SANTIAGO, Chile — It was with a heavy heart that I arrived in Chile. Compañera Gladys Marin, president of the Communist Party of Chile (CPC), had died March 6 of a brain tumor. She was 63. Communist and workers party representatives came from around the world to pay tribute to this revolutionary heroine. My party — the Communist Party USA — asked me to represent it at Marin’s funeral.
As the CPUSA statement said, “Our respect and love for comrade Gladys are inseparable from our feelings about the heroic Communist Party of Chile, and the working class and people for whom it has fought for more than 80 years. As U.S. Communists, we have always felt a special connection, responsibility and solidarity with the Chilean people, given the criminal role of U.S. imperialism in the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government.”
Woman of courage
It was during the early hours of March 8, International Women’s Day, when I arrived here in Chile’s capital. After a few hours’ sleep, I headed with my comrades to the Salon de Honor del Congreso Nacional (Hall of Honor of the National Congress) where Marin’s body lay in state.
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos had declared two days of official mourning and ordered the nation’s flag to be flown at half-mast in recognition of the stature Marin had gained among the people as a tireless fighter against fascism, for democracy and social justice. “Chile is better for that which Gladys Marin struggled,” Lagos said.
It was a fitting tribute to a woman who had served in Chile’s congress as a people’s champion.
On the day Marin died, Fidel Castro said in a message, “Gladys’ footsteps and encouragement is in all of us and in millions of people in her country and the whole world, who admire the quality of her leadership, her optimism and her fighting spirit.”
During the two days of mourning, half a million Chileans waited long hours in line to pay their respects to Marin. Families of workers and the poor, the common people she championed, walked by the casket. Representatives of all the social movements, as well as government officials of various political persuasions, including the nation’s president and congressional representatives and leaders from Latin America countries — all came to honor Gladys Marin.
Isabel Allende Bussi, daughter of the former president and herself the chair of the Chamber of Deputies’ Foreign Affairs Committee, was among the mourners. “She was a woman of much courage,” Allende said. (Salvador Allende’s niece, also named Isabel, is the well-known author, who now lives in the United States.)
A river of tears
We pressed our way to the entrance through a huge, tightly packed crowd surrounding the grounds. Once inside, I was humbled to find myself not only with the many international Communist representatives, but with members of Marin’s family, friends and comrades. A river of tears flowed as we paid our last respects. And then we broke out with the “Internationale,” the socialist anthem, fists in the air.
Minutes later the funeral procession began. The crowd was so immense it carried us out the front entrance, onto the main streets of Santiago. Everywhere we marched, the crowds on the sideline pressed to connect with the vehicle carrying Marin’s remains. From the balconies and windows of apartment buildings the people watched, many waving their last goodbyes, tears in their eyes. From office buildings, the workers let loose their calendars, the pages fluttering down onto the ground. A familiar, “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” (The people united will never be defeated), also popular in the U.S., was among the slogans chanted along the march, as was “Justice, truth, no more impunity. Put Pinochet on trial.”
All told, a million Chileans walked in the funeral procession. Countless more demonstrated their respect and love in other ways.
As we entered Plaza la Paz (the Plaza of Peace), we were greeted by a striking image of Marin — her radiant smile emanating from her beautiful face — superimposed onto a large canvass. The words “Con Gladys Mil Veces Venceremos” (With Gladys we will win a thousand times, alluding to the CPC anthem “Venceremos,” we shall overcome) were inscribed underneath her image. It was here that we paid final homage before proceeding to Cementerio General where she would be buried.
Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba, approached the podium. One could hear a pin drop.
“Profound is the pain, deep the sadness that overwhelms Cuban women and men since last Sunday when we were told that our dearest sister was leaving us,” he said. The Cuban people admired Marin for her valor and steadiness in the face of adversity, whether resisting her cruel illness, Alarcon said, or the Pinochet tyranny and its butchers. She was among the most loyal defenders of Cuba, he said, one who never flinched from firm and selfless solidarity with the socialist nation under siege by the U.S. blockade.
“Out of the tears emerges her smile. It is the sun that blends with the rain and creates the light, that points the way of the rainbow. It is multicolored socialism in which Gladys lived and in which she will live,” he said.
Heart and soul
“Gladys has not left us,” said Guillermo Teillier, general secretary of the CPC. “Our dear Gladys stays with us forever in the conscience and the will of the people who saw in her struggle the clearest expression of their hopes and their yearnings.” Teillier thanked the people of Chile for the unprecedented outpouring — the largest, most diverse since the dictatorship’s defeat — and for such a “beautiful tribute to our party’s president.”
“Dear Gladys, comrade and friend of so many of us who struggled with you. Today being March 8, we should give you a flower but the people have given you much more — their heart,” Teillier said.
Leading the resistance
Marin led the resistance that brought down the fascist Pinochet dictatorship in 1990. Gen. Augusto Pinochet had grabbed power in 1973 by military force. With direct aid from the Nixon administration — and in particular Henry Kissinger, the coup’s despised architect — Pinochet ousted the democratically elected Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende.
Allende was assassinated. Trade unionists, artists, leftists and human rights activists were rounded up, imprisoned and murdered. The coup unleashed a reign of terror that took the lives of thousands of Chileans and destroyed a blossoming democracy.
First elected to Chile’s Congress in 1965 when she was 24, Marin, and the CPC, played a crucial role in the 1970 victory of the Popular Unity coalition and the subsequent government. The PU government brought about deep democratic and social reforms — including nationalizing the highly profitable copper industry — immediately improving the people’s condition.
At the time of the 1973 coup, Marin was the leader of the Communist Youth of Chile and a member of the country’s Parliament. She immediately resisted the trampling of democracy. She rushed to a radio station and called on the Chilean people to resist.
After the coup, following a decision of the Chilean Communist Party, she went underground for several months and then sought asylum at the Dutch Embassy. After eight months of worldwide protests, Pinochet was forced to allow her safe conduct out of the country. She left Chile to build international solidarity with the Chilean democratic movement.
Marin’s husband, Jorge Muñoz, was in one of the two Communist leadership collectives that remained in Chile to organize the resistance. Three years later, the members of both leadership units had “disappeared.” They were never seen again.
Marin was part of an initial CPC contingent that returned to Chile by 1978 to continue the dangerous underground work: to rebuild the party and then the popular resistance.
Mother and revolutionary
The story of Gladys and Jorge’s children and their upbringing during the dictatorship stands out as one of many cases of personal sacrifice. A family friend raised their two sons, Rodrigo and Alvaro, in Chile. Although the friend knew Gladys was in the country instead of exile, she could not tell the sons, in order to maintain security. The secret also saved the children from worrying about their mother’s safety. Meanwhile, Marin met her friend on an almost daily basis to hear about her sons’ lives.
In 1987, after the boys gave an ultimatum — that they see their mother immediately or never again — a two-week reunion was arranged in Argentina despite the dangers it entailed.
“It was a beautiful encounter, but very painful,” Marin said in one her writings. She had left them as children and now they were teenagers. “How to become a real mother again after having been for so many years mother in dreams only?”
At their mother’s memorial the brothers, both adults now, tenderly related anecdotes of a loving mother and selfless revolutionary.
Bringing down Pinochet
Despite some close encounters, Marin managed to evade the dictatorship’s security forces while working with her comrades to rebuild the CPC, which, along with other patriotic forces, went on to organize the popular resistance inside Chile. It took many years, but the resistance grew in size and strength, bringing down the dictatorship in 1990. A plebiscite was called in which the people decided that Pinochet should step down and open elections should be held.
Fearing the resistance with strong Communist participation could emerge ready to take power, the U.S. government engineered a deal with the Christian Democrats. They set one overriding condition: the Communists must be kept out of the process and any future government.
This manipulated arrangement kept in place vestiges of the dictatorship, including the current constitution. It also resulted in an electoral system based on two multiparty political blocs: one extreme right-wing and the other center-right.
Until her untimely illness, Marin had been the leading public figure in the efforts to undo the dictatorship’s vestiges and to open up new democratic space for the people’s movements. She was the first person to file charges of genocide against Pinochet. She has been on the forefront of the movement to bring Pinochet and the other butchers to justice in Chile and before international forums.
In the last municipal elections, the left electoral coalition, going by the acronym PODEMOS (roughly WE CAN!), of which the CPC is a leading force, won almost 10 percent of the vote. Regarding the subsequent governments after Pinochet, Marin once said, “I can’t support these governments while there are still hungry children in the streets of my country.” She urged “an end to the neoliberal system inherited from the dictatorship.”
In Chile’s national elections later this year, PODEMOS is expected to present a united slate. Meanwhile, the CPC is leading the call to return to the voting system of proportional representation in existence before the dictatorship, and to establish other popular democratic and social reforms.
In life and death
In life, Compañera Marin, alongside her party, was in the forefront of every significant struggle for democracy, social justice, world peace and socialism. In death, her legacy helped to reawaken a popular democratic response in Chile. Such a mass outpouring is bound to have a far-reaching impact in Chile’s fight for freedom from neocolonialism and the remains of the dictatorship. Marin’s legacy will further inspire the struggles of Latin American and Caribbean countries for national liberation and socialism and the struggles of our own U.S. working class and people. Such a life of struggle, love and commitment to democracy and liberty is a rich legacy Marin left for us all. Her loss is enormous, but so is her legacy.
We make Everything
‘The workers and the poor — we are the majority in the world, we rise every day to put it into motion, we open the doors, we turn on the machines, we plant, we harvest, we make the bread and the clothes, we construct the buildings, bridges and roads, we are in the classrooms and the hospitals, from our hands emerges all that human beings use on the earth.
“In a word, we make everything. Except for poverty and weariness nothing belongs to us. But, we are the immense majority and can change the world. It’s about time, we have suffered much, and our sweat and our blood have enriched the few. We must struggle and struggle to attain dignity though in the process life leaves us.’
— Gladys Marin from Havana, Cuba, where she was receiving medical treatment in 2004
Juan Lopez (email@example.com) is chairman of the Northern California district of the Communist Party USA.