Observances in Venezuela and Chile memorializing the death, 34 years ago, of Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, diverged widely.
Allende died in a right-wing military coup in 1973. The Nixon administration employed military aid, economic strangulation policies and an estimated $20 million in CIA funding to help overthrow Allende’s Popular Unity government.
The U.S.-backed coup installed the brutal dictatorship of Chilean Army Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who remained in power until 1990.
During Pinochet’s reign, thousands of unionists and progressive political activists were killed, and tens of thousands were imprisoned, tortured or driven into exile.
In Venezuela, which today is embarking on another socialist revolution, Salvador Allende’s grandson, Gonzalo Meza Allende, drew upon his grandfather’s teachings to suggest the latter’s affinity, were he alive, with the process of change underway there.
In Caracas, Gonzalo Meza Allende noted that his grandfather’s governing coalition never enjoyed 50 percent electoral support, in contrast to the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. And “now there is no Cold War,” he said.
But, he warned, “be careful — the country acting as the world superpower is the same, as is its attempts to control the global economy and ideology.”
Holding up Latin American unity as one of Salvador Allende’s main tenets, the speaker quoted the former Chilean president: “We struggle fundamentally for the integration of Latin American countries. We believe that it is a just road indicated by the founding fathers of the homeland, who dreamed of Latin American unity.”
In dark contrast, memorial events in Santiago, Chile, took participants backward in time when on Sept. 9 hundreds of heavily armed police created, according to one observer, a “militarized city, a virtual state of siege.”
The police blocked “an immense column” of marchers from approaching the Moneda Palace, where Allende worked and died, en route to Santiago’s General Cemetery, site of a memorial to “the detained and disappeared.” March leaders reportedly were brutally detained and roughed up, and spokespersons for the National Assembly for Human Rights declared that at least seven detained women marchers were humiliated and sexually abused by the police.
Guillermo Teillier, leader of Chile’s Communist Party, said, “The repression applied now [is] based on decrees left in place from Pinochet.”
Chile’s interior minister, Belisario Velesco, announced the next day that groups would be allowed to gather, as has been the custom on Sept. 11, at the side door of the Moneda Palace used by Allende and at a nearby statue of the president, but only if they were pre-registered to do so.
When Sept. 11 arrived, thousands of people were again kept at bay from the palace site before marching to the Estadio Chile, a sports stadium notorious for the torture and killings of progressives after the coup. Few police were in evidence there.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a member of the Socialist Party and a center-left figure, did leave flowers at the Moneda memorial site. But, critics pointed out, it was her government that was responsible for the police repression days earlier.
Protesting against the repression, groups representing families of the disappeared and murdered refused to attend a government-sponsored “ecumenical ceremony” in observance of the anniversary.
Referring to Chile’s place on the UN Human Rights Council, human rights activist María Cristiana Pacheco told the media, “The Chile of today doesn’t deserve that, and we are not disposed to accept this unjust and immoral order of things inherited from the military dictatorship.”
Disturbances broke out in working-class and poor neighborhoods in Santiago late on Sept. 11, resulting in 200 arrests. Many people were injured, including 42 policemen, one of whom was killed.
The Communist Party issued a statement titled “A people under repression” that asserted, “The regime today has fostered repressive political powers at a level never seen in Chile’s history, with enormous resources taken away from people’s needs” — a regime, it said, for which “workers and students in the streets constitute a danger to their neoliberal system.”