The events of September 11, 1973, ending Salvador Allende Gossens’ efforts to nudge Chile along the road to socialism, ushered in a bleak period in contemporary Chilean history. A nation that was widely hailed as Latin America’s most thriving, bouyant democracy overnight was converted into what many regard as the hemisphere’s most brutal, repressive dictatorship. In the parlance of the journalistic world, when an editor queries a correspondent on some event, “how, please?”
The three titles under review here afford some insights, but they clearly do not provide the careful analysis the question merits. The reader will, nevertheless, find valuable source material in all three.
Chile’s Days of Terror is a collection of fifteen eyewitness accounts of the military coup d’etat that toppled the Allende government. There is a sameness in these accounts which come from Chileans and other Latin Americans, as well as one North American. They are universally anti-military, and most are uncritical in their references to Dr. Allende and his government. None attempts any significant analysis of the events leading up to the coup.
Rightist opposition and its role in bringing the military to power preoccupies Hernán Valdés in his graphic and poignant Diary of a Chilean Concentration Camp. A Chilean writer who supported the Allende government, but was not a member of a political party, Valdés was abruptly seized in his home five months after the coup and packed off to a concentration camp. He spent a month there, was seriously tortured once, and used his time to reflect on the events of September 1973. He is extremely critical of Chile’s rightwing politicians.
Chile: The Balanced View is by far the most comprehensive and useful of this trio of titles. But it is hardly the completely balanced view that its title would lead us to expect. Prepared by the Institute of International Studies at the University of Chile, it contains twenty-one articles critical of the Allende years and supportive of the immediate post-Allende era. Most of the articles have appeared elsewhere, but their collection in this volume make them handy.
Harold Blakemore’s brief analysis of Chile after eighteen months of military rule, originally published in The Bank of London and South America Review, leads off the collection, setting a tone of some skepticism over military excesses, but arguing that it was “to the relief of most Chileans” (p. 20) that the military came to power.