The Multinational Monitor

AUGUST 31, 1985 - VOLUME 6 - NUMBER 12

B O O K   R E V I E W

Tears for Chile

STORM OVER CHILE: The Junta Under Siege
By Samuel Chavkin
Lawrence Hill and Company, $8.95
Reviewed by Elaine Freedman

"Workers of my homeland, I have faith in Chile and it's future. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seems to reign. You must never forget that sooner rather than later the grand avenues will be open where free men will march on to build a better society." With these words Salvador Allende ended his last speech to the people of his nation and the tragic story of the Chileans under the Pinochet Junta began.

In Storm Over Chile, Samuel Chavkin tells this story through the personal accounts of over 80 victims of Augusto Pinochet's bloody regime including Hortensia de Allende, widow of the leader of the Popular Party; various high ranking officials including members of Allende's cabinet; and a number of slum dwellers from the many poblaciones (shantytowns) of the Chilean countryside. By doing so Chavkin contributes to the broad range of literature on Chile a more personal, human portrayal of the Junta's coup - illuminating the full scope and depth of its brutality.

The accounts of Chilean peasants and laborers give testimony to the fact that the 1970 election of Allende's Popular Unity Party clearly reflected the people's belief that the country could no longer rely on foreign capital and revenues from the export of raw materials if it wanted to combat its endemic poverty. Allende offered a socialist program based on developing a self sustaining economy and providing all Chileans with food and jobs. Under this program he began expropriating large agricultural estates, national monopolies, and foreign multinationals which controlled the nation's natural resources and the telecommunications industry. Large farm collectives were organized and the government encouraged labor intensive, high production programs and funded new job opportunities for peasants and laborers. The results were startling: unemployment was reduced from 8.3 percent to 3.8 percent, inflation decreased 22 percent and industrial production increased by 14 percent. The newly elected government also made extensive social reforms including the adoption of a national health care policy and a literacy campaign.

As one shantytown dweller explains, "For me the Allende regime was like a fairy tale come true... It was not only that we began living better; having regular jobs and real pay; and that our kids went to school on a regular basis. It is not only because we were able to see real doctors at free clinics.. .Perhaps most important was that for the first time we began to count for something... until Allende we were not even a statistic".

Chavkin also recounts the events leading up to the coup, the coup itself, and the fascist reign of terror which was instituted as soon as the Junta seized power. Through a combination of propaganda campaigns and economic sabotage led by Chile's two fascist parties - Patria y Libertad and the Nationalist Party, funded by the CIA and supported by the Nixon administration, Allende's policies were halted despite popular support.

Inside Chile, textile mills were set on fire, industrial plants bombed, and machinery destroyed. Most significantly, food and other consumer goods were hoarded or destroyed by the anti-Allende forces in order to create artificial scarcity. Outside Chile's borders, the United States worked to implement Nixon's order that the Chilean economy should be "squeezed until it screams." Export-Import Bank credits to Chile dropped from $234 million to zero, loans from the Inter-American Development Bank dropped from S46 million to $2 million, and the United State embargoed the export of spare parts for industrial machinery to Chile. By September 11, 1973, the day the Junta took over the Presidential Palace, the Chilean economy had been brought to its knees.

The author then documents how continued U.S. involvement has kept Pinochet's regime in power despite growing resistance inside Chile and internationally to its reign of terror.

Immediately after the coup the Nixon administration sent Milton Friedman and the "Chicago boys" (monetarist economists from the University of Chicago) to formulate Chile's new economic policy. For, as Henry Kissinger had said, "I don't see why we should have to stand by and let a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

The Chicago Boys implemented a policy characterized by the extreme concentration of industry, a large influx of foreign capital, a renewed effort to export raw materials, and, in exchange for economic aid, a reduction of tariffs so that foreign companies could unload their commodities on the Chilean market. This regression to almost pure free enterprise included the removal of price controls and the withdrawal of government subsidies to Chilean industries in conjunction with wage freezes and a prohibition on strikes.

Eleven years later it is clear that this "vast experimental laboratory for the testing of monetarism" has failed, writes Chavkin. Although the statistics are striking enough in and of themselves in documenting the depth of the monetarist failure-25 percent unemployment and a $20 billion foreign debt - Chavkin, through the words of those who suffer from such figures, relays the human tragedy. Children with "ballooning bellies and bony legs" lining up in soup lines " with their mothers, many of who appeared starved and feeble, ready to faint" are clearly the rule not the exception throughout much of Chile today, writes Chavkin.

This portrayal of the human faces of Pinochet's victims begs for his conclusion that the Junta is indeed under siege if only to offer some glimmer of hope that, as Allende promised, others would overcome this "dark and bitter moment." The dramatic growth of the resistance movement throughout Chile and its apparent urgency since 1983 is the hope that Chavkin offers. Hundreds of thousands of Chileans have taken to the streets over the past two years.

Although one wonders at times whether Chavkin's optimism is as firmly based in fact as it is in hope, his presentation of the active resistance in a country where less than 25 percent of the people support the dictatorship is an essential document in updating the Chilean saga.

Elaine Freedman, a student at Williams College, is an intern with the Multinational Monitor.

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