of Lenin. He was a politician of his time, whose decades-long career is marked by his desire to improve the many poor people that Chile had at that time, a knowledge that escapes the new generations, starting with the current Chilean authorities, who probably do not understand How poor Chile was at that time, with classmates from the provincial high school and Law School at the University of Chile who lived in houses with dirt floors, just like in the countryside. It was a Chile where the poor came to middle class homes to ask for stale bread and where deaths from the cold under the bridges were common, with childhood memories of my mother setting up a real soup kitchen in our home to feed those who were marginalized. It was Chile in 1970.

What type of government was the Unidad Popular (UP)?

For me, from the day I was able to regain my freedom after serving the sentence to which a War Council falsely condemned me in post-coup Chile, where military “war” legislation had replaced the rule of law, it was the search that accompanied me for a long time, so much so that I dedicated a lot of effort to those three years, until transforming it into perhaps the stage on which I did the most research and whose understanding I remain dedicated to. And as another legacy, solidarity with every victim of dictatorial power, anywhere in the world, and a life commitment to democracy and human rights.

I arrived in 1975 at the University of Essex to study postgraduate degrees in political science, which was the ideal stage for researching and writing. Not only there, but the year where I was a visiting researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, to review, in the pre-internet era, the recently declassified documents on the USA's interference and the subsequent months at the University of Warsaw, to try to understand the role or, rather, the Soviet Union's lack of interest in that experience.

In Essex, my guiding teacher, both for the master's thesis and the PhD dissertation. It was Ernesto Laclau, who I managed to get him to accept positions with which he did not agree. I am grateful for the freedom and respect that he granted me, since the hypotheses with which my intellectual journey began years later culminated in certainties, on which my professional life has revolved, including books, for example, “Chile 1970-1973: Democracy that was lost among everyone” (MN Editorial, 2006), whose 300 pages begin with the 1970 election and end with the coup d'état of September 11, 1973, years and days reviewed in detail.

Today, I have evidence to maintain that, in relation to the character of the government, beyond Allende's personal attempts, negotiation did not predominate in the UP, but rather confrontation, as well as that the implementation of the structural transformation program objectively generated a pre-revolutionary situation. Allende's government must be understood as overcoming the reformism of his predecessor, as far as the nationalization of copper is concerned, going one step beyond Frei's "Chileanization", as well as the agrarian reform, until then the most significant change. deep in the history of the country, as far as the end of the latifundia is concerned, not only an economic and social change, but the overcoming of a way of life that had characterized the country for centuries. It also helps to explain that the coup would not only have been military, but civil-military due to the anger accumulated in the sector that had been expropriated, since both did so without compensation being actually paid. For this reason, Pinochet cannot fully explain himself without linking him to the Allende government.

My original hypothesis also found confirmation in relation to the character of the period, since those three years were characterized by a political, economic and ideological struggle, in which the conflict reached levels of polarization and intensity never seen before, only to be surpassed by the cruelty expressed in the subsequent dictatorship. What Chile experienced between 1970-73, more than a transition to socialism, was an intense struggle for state power.

And in relation to external agents, I believe it is necessary to put aside the “conspiracy” theory, despite the known responsibility of the Nixon administration in creating the conditions that led to the defeat of the UP. I would postulate that the explanation must be found internally in Chile, focused on the actions carried out by the opposition and the errors of the government. Beyond the welcome moral criticism, what happened to the USA must be seen in the context of the Cold War and the effectiveness of its blockade, as part of the dependence that characterized its weak economy. The fact that the intervention was directed by someone of the level of Henry Kissinger, I believe, was due to the fear that Allende's symbolic value could have more impact in Europe than in Latin America, above all,

For the rest, if we are talking about foreign agents, we must include the Soviet Union, which contrary to what was expected, did not have any solidarity or real support, beyond declarations, for what was being experienced in Chile. Today we know that it was because, under no circumstances, did he want to commit financially to another experience, given the cost that Cuba meant to him.

Although less publicized, not only the USA but also Cuba was very active in foreign meddling, and Castro does not come out very well, since he harmed rather than helped Allende. First, before being elected, Cuba openly criticized the electoral path followed by the UP, going so far as to talk about the impossibility of triumphing in the region, by a path other than weapons. Second, a visit of a few days was transformed, to Allende's displeasure (I heard it personally in a comment he made to my father) into 24 days, given his impotence, since Fidel had not been invited for that period, touring the country speaking against the peaceful or electoral route, endorsing the positions, not of the government, but of the ultra-left. Those days did a lot to radicalize the process, on both sides, above all, in giving strength to the opposition. Third, once he died, unlike what Doña Tencha, his wife, knew, he spread the myth that lasted until the 90s (despite the fact that one of his doctors had confirmed the suicide), according to which Allende was murdered by his executioners. , a version that García Márquez also includes in a journalistic book, confirming the importance of the myth, and that at least in Latin America, the story predominating over the facts has existed at least since the last century.

In relation to the character of the Popular Unity, as a political coalition it was not an invention, but the culmination of an entire process of organization of pro-socialist forces, corresponding to its historical forms, so it expressed both continuity and rupture with the system instituted after the break of the oligarchic system in the 1920s. Although the break has been highly analyzed, the continuity has been rather ignored.

For its part, the defeat of the left was not only due to Washington and its internal opposition, which otherwise should have found it better prepared. There were mistakes of our own that hindered any possibility of success. First, the emphasis only on structural change, believing that this alone would achieve majority ideological legitimation, which, by the way, did not happen. Second, the lack of a single strategy, since it was divided into two political schemes, each of which required a different alliance. Furthermore, the coherence of the project was affected, since there were government decisions that conflicted with each other. In the end it was paralyzed between those who preached an assault on all power and those who wanted a negotiation to expand the base of the government. And if there was a slogan that deeply affected the government, it was the “move forward without compromising” of Altamirano, a socialist leader, since by definition life in a democracy requires consensus, which the DC also forgot. The UP was so divided that in the days preceding the coup, despite having decided, Allende could not get them to agree on the language of the call for a plebiscite. It was in any case doubtful that he would have obtained a change in the political climate, since it was not a plebiscite on his continuity in the government, which, moreover, did not exist in the constitution and would have needed a reform. It was only for a definition of areas of the economy between private, mixed and state, presented as a project by DC senators, and where there is no evidence, that a defeat would precipitate his resignation. Despite having decided, Allende could not get them to agree on the language of the call for a plebiscite. It was in any case doubtful that he would have obtained a change in the political climate, since it was not a plebiscite on his continuity in the government, which, moreover, did not exist in the constitution and would have needed a reform. Despite having decided, Allende could not get them to agree on the language of the call for a plebiscite. It was in any case doubtful that he would have obtained a change in the political climate, since it was not a plebiscite on his continuity in the government, which, moreover, did not exist in the constitution and would have needed a reform. It did not exist in the constitution and would have needed reform.

What is described corresponds to a political scheme, where Allende was the executor of the agreements of the political committee where all the UP parties (and their deep divisions) were represented, and not the exercise of direct presidential power, where the president had many powers. private constitutional rights, which Allende did not exercise, the doubt being whether it was because he did not want to or could not.

In relation to the failure of the experience, I am convinced that the political project was structurally limited due to the lack of a realistic policy towards the Armed Forces, the result of ignorance of them, which was shared with the entire Chilean political class. That something more could have been achieved is demonstrated by the fact that the commanders in chief of the three branches would have approved his integration into relevant ministries, which stopped the political offensive against him in 1972 for a few months, but these were personal efforts by Allende. , who had already lost ascendancy in the officers' ranks, due to the resignation of generals loyal to Allende (Prats), and due to the neutralization of the chiefs of the navy and Carabineros to be replaced by insurrectionists, in the hours before the coup.

The lack of knowledge of the speed with which the National Security doctrine penetrated within the Armed Forces is demonstrated by the following document that I found in the library of a Canadian university. It was the era before the Internet, where this information abounds, and it corresponded to a document declassified by the USA. It was at the beginning of 1963 and there a North American general from Panama addressed Robert Kennedy and told him that his presence was vital to inaugurate a seminar for Latin American officers. He wanted to invite Chilean representatives, given the proximity of the 1964 elections, but they had not been able to get any branch of Chile to accept the invitation, since they were conditioned by their tradition of political dispensation and did not understand the danger of communism. They came to him, since they assumed that they could not be subtracted if the brother of the president of the USA was present. Above all, he illustrates how in less than a decade, those Armed Forces. They moved towards coup.

I am convinced, unlike other analysts, of the relevance of ideology, since a key element to understand these three years is the importance of the middle classes, since the possibilities of success of the path followed by the UP were related to the fight to get the support of these sectors, which mostly turned against him, dragging the DC with them.

The failure with these sectors was vital, since it damaged the correlation of forces within the armed forces, in favor of the supporters of the coup. A blow that was felt in the air and was present in the previous days, only the day was unknown. It was also an example of how much was unknown about what a military coup meant, in a country that had no recent experience, and that mistakenly claimed that it was different from the rest, because “there were no” coups d'état.

It was not a blow as a consequence of the economic crisis (in fact, Pinochet had a deep economic crisis in 1981, which also caused historic unemployment). In reality, the economic situation was terrible, but it was done to remodel the entire society, economy and democratic institutions, to change the Chile that had evolved for more than a century and a half, and make the country anew. Also, with great cruelty. That level of violation of human rights should not have occurred, nothing justified it, since all resistance had been crushed in a couple of hours, that same day the eleventh.

Thousands were immediately arrested, not only authorities, but also union and student leaders, and despite this, there were almost no convictions for corruption, which speaks well of the poorer Chile of that time. It was not temporary, it was 17 years, in which nothing justified the pain that followed, nothing, by the way, no particular economic policy.

For this reason, I cannot agree with what Álvaro Uribe, the former president of Colombia, and also elected twice, recently wrote (Allende: the beginning and the end, lessons for Latin America, September 10, 2013). I think he is wrong, thinking that “the annulment of political freedoms contributed to reestablishing democracy.” It was not to separate two rival groups. It was done to crush those who represented around 44% in the last general election of April 1973. The official figures of what happened during the dictatorship speak of more than 40,000 victims among them, more than 3,200 dead and 1,159 detainees who disappeared (others speak of 1,469) without being found or identified until today. Not counting hundreds of thousands of exiles.

I think he has made a mistake, since the only lesson is that democracy must be defended above all other considerations and that, in no way, human rights can be violated.

Among former presidents, I find the Uruguayan José “Pepe” Mujica more right, who said that “you have to have memory, but you also have to look forward,” in other words, “remember so as not to forget.”


Ph.D. in Political Science, Lawyer, former presidential candidate in Chile

«The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author».