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Chile's Remarkable -yet little remarked- Election

Socialist! Agnostic! Ex-prisoner!

It’s unthinkable in these United States that such terms might apply to the President elect. And yet exactly that is true in the socially conservative nation of Chile along the southern spine of South America. Do you think this represents a radical backlash against the authoritarian rightist past of strongman Pinochet? Think again, president-elect Bachelet is hardly radical in spite of those opening adjectives.

Chile's election Monday of socialist and former political prisoner Michelle Bachelet is being largely ignored by the U.S. press, but it is quite significant and hopeful on several fronts. The right in America probably wants to ignore it because they fear it signals a continuing leftward shift in Latin American politics following the election of Bolivian populist Evo Morales and the continued popularity of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, whose anti-American and anti-Bush rhetoric has drawn not only outrageous commentary from Pat Robertson, but a consistently hostile treatment by a majority of printed opinion in the states.

Whether one buys the usual denigration of Chavez as a Castro-style ideologue or not, Bachelet is clearly cut from a different cloth, and could serve as a unifying force in acknowledging the importance of free markets, at the same time as insisting on fairness to those of less means.

My favorite part of this story is the clear about-face from the brutal dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-90. As a former victim of his brutality (Bachelet was imprisoned, then exiled to Argentina, and her father died in prison), the president elect, like Mandela did in South Africa, is speaking the language of reconciliation which is all too rare in politics:

Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance and -- why not say it -- into love.
American progressives would do well to study this victory as an antidote to the naysayers who contend that the Republican talking points of the last two decades have eliminated any chance of a true progressive being elected to the U.S. Presidency. Chile remains a quite socially conservative nation, and yet it has elected an agnostic, divorced, socialist woman as president. To me this shows that an electorate is able to think past simplistic formulas, and acknowledge forward thinking which may diverge from their own in the particulars. It is also worth noting that constitutional reforms have eliminated designated military senators, which should enable the new center-left majority in both houses to enact most of Bachelet's anticipated reforms. Maybe this can presage a development in the US in which a progressive's message can ring true to the electorate in spite of an association with a few particular ideas thought to be "out of the mainstream". The faulty equations which have gained currency here between liberalism and decadence, or progressivism and extremism, or conservative religiosity and morality won't be simple to break down, but they can be broken down because they are false.

Like Chile, America in her internal policies has a history of moderation, rather than fluctuating between violent extremes like so much of the world. The recent experience with Pinochet was an anomaly for Chile, sadly brought upon her with the complicity of the United States. Ariel Dorfman, in his essay The Black Hole speaks to his almost giddy anticipation in the wake of the election of Salvador Allende, before that dream was cut short by Pinochet's rise to power.

It was then, in the midst of that multitude of men and women I had never met and did not know, it was then, as I breathed in the air that they were breathing out, that I had an experience which I hesitate to call mystical but which was as near to a religious epiphany as I have had in my life.

Allende was making a brief speech, something about how we were now going to be the masters of our own destiny, the owners of our own land and the metals under the ground and the streets we walked through...

Times have changed, and Bachelet's brand of socialism is likely to more aggressively seek accommodation with capitalist partners, fending off any immediate backlash. Both Bachelet and her conservative opponent catered to the middle in this election, and the conservative opponent was even gracious in defeat.

Bachelet may carry the label of Socialist, but her goal is to be a uniter, not a divider. It will be interesting to see if she is much more successful than the last U.S. Presidential candidate to make that claim.

Posted by Walker Willingham at January 21, 2006 11:07 AM
Comment #115223

She is the third or forth woman in recent days to be elected. I believe Finalnd, and Liberia ?? Just to name a few.
The press won’t elaborate because there are quite a few leaders of countrys that are women and we
IMO we should add one more to the mix, Maybe, just Maybe we could all get along for a change.

by the way, Good Post.

Posted by: gypsyirishgirl at January 21, 2006 5:51 PM
Comment #115234

I remember the reform of the Chilean economy that made Chile unlike its neighbors and formed a break with Latin statist tradition. Because of the free market rescue then, Chile can be moderate today. There is no comparison to the caudillo in Venezuela or the (I don’t know what) in Bolivia.

Leaders can have socialist goals and they can be “progressive.” What they can’t do it ignore the market or repeal the laws of supply and demand. It would be interesting if someone could come up with a market socialism that worked more than a short time.

Ironically, we might look to Chilean history. The market oriented reforms made during the former government were built on a socialist basis and in the face of military dicators who preferred socialist control. I remember one of the “Chicago Boys” saying that the actual ownership of the firm made less difference than how the firm behaved.

Posted by: Jack at January 21, 2006 6:31 PM
Comment #115274

A market socialism that worked more than a short time? Try Sweden,Austria , Japan, the Netherlands,Canada,France………etc. What makes them socialist is the market(business) is subservient to the social compact,not the other way aroud like it is here. If one looks at other ways to define economic success besides GDP, such as infant mortality, literacy rates,health care etc. most of these countries are far ahead of us.

Posted by: Bill at January 21, 2006 8:15 PM
Comment #115279

The only brutality in Chile under Pinochet was when Allende’s victims got their hands on their tormentors and took revenge. We have had true progressives elected to the U.S. presidency- Carter and Clinton. Both had socialist policies that we will suffer under for years. Unfortunately Bush is a continuation of Clinton so the destruction will be twice as bad as it was with Carter. No one will ever come up with any socialist scheme that works for more than a short time because socialism doesn’t work and can’t be made to work, ever. Socialism sows the seeds of its own destruction from the inherent contradiction at its core.

Posted by: steve at January 21, 2006 8:27 PM
Comment #115298


Socialism means that the government owns major industries. All countries sit on some continuum. In the U.S., the Federal government owns a lot of the land, for example. Many of our extractive industries are in many respects socialist.

Socialism is old fashioned in that it worked best when things were not changing very much and the society homogeneous. But even those countries that were socialist leaning are starting to get out of the business. The classic case is telecom. As long as telecom was a state monopoly, prices were high and services were bad. People had to wait years for a connection. The free market revolutionized the industry beginning in the 1970s.

Japan is very much not a socialist country. Its tax rates are lower than ours. It is a homogenous society, however, that sometimes tries to plan centrally. It doesn’t always work. MITI (the Japanese planning group) considered auto making not a viable industry for Japan in the 1970s. Fortunately, its advice didn’t take.

All the countries you mention are homogenous and advanced. They had similar ranking for life expectancy fifty years ago. Most of countries that call themselves socialist and practice government ownership are not doing so well. Latin America has suffered very much from state control. That is the main reason South America is less prosperous than North America.

Homogenous is another reason these systems work. France is a good case study. As it acquires a more diverse population, the social compact is breaking down. Canada too is seeing an increase in violent crime at the same time crime in the U.S. is dropping.

When you talk poetically about the social compact, I doubt if you have thought through what this means. In socialism this means government control. You no doubt assume an honest and good government. That has been the experience in only a small number of places for a short time. Most governments are less than perfect and their decisions will not be for the greater good.

I lived in Norway. The Norwegians are the most honest people I have ever met. Socialist methods can work in an honest homogenous place like that, BUT it is breaking down because of immigrants who have different goals and rapid technological change makes people want more than one television network etc. Living in these places also is different than thinking about them. You are entitled by law to many things you can’t actually get. In the U.S. you can often get things you are not entitled to by law.

So socialism works in theory, but not practice, while the free market works in practice but not theory.

Posted by: Jack at January 21, 2006 8:54 PM
Comment #115300


You really strained my brain. There is, as you say, very little in the news regarding events in Chile. I thought for a while you were a Neo-Con in Liberal clothing when I started to read all of this:

which popped up from the Black Hole link in your post. I honestly do think (my opinion only) that much of that is the Liberal version of Domionist Theocracy (I’ll bet everyone gets tired of me saying that), but it seems your point of view is well substantiated by one thing in particular.

The White House has made no comment whatsoever that I can find. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Odd, eh? Not that we, the USA, should be involved in every countries business but you’d think Bachelet’s story would earn at least a “mention” by the Bush administration.

How much of Chile’s wealth left with Pinochet’s exile? Thank goodness here in the states we’d never let the wealthy gain power and rape us like that. If we did just think how much power “big oil” would wield over us.

Wow, I’m glad we’d never let that happen. If we did a bunch of millionaires might end up making policy. Then we’d really be in trouble. They might try to end democracy and stuff like that. Boy oh boy, I’m glad we’re not dumb enough to let somethin’ like that happen.


Posted by: KansasDem at January 21, 2006 9:07 PM
Comment #115303

I don’t mean to confuse you with the facts, but did you read Bill’s post before you posted yours? His post clearly stated that socialism is alive a working well several places in Western Europe (Norway, Sweden, Austria, for example) as well as in Japan, Canada, and elsewhere. The facts contradict your claim that socialism doesn’t work.

As for your claim that the Pinochet junta wasn’t brutal, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Pinochet’s “non-violence”:

On September 11, 1973, the military, led by Pinochet, stormed the presidential palace and seized power from President Allende, who was found dead soon after. A junta headed by Pinochet was established, which suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress, imposed strict censorship, proscribed the leftist parties that had constituted Allende’s Popular Unity coalition, and halted all political activity. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against opponents and perceived leftists in the country. As a result, approximately 3,000 Chilean residents are known to have been executed, or “disappeared”, more than 27,000 were incarcerated and in a great many cases tortured, according to the Valech Report. Many were exiled and received abroad, in particular in Argentina, as political refugees; but they were followed in their exile by the DINA secret police, in the frame of Operation Condor which linked South-American dictatorships together against political opponents.
If you really and truly believe that Pinochet wasn’t a brutal dictator, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn, New York that I would just love to sell to you for a reasonable price.

Posted by: ElliottBay at January 21, 2006 9:14 PM
Comment #115323

Does someone want to explain to me what makes a free market so great (I just saw the movie Enron)?

Posted by: ? at January 21, 2006 10:02 PM
Comment #115325


Thank you. I’ll add some beach front property in Kansas.


Posted by: KansasDem at January 21, 2006 10:07 PM
Comment #115337


The free market is not always so great, but like the weather or geography, it is what you have. You might be unenthusiastic about rain on the day you planned your picnic, but if you pretend you can have something else by decree it will be the worse for you. And like the terrain, you can use it or fight it, but it is hard to push water up hill and you can’t do it forever.

Posted by: Jack at January 21, 2006 10:35 PM
Comment #115354

The differences between Chile and the United States are so numerous that there’s little sense in even beginning to list them.

So I fail to see what applicable “lessons” American liberals might actually draw from Chile’s politics.

Chile is a lot better off than some in Latin America, but economically, as is true in most of that region there is very little of the access to education and opportunity in Chile, the chances for upward mobility which even the poorest enjoy in the United States.

The gap between rich and poor is extremely visible, so it’s not that surprising that Chile may be prone to experiment for at least a time with measures that would enjoy little to no support amidst the American working class.

We have a gap between rich and poor in the US, but it’s not as though the poor are living in dirt-floored huts while the rich live in sprawling villas patrolled by armed guards.

In the social front, the fact that Chile is overwhelmingly socially conservative (Catholic) is probably precisely why see no threat to their social fabric in electing a non-believer. There’s little fear that Bachelet would ever be foolish enough to even attempt the kind of militant secularism and marginalization of religion which is so central to the goals of the American left.

Chile’s social conservativism, in fact, goes FAR beyond what all but the most radical conservative fringe in America would ever put up with.

Until very recently, divorce was completely illegal in Chile. Gays have no rights or protections to speak of. Abortion is against the law.

Saying that a “progressive” politics in Chile would bear any resemblance to the American “progressive” movement is a pretty wild stretch.

Posted by: sanger at January 22, 2006 12:17 AM
Comment #115421


You are a beacon slicing through the dense fog of misplaced idealism. I agree that socialist policies only work as long as they are propped up. As for the shining examples of successful long term socialist nations, you are right that the degree of homogeniety is crucial. Smaller, relatively economically isolated nations can institute socialist policies more effectively than nations with diverse populations.

Even under ideal circumstances there are costs associated with implementing socialist policies. Generally, the tax rates are significantly higher and demand for government services is higher than the infrastructure can provide resulting in delays Americans might find objectionable. Furthermore, the increased domestic spending needs leave little resources for anything else like, say a military infrasture.

Also, most nations that are able to maintain the fabled cradle-to-grave government aid also place extreme limitations on legal immigration. As you pointed out, nations that have liberal immigration policies, such as France, are having more difficultly in fulfilling the current social contract. This will only get worse over time. It’s simple economics. The tax base shrinks and the need for revenue grows.

As for socialism working in South America, all I can say is, I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Posted by: good king ned at January 22, 2006 2:57 AM
Comment #115423

I have to give you this one. we’re narrowing things down to prison if your poor, gated community if you’re rich. Read on:

Just makes you proud to be an American doesn’t it?


Posted by: KansasDem at January 22, 2006 3:11 AM
Comment #115572

The socialism that Bill cites has worked for a short time and now it’s breaking down. As socialism increases in America we’re seeing a breakdown of our society, too. As for Pinochet, you’ll have to cite a source with more credibility than Wikipedia. Anyone can write anything there and I have no doubt that some Marxists have put a good bit of their nonsense on it. Allende’s Marxist regime included all the oppressive, murderous policies and actions you would expect from an admirer of Stalin. When Pinochet’s commanders asked him to put a stop to the crimes being perpetrated by Allende’s cadres he did. During the chaos that ensued after the coup, the survivors and families of Allende’s victims rounded up the criminals who had been tormenting them and took revenge. Many were taken to the soccer stadium and systematically tortured, usually to death. Some of the torturers were military personnel. One of Allende’s mistakes was that his cadres didn’t spare the families of military officers. When Pinochet found out about it, he ordered it stopped. The so-called “repression” under Pinochet was ended when the Marxist insurgency was crushed. When this was finally accomplished and order restored, Pinochet removed the restrictions, ordered elections and voluntarily relinquished power. Yes, Pinochet ruled with an iron fist for a while but when the murderers who made it necessary were defeated he voluntarily stepped down. My sources are many. The best article on the subject that I’ve seen was in the New American magazine. It condenses into one article information I’ve read in many other sources.

Posted by: steve at January 22, 2006 10:58 AM
Comment #115651

Walker, the Bush administration is stuck in the Cold War era. They still view Castro as a threat to the western hemisphere, while S. America moves left.

Socialist ideology in a democratic context is alive and thriving in many nations around the world. The Bush administration and Americans should get over their irrational fears of it. Socialism and Communist Authoritarian regimes are distinctly different concepts today, and many socialist democracies arose in opposition to authoritarian regimes.

The U.S. has been partially socialist in its policies and legislation since the Great Depression, and on the backs of both socialist and capitalist policies the US became the greatest economic engine in the world by growing its consumer class partially on socialist policy, and it capital formation of corporations with global reach.

It is the height of ignorance of the Bush administration to ignore this history because it does not sit well with their purist supply side economic theories, which are once again strangling our economic future with grotesque national debt. A nation’s independence is as much a product of its absence from international debt as of its founding constitution. The Bush adminstration is increasingly selling ownership shares in America to foreign interests through our trade, national, and personal debts. Up to a point, this is not threatening. But, when foreign interests begin to own close to 50% of our nations debt, that is a very threatening scenario to America’s future economic independence.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 22, 2006 2:40 PM
Comment #115693


Wikipedia is a MUCH more reliable source than the John Brich Society OPINION source you quote.

The price for the bridge is only $75,000. I’ll take a cashier’s check.

Posted by: ElliottBay at January 22, 2006 5:39 PM
Comment #115708

I find that take about how Pinochet was so great just as alarming as people denying what happened to the Jews in Europe. How anyone can be so blind is beyond me.

Posted by: Bill at January 22, 2006 7:23 PM
Comment #115747

Wikipedia is little more than a collection of blogs-OPINION. I’ve tested articles in New American by fact checking them against independent documentation. I’ve found them to be well researched and objectively factual. That’s why I use it as a source. I’ve found that people who read propaganda without questioning it usually are alarmed by the truth since it’s something they have no experience with.

Posted by: steve at January 22, 2006 10:36 PM
Comment #115822

As nearly as I can tell, there are two philosophical points of view of Pinochet. There are those who condemn his as a brutal tyrant, like I do. And there are those who justify and find excuses for his regime, like steve. It’s not surprising that those who condemn him generally tend to condemn American torture of political prisoners while those who defend him tend to defend such policies. Those who condemn him tend to condemn American suspension of civil rights while those who defend him also tend to defend those policies. Those of us who wish to see Pinochet PAY for his crimes also wish to see OUR leader pay for his crimes while those who defend him also wish to see THIS administration escape with impunity.

Have I just overstated the obvious?

Posted by: Thom at January 23, 2006 8:18 AM
Comment #115828

Murder,rape,stealing are all wrong and most agree,but people still do such things,no matter what form of government.In America we have a constitution which established a government unlike the ones our framers left in their old country.We elect our leaders to run the government according to that constitution.If the framers had been happy in a government run country they would not have limited the Federal role and given the states broad powers.The socialistic few among us while some were sleeping have moved states powers into the Federal column.The sleepers have awakened and are electing People who want the original set up restored.
Now,getting back to the murder,rape,stealing.History shows when the government controls us,they are the ones who murder,rape,and steal and it is us they are doing it to and we have no recourse,so we must not allow the Feds to control more than the Constitution allows.Continue to elect people who uphold the Constitution as the are sworn to do and vote to recall any who don’t.

Posted by: RDAVIDC at January 23, 2006 9:11 AM
Comment #115884

You haven’t overstated the obvious, you’ve overstated a generalization based on your own prejudices. I haven’t made excuses for Pinochet’s regime; in fact I’ve acknowleged some of the excesses. I’ve merely stated facts. Pinochet overthrew a Marxist government. This is an unforgivable sin to the left. The Socialist International and other leftists of all stripes have vilified him ever since. I condemn all torture, as well as the power grab by the Bush administration. I am an Americanist and a Constitutionalist. I’m conservative because I want to conserve the U.S. Constitution and the American way of life. Years ago I swore a sacred oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. There are no exceptions.

Posted by: steve at January 23, 2006 1:57 PM
Comment #115965

Steve, like you (claim to be) Salvador Allende WAS a constitutionalist whose economic progressiveness was supported by the people, as shown in the Chilean elections of 1970 despite the illegal and unconstitutional interference by the Nixon administration. Unlike you, Pinochet (for whom you apologize…”Pinochet ruled with an iron fist for a while but when the murderers who made it necessary”) was a dictator who imposed the American will on a nation that resisted for the whole of his 17 years in office. Yes, it took 17 years to beat the populace of Chile into submission and only 15 years for them to stop fearing the government and slowly return power back to the people where it belongs.
“¡Viva Chile! ¡Viva el pueblo! ¡Vivan los trabajadores!”

Posted by: Thom at January 23, 2006 7:20 PM
Comment #116041

Your claim that Allende was a constitutionalist whose economic progressiveness was supported by the people is laughable(and I did get a good laugh from it, too). In the Chilean elections of 1970, employing massive electoral fraud and financial backing from the Soviet Union Allende barely squeaked out a 36% plurality. Allende’s government was packed with 14,000 foreign communists who promptly instituted a reign of terror, turning the once vibrant nation into a kleptocracy. They looted the treasury, destroyed the economy, expropriated property and terrorized the populace. Chile’s judiciary and legislature, along with leaders of all sectors of society, repeatedly asked the military to intervene. The coup was overwhelmingly supported by the people, who voted to approve the constitution offered by Pinochet’s junta with 68% of the vote. The only people who felt an iron fist were the hard core communist revolutionaries imported with Soviet backing to destabilize the country. With even a rudimentary understanding of human nature it should come as no surprise that people would get medieval on those who stole their property, murdered their family members and raped their country. The whole time Pinochet was in power (and even after he voluntarily stepped down), Chile was the target of a sustained international terrorist campaign. Even with all the condemnation and international persecution the communists could muster, Pinochet brought his country back from the brink in what has been termed an economic miracle. Of course, none of this matters, being documented fact. All that matters is that Pinochet overthrew a Marxist government and removed the yoke of socialism from his people, if only for a short time. For this you leftists will smear him and tell outrageous lies, the truth be damned. It’s quite telling that you closed your post with communist slogans.

Posted by: steve at January 23, 2006 11:52 PM
Comment #116064

I felt pretty sure that your characterization of Allende as “terrorizing the populace” and that the “only people who felt an iron fist [under Pinochet] were the hard core communist revolutionaries imported with Soviet backing to destabilize the country” were outlandishly false.

Here is a translation of a document defending the removal of Allende from power, while this is a retrospective on the Allende period from an American academic ten years ago. The first feels more like a propoganda piece to me, though you will clearly believe the opposite.

I expect Allende has been romanticized by left leaning folks, but I do not believe any reasonable people now contest that Pinochet’s government brutally oppressed and killed many people, far beyone the hard core revolutionaries who you are willing to simplistically characterize as madmen. Do you not have a scintilla of doubt about Pinochet’s lack of brutality? Is the oppression of those who are born lucky into wealth the only kind of oppression you believe in? If someone who has been working for a terrible salary for very opulently wealthy bosses sees his salary go up and those bosses forced to give away their wealth, is his celebration of this change a reason to label him as a hard core communist and imprison and torture him? Allende may have had an unrealistic and simplistic answer which did not respect the property of some people who were not themselves brutal, but I’m still pretty certain that his government was far and away less brutal than that of Pinochet.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at January 24, 2006 2:48 AM
Comment #116110

You certainly aren’t going to let facts get in the way of a cherished belief. Pinochet was a patriot who saved his country from a bloodthirsty gang of thugs. His government was neither oppressive nor brutal. In fact, it improved the lives of all his people, from the poorest to the richest by removing the communist economic controls Allende had put in place. Celebrating robbery, which you seem to approve of, isn’t a reason to imprison and torture people, but participating in a murderous terror campaign against innocent people is. Torture is something Pinochet never ordered or approved. Allende’s victims, however, did take revenge on their tormentors when they got the chance. Being “pretty certain” of something doesn’t make it true. Documented facts do.

Posted by: steve at January 24, 2006 6:42 AM
Comment #116306

“outlandishly false”
Walker, you’re being too generous. Those are out and out lies perpetuated by neo cons. Yes Allende won by a ‘mere’ plurality of 36%. Another 27% went to ANOTHER socialist who ran on a theocratic ticket. The congress, which Steve characterized as so vehemently opposed to Allende was constitutionally bound to choose between Allende and his runner up, the reigning president. They chose Allende.

I’m doubt Steve can come up with unbiased proof that there were 14K foreign communists in Allende’s government, but it’s a matter of American public record that the criminal Nixon, not the popular opinion of the people of Chile, supported Pinochet’s coup.

The lies of Neo con don’t stand up when exposed to the light of day.

Posted by: Thom at January 24, 2006 3:08 PM
Comment #116480

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society,
The John Birch Society.
Here to save our country from a communistic plot!
We’re the John Birch Society,
Staving off the Reds.
We’ll use our hands and hearts -
And if we must, we’ll use our heads.

Posted by: ElliottBay at January 24, 2006 10:30 PM
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