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Greg Grandin reviews ‘Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War’ by Tanya Harmer · LRB 19 July 2012
"Harmer dispatches two myths favoured by those who blame the coup on Allende himself. The first is that his commitment to democracy was opportunistic and would soon have been abandoned. ‘One might even,’ Falcoff writes, ‘credit the Nixon administration with preventing the consolidation of Allende’s “totalitarian project”’. The second is that even if Allende wasn’t a fraud he was a fool, unleashing forces he could not control – for example, the left wing of Popular Unity, and the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, which was further to the left of Allende’s coalition and drew inspiration from the Cuban Revolution, Cuba conceived here as a proxy for Moscow.

Harmer shows that Allende was a pacifist, a democrat and a socialist by conviction not convenience. He had an ‘unbending commitment to constitutional government’ and refused in the face of an ‘externally funded’ opposition ‘to take a different non-democratic or violent road’. He invoked history to insist that democracy and socialism were compatible, yet he knew that Chile’s experience was exceptional. During the two decades before his election, military coups had overthrown governments in 12 countries: Cuba in 1952; Guatemala and Paraguay in 1954; Argentina and Peru in 1962; Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and again Guatemala in 1963; Brazil and Bolivia in 1964; and Argentina once more in 1966. Many of these coups were encouraged and sanctioned by Washington and involved subverting exactly the kind of civil-society pluralism – of the press, political parties and unions – that Allende promoted. So he was sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution and respected Castro, especially after he survived the CIA’s Bay of Pigs exploit in 1961. And when Allende won the presidency, he relied on Cuban advisers for personal security and intelligence operations.

But Cuba’s turn to one-party authoritarianism only deepened Allende’s faith in the durability of Chilean democracy. Socialism could be won, he insisted, through procedures and institutions – the ballot, the legislature, the courts and the media – that historically had been dominated by those classes most opposed to it. Castro warned him that the military wouldn’t abide by the constitution. Until at least early 1973 Allende believed otherwise. His revolution would not be confronted with the choice that had been forced on Castro: suspend democracy or perish. But by mid-1973, events were escaping Allende’s command. On 11 September he took his own life, probably with a gun Castro gave him as a gift. The left in the years after the coup developed its own critique of Allende: that, as the crisis hurtled toward its conclusion, he proved indecisive, failing to arm his supporters and train resistance militias, failing to shut down congress and failing to defend the revolution the way Castro defended his. Harmer presents these as conscious decisions, stemming from Allende’s insistence that neither one-party rule nor civil war was an acceptable alternative to defeat.

A photograph of Allende taken during his last hours shows him leaving the presidential palace, pistol in hand and helmet on head, flanked by bodyguards and looking up at the sky, watching for the bombs. The image is powerful yet deceptive, giving the impression that Allende had been at the palace when the coup started, and was beginning to organise resistance to it. But Allende wasn’t trapped in his office. He’d gone there earlier that morning, despite being advised not to, when he heard that his generals had rebelled. The Cubans were ready to arm and train a Chilean resistance and, Harmer writes, ‘to fight and die alongside Allende and Chilean left-wing forces in a prolonged struggle to defend the country’s revolutionary process’. But Allende ordered them not to put their plans into operation, and they listened: ‘The Chilean president,’ Harmer says, ‘was therefore far more in control of Cuba’s involvement in his country than previously thought.’ He also rejected the idea of retreating to the outskirts of Santiago and leading an armed resistance: in Harmer’s assessment, he committed suicide rather than give up his commitment to non-violent revolution.

Many, in Chile and elsewhere, refused to believe that Allende had killed himself. The story had to be that he was executed, like Zapata, Sandino, Guevara and others who died at the hands of traitors. Che fought to the end and had no illusions about the bourgeoisie and its democratic credentials. Allende’s legacy is more ambiguous, especially for today’s revived Latin American left, which despite its remarkable electoral success in recent decades still struggles to tame the market forces set free after the Chilean coup. In 2009 in Honduras, for instance, and last month in Paraguay, democratically elected presidents were unseated by ‘constitutional coups’. In both countries, their opponents dressed up what were classic putsches in the garb of democratic proceduralism, taking advantage of vague impeachment mechanisms to restore the status quo ante.

For Brazil’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), founded in 1980 by militant trade unionists including the future president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the coup in Chile reinforced the need to work with centrist parties to restore constitutional rule. Social issues weren’t completely sidelined, but attaining stability took precedence over class struggle; for the first time in Latin American history, a major left-wing party found itself fighting for political democracy as a value in itself, not as part of a broader campaign for social rights. ‘I thought a lot about what happened with Allende in Chile,’ Lula once said, referring to the polarisation that followed the 1970 election, when the Popular Unity coalition won with only a bit more than a third of the vote. That’s why he agreed to set the bar high for a PT win. During the Constituent Assembly debates leading up to the promulgation of Brazil’s 1988 post-dictatorship constitution, Lula insisted that if no one candidate received a majority in the first round of a presidential election, a run-off had to be held between the top two contenders, which would both give the winner more legitimacy and force him or her to reach out beyond the party base. Like Allende, Lula stood for president three times before winning at his fourth attempt. Unlike Allende, though, each time Lula ran and lost and ran again, he gave up a little bit more of the PT’s founding principles, so that the party went from pledging to overturn neoliberalism to promising to administer it more effectively.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez drew a different lesson from the defeat of the Popular Unity government. Soon after he was elected president in 1998, before coming out as a confrontationalist, indeed before he even identified himself as a socialist, Chávez began to compare himself to Allende. Wealthy Venezuelans were mobilising against even the mildest economic reforms, as their Chilean predecessors had done, taking to the streets, banging their pots and pans, attacking the government through their family-owned TV stations and newspapers, beating a path to the US embassy to complain, and taking money from Washington to fund their anti-government activities. In response, Chávez began to talk about 1973. ‘Like Allende, we are pacifists,’ he said of his supporters, including those in the military. ‘And like Allende, we are democrats. Unlike Allende, we are armed.’ The situation got worse and worse, culminating in the coup of April 2002 which, though unsuccessful, looked very like the coup against Allende. Chávez found himself trapped in the national palace speaking to Castro on the phone, telling him he was ready to die for the cause. Ever the pragmatist, Castro urged him to live to fight another day: ‘Don’t do what Allende did!’"
greggrandin  salvadorallende  history  marxism  socialism  democracy  2012  tanyaharmer  venezuela  economics  inequality  class  pacifism  cuba  fidelcastro  brazil  brasil  lula  luladasilva  latinamerica  us  richardnixon  intervention  revolution  government  argentina  honduras  guatemala  paraguay  perú  bolivia  hugochávez  pinochet  chile  henrykissinger  tanyharmer  coldwar  markfalcoff  dilmarousseff  authoritarianism  dictatorship 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
The United States Didn’t Just Help Topple Allende—We Trained the Economists, Too | The Nation
"A new documentary, Chicago Boys, looks at the Chilean economists who brought neoliberalism from the halls of Chicago to the policies of Latin America."
chicagoboys  economics  miltonfriedman  chile  history  pinochet  us  salvadorallende  economists  policy  politics  greggrandin  2015  1973 
september 2017 by robertogreco

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