HAVANA TIMES — The movie “No”, by the Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, is circulating in Havana these days from USB flash drive to flash drive, as well as being screened in alternative venues. It’s not a censored film, in fact it was recognized at the last Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, winning the first place Coral Award as the Best Feature Film.
Its theme: The referendum that removed the dictator Augusto Pinochet from power in Chile.
After reading an obscure bit of Cold War pulp fiction titled The New Class (1957), by Miroslav Djilas, it occurred to me that the end objective doesn’t validate the means. Too many violations of rights and freedoms have been justified under the phrase “the end justifies the means.”
As Djilas said, “Nothing better demonstrates the rightfulness of a goal than the means used to achieve it.”
“No” seems to prove otherwise. It wasn’t enough that Chileans knew about the people who disappeared and were tortured under the Pinochet government for them to say “no” to its continuance in power.
Truth is like food, no one eats it raw, nor is it enough for it to be well cooked – it should also be attractive to the eye. There’s no difference between one brand of soda, a microwave and democracy. Voting is buying.
You vote for the product they you sell. The victory of “no” was defined by fifteen minute spots on Chilean TV screens, using advertising mechanisms.
Lessons of “No”
There are no dictators without followers, a good number of them in Pinochet’s case. The “no” position won by only a little more than fifty percent. I remember a Chilean woman who I saw on TV here when I was eleven or twelve, perhaps during the referendum period. She shouted: “Pinochet’s good because he saved us from communism.”
Second, even dictatorships bring benefits. Chile achieved a high rate of economic prosperity under the Pinochet government. That was the main argument of the “yes” campaign during the consultation. Communism was associated with poverty.
Pinochet saved them, but at what price? What price was that woman willing to pay to be saved from communism, or rather, what price was she willing for others to pay?
I’m not trying to speak between the lines or attempting to draw analogies between the dictatorship of Pinochet and the Cuban regime.
In Cuba, as far as I know (according to official information sources), no one has disappeared or been tortured, but nor is there economic prosperity.
If there are similarities between the dictatorship of Pinochet and the Cuban regime these are in “lessor things” – like the lack of freedom of the press, speech or association – in other words, in the lack of democracy.
Third: It’s not enough to overthrow a dictatorship or establish democracy (if democracy exists) for social justice to flourish for everyone. Chileans still have reasons to complain, and now they can do just that … without disappearing.
Fourth – the most important: You can overthrow a dictatorship without violence.