The recent collapse of personalist dictatorships in Haiti and the Philippines has served to remind Americans that since World War II, some of our most grievous foreign policy wounds have been inflicted not by adversaries but by self-styled (and self-seeking) friends. Though nothing is inevitable, and no two situations are exactly alike, it is difficult to ignore the intimate, indeed inextricable, relationship between the collapse of Chiang Kai-shek and the rise of Mao Zedong in China; of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro in Cuba; of Anastasio Somoza and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Generically speaking, the dilemma can be stated quite simply: when all avenues of political devolution in a Third World society are closed, the moderate center is the first casualty. The United States is then left to choose between polar extremes, one of which is unviable, the other unacceptable. By that time its own preferences are somewhat beside the point, and it usually ends up getting both. There is no easy solution to this problem, but recent experience suggests one prescription at least—the need to act before matters reach the point of no return.
Such is the challenge to U.S. policy in Chile today—to persuade a military dictatorship to return power to civilian, democratic forces before that government loses all control of the situation, and also before the acceptable alternatives are deprived of all credibility by forces allied to Cuba and the Soviet Union. The task is neither simple nor easy, and fraught with particular poignance given the background of Chile’s own democratic past, its place within the region, and its special relationship with the United States.
At this point the principal obstacle to Chile’s expeditious return to democracy is General Augusto Pinochet, who has ruled the country since 1973, and appears determined to perpetuate his power by means of the 1980 constitution. This document makes it possible for him to remain president-dictator for life, to be followed, apparently, by a regime in which an emasculated parliament
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