Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet's Chile, 1973-1988by Steve J. Stern
Battling for Hearts and Minds is the story of the dramatic struggle to define collective memory in Chile during the violent, repressive dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, from the 1973 military coup in which he seized power through his defeat in a 1988 plebiscite. Steve J. Stern provides a riveting narration of Chile’s political history during this period. At the same time, he analyzes Chileans’ conflicting interpretations of events as they unfolded. Drawing on testimonios, archives, Truth Commission documents, radio addresses, memoirs, and written and oral histories, Stern identifies four distinct perspectives on life and events under the dictatorship. He describes how some Chileans viewed the regime as salvation from ruin by Leftists (the narrative favored by Pinochet’s junta), some as a wound repeatedly reopened by the state, others as an experience of persecution and awakening, and still others as a closed book, a past to be buried and forgotten.
In the 1970s, Chilean dissidents were lonely “voices in the wilderness” insisting that state terror and its victims be recognized and remembered. By the 1980s, the dissent had spread, catalyzing a mass movement of individuals who revived public dialogue by taking to the streets, creating alternative media, and demanding democracy and human rights. Despite long odds and discouraging defeats, people of conscience—victims of the dictatorship, priests, youth, women, workers, and others—overcame fear and succeeded in creating truthful public memories of state atrocities. Recounting both their efforts and those of the regime’s supporters to win the battle for Chileans’ hearts and minds, Stern shows how profoundly the struggle to create memories, to tell history, matters.
Battling for Hearts and Minds is the second volume in the trilogy The Memory Box of Pinochet’s Chile. The third book will examine Chileans’ efforts to achieve democracy while reckoning with Pinochet’s legacy.
“Battling for Hearts and Minds is the first comprehensive history of the struggle to define collective memory in Pinochet’s Chile and one of the first of its kind about Latin America in general.”—Peter Winn, editor of Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973–2002
“By probing the dark undercurrents which shaped the Chilean dictatorship, as well as the wondrous ways in which the resistance managed to defeat Pinochet, Steve J. Stern has given us an indispensable guide to recent Chilean history.”—Ariel Dorfman
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Battling for Hearts and MindsMemory Struggles in Pinochet's Chile, 1973-1988
By STEVE J. STERN
Duke University PressCopyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChronicling a Coup Foretold? Previews of the Impossible
It was a dramatic moment in a morning of dramatic moments. Shortly after 8:30 A.M. on Radio Agricultura and within minutes on other stations, General Augusto Pinochet, Admiral José Toribio Merino, General Gustavo Leigh, and General César Mendoza-the commanders of the army, navy, air force, and carabineros (police), respectively-issued a proclamation to the nation. In view of Chile's economic, social, and moral crisis; the incapacity of the government to stop chaos; and the civil war that would result from the "constant growth of armed paramilitary groups organized and trained by the political parties of the Unidad Popular," the armed forces and carabineros demanded the surrender of President Salvador Allende. They had agreed "to commence the historic mission of struggling for the liberation of the fatherland from the Marxist yoke, the restoration of order and institutionalism." Radio stations supportive of the Popular Unity government were ordered to suspend informational broadcasts at once. Otherwise, they would "receive punishment by air and land."
That morning of 11 September 1973, the new military junta made good on its word. Within a half hour it had cut transmission by all pro-Allende stations except one, Radio Magallanes. The other stations incorporated themselves into the military broadcast network led by Radio Agricultura. Now President Salvador Allende sat at his desk in La Moneda Palace to say goodbye to the nation and to record the moment for posterity. The president's pace that morning was intense. Consultations with advisors, failed efforts to talk with the coup leaders, appraisals of loyalty and treason in the military and police, planning the defense of a palace attacked by air and land, personal good-byes and telephone calls, decisions about who would leave and who would stay in the palace, brief radio announcements to the nation of events in progress-all competed for his attention as the clock raced toward the 11:00 A.M. ultimatum. If Allende failed to surrender, the warning went, the air force would begin bombing the palace. Down to one loyal radio station and a useless radio network transmitter, Allende relied on his secretary, Osvaldo Puccio, to link him to Radio Magallanes by telephone. As Puccio held the telephone near his face, Allende improvised a calm and eloquent last address to the nation.
Allende began simply by informing Chileans that this would be his last chance to speak to them, since the air force had already bombed the towers of Radio Portales and Radio Corporación. He moved quickly to matters of loyalty, treason, and History, in the sense of a history that endures and reveals the truth. His words, he hoped, would become "moral punishment to those who have betrayed the oath they took." In the face of treason to the Constitution and its president, Allende understood his duty: "I am not going to resign." He explained: "Placed at a historical turning point, I will pay with my life the loyalty of the pueblo, ... I am certain that the seed we give to the dignified conscience of thousands upon thousands of Chileans cannot be definitively destroyed. They have the force, they can crush us, but social processes cannot be stopped, not by crime, nor by force. History is ours, and it is made by the people [los pueblos]."
Allende calmly thanked those who had been loyal-the workers who placed confidence "in a man who was simply an interpreter of great longings for justice"; the women who as peasants, workers, and mothers supported him; the patriotic middle-class professionals who did not succumb to vitriolic defenses of capitalist privilege; the youths who "sang and offered their joy and spirit of struggle." He assured those destined for persecution that History would judge those who had fomented-directly or by tolerant silence-the fascism prefigured in violent attacks against people, bridges, railroads, and gas and oil pipelines.
An experienced speaker, Allende concluded with a message of hope: History would expose and eventually cut short the betrayal of Chile and its dreams. "I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this gray and bitter moment, where treason tries to impose itself. May you continue to know that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again open, where free man can walk to build a better society."
The calm and eloquent way Allende paused to take measure of the historical moment and to improvise a good-bye for posterity has fed the mystique that surrounds his memory. In the late 1990s, many Chileans of the middle-aged and elder generations remembered hearing Allende that morning, remembered their whereabouts and reactions at the defining moment. Many younger Chileans had heard the speech at demonstrations, on cassette tapes, or on television, or they had seen excerpts or reprints in books, in print media, in flyers, on Web sites, or at his tomb in Santiago.
But did Allende truly improvise this last address? The literal answer is yes. Allende spoke without notes, in the midst of an unrelenting morning pace and crisis. Given his skill and experience as an improvisational speaker, he could certainly formulate an eloquent address at a moment's notice.
At a deeper level, however, it is misleading to think he improvised the speech. The idea of a final crisis with great historical significance had been present from the moment of his election on 4 September 1970. Right away, Allende's personal security became a difficult problem. The intelligence services dismantled an assassination plot involving a member of the ultra-Right group Fatherland and Liberty (Patria y Libertad); another incident apparently led to gunfire. Allende met discreetly with the Christian Democrat Gabriel Valdés and the outgoing president, Eduardo Frei, to appeal for more security. On 25 October, nine days before Allende formally assumed the presidency, the Constitutionalist army commander, General René Schneider, was assassinated in a botched kidnapping designed to block Allende's ascension. As president, especially in the difficult last year, Allende would remind political leaders and Cabinet members that only in a con would he leave La Moneda before the end of his constitutional term in 1976. At public rallies, he sometimes intimated that given the difficult political road ahead, loyalty to the pueblo and its struggles might require of him a personal sacrifice-even though his love of life ran the other way. "Without being the martyr type," he would say, "I will not step back." At some level, his mind seemed to return again and again to the possibility that he might have to say a historic farewell.
In many respects the coup of 11 September 1973 was a coup "foretold" since the September 1970 election. Did disaster lurk just around the corner of political time? Could it be prevented? Scripting the disaster meant fierce politicocultural argument not only about how to prevent it but also how to remember and interpret it-how to assign blame, legitimacy, and illegitimacy. This chapter shows that the first emblematic memory framework under military rule, a tale of salvation from ruin and treason, had a prehistory in political struggles during the Allende presidency. It also shows, however, that people had difficulty believing the disaster they predicted. Ideas of Chilean exceptionalism-of a country singular in the Latin American context, because it was essentially democratic, civilized, and respectful of law and institutions, notwithstanding deep conflicts and social problems -competed with ideas of the apocalypse. The ambivalence remained pertinent even in the last tumultuous year of Allende's government. In sum, Allende had plenty of time to consider how to frame a good-bye for History; yet it was also true that in democratic Chile, previews of disaster could seem like previews of the impossible.
PRESENTIMENTS OF DISASTER (I): AMBIVALENT FOREBODING
The idea that Allende's presidency might culminate in a historic crisis of rule gnawed away everywhere-in the minds of Allende and his supporters and in the minds of opponents and skeptics. Given the controversial and embattled nature of Allende's political project, the rise of this collective presentiment is not dicult to understand. Allende was a minority president who promised to build a socialist revolution by democratic and constitutional means-despite implacable domestic opposition, which translated into legal and extralegal activity; despite ferocious U.S. enmity and its corollary, covert action to undermine governability; and despite splits within the Popular Unity coalition, which fed fears by the opposition, on the viability of a peaceful road to socialism. In Allende's vision, despite the obstacles, Chile could begin a democratic transition to socialism via several changes: legal property transfers, including nationalization of key economic sectors and accelerated agrarian reform; social welfare programs to support workers and the poor; and political and legal backing of workers and peasants in disputes with employers and landowners they considered abusive. The bottom-up property seizures that attended such disputes-partly stoked by activists impatient with Allende's measured legalistic approach to revolution, and aware of his reluctance to repress workers and peasants-added fuel to the political fire. So did extralegal activity, especially street clashes and violence, by right-wing groups. As early as 1970, the outgoing president, Eduardo Frei, privately told Allende he feared a disaster: "You will be president, but you will not be able to control your people, and this can be a catastrophe." The presentiments of the Right-leaders of the National Party, ideologues of such violent action groups as Fatherland and Liberty, media such as El Mercurio and Radio Agricultura-were public and apocalyptic. A scare campaign tradition reached back to the 1964 presidential elections, when the Right backed Frei to stop Allende.
The presentiment of disaster, however, always competed with the equally strong idea that Chile diered from the rest of Latin America precisely because its democratic political system was so resilient-so capable of channeling fierce social struggle into electoral competition and state-led problem solving, so protected by a military professional tradition that respected rule by civilians. Allende's promotion of a unique Chilean way (vía chilena) to socialism was an extension of this idea. He replied to Frei's alarm with a joke. He turned to Gabriel Valdés, who had arranged the conversation. "Look at him, Gabriel, he's sad because he has lost the presidency. All the ex-presidents believe that once they go, the flood arrives." Frei himself believed in Chilean exceptionalism. He told Allende that if he needed extra security protection from the state, he should get rid of his personal bodyguards "because this is not a tropical country."
In short, the premonition of a disastrous crisis of rule competed with the sense that such a future could not really happen here. Chile was not a "tropical country" where civilian regimes and constitutions always collapsed and dictators and military officers always stepped in. The resilience of a multiparty political system that had long withstood electoral hyperbole, Allende's own background as a parliamentary politician who built a career through electoral campaigning and personal negotiating-these turned the presentiment into a question. A certain quota of disbelief came into play. In a country such as Chile, could a disaster of rule really produce a dictatorship by the Right or the Left or the military?
By Allende's last year of rule, the presentiment of disaster had become a stronger political and cultural force: a discourse repeatedly projected into the public domain, a political tool used actively by all sides, a common sense nourished by the reality of a government unable to contain disorder spiraling out of control. By the last months of 1972 and through 1973, economic shortages and strikes, black markets and inflation, had turned truly severe. Price increases soared to triple-digit annual rates. Political differences had turned so vitriolic that Allende could no longer use his political magic to negotiate meaningful accords between "moderate" and ultra (maximalist) groups within his Popular Unity coalition, let alone between his government and the Christian Democrats. The prolonged truckers' strike of October 1972 was a turning point. Partly assisted by funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the strike paralyzed the economy, snowballed into solidarity strikes by business owners and various professional associations and labor groups, and culminated in violent clashes between police and strikers as well as attacks on progovernment trucks and two bombings of the rail line between Santiago and Valparaíso. After October 1972 the precarious distinction between strikes and boycotts motivated by economic protest, and those motivated by aims of political destabilization, finally collapsed. To resolve crises and restore a semblance of order, Allende would rely on Cabinet reshues that drew Constitutionalist military officers, including the army commander, General Carlos Prats, into key ministerial posts. The upcoming congressional elections of March 1973 turned into a plebiscite on the Unidad Popular and on how to stop disaster.
When the Popular Unity won 43 percent of the vote-it gained seats in Congress and could easily block a two-thirds vote to impeach Allende-the coming of a decisive crisis of rule seemed obvious. This presentiment was part anxiety and predicament (a perspective common among Allende sympathizers), part hope and expectation (a perspective common in the Right and, increasingly, sectors of the Center and Left), and part political strategy and maneuver (a perspective that included all). The balance depended on one's political point of view and one's degree of worry about a future of massive violence.
Under the circumstances, the politicocultural contentions of 1973 merged into preparation for the coming moment of truth. How to prevail politically, how to win legitimacy, and how to remember for posterity became the order of the day. Ideas of salvation and treason, of ruin and civil war, became the currency of political struggle, a vocabulary for previewing and remembering a disaster that seemed impossible yet seemed to be arriving anyway. Who would save whom, who had betrayed Chile and brought it to the brink of disaster, how to define the nature of the disaster and the needed rescue-these questions varied according to one's political perspective. But a framework for memory and countermemory as a parable of salvation versus ruinous treason was steadily being built by all sides.
To a degree, tropes of violence and salvation had formed a part of Chilean political and cultural contentiousness throughout the Allende period. In a political culture that long included electoral competition and hyperbole, however, such discourses did not automatically harden into imminent overwhelming worry, nor into one-sided blame. A flash poll of Greater Santiago in September 1972 found that most residents (83 percent) believed the country was experiencing "a climate of violence." Yet even at that late date, anxiety about violence was less than paramount and assignment of responsibilities unclear. Among those arming a climate of violence, two-fifths (40 percent) laid blame on both the government and the opposition, a third (33 percent) blamed the opposition, three-tenths (28 percent) blamed the government. A methodologically more rigorous survey of Greater Santiago, conducted in December 1972 and January 1973, found that residents overwhelmingly named economic issues-the scarcity of goods, inflation, the black market, and the like-as the key problem faced by Chileans. Four-fifths (81.2 percent) named economic issues, only an eighth (13.1 percent) referred to the instability and violence of life-social or political disorder, hatred or physical insecurity, political impasse, and the like. Two-thirds (64.8 percent) declined the invitation to name a second key problem; most who did so listed another economic problem. Only a fourth (23.7 percent) thought a military government would be helpful for Chile.
PRESENTIMENTS OF DISASTER (II): MARCHING TOWARD APOCALYPSE?
The idea of a rendezvous with a dangerous and intractable crisis of rule took on more realism and urgency-seemed more imminent-after the March 1973 elections. Consider the political and cultural framing of three key moments: the botched coup attempt, quickly dubbed the tancazo or tanquetazo in popular speech, by a renegade army tank regiment that closed in on La Moneda Palace on 29 June; the declaration by the Chamber of Deputies that the Allende government had violated the Constitution on 22 August; and the polemics about civil war and infiltration of the armed forces during the two weeks before the coup.
The tanquetazo aair brought to life the possibility that Chile's political crisis had created conditions for an organized coup uniting the Right with factions of the military. The June coup adventure did not amount to much militarily. Tanks and armored trucks from a regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper converged at about 8:45 A.M. and began firing on La Moneda Palace and the Ministry of Defense, but Constitutionalist troops mounted a defense and the rebels proved isolated. The army commander, General Carlos Prats, walked over to the treasonous troops and talked them into surrender. By noon the misadventure was over. That afternoon, five leaders of Fatherland and Liberty took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Excerpted from Battling for Hearts and Minds by STEVE J. STERN Copyright © 2006 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Steve J. Stern is Alberto Flores Galindo Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His most recent books include Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London 1998 and Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980–1995, both also published by Duke University Press.
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