Looking at Chile’s Present to Imagine Cuba’s Future

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Michelle Bachelet. Foto: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Anticipating Michele Bachelet’s electoral victory in Chile wasn’t particularly difficult, not even before Bachelet herself had announced her candidacy. She had gained overwhelming popularity during her previous term and the latest administration of the Chilean Right had been less than felicitous – beating it wasn’t hard, and Bachelet did so by a landslide.

In another article and with characteristic perspicacity, Eugenio Yañez addressed this issue to establish a comparison between what this means and what is happening in Cuba today, a comparison I agree with to a considerable extent and which invites me to comment on some points.

Yañez’ arguments struck me as well-reasoned and balanced, characteristics lacked by many Cubans who have nestled at the extremes and lost the gift of doubt. I only wish to sketch out some ideas which, in some cases, lead me to disagree with Yañez and, in others, to try and develop his points, in the awareness that I may not actually achieve this.

Looking back at Chile’s history, it is unquestionable that Allende’s government took both inappropriate and costly steps. The Chilean Left has already undertaken self-critical assessments of these measures that spare us having to produce evidence about the political adventurism that characterized the administration at the time, particularly in the ambit of the MIR and Socialist Party.

I don’t believe, however, that the overthrow of Allende’s government can be explained as a direct an unequivocal result of these mistakes.

Allende’s overthrow, in fact, was already in a number of agendas at the very moment of his election. From the very beginning, the Unidad Popular (“Popular Unity”) party was subjected to a destabilization plan supported by the US government, a plan which relied on the active involvement of transnational companies and the domestic Right.

Parliamentary boycotts, strikes, attempted and successful assassinations, acts of sabotage, military conspiracies and other such actions were frequent between 1970 and 1973. There is plenty of verified documentation to support this claim.

The decline of Chile’s economy during Allende’s administration was not, as some neo-liberal spokespeople tell us, simply the failed result of a Marxist-like model (in fact, Allende was quite notably a follower of Keynes and the precepts of the Economic Commission for Latin America, or ECLA) – it was also the result of deliberate, subversive actions.

Pinochet’s coup d’état – which relied on the support of all representatives of the “democratic” Right, with the exception of a small sector of the Christian Democrats – not only led to a criminally repressive regime that murdered, disappeared, tortured, exiled or imprisoned tens of thousands of Chileans; it also dismantled Chile’s spirited civil society and left the country’s population helpless before the onslaught of Capital and its military allies – those who, under Pinochet, not only “saved the motherland from communism”, but also fattened their pockets through a kind of unchecked corruption that continues to be the shame of Chile’s dapper military class.

Pinochet and Allende before the 9/11/73 coup in Chile.

This helplessness was one of the pillars of Chile’s “economic miracle.” The Pinochet government hadn’t merely attracted foreign capital through acts of legislation. One of the perks it offered was the dismantling of the network of social services that had been constructed in the course of a century, of unions and other grassroots organizations and of the right to protest and oppose government measures.

Pinochet and his neo-liberal technocrats not only murdered several thousand Chileans. They also did away with an entire social structure, at a terrible cost for the majority of the population. To say its most loyal group of hired applauders quit power on losing the referendum is inaccurate. The regime left power only when the military elite became divided and international pressures became unbearable.

Pinochet left Chileans with a growing economy, true, but also with a system that places Chile among the countries with the highest levels of inequality in the world. That is to say, he left them with an economy that works very well for a tiny, profit-making minority, somewhat well for a debt-ridden, hard-working middle class that nevertheless continues to frequent the big shopping malls and extremely poorly for a severely underprivileged majority.

I believe Chile’s economy is characterized by levels of inequality greater than those found in Cuba, whose problem (for the time being) isn’t inequality but forms of stagnation and mediocrity that are stifling the social energies of the population.

I believe that the political phenomenon known as Concertacion (a type of consensus politics) in Chile, today known as Nueva Mayoria (“New Majority”), following the inclusion of the communists, is the logical reaction of a society that has long been asking for a piece of the pie.

Concertacion was able to reduce poverty considerably, re-assemble a series of social services that had been shattered to pieces by Pinochet’s neo-liberal administration and consolidate democratic spaces for debate and collaboration. All of this has been highly positive, but it has left intact a number of resistant areas where social exclusion, the privatization of social services and a regressive and backward fiscal system continue to reign.

Chilean society has asked Bachelet to take one more step forward. Though it hasn’t asked for a socialist experiment – that’s not on the agenda, as it was under Allende – it has requested that neoliberalism be left behind through redistributive and democratic measures, particularly through an educational reform that can tear education away from its vulgar commercialization and through a new constitution that will replace the current charter of liberties, which was drawn up in the shadow of the bayonets, and which represents one of the most outdated in the continent.

With respect to Evo Morales, I will try to be lenient. The conflict with Chile is part of the nationalistic, patriotic consensus which Bolivia’s political elite deploys every day, and the exuberant praise of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is a way of securing Venezuela’s oil surpluses more efficiently.

For Evo Morales, attacking the Chilean president while extolling ALBA is a profitable business. It is best to pay no attention to him, so that he will shut up. All rhetoric aside, in practical terms, I don’t think Evo Morales’ policies are much more “socialist” than Bachelet’s.

Because of this, I feel we must wish Bachelet and her administration success in their efforts to build a better Chile, for the benefit of all, not merely the 1% of the population that takes in 30% of the nation’s incomes. Looking at Chile – at its successes and difficulties – could be a way for us Cubans to begin to imagine our own future.
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(*) An HT translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.

2 thoughts on “Looking at Chile’s Present to Imagine Cuba’s Future

  • As long as the means of distribution of the wealth, goods and services in the Chilean society remain in the hands of that very small elite, there will be growing inequity between the rich few and the many poor.
    It takes a studied ignorance of the faults of capitalism not to see this.
    Capitalism whatever its form , neo-liberal or not, is always at the center of massive poverty in developing countries and cannot be the solution to that problem.
    Capitalism is centered upon the amassing of wealth and the already wealthy never will say that they have enough of the pie.
    Chile’s wealthy are not exceptions to this hard and fast first rule of capitalism. ..

  • It would require a total lack of understanding of economics to write this article.

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