General Pinochet Still Rules:

Twenty-five Years After Allende

by Marc Cooper

The Nation magazine, March 23,1998


Memory, in a country like Chile, in a country that has survived its own massacre, is always unpleasant, and certainly, nowadays, unpopular. And yet the raucous demonstrations I n witness unfolding in front of the now-reconstructed La Moneda Presidential Palace

I this winter can't help but remind me of some of the more glorious moments I witnessed here twenty-five years ago when I worked inside the palace as a young translator to Socialist President Salvador Allende.

The immense Constitution Plaza, which yawns in front of the Moneda, was back then very often the stage upon which tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of Chileans would march and rally around the ideas and programs that then seemed the touchstones of a new and still unfolding era: a nation taking control of its destiny, breaking free from dependence, reclaiming its natural resources, empowering and transferring wealth to the poor, daring to construct a democratic socialism. For me and for many of my generation, what we saw in the plazas and streets of Allende's Chile, coming in the wake of the French '68, the hot Italian autumn of '69, the American post-Kent State student strikes of 1970, promised to ignite a new time of optimism and radical renewal.

We were, of course, wrong. The last massing demonstration I attended in this plaza was on September 4, 1973, the third anniversary of Allende's election, when a half-million Chilean workers, knowing the end was near, marched in front of a somber looking president and vociferously pleaded for weapons. But it was far too late. Only seven days rata, backed by the Nixon White House and bankrolled by the C.I.A., the Chilean military made its move. Within hours, the Moneda was rocketed and burned by Hawker Hunter jets, Allende was dead, Congress was padlocked, tens of thousands of civilians were being hunted down and arrested, and Gen. Augusto Pinochet was in power. A week after that I was forced to leave Chile as a U.N.-protected refugee.

Chile was not the prelude to my generation's accomplishments. Rather, it was our political high-water mark. The Chilean military coup of 1973 was merely overture to the massacres in East Timor and in the Khmer Rouge's Cambodia, the Argentine dirty war, the scorched-earth campaigns in Guatemala and El Salvador, the C.I.A.-orchestrated contra destabilization of Nicaragua, the rise of Thatcherism in Europe, the Reagan/Bush counterrevolution in the United States.

That's why I am at first so intrigued by the crowds of up to 5,000 Social Security workers who have been regularly flooding downtown Santiago this winter, throwing leaflets into the air, chanting, stomping and whistling, chaining themselves to light posts and church pews, blocking traffic and standing up to riot-police water cannons and tear-gas barrages. It certainly looks like the same gumption that drove Chilean workers to demand guns from Allende to face down the military.

But there's an ugly glitch in this scenario. This is the Chile of 1998. And like so much in modern Chile, this demonstration is an illusion. These workers aren't fighting for a free pint of milk for every Chilean infant, for nationalization of the copper mines, for a higher minimum wage or for union control of the workplace. No, these workers-men and women alike-are the salaried and commissioned sales force of Chile's privatized pension system. And they are infuriated by a very mild proposed government rule change aimed at curbing the fraud that riddles the system. If approved, the new rule would add a thin layer of protection to all Chilean workers. But it would also directly bite into the monthly commissions the protesting workers have been earning by juggling other pension funds. Indeed, these workers in the streets today are battling for the right to keep ripping off their fellow workers. It's a long road to have come down in twenty-five years. Since I first arrived here just weeks after Allende's 1970 election, my life has become ever more entwined with Chile, first as a student, then as a researcher in a government publishing house and later as Allende's translator, husband of a Chilean and member of a large Chilean family. But the more profound my involvement, the less I recognize this country.

Allende triumphed in Chile precisely because, long before his election, a century-old tradition of parliamentary democracy and advanced social legislation had forged a society that prided itself on high public discourse, a national commitment to mutual aid and solidarity, and what seemed-even under conservative administrations-a permanent sense of social justice. But that's a Chile that has vanished into collective amnesia. Today-after seventeen years of military dictatorship, and eight years of "democracy" in which what passes for the left is complicit as co-manager of a grotesque system that allows murderers to walk free and torturers to be elected to national office, that boasts one of the most unequal economies in the world, where education is essentially privatized-Chile is perhaps the one place on earth where idolatry of the market has most deeply penetrated.

Chile hardly holds the patent on a pullback from politics, a reflex now rampant from Peoria to Poland. But few countries in recent decades have traveled quite the distance backward that Chile has. In Eastern Europe the economic systems were stood on their heads, but decades of Stalinist cynicism and duplicity served to grease the way for the savageries of frontier capitalism. Chile was different, though. In 1970, on the eve of Allende's election, one U.S. researcher found Chilean teenagers-along with their Israeli and Cuban counterparts-to be among the three least alienated, most optimistic groups of youth in the world. But years of military dictatorship and a quarter-century now of the most orthodox application of sink-or-swim social policy has imposed a sort of collective neurosis on Chileans-it has driven them crazy, driven them to market.

Chilean millworkers now assiduously follow daily stock quotes to make sure their private pensions will be there when they retire. When their children leave the school gates, they plop Velcro-backed insignias from elite academies onto their uniforms, lest the other subway riders guess they go to more downscale institutions. Bookstores that once brimmed with political classics now stock huge piles of translations of Anthony Robbins and other quick-road-to-success gurus. National "educational" TV features training films in entrepreneurship and good customer relations. Prime-time infomercials beam dubbed-over blue-eyed gringos blissfully hawking vegetable Smart Choppers and Sure Fire bass lures to the rural and fishing villages of the Chilean south, where horses are still sometimes a preferred means of transportation.

A recent police checkpoint in the posh Vitacura neighborhood found that a high percentage of drivers ticketed for using their cell phones while in motion were using toy-even wooden- replicas. Other middle-class motorists, pretending they have air-conditioning, bake with their windows closed. Workers at the ritzy Jumbo supermarket complain that on Saturday mornings, the dressed-to-kill clientele fill their carts high with delicacies, parade them in front of the Joneses and then discreetly abandon them before having to pay. In the tony La Dehesa neighborhood, Florida palm trees are the landscaping fashion a la mode and black butlers are all the rage. But they better be stocky six-foot Dominicans, as the first wave of imported help, from Peru, turned out to be unfashionably short-statured. In the rickety shantytowns around Santiago, readily available Diners Club cards are used to charge potatoes and cabbage, while Air Jordans and Wonder Bras are bought on a twelve-month installment plan.

Yes, a few lonely souls still protest the disappearances, murders and thousands of unprosecuted barbarities of the past two and a half decades. But they are denounced as threats to stability, provocateurs, losers, dinosaurs-as is nearly any reminder of how Chile's new commercial culture was grafted onto a political body charred to the bone.

And yet, for all the striving to forget, for all the frenzied talk about being an "economic Jaguar ' about modernization and a global future, Chile cannot escape its past. On March 11 the man who embodies Chile's darkest history, 82-year-old Gen. Augusto Pinochet, gives up his post as Commander of the Army and takes up his new seat as unelected but fully empowered "Senator for Life." Indeed, under a Constitution his regime wrote in 1980, which allows for a certain number of appointed senators, former military commanders will now constitute the single biggest "party" caucus in the Senate. And with a two-thirds Congressional vote necessary to enact serious reforms, Senator Pinochet will, until he dies, hold the power of political veto in his hands.

Pinochet's continuing prominence in Chile is more emblematic than aberrational. His dictatorship may have been voted out of office by the plebiscite of 1988, but it is his economic and political model that has triumphed. For the U.S. media, the Chile story is, as always, a neat and simple tale: Bloody dictator forced by history to wipe out communism gets voted out and a civilian government leads the transition to democracy while retaining a free-market economic system. But reality is more complicated. In Chile there has been no transition, nor will there be one in the foreseeable future. What we are seeing instead is the consolidation of

a new global model-a model imposed here twenty-five years ago at the point of a bayonet and since then ever more refined and better marketed. It is a model that, in some form or another, is being proposed for all of us. "Chile is what I call a transvestite democracy," says radical Chilean sociologist Tomas Moulian. "She looks like a nice friendly young lady. But lift up her skirts, and you're in for a big surprise."


The Chilean Miracle

The New York Times recently celebrated this state of affairs by crediting Pinochet with a "coup that began Chile's transformation from a backwater banana republic to the economic star of Latin America," and the Clinton Administration wants Chile to be the next member of NAFTA. Putting aside the fact that the pre-Pinochet "banana republic" produced a bumper crop of world-renowned artists, scientists and other intellectuals, including the winners of two Nobel Prizes in Literature, the Times also got it wrong on the economy. The 7 percent annual growth since 1986 cited by enthusiastic supporters of the Chilean economy obscures several other less attractive figures: There was no growth between 1973 and 1986; real salaries have declined 10 percent since 1986; and salaries are still 18 percent lower than they were during the Allende period. One-fourth of the country lives in absolute poverty, and a third of the nation earns less than $30 a week.

A recent World Bank study of sixty-five countries ranked Chile as the seventh-worst in terms of most unequal income distribution, tied with Kenya and Zimbabwe. To get a notion of just how skewed it is, consider the following: In the United States - hardly a paragon of wealth sharing - 60 percent of national income goes to workers and 40 percent to capital; in Chile, 40 percent goes to workers and 60 percent to capital. The top 10 percent of the Chilean population earns almost half the wealth. "The 100 richest people in Chile earn more than the state spends on all social services," says Christian Democratic Senator Jorge Lavandero.

Chile is a case of rapid growth with little development- growth concentrated in the export of natural resources. Neither a solid middle class nor a well-paid working class has emerged. In the past, Chile suffered from a chronic job shortage, and the poor subsisted on a network of welfare and social solidarity. The new economy has dismantled welfare and dismembered community aid while at the same time making low-wage jobs plentiful. The result? There are just as many poor people as ever. The only difference is that now they have to work hard to attain even that standing. Therefore, "economic growth by itself will not solve problems of poverty and inequality," says Canadian economist Philip Oxhorn. "It will only reproduce them."

Defenders of the Chilean model say these inequalities are a small and acceptable price to pay for a system that rewards individual initiative. "We have extraordinary success because this system was applied without any political opposition," says Jaime Vargas, a U.S.-trained economist who works for a private think tank. "People know the rules of the game and have to believe in themselves. People are not into politics and not into any groups of any kind - unions, clubs, whatever." Chile, he says proudly, "is a world of incredible individualism."

Orlando Caputo, one of the best-known opposition economists in the country, has a more clinical view: "The Chilean system is easy to understand. Over the past twenty years $60 billion has been transferred from salaries to profits."


The Chilean Dream

The belt of tin-roofed shantytowns that house a quarter of Santiago's 4 million residents seethed with Allende supporters during his brief tenure and then became a fiery necklace of resistance to the dictatorship. The military bulldozed the Che Guevara and New Havana settlements. And Pinochet "uprooted" 200,000 shantytown dwellers and relocated them to new slums in the chilly Andean foothills. But other neighborhoods took up the mantle of intransigent opposition: La Bandera, La Legua, Pudahuel and especially La Victoria.

Since its birth in a land squat in 1957, La Victoria has incubated two generations of radical activists and revolutionaries. During the protests and confrontations of the mid-eighties, La Victoria was on the front lines. When armed troops opened fire on a group of reporter friends of mine, they shot dead the community priest, Andres Jarlan. His successor, Piem Dubois, was deported to France. Often during those years, and in defiance of military rule, La Victoria's main artery, Avenida 30 de Octubre, would be covered with proletcult murals denouncing the regime's soldiers as assassins. On the eve of planned protests, the dictatorship would ring La Victoria with thousands of troops, and if confidence was high enough, they would rip the neighborhood apart in house-to-house searches.

Usually standing at the eye of these hurricanes was "Red Olga," the obstreperous, square-shouldered, white-haired Communist matriarch of La Victoria. Arrested in 1974 and held in the notorious Teja Verde concentration camp for two months, Olga returned to La Victoria and turned her tiny home into the "Olla Comun"- the community soup kitchen that not only fed 200 families a day but also served as command-and-control center for the local anti-Pinochet resistance.

When caught by the curfew in La Victoria, when seeking the latest hard information on anything from troop movements to the price of hamburger, or when just simply seeking refuge from a tear-gas cloud in the eighties, I would always retreat to Olga's.

But when I call her up now after not seeing her in ten years she warns, "Don't come in on the main street. You'll get robbed by the drug addicts. Come in the back way." When I finally meet up with her, she seems not to have aged. The same picture of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and straw hat from Cuba hang on her dingy wall. She closed down the soup kitchen in 1990 and soon saw the political tide recede around her. Many of La Victoria's problems are the same as they were a decade ago: high unemployment, inadequate health care, alcoholism and a raging crack epidemic.

"The big difference now," she says, "is we no longer have any organization." The block committees, the community boards, the rank-and-file political groups, have all but evaporated in the ether of modernity. "Now, it's everyone for himself," she sighs. "People live only for the moment. They remember nothing. They vote for anybody. We didn't have to get all the way to socialism, but we should have gotten more than this."

Olga now squeaks by on a pension of $95 a month. Her only luxury is her telephone, which eats up a fifth of her monthly income. "You try to talk to the people about changing their lives," she says. "And all they do is shrug their shoulders." As for today's politicians, so many of whom now claim to have led the opposition to the military, she has no time for them. "Funny, isn't it," she says laughing. "After the war, there sure are a lot of heroes."

A couple of miles down the smog-choked Pan-American Highway and across from the plebeian metropolitan cemetery, I visit my aging Uncle Germain and Aunt Manuela. Their shantytown, Rio de Janeiro, couldn't have been named for anything to do with that Brazilian city except its infamous favelas-the teeming hillside slums. Germain and Manuela are among that bottom third of Chileans getting by on a few dollars a week. There have been changes-some for the better, some just changes- since the early days of the dictatorship. Pavement now covers the dirt road in front of their shack, glass has replaced the heavy plastic in their windows and Manuela's loyalties have drifted from Marx toward Jehovah. Germain has moved from a welfare program in which he swept the steps of public buildings to being a night watchman for $3 a shift. Meat can be eaten two or three times a week instead of once, and a twenty-five-inch Sanyo color TV (a gift from a son) dominates their tiny sleeping quarters and seems to be permanently aglow.

But some things remain the same. None of their grandchildren can dream of paying for university. Doctor's visits-even those subsidized by the tattered state health care system-are considered a luxury, to be indulged in only in emergencies. Medicine- indeed' the ability to stay afloat at all-would be impossible if it weren't for regular help from family living abroad. Also unchanged is an unshakable class consciousness. My aunt swears blue at the mention of the military or those they protect. But old age and decades of defeat make any political response seem like folly to her.

Among Chile's bottom two-thirds of l the population, the political center of gravity has shifted increasingly away from places like La Victoria and toward newer communities like La Florida. Situated at the very end of the north-south subway line, a forty-five-minute commute from downtown, composed of cracker-box high-rises and cramped single-family houses with postage-stamp-sized patios and iron fences, La Florida is an oasis for working-class and lower-middle-class families who nowadays are putting in twelve-hour workdays. La Florida's own mall, Shell station and McDonald's sit like three sacred pyramids at the gates of the community and are a popular tourist destination for amazed working-class day-trippers. A decade ago, such a trio of consumerist temples could be found only in the most exclusive neighborhoods.

Today, La Florida looms as The Chilean Dream. Scrape together a few thousand bucks and buy your own house in the Chilean version of Levittown. No matter that you are twenty miles from nowhere, that the housing stock looks vaguely Bulgarian, that the smog and the traffic are noxious. This is all about feeling rich in miniature. This is about a concept new to Chile: Individual Lifestyle.

When I enter the living room of 35-year-old Cecilia's three-bedroom, 950-square-foot home, I feel like I'll need a coat of Vaseline to squeeze in. Her house, microwave, stereo, used car and private-school tuition for her three kids are all leveraged on several lines of credit. Her husband makes only a couple of hundred dollars a month working in a government highway toll booth.

Cecilia is the main breadwinner. She never talks about politics unless asked. But she's a staunch leftist, coming from a family of Communists and supporters of M.I.R.-the extreme left quasi-guerrilla group pulverized by Pinochet. Until recently, Cecilia was one of those Social Security salespeople. After three years of solid performance, she was summarily booted from her job for not having met her monthly quota of sales. "No matter how long you work for these pension agencies," she says over a cup, of tea, "you can only come in under quota one month. Two , months in a row and kaput."

She explains in surreal detail the corruption and unfairness of Chile's privatized Social Security system. Thanks to "pension reform" imposed by Pinochet in 1981, all workers in Chile, whether employed or self-employed, must contribute a percentage of their income every month to a private retirement fund managed by one of a half-dozen investment companies known as A.F.P.s. Unlike in the United States, where both worker and employer pay 7.5 percent each into Social Security through payroll deductions, Chilean employers no longer make any contribution at all toward worker pensions. They retain, however, the right to withhold employee contributions from workers' paychecks, and news stories are legion of this or that company that "forgets" for months and sometimes years to deposit workers' funds into A.F.P.s. And because so many Chileans are self- or marginally employed, almost half the fund-holders don't keep their own required contributions up-to-date. An equal number have been revealed to have less than a $1,000 balance-hardly enough to support retirement.

Because the fund managers invest in bonds and Chilean stocks, each fund closely mirrors the others in terms of investment choice and performance. So while there's tremendous competition among the A.F.P.s to get as much money into their own investment pools as possible, there's little incentive for workers to transfer from one fund to another. "But that's where we salespeople come in," says Cecilia. "We work on commissions based on the new accounts we recruit. So we get all our friends and say, 'Give me your account and I will give you a gift'-a bottle of whiskey, a cordless phone, a stereo. Right now the hot gift is a mountain bike." As a result, about half of Chilean account holders switch A.F.P.s once every six months. About a third of those transfers, says the government, are "irregular," suggesting considerable fraud.

"My biggest deal was a factory in Valparaiso," remembers Cecilia. "The union there pooled thirty-four workers who offered to transfer the* accounts all at once. I closed the deal. I gave the union a big-screen TV, a steam iron and a juicer, which it raffled off to the workers."

Cecilia worries little about being unemployed. She has a thriving side business representing several banks. Like an Avon lady, she goes door to door in the neighborhood selling lines of credit. "All you need to show is six months' worth of pay stubs," she says. Then she can get you an immediate loan equivalent to four months' salary. Payable over twenty-four months, the interest rate is 75 percent a year. "My father would die if he knew what I was doing. I grew up with him reading me Marx and Lenin," she says. "I still believe in all that. But I have no choice. It's sink or swim."


Ping-Pong Politics: "Excessive Realism"

The same Pinochet who oversaw summary executions, whose political police tortured opponents to death and hid their bodies in pits of Iye, who "disappeared" more than a thousand citizens, who ran scores of thousands through his jails and prisons-the same Pinochet can become Senator for Life this month because absolute impunity reigns in Chile. This is not only because of an amnesty law the military regime passed to protect itself but also because of the deal cut between the military and politicians of the center and left.

After a decade of slaughter, the Chilean left vigorously surfaced in a wave of massive and sometimes violent protests in the early eighties. But by the end of the decade, confrontation with the military was supplanted by negotiation. By 1988, the civilian opposition agreed to participate in the plebiscite designed by Pinochet's regime. It was win-win for the dictator: A Yes vote would give him eight more years in power; a No vote would allow him to hang on as military commander and would allow a civilian government to be elected but under the terms of his rewritten Constitution. By the time of the plebiscite campaign, the center-left opposition, known as La Concertacion, dropped from its program state intervention in the economy and any questioning of property rights. A vague call for "reconciliation" pushed justice for the military criminals off the political agenda.

The civilian opposition won the plebiscite, but that in no way meant the end of Pinochet's model. In the months following the plebiscite and before the first civilian election, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists-Allende's old party-held extended talks with the regime to plan the "transition," and in so doing almost fully accepted the military's terms: The Senate would continue to be packed with appointees; the secret police and the military would remain protected by amnesty; the archaic and pro-military judicial system would be left intact. The military budget would remain autonomous and untouchable. The new elected president would not be able to remove any top military commander for eight years. As one former army captain told me, "This was the only transition in Latin America where the military came out not only untarnished but downright virgin."

The demand voiced by thousands who celebrated in the streets on the morrow of the plebiscite-that Pinochet resign from the army-was never echoed by the civilians who took over the government. "How embarrassing for us," says dissident Senator Lavandero. "We could have defeated Pinochet in '83, and again in '88, but lamentably my own party negotiated democracy away with him."

The past eight years of civilian rule have been what some call a time of "excessive realism." And as the junior partners in this arrangement, the Socialists have moved from a position of expediency to one of complicity as co-administrator of the hemisphere's most rigidly orthodox neoliberal economy.

In giving legitimacy to a system designed by their enemies, the Socialists trivialize politics and generate a vast cynicism. "Young people who are idealists, who had so many hopes when Pinochet lost the plebiscite, are finding out we are being betrayed' that a deal was cut over our heads," says Pablo Bussemius, the 25-year-old Socialist student body president at the University of Chile's law school. "Now with Pinochet headed for the Senate, there's an ever greater disillusionment and withdrawal from politics."

That disillusionment was measurable in the campaign for last December's mid-term Congressional elections. When the nightly fifteen minutes of free air time for political parties came on the TV, ratings plummeted; a full 20 percent of TVs were simply turned off. This in a country where, traditionally, politics has been the main talk at the dinner table. No surprise this time around. The right ran a campaign as defenders of the poor! And the center/left government parties broadcast a campaign that would have tingled Dick Morris's toes. "Love Is Better in a Democracy," Chileans were told as the tube flashed images of couples hugging and kissing.

Perhaps one political TV talk show best encapsulated the bankruptcy of modern Chilean politics. As a panel of the four men running for senator from Santiago fielded inane questions from a clearly deranged host, tuxedoed waiters walked on-camera and served them cakes and pastries, while on the corner of the stage two teenage girls (described by the host as "journalists") sat in skimpy miniskirts and noted down questions called in from the audience. After a commercial break, the scenario shifted to the outdoor patio of the TV studio. The host then encouraged the Socialist candidate to play ping-pony against the candidate from me hard-right U.D.I.-a party founded by Pinochet's dreaded secret police. As torturer and tortured batted the ball between them and simultaneously answered questions from the host, what could the audience have been thinking?

When the votes came in on December 11, generalized panic set in, and not because the ruling coalition had lost 5 percent of its vote or because the hard right displaced its more moderate allies. A full 41 percent of the eligible electorate either didn't register to vote, abstained, defaced the ballot or left it blank. A million voters under age 25 failed to register. These are predictable results for Americans, but earth-shaking for Chileans, who have been accustomed to 95 percent and higher turnout rates. In Chile's second city of Valparaiso, the winner in the multiparty vote went effectively to "none of the above"-20 percent of the ballots defaced. In Santiago, the Communists, running in opposition to the government, doubled their vote to nearly 10 percent.

The contours of the balloting reveal a barely submerged discontent. Notwithstanding the government's reluctance to take on Pinochet, or the hard-core 30 percent or so of the population who in some measure or another still revere him, the other 70 percent sees all the world's baubles for sale on easy credit. At the entrance to every department store, every shoe store, every pharmacy, there is the ubiquitous young girl on a podium offering instant credit. Air Nikes? Cash price 29,000 pesos-or twelve payments of 2,900 pesos, the equivalent of $6. A bottle of Shalimar? Cash price 16,000 pesos-or ten payments of 2,200 pesos.

Sociologist Tomas Moulian points to the spread of credit to the masses as only the latest step in implementing the neoliberal economic model. In one of Chile's sweetest ironies, his book on the subject, The Real Chile: Anatomy of a Myth, stayed on the country's bestseller list through all of 1997. "What we have in Chile," he says in an interview, "is the marriage of a neoliberal economy with a neodemocracy, a simulated democracy. The end result is a neoliberal system defended now by its historic Socialist adversaries. Pinochet, for his part, is a symbol of this capitalist counterrevolution, which profoundly changed our culture and even the capitalism we had before him."

Moulian's thesis runs something like this: The first two years of military rule merely reversed the Allende-era reforms, liberalized prices, lowered salaries and subjected the working class to the now familiar nostrums of economic "shock therapy." The Chicago Boys period of 1975-81, shaped by Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, introduced structural "reforms," increasing exports and creating new economic groups indebted to international banks. A draconian labor law clamped down on workers, and a wave of privatization (including Social Security) atrophied the state. That phase fizzled in 1982, leading to a mini-depression that liquidated national industry and drove half the population below the poverty level.

"But a sense of direction was recovered immediately," says Moulian. "A re-ordering, a re-privatization of everything, commenced under a neoliberal pattern. The new economic groups that emerged were much stronger than the older ones. Not indebted to foreign capital, they were interwoven with it. And the tremendous pools of private money generated by the private pension funds were used to fuel these new groups. It was the workers' money that built such prosperity for the elite." This Chilean model, says Moulian, "anticipated Reagan and Thatcher. Because of the neoliberal intellectual sway over the military, Chile started out early on the road that everybody is now on."

He adds: "In this sense the Chilean terror was rational. This whole model is frankly impossible without a dictatorship. Only the dictatorship could have disciplined the working class into submission while their salaries were lowered and their pensions used to accumulate wealth for others. Only a dictatorship can keep a country quiet while education, universities and health care are privatized, and while an absolute marketization of the labor force is imposed. Today, under this simulated democracy, the work force is too fragmented to recover and the population is distracted by consumerism and disciplined by credit obligations."


Words From the Colonel: 'To Buy or Not to Buy'

Drive around the "Little Manhattan" section of Santiago's I Barrio Alto-its lavish "High Neighborhood"-and you'll come face to face with the few who are perched atop the steep pyramid of Chilean social class. Fifty percent of all national construction in the past decade has taken place in just the two wealthy suburbs of Vitacura and Las Condes. In the hillside La Dehesa neighborhood, the family house that is a replica of Tara pales beside the reproduction of Versailles. It seems there are only two kinds of vehicles up here, Mercedes sedans and shuttle buses that cart the domestic help to and from the shantytowns-the same sort of shuttles that scurry between Soweto and the Johannesburg suburb of Bird Haven.

A little closer to downtown but only a half-notch down the social scale, the municipality of Providencia is a delight of lush gardens and colonial mansions. Its city hall is a converted Tuscan villa replete with marble columns, stained glass and crystal chandeliers. Its manicured rose garden is a favorite meeting place for uniformed nannies taking their stroller-bound charges for an afternoon airing.

I've come to meet the elected Mayor of Providencia, former army Col. Cristian Labbe. I knew his father, also a colonel- that is, until Allende sacked Labbe senior when he refused to salute a visiting Fidel Castro back in 1971. The young Labbe followed his dad's footsteps into the military, and Pinochet became his mentor. Rising from the dictator's security apparatus, Labbe became one of his trusted political advisers, eventually serving as government secretary general in the last years of the regime.

Outfitted in a white shirt with two Mont Blanc pens in his pocket, his blond hair greased straight back in the preferred style of the Chilean aristocracy, Labbe receives me with tea in his personal office. There is an air of immediate hostility on his part. Not because of my association with Allende, which I purposely avoid mentioning, but because, of all things, I am an American. In the bizarre ideological universe of extreme nationalism and latent neo-Nazism that Labbe inhabits, Americans are viewed as busybody socialists. He tells me right off that he's still angry over the pressure the United States exerted on Pinochet to stage his 1988 plebiscite. "We carried out each one of our promises even though no one believed us," Labbe says with a red face. "Not even you gringos believed us. We had every organ of the U.S. government down here acting as if they owned us."

For reasons of journalistic efficacy I let the remark pass. Instead I ask him to reflect on Pinochet's legacy. "We live in democracy today only because of the work of the military government," he fires back. "Chileans today recognize the morality of merit and incentives. Chileans know that if you want to do something, you can. Today, if you do well, you are respected' not scorned. A Mercedes today is a symbol of success. Now we have freedom of have a visceral hatred for the dictator. He cannot appear unprotected *n public, and always provokes catcalls and boos. Polls have consistently shown two-thirds or more of the population in favor of his resignation.

A courageous judge in Spain is currently hearing testimony on Pinochet for "alleged crimes against humanity," including the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile. The Chilean "democratic" government has denounced the inquiry, President Eduardo Frei has tried to block an attempt by a few young Christian Democratic Congressmen to go forward with the* own impeachment of Pinochet and the Chilean foreign minister has called the proposed impeachment "profoundly inconvenient." Nonetheless, a large number of Chilean social and cultural leaders have given their public support to the Spanish investigation.

Perhaps even more significant, a Chilean appeals court judge sent shock waves through the political establishment in mid-January when he agreed to hear a case brought by Communist Party leader Gladys Marin. Marin, whose husband was disappeared by the military, is trying to block Pinochet from taking his Senate seat by formally charging him with "genocide, kidnapping and illegal burying of bodies." It's the first time any Chilean court has accepted a direct charge against the dictator.

So far, the much-touted reconciliation in Chile has been one-sided. The military has never been asked to atone or even apologize for its crimes, so the reservoirs of popular resentment run deep even if they are rarely given public voice. But on a recent bus commute through downtown Santiago I witnessed a moving scene. A street troubadour boarded the bus to sing for his supper. This all-too-common occurrence has driven Chilean commuters beyond boredom, so barely anybody made eye contact with the poorly dressed middle-aged singer. But while most of these beggars scratch out three or four tunes before passing the cup, this fellow sang only one song. "Tu, no eres nada, ni chicha ni limonada," he crooned, reviving the signature song of Victor Jara, the leftist folk singer whose hands were smashed and who was then killed by Pinochet's military in the weeks following the coup. "You are nothing, neither hard cider nor lemonade. Get out of the middle of the road, join up and save your dignity...." Two or three young people clapped their Walkman earphones on as soon as he strummed his first chord. The thirty or so of-hers on the packed bus listened quietly as they stared ahead or out the window. But when he finished, almost all went out of their way to give him some coins.


'Consolidation of a Model'

Strolling through downtown Santiago, one is offered a reminder of how mesmerizing and paralyzing mass consumer culture is when newborn. In our own case, at least American consumerism sprang up as a natural outgrowth of booming economic development. In Chile, mass credit consumerism substitutes for development. Worse, before 1973, conspicuous consumption was taboo in a country still infused with a sense of social solidarity. Television didn't arrive here until 1962. There was no mall until the early eighties, and no fast food till a few years later.

Imagine the frisson the average Chilean feels today when he or she walks the Alameda, the main downtown thoroughfare, and choice, as Milton Friedman says. Man is free to buy or not to buy. Once we had two universities. Now we have 300. Once we had one type of car. Now there are twenty or thirty. That is freedom."

When I ask about the social cost of such liberation, about a certain legacy of human rights abuse, Labbe cuts me off with a condescending smile. "Look, let me tell you a parable," he says, taking a sip of imported Earl Grey. "There's a terrible auto accident. The victim has no vital signs and is barely breathing. He's rushed to the emergency room and his whole family begins demanding that everything and anything be done to save him. The surgeons start cutting and operating. The patient revives slowly. First he goes to urgent care. Then he's put on a restricted diet. Some of his activities are also restricted. With careful treatment over years he fully recuperates. He's even free now to choose another doctor if he wants. And one day he goes to the beach. When he takes his shirt off, his brother sees a bunch of scars and stitch marks. And the brother is scandalized! Shocked! 'My God,' he says, 'you are a victim of human rights abuses! "'

At least Labbe, in his roundabout way, recognizes the scars. That's more than a lot of his constituents will do. I know because some of those who say "nothing really happened in Chile" are in my own family. After tea with the colonel I walk a few blocks to my fifty-something cousin Sonia's gate-guarded Providencia apartment. I dine with her and a 35-year-old third cousin, Lisette, the fair-skinned daughter of a wealthy businessman. Both women are what are called in popular lingo momias, reactionary mummies. But even I am not prepared for the dialogue that unfolds.

"What a catastrophe these past eight years of [civilian] government have been," says Sonia. "We are back to strikes, disorder, corruption. Pinochet was grand. He brought order and depoliticized the country."

I answer: "Well, he is also responsible for killing and torturing a lot of people."

"Outside of Chile that's what they say happened," interrupts Lisette. "But it's not true. I've always said if you weren't doing anything wrong, nothing would happen to you. Nothing happened to me. I never saw anyone killed. Though I will say this, these eight years haven't been as bad as I thought they were going to be. Democracy isn't as bad as everyone said it would be."

Ignoring that last remark, I return to death and disappearance. I recount the murder of Orlando Letelier by Chilean secret police in Washington, D.C., the bombing murder of former Gen. Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires, the approximately 3,000 dead-including 1,000 disappeared-listed by the government-named Truth Commission and, finally, my own experience of narrowly escaping Chile alive a week after the coup and the fact that so many of their own family members, including my wife, were forced into exile.

"I don't know about this or that fact," answers Sonia, totally unfazed. "All I know is what I have lived through personally. And personally I was much happier, I felt much safer with Pinochet."

And there you have what Tomas Moulian calls "The Great Psychotic Denial." When there's never been an acknowledgment from the armed forces of any wrongdoing, when the civilian government-including the Socialists-demands no such recognition, when the right and left trumpet Chile as the model of the future, when the dictator remains free to become senator, when torturers and assassins are exempted from prosecution, then anything said to the contrary must be a lie. To admit otherwise would be to acknowledge the horrible price paid for the privileges of Providencia.


Birthdays and Barricades

The Chilean military can no longer afford to live in the economy it created. During the dictatorship its members took on huge mortgages and big car payments; now removed from direct power, they are struggling to pay the bills in a rampant free- market economy. "They are very worried," says longtime military affairs commentator Raul Sohr. "The military is the child of the state. And to the state they have returned. While the rest of the country has to put up with privatized everything, the military now has its own schools, its own hospitals, its own vacation camps, its own subsidized housing, transportation and universities. It even has its own state pensions. They have their own private socialism."

Beyond the irony in this anecdote, there's also a caveat about Chile's future. Chilean soldiers aren't the only citizens poised on the economic razor's edge. The country's economic stability is leveraged on continuing exports and expanding consumer credit-two pillars easily knocked out by fluctuations in the world market. Already, the Asian economic crisis caused one Chilean stock market dive this year as well as an unprecedented but to date still-controllable dip in the peso. The last time the Chilean economy took a dive, in 1983, the country went to the brink of rebellion-and that was under the heel of military rule.

"The greatest enemy to future stability is a sort of generalized ignorance and arrogance that comes with triumphalism," says Ricardo Israel, director of the University of Chile's Political Sciences Institute. "People are satisfied saying we now have the same products you can buy in New York or London. We are also laden with the tremendous ideological weight of the church and the armed forces. We are still way behind in Chile. Yet so many Chileans have deluded themselves into thinking we are the vanguard. Hardly. Maybe a vanguard in duty-free shops. Nothing more."

There have been some intriguing symptoms of political restlessness of late. The eviscerated labor movement has finally started to distance itself from its "partners" in government. Last October, 80,000 young people jammed the National Stadium- one of the dictatorship's infamous killing fields-for a concert to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Che Guevara's death. The hard antigovernment left won student body elections in two of the country's three main universities. And when in November it won in the third, in the fiercely conservative Catholic University, the shock waves battered both the right and the official pro-government left. "When the children of the elite vote for the hard left, you better believe something is happening," says Sohr. Says Colonel Labbe: "I tell you I just can't understand it. Why would the students of La Catolica vote Communist?"

Augusto Pinochet is celebrating his 82nd birthday the evening I leave Chile. His morning starts with civilian supporters lining the sidewalk in front of his Barrio Alto mansion to applaud him. Then come the official visits of the entire army brass. With what one newspaper later calls a "visibly emotional" Pinochet looking on from his balcony, the official army band serenades him with the "Happy Birthday" song. Then the general and future Senator for Life requests a rendition of the

"Erika" march, followed by his favorite tune, the old Nazi favorite "Lilt Marlene."

An editorial by Cristian Labbe lauding "the vision of a statesman" appears in the leading daily, El Mercurio (a former beneficiary of C.I.A. funding).

At twelve noon, a few dozen student leaders gather in front of the downtown Defense Ministry and unfurl a banner offering Pinochet a one-way ticket to Spain for his birthday. Seconds later, squads of national police attack the students and several journalists, clubbing, tear-gassing and arresting them. No one knows what the charges are.

By 8 P.M. Pinochet has arrived at the army's so-called Rock House, where he is feted by 1,300 guests, including several top industrialists, army officers, IV personalities and a former Miss Universe. The President Pinochet Foundation is transmitting the event by closed-circuit TV to thirty-six other banquets in Pinochet's honor across the country. Three of Chile's private TV networks are also transmitting the entire event. As I head to the airport I hear Pinochet's crackly voice over the radio telling his supporters that he is "perfectly aware" of the "destructive ambitions" harbored by those who criticize the military. Suggesting that any effort to hold him personally responsible for the past would be tantamount to treason, he goes on to warn that "anything that affects a single member of the army affects the whole army."

When my taxi crosses into downtown we are snarled in traffic. Some 5,000 mostly young protesters are in the streets blocking traffic, singing and wishing the general a "very unhappy birthday and all the sorrow in the world." To make my flight I have to dodge the water cannons, the barricades, the bonfires and tear gas. But I do so with pleasure. This evening Chile seems much like the country I knew twenty-five years ago. This demonstration is far different from the skirmishes staged all month by the Social Security sales force. These students are fighting for much more than their narrow personal interest. Those of us who lived through the promise of the Allende period hope they are not the last rattle on the snake of rebellion and liberation, that they are instead- and against the odds-the catalyst that will spur millions of others to remember a future. ,


Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, lived in Chile and worked as a translator for President Salvador Allende from 1971 to 1973.

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