‘Hello Comrade’: U.S. Communists visit Chile as the country makes historic changes
Members of the Hello Comrade project tour group arriving in Santiago. They were greeted by Paul Hammer, a member of the PCCh International Department. He is holding the 'Hello Comrade' sign. | Hello Comrade

SANTIAGO—Exciting and historic events are happening in Chile as the struggles for progress continue and intensify all over Latin America. Symbolic of the shift is Maya Fernández Allende, the granddaughter of the slain former President Salvador Allende, who has taken up the post of Defense Minister where she is in charge of the country’s armed forces.

The military was among the key organizers of the coup that unseated her grandfather in 1973. Salvador Allende was the Popular Unity president of the country, elected with the support of both the Socialist and Communist parties.

Fernández is one of several Communists recently appointed to ministerial posts in Chile in the government of new President Gabriel Boric. Camila Vallejo, another Communist, was appointed government spokeswoman.

At a time when women’s rights are under attack in the United States with the Supreme Court about to take away a key constitutional right, Chile, where 14 of the 24 new ministers in are women, presents a striking contrast. It gives Chile a female-majority cabinet for the first time in its history. Vallejo described this as “a historic leap in the struggle to make visible and vindicate the role of women in the processes of social and political transformation.”

All of that means it couldn’t be a more exciting time then for a group of Communists from the United States to visit the country. After a 10-hour flight last month, delegates participating in the “Hello Comrade” project from the U.S. touched down in Santiago for a 10-day educational and friendship tour to learn about and witness the important and ambitious work of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh).

Despite so many of its members having been murdered in the past by the fascists under the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, the PCCh is once again a large party with considerable political representation and influence at the executive, legislative, and municipal levels of Chilean government. The party is embedded in the Chilean working class and has made what it considers significant gains on the road to socialism.

Guides shared first-hand accounts of the terrors of the Pinochet regime’s Tres y Cuatro Álamos Detention Center. | Hello Comrade

The Hello Comrade Project, a group within the International Department of the Communist Party USA, is a 21st-century solidarity movement bringing together members of the party in the United States with members of fraternal parties throughout the world. The goal of the project is to “promote friendship and learn from each other, but also to experience and document what it’s like to be a communist party member in a foreign country,” a member of the project told People’s World. The Chile tour is the second pilot trip after a visit to the Communist Party of Portugal last September during that organization’s annual Avante! Festival.

Follow the Hello Comrade project on Instagram.

At the airport in Santiago, the group from the U.S. was met by Paul Hammer, a PCCh activist and member of the party’s International Department, who greeted them with a “Hello Comrade” sign he had made for the occasion. After getting situated, they travelled to South Santiago to the infamous Tres y Cuatro Álamos Detention Center. Guides referred to the facility as a “concentration camp,” and said it was the place where many of their comrades “disappeared,” were murdered, or were jailed and tortured immediately following the fascist coup in 1973.

Hammer himself spent several years there before he was eventually released and expelled from the country. He said he had not been inside the walls of the jail since the time of his imprisonment, and he, along with others, described the conditions they endured there.

“We were especially moved by their explanation that even while they were detained, they still organized for the party and for the cause of socialism. Paul even snuck back into Chile after being expelled for clandestine party activism,” a member of the Hello Comrade group said.

All the exterior walls of Tres y Cuatro Álamos are covered in murals commemorating the victims of the dictatorship. | Hello Comrade

The Tres y Cuatro Álamos site is contested ground. Former inmates and families of the murdered and disappeared hope to make it a “site of memory,” which would function as an interactive museum so people never forget the horrors of right-wing repression and to remind people to stay diligent against any new attempts to establish a fascist dictatorship. It could become part of the larger Red de Sitios de Memoria, a cultural landscape of sites associated with the disappeared and murdered. All the exterior walls of Tres y Cuatro Álamos are covered in murals commemorating the victims of the dictatorship.

On the way to visit with the Cuba Solidarity Movement in the working-class Santiago suburb of San Joaquin, the Hello Comrade group stopped off to meet with a local artist who is sculpting a roughly 15-foot statue of Victor Jara, the folk singer and Communist Party member killed by the Pinochet regime after it took power.

A new 15-foot statue of folk singer Victor Jara will soon take its place in a park. | Hello Comrade

Jara was beloved in Chile and known for his unending commitment to representing the working class through music. The sculptor, who also made an iconic statue of Salvador Allende in San Joaquin, explained how the new work will be erected in a park, thereby connecting the memory and ideas of Jara to the everyday life and experiences of the local community.

When the group arrived for the meeting with PCCh’s Cuba Solidarity group, they enjoyed a delicious Cuban meal and met several comrades from the area. Over many hours, they discussed the politics of Chile, the U.S. and Cuba, the state of Communist Parties in the various countries, and shared stories about life in the class struggle.

A veteran PCCh member, Elena, recounted the time she spent with CPUSA Chairman Henry Winston right before the coup. She was excited to hear about the growth in the CPUSA, but warned the U.S. comrades not to get too comfortable because the right is always a threat, having experienced reaction herself.

Also present was a PCCh council member from San Joaquin municipality, Gustavo Arias, who was a musician, rapper, and artist. He freestyled on the spot and gave the delegation CDs of his group, Legua York. During the meal, he drew each member of the U.S. group a self-portrait with an individualized quote of something each had said during the talk. He told them it took a while to build, but the PCCh is part of a left coalition that now has a majority in the local council and has started making policies that support the people of this working-class suburb.

Gustavo Arias—musician, rapper, artist, and Communist city council member in San Joaquin, Chile. | Hello Comrade

That night, the group met up with the PCCh writers and musicians’ group at the Society of Chilean Writers (SECH) building in Central Santiago. The society, located in a large historic building, has over 2,000 members. It is often said, “Chile is a country of poets,” and in fact there have been two Nobel Prize-winning poets associated with the society. Pablo Neruda, one of the most important poets of the 20th century, was a PCCh senator and activist who was also director of the SECH for many years. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He died shortly after the coup, and many believe he was poisoned by the Pinochet regime.

The gathering with the writers’ group was led by PCCh Central Committee member Isabel Gomez, who is also a poet. Many of the poets read the U.S. group brief excerpts from their works and shared their histories of life within the party.

Towards the end of the encounter, two founding members of the Chilean Folk band Inti-Illimani sang a few songs. Inti-Illmani are long-time PCCh members who are world-renowned for using traditional Chilean instruments and for writing some of the most important ballads of the class struggle, including “Un Pueblo Unido.”

“The trip so far has mirrored the goals of the Hello Comrade Project mission statement: to both learn from and build solidarity with our fraternal parties,” a group member told People’s World.

“The PCCh is committed to creating international solidarity among parties and has gone way beyond our expectations in their willingness to support this project and in their overall hospitality. We could not have dreamt up a more impactful experience, and we will be forever changed by our time here!”

Read more about recent developments in Chile:

The new generation of Communists leading Chile to a post-Pinochet future

Chile’s rebellion against neoliberalism doesn’t end with Boric’s election

Chile’s Boric includes communists in female-majority cabinet

New president Gabriel Boric says Chile will be ‘neoliberalism’s grave’


Jon Wilson
Jon Wilson

Organizer for the Hello Comrade Project: Organizing international, educational, and friendship travel delegations to Fraternal Parties for the CPUSA.