There must be something about Latin America which invites generalization. It could be the common Iberian ancestry-although North America's British roots do not appear to have had the same effect-or the common religion, or simply the legitimate fact of relative ignorance about too many countries which have long remained outside the mainstream of international interest. Even when there is an awareness of diversity, it is often accompanied by impatience at this unhelpful "balkanization," a desire to conceptualize the unwieldy region into an homogeneous, manageable whole. This is a problem peculiar to Latin America; an important political change-say, in Greece-is unlikely to be accepted as a valid indicator of the direction of European affairs generally, let alone as a satisfactory solution for domestic problems in France or Finland. But when a major political change takes place in a Latin American country, the immediate temptation-which few resist-is to see it not only as a portent of things to come elsewhere in Latin America, but also as a possible answer to problems faced by other nations in the region.

This certainly happened after the Cuban revolution when too many foreign observers spent much effort trying to discover which Latin American country was to become the "second Cuba"-an attitude apparently shared by influential minds within the U. S. government which, after all, decided on the invasion of Santo Domingo, presumably to save it from that fate. Equally hasty though perhaps less bizarre was the reaction to the 1964 Christian Democratic electoral victory in Chile; numerous articles, books and learned papers were published after this event, suggesting that Christian Democracy was, after all, the wave of the future for the whole region. More recently, the unorthodox behavior of the Peruvian military régime moved many to fear, or hope, that here at last was a grass-roots "Nasserism" that was going to engulf the continent.

Now it is Chile's turn once more to be cast in the unwanted role of test case, first domino (or second?) in this eclectic Latin American version of the cold-war game. Even excluding the irrationally fearful or enthusiastic, it is striking to note how many otherwise prudent foreign observers are already predicting the consequences which the Chilean experience will have for the rest of the continent, either as a threat-as much of the Brazilian and U. S. press are suggesting-or as a hope for political groupings which are endeavoring to move in the same direction. Enough is known now-after a decade-to accept that the likelihood of a second Cuban revolution in the continent was always extremely remote, but it was never as remote as the probability of repeating the Chilean experience elsewhere.[i]

Until the exceptional circumstances of the aftermath of the Second World War, when military factors and decisions on global strategy made it possible for a number of countries to produce communist governments, no modern revolutionary or substantially reformist régime had ever been able to generate in another nation the requisite domestic fervor to reproduce the revolutionary experience. This was possibly because a principal ingredient of such contemporary movements has always been a fairly robust nationalism.

The new Unidad Popular government of Chile is not a marginal result of a cold-war situation, nor is it geared to the satisfaction of this or that global strategic demand; it is distinctly a national government come to power because of domestic circumstances unparalleled elsewhere in Latin America. It is addressed to complex problems which it hopes to face with measures which could be described as conventional, but applied with a pragmatism functionally related to a distinctly Chilean definition of those problems.

The Unidad Popular coalition was formed expressly to fight the presidential elections of 1970. It consists of three major parties-the Socialist, Communist and Radical-and three smaller movements, the left-wing splinter group from the Christian Democratic Party known as MAPU (Movimiento de Accion Popular Unitaria), the tiny Social Democratic Party and the equally small API (Accion Popular Independiente). In President Allende's first cabinet, the Socialist Party secured four posts: those of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Housing and the government's Secretary General; the Communists, three posts: Finance, Public Works and Labor; the Radicals, three posts: Education, Defense and Mines, with the key Ministry of Agriculture going to MAPU.


It would seem wise, therefore, to begin a consideration of the contemporary situation in the country with an understanding of her insularity with respect to the rest of Latin America, which is as real as that of Japan with respect to the mainland of Asia or that of Britain to the continent of Europe; the high Andes and the great northern desert have been for Chile in the past obstacles as effective as the English Channel has been for Britain. This insularity is not the reflection-as Régis Debray has suggested-of a "superiority complex," but rather of geographical and historical circumstances which, presumably neither good nor bad, stand as a matter of fact.

Isolated from the rest of Latin America, Chile has developed a sui generis centralist tradition-otherwise shared in diverse forms with other countries of the region-in an emphatically civilian, legalistic and democratic manner.[ii] This has been partly the result of the failure of the military to retain a dominant position during the formative years of the republic. The Chilean armed forces during the first half of the nineteenth century were in fact more attuned to the liberal breezes blowing from Europe than the austere and conservative civil servants who, after the revolution of 1829, dominated national political life for 60 uninterrupted years, impressing on the young nation an early respect for civilian legality, a stern nationalism, and-considering the contemporary circumstances-an observance of the spirit and practice of democratic control, albeit among the members of the ruling élite.

It was only in 1891 that Chile experienced her first de facto change of government after 1829, with the liberal revolt supported by the navy, which ousted President Balmaceda on the excuse that he had assumed unconstitutional powers. The liberal parliamentary régime established after the downfall of Balmaceda proved a failure and in 1925 a new constitution was adopted-the first since 1833-which survives until this day. The constitution of 1925, for all its shortcomings, is very much in the spirit of enlightened, bureaucratic centralism that is associated with the work of the great civilian decades of the nineteenth century which provides for a strong executive mildly tempered by concessions to the principle of checks and balances.

The Chilean working class movement has origins and traditions which are also unique and influence absolutely contemporary labor attitudes. In Argentina, for instance, socialism was to a very large extent an imported product which took root mainly through the activities of immigrant European workers; in Chile, a full generation before the Soviet revolution and many years before the Mexican revolution, a number of political parties and other groupings with a distinct socialist outlook were already freely functioning. The present Radical Party was founded over a century ago; the Social Democratic Party-another member of the present government coalition- can trace its origins to the Democratic Party founded in 1887, while the Socialist Workers Party, a precursor of the present Socialist Party, was founded in 1898.

These developments were not paralleled elsewhere in the continent; moreover, the economic and social circumstances which surrounded them were also different. Compared with other Latin American countries, Chile has had practically no peasant or Indian problem; her industrialization has been principally capital-intensive and has resulted in the formation of an industrial working class which is relatively well organized, small and well paid in comparison with wage levels outside industry. To this must be added that she has a pre-industrial urban civilization, with a tertiary sector which was already unusually large before the advent of modern industry and which has provided the bulk of her politically active population during this century.

Another distinctly Chilean trait which is relevant in this context has to do with the participation of the upper classes in politics. In Argentina, for instance, the upper class abandoned political activity during the decade of 1930. Why this happened is another question: the fact is that during the past 40 years it has had practically no important role in national politics. This is not the case in Chile, where the aristocracy and the upper-middle class have traditionally shown a remarkable capacity to adapt to changing political circumstances and to continue to play an active role. In this sense, one could describe the traditional attitude of the Chilean upper class as "Wellingtonian" in that they are inclined to avoid fighting great battles and would rather stake their survival on flexibility and adaptation and not necessarily on victorious confrontations.[iii]

After the parliamentary fiasco which led to the adoption of the 1925 constitution, successive governments-with only incidental exceptions-have tended to accept or reinforce the central power of the state. Even during the presidential election this year, it was interesting to note that all three candidates-Sr. Alessandri for the right wing, Sr. Tomic for the Christian Democrats and Dr. Allende for the left-wing coalition, Unidad Popular-obviously for different reasons-coincided in demanding greater power for the central state apparatus, either through constitutional reforms, or through the granting of additional duties and responsibilities to the government. Evidently such an acceptance of the predominant power of the state does not in itself amount to a socialist commitment, yet both Dr. Allende and Sr. Tomic, who together received well over 60 percent of the votes cast, ran on platforms which coincided on many points and which could be generally described as socialistic. After the election, President Allende has further defined his government as one of transition toward socialism.

This is a definition which can only be understood in the context within which it was given; merely to describe something as socialist is not very enlightening. Hungary, Albania, China and Czechoslovakia describe themselves as socialist republics; the British Labour Party also thinks of itself as a socialist group; so does the French Socialist Party; while in Zambia, Tanzania, the United Arab Republic and Ceylon, groups in power pride themselves on their sincere efforts to move toward socialism. Even a superficial examination of all these cases would show a disconcerting diversity of goals and means which becomes more confusing if we add Cuba and Chile to the list.

In the Chilean case, a further extension of the public sector would be well within a secular national trend. In 1968 the state was already responsible for approximately 60 percent of total investment and it could be argued that the "peaks" of the national economy were shared by efficient and dynamic autonomous state corporations, and subsidiaries of foreign private enterprises, with domestic private investment playing a dependent secondary role.[iv] No doubt, had this trend continued under a Christian Democratic administration, the emphasis and direction would have differed from the one which the Unidad Popular coalition will adopt, but it would be a mistake merely to consider the present policy of nationalizations as a result of an ideologically motivated imposition from above.

The new Chilean government will nationalize the large copper mining concerns of the Gran Mineria, but under the Christian Democrats these foreign-owned corporations went through the process of "Chileanization" which resulted in the state securing ownership of 51 percent of the enterprises. To move from this to complete control represents a quantitative change which, moreover, is supported by all the parties represented in the parliament, even the groups on the extreme Right. The complete nationalization of the banking system, which is at present being opposed by the Christian Democratic and the National parties, is also less of a departure than it would seem at first, as one major state bank, the Banco del Estado, already controls almost 50 percent of banking activity in the country.

Taken together with other reforms such as the nationalization of key manufacturing firms which enjoy a monopoly position, these decisions amount to a substantial change in the basic structure of the economy, but one in harmony with a trend which has become characteristic and which has proceeded steadily over many decades, through trial and error, without significant recourse to any identifiable body of theory or ideological allegiance.

Yet, with this in mind, if a comparison is made between the performance of the Christian Democratic administration and the avowed intentions of the present régime, a striking difference will immediately become apparent: faced with the inability, unwillingness or just plain incapacity of the domestic private sector to fulfill a dynamic role in the process of economic development, President Frei's government allowed foreign investment capital to fill the gap. The present administration, on the other hand, appears more inclined to rely on the state to perform this task, though quite aware at the same time of the risks involved in a too rapid extension of the public sector over important areas of the economy. The efficiency of the autonomous state corporations is the result of over three decades of experience, during which specific managerial capacity has been trained and placed at the service of these corporations. It is at least arguable whether-notwithstanding the enthusiasm of the new groups in power-a similar performance can be expected if a sizable area of the economy is brought under state control within a relatively brief period of time. This is not impossible, but those concerned are conscious of the fact that it will pose some difficult problems.


In addition to its long history of rigorous and efficient internal organization and responsible participation in politics, the Chilean Left is also characterized by a remarkable dearth of theory.[v] There have been many distinguished left-wing leaders, but none that has meaningfully translated experience into theoretical reflection. The Left has also-at least in this sense-been badly served by an intelligentsia which until very recently has been more preoccupied with praising and adopting foreign models than with the infinitely harder task of constructing a viable theoretical framework firmly rooted in an understanding of Chilean conditions. Thus the pattern of cultural dependence that afflicts contemporary Latin America has also had an inhibiting effect on its most articulate detractors. By default, therefore, the political leadership of the Chilean Left has acquired a distinctly pragmatic bent which some may consider a liability but which is also responsible for a remarkable flexibility and capacity to improvise.

Keynes flattered the intellectuals of his time by suggesting in his "General Theory" that practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, "are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." This is at least partly true of the practical men in the Chilean Left, although it would often appear that Chilean political reformers do their deeds followed at some distance by sociologists, economists and historians trying to understand what they do. Yet in the absence of a satisfactory domestic alternative, the pragmatic Chilean political leaders have almost invariably had recourse to Keynes when it came to the task of running the country's economy. The late economist's ideas most certainly dominated the policies put forward during the early part of President Frei's administration when Sr. Sergio Molina-now with the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America-directed the country's economy from the post of Minister of Finance.

Now once again, Chilean pragmatism dons the Keynesian mantle: to deal with problems of unemployment, severe inflation and under-utilized industrial capacity, the Unidad Popular government has proposed a redistributive budget with across-the-board wage and salary increases equal to the rise in the cost of living (35 percent during 1970) with additional increases for lower income levels, sharp rises in family allowances and minimum wage levels. The hope is that this massive release of liquidity at the base of the economy will generate a sufficiently important demand to bring about substantial increases in production and employment.

In the past, after an initial period of relative success these measures proved self-defeating as the rapid rise in costs gave impetus to an inflationary spiral which quickly cancelled out the increase of production and reabsorbed the modest initial redistributive effect. The Unidad Popular economists-led by a group of experts many of whom until a few weeks ago were with the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America-have this very much in mind but trust that the special relationship which ought to exist between the new government and the trade unions, and the increased central control of the financial system which would result from an early nationalization of the banks will give them sufficient leverage to prevent inflation from getting out of hand during the critical period 1971-1972. Also? the nationalization of copper enterprises and dominant industrial complexes should give the government decisive control over national investment policy as well as important additional financial resources.

Although the measures proposed by the new government are conventional and under normal circumstances should have proved satisfactory, at least in the short run, both the present circumstances and the government's political intent are exceptional and could diminish their effectiveness if loss of confidence leads to a premature and generalized postponement of investment decisions on the part of small and medium-sized firms. There are already some indications that all is not well: unemployment continues to rise; the building industry remains sluggish; the expected investment pause after the change of government is still on. The urgently needed push from the public sector is still to come. However, during this first period, Chile is once again putting the old Keynesian war horse through its paces; it will be orthodoxy on trial, but in hopes of making a smooth transition to a socialist economy.

The political effects of these policies are of some importance. The Unidad Popular coalition received a limited mandate from the electorate, which it will want to improve substantially in the general municipal elections scheduled for the first week in April. It is generally thought that the 36.2 percent received by President Allende will be bettered, but the question is by how much. Municipal contests are so bound up with local issues and personalities that normally they are not seriously regarded as an indication of the general political mood of the nation; this time the attitude will be different, and it is already obvious that the municipal elections will constitute a plebiscite on the government's first five months in office. The bumper redistributive budget should certainly contribute to the creation of a feeling of well-being which at any rate should last the summer and early autumn and get people to the polls in an optimistic frame of mind.

But victory in April-unless it is absolutely overwhelming-will not be sufficient; Unidad Popular does not control Congress and the next congressional elections are scheduled for 1973. This means that President Allende-an extremely able politician-will have to steer his six-party coalition through three years of important decisions during which he will probably need the qualified support of the Christian Democratic Party at critical junctures (unless he is willing to risk a national plebiscite as allowed by a recent constitutional amendment). And of course, the willingness of the government to go to a plebiscite will partly be influenced by the results of the municipal elections next April.

This concern with an electoral mandate is not unimportant in a country so steeped in respect for democratic procedures, and especially in the case of President Allende, who has been a leading figure among those who believe that the transition to socialism can be realized within the rule of law. In this he has not been unanimously supported by the Chilean Left. There are extreme-left groups-notably the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR)-which at all times viewed with great skepticism the likelihood of this transition taking place without a violent revolution. Although their numbers are small, they have support among university students and groups of peasants and slum-dwellers. Undoubtedly they have great nuisance value and their shrill revolutionary declarations have misled many into believing that Chile is about to be engulfed in an apocalyptic upheaval, but their strident postures are not enough to hide their political embarrassment, committed as they are to revolutionary action, but forced by events which they hardly anticipated to accept a popular government whose democratic victory symbolizes their ideological débâcle. They now find themselves in the unenviable position-for a left-wing movement-of having to depend on the failure of the Unidad Popular government for their survival, realizing that if the present government succeeds their raison d'âtre will slowly disappear.

Although the feeling among political observers in Chile is that President Allende has sufficient political skill to make rings around them, there are some disturbing indications that these extremist groups are not going to be easy to manage. During the first weeks after President Allende's inauguration, these groups were involved in a significant number of forcible seizures of land in the southern part of Chile, which the government-using persuasion rather than force-was unable totally to control in the first instance. It is possible that these extra-legal seizures were the result of excessive zeal and impatience rather than of political premeditation, but if they recur they could place the government in a difficult situation.

The pragmatism which informs the new government's attitude in economic and political matters is also evident in the general direction of its foreign policy. Appreciating that the restoration of fluidity to international affairs which has resulted from the end of the cold war opens up new opportunities and responsibilities for medium-sized and small nations, the Chilean government is endeavoring to increase the viable options for a dynamic, independent foreign policy. This is largely being programmed within the outlines of the national policy designed by the previous administration, but with a significant difference of intent.

In the past, whatever the disagreements between the government of Chile and that of the United States, there was a "special relationship" which would, for instance, have justified consultation in certain critical cases. Today this is unlikely, and if informal consultations are to take place, one would guess that these would be with the Andean Pact countries or with socialist countries which the government feels are nearer to the Chilean position on the international scene. It is known that the decision to reëstablish formal diplomatic relations with Cuba was adopted after friendly consultation with the countries of the Andean Group, and it should not surprise anybody if this initiative is soon followed by other member nations. Thus the fears which were expressed at the time, that the Unidad Popular government would not support the Andean Pact with the same enthusiasm of the previous administration, have proved quite groundless. On the contrary, the government regards participation in the pact as most important and has already taken concrete measures in that direction, notably to reach agreement on a common policy with regard to foreign investment in the member countries.

The opening toward countries of the socialist world is also part of this policy. There is in it, undoubtedly, an element of political affinity, but it would be a mistake to leave it at that. The new economic policy-if successful-should result in a significant export drive which, it is hoped, will find a satisfactory echo in socialist countries, with most of which Chile established diplomatic relations under the Christian Democratic government of President Frei.

It would be unwise to ignore the general lack of enthusiasm which the United States generates across the Chilean political spectrum; on the other hand, it would be equally mistaken to assume that Chile will conduct her relations with the northern power on such a frivolous foundation. There will indeed be a gradual and very practical redefinition of relations between the two countries, but one suspects that on no account will the Unidad Popular government needlessly contribute to making these relations less cordial than they ought to be. Indeed, one would assume that if Chile succeeds in making an efficient, civilized and democratic transition to socialism, the United States could do worse than to present her experience as a suitable model for other Latin American nations to follow. But this, of course, would be a mistake, as the factors at play in the Chilean situation are unique; Chile's mood is most singular, and her cultural and political insularity make her a case apart. Perhaps nowhere is this so evident as in the attitude of her armed forces. Committed to the democratic process, bound to uphold the constitution, they represent not the only guarantee, but an additional and most convincing one that Chile will not easily abandon the path of democratic legality which President Allende has so emphatically declared to be the one his government is determined to follow. Chile, therefore, presents not a threat, but a hope; not a model to be imitated, but an experience to be reflected upon. Perhaps, if Unidad Popular succeeds, it would be well to ponder the advantages of a strong dose of domestic pragmatism to qualify the ideological rigidities which all too often inhibit the political arrangements of nations facing such challenging processes of change.

[i] However, there is at present a move to reproduce the Chilean electoral coalition scheme in Uruguay, with a view to fighting the November 1971 presidential elections on the basis of a coalition which would include the Christian Democrats, the Movimiento Battlista, the Movimiento Blanco Popular, and even the Tupamaros.

[ii] For a more detailed consideration of this aspect of the problem, see Claudio Vé1iz, "Centralism and Nationalism in Latin America," Foreign Affairs, October, 1968.

[iii] There are exceptions to this, of course, the most recent being the alleged participation of significant right-wing figures in the abortive attempt to prevent President Allende from taking office, which resulted in the assassination of General René Schneider, undoubtedly a roost dismal chapter in the country's political history and one which has diminished the extreme right wing's moral authority as a viable opposition force. On the other hand, the manner with which the nation responded to this crisis is added evidence of the singularity of the Chilean situation. A similar occurrence in many other Latin American countries would have probably precipitated either direct military intervention or at least an interruption of institutional continuity.

[iv] The detailed examination of this situation has given rise to the concept of dependence, one of the most original and promising contributions to the study of development to come from Latin America in recent years. Most of the work being done on this new concept is as yet unpublished, but the latest version of Osvaldo Sunkel's working hypothesis appear? ip Politique Etrangère (Paris), No. 6, 1970.

[v] Of course there have been ideological controversies between different sectors of the Chilean left wing, but these have been largely a reflection of similar encounters elsewhere in the world: thus the controversy between the communist thesis of a "national liberation front" including all groups sharing an anti-imperialistic and nationalist progressive stance and the socialist counter-thesis of a "worker's front," which would only include organized groups of the working class and pointedly exclude bourgeois groups. More recently, the liveliest clash has been between extreme leftist groups-formally outside the Unidad Popular coalition-which follow Guevara's and Debray's ideas about the necessity to bring about a direct armed confrontation with the existing power, and the parties and movements of Unidad Popular, which maintained (successfully, as it turned out) that it was possible to attain power through the democratic electoral process. The position of Unidad Popular generally reflects the "peaceful coexistence" line of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. while-again, very broadly-the extreme leftist groups are closer to the positions upheld by China.

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