The monthly protests in Chile, leading up to the tenth anniversary of the September 1973 coup that overthrew the leftist government of Salvador Allende— and continuing thereafter—have once again focused world attention on Chile. This book, the latest in the enormous literature on the Allende experiment, is a collection of rather freely transcribed interviews with members and supporters of the Allende government in exile, which attempts to reproduce eyewitness accounts of what took place in 1973 and immediately thereafter, and to make the world aware—as it was not at the time the book was written in early 1982—of the continuing opposition within Chile to the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. That opposition now extends over a broad spectrum of Chilean opinion, not just the left, including many former rightist supporters of the regime who feel that it is time to return to Chile’s long tradition of civilian rule, and to abandon the doctrinaire ideological approach of the Chicago-school free enterprise economic policymakers who have plunged Chile into the deepest economic depression of any country in the world (a 14 percent drop in GNP in 1982).
We do not hear about the right in this book—except for references to the “Fascistic” National party and the well-manicured and chauffeured ladies who participated in the March of Empty Pots against Allende—and there is hardly any reference to the Christian Democrats, Chile’s largest party, which has now taken the lead in the monthly protests. Thus well over two-thirds of the Chilean electorate is not represented in this book at all.
The interviews give a vivid picture of the sufferings of the prisoners of the regime—on Dawson Island after the coup, in detention and under torture by the Intelligence Agency (DINA), and as objects of repression in factories and lower-class areas. The saga of the rescue efforts of the Swedish ambassador immediately following the coup is told in greater detail than appears elsewhere, and new to this reviewer at least, was the fact that Allende suffered a serious heart attack in the midst of the first truckers’ strike in October 1972.
I would want to check this and all the facts in this book against other sources, however, because it is evident that the author does not know recent Chilean history very well, and probably has never visited Chile. The book refers often to a midnight curfew that ended a number of years ago; it claims that had it not been for CIA funding, Allende would have been elected in 1964—when Frei won with 56 percent of the vote to Allende’s 39 percent; it mistakes the name of the navy member of the junta and calls the air force member “Marshall” Leigh; the late August 1973 resignation of General Carlos Prats is placed several months before the coup; and the myth is repeated that the coup was moved up by several days to prevent the announcement of a plebiscite by Allende.
A more fundamental problem is the exclusive reliance on the far left both for the view of Chile’s past and of its future. Thus the book refers favorably to the September 1981 meeting of the Communists and the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) calling for the violent overthrow of Pinochet without alluding to the deepening split in the Socialist party precisely over the issue of democracy or armed revolution. Within Chile that split has now made it possible for the centrist opposition, led by the Christian Democrats, to form the Democratic Alliance extending from the Socialist Bloc—as it now is called—to former leaders of the rightist Liberal and Conservative parties. A similar broad alliance has now been formed among the trade unions—again dominated by the Christian Democrats. Thus, the last section of the book is almost useless for understanding recent developments in Chile. For an insight into the 1973 period, however, and how it looked to the left at the time and in retrospect in exile, this is a useful addition to the vast literature on a controversial period in Chilean history.