Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Myth of St. Allende

Had a brief but emotional exchange with colleagues at work regarding "the U.S. evil history." (It ended with one of our interlocutors actually saying, "We're NOT good!") The topic: longstanding U.S. backing for Latin American, Asian, and Middle Eastern dictators like Somoza, Marcos, Pinochet, and the Shah. It often goes unremarked that, the United States eventually turned against each of these regimes and worked to remove them from power. In Chile and the Phillipines, the result was democratic government. Nicaragua and Iran were less successful. The Sandinistas, who suspended civil liberties and established a Marxist-style dictatorship, followed Somoza, and the Ayatollah Khomeini was a bigger disaster for the Iranian people than the Shah.

We'd also challenge the notion that Allende (from whom Pinochet seized power in 1973 with at least tacit U.S. approval) was a democrat with no threat of turning Chile into a Soviet satellite. He was a life-long Marxist. Marxism views a dictatorship of the proletariat, as directed by the international communist party, as the highest form of human good. While he may have claimed to having no intention to abolish democracy, he openly espoused a belief that Chile would, as a matter of principle, be better off without democracy.

Having won election by a razor-thin plurality, he proceeded to nationalize private industries, including banking and copper. He implemented confiscatory taxes and centralized wage and price controls. He established diplomatic relations with Castro. Under the guise of "agrarian reform," his government seized private farms and redistributed to the proletariat, leading to a massive shortage of basic foodstuffs. This is exactly the sort of pattern we saw time and time again in the Soviet Union. (Granted, a lot of this was exacerbated by anti-Allende policies in the U.S.)

Chile's economy was in the shitter at the time of the coup (radical drop in production of basic goods, rampant inflation), and Allende was increasingly autocratic in the face of ongoing civil unrest and violence. Support of Pinochet may not have been warranted, and Pinochet was certainly a repressive, violent dictator who didn't necessarily make life better, but from the vantage point of 1973, the correct course of action was far from easy to see.
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