E. Howard Negroponte,
INTERVIEW WITH ARTURO ALESSANDRI
INTERVIEWER: Could you please tell me your full name and your profession?
ARTURO ALESSANDRI: My name is Arturo Alessandri, and I'm an attorney.
INT: In 1970, what were you doing at the time of the election of Salvador Allende?
AA: I was a student in law school at the University of Chile in Santiago.
(Request for full answers)
AA: In September of 1970, I was a law student at the University of Chile in Santiago, and I was heavily involved in the presidential campaign of my great-uncle Jorge Alessandri. He was running for president after having been president since 1958 and 1964; and he was supposed to be elected on that election, and so obviously all the family was heavily involved in that campaign. And the data that we had gathered during the campaign indicated that he was going to be again the next President of Chile.
INT: And so what were your feelings when the socialists won?
AA: Well, it was a very close election, and Allende won for only 33,000 votes, and I would say that it was a very, very big impact and very frustrating, and I would say a disaster. Everybody couldn't believe it, because during the campaign the situation ... obviously Allende was depicted and identified with the socialist-communist parties, the left, in the midst of the Cold War, and he represented of course socialism and Marxism. And so, when he was elected, I would say that for a lot of people in this country, or many, it was a shock, because of what had happened in the campaign and all the previous background. So, Allende, on the other hand, when he was elected, stated that he was not the president of all Chileans, which contributed to this situation... I wouldn't say chaotic, but of great concern about the future, and that explains, on the one hand, that Chileans started to leave the country before Allende took office.
(B/g discussion - bus went through last bit, so to be done again)
AA: After he was elected, Allende declared that he would go ahead and try to comply with all his program, and added that he would not be the president of all Chileans, and so there was a great fear of what would the future bring to all the others that did not vote for Allende, and what would happen in Congress, because in Chile, if you don't obtain the majority of the vote, it is Congress who has to ratify and confirm and, in a nutshell, elect the president.
(Wait for bus. A bit of discussion.)
INT: So let's talk about the fear: the fear [of] what would happen to Chile.
AA: The fear was basically what would happen to the people, to the families, to the property, to your farms, and I think time... what happened afterwards confirmed the fears, because the government, on the one hand, started to expropriate land, started to expropriate industry, and on the other hand there were illegal seizing of property that contributed to this fear. And on the other hand, I would say there was violence, there was a violent atmosphere, scenario. And there were two groups: the governing group and the opposition, and the famous, you know, Marxist concept that if you're not with the government, you are against the government. And all these very violent groups started to act under the protection of the government. We started to see the Cubans to come into the country, we started to see weapons and violence and shootings at night increasingly; and I would say, in a nutshell, we saw that a civil war could start in Chile.
INT: And to what extent did the Chilean right conceive of it as a part of the Cold War, or was it purely to most people a fact of life that was happening in Chile and not related to anything external at all?
AA: Well, the parties that were backing Allende, and Allende himself, was keen to say that Russia was the "big brother". He visited Cuba, he visited Russia - at that time the Soviet Union - and also invited Fidel Castro to visit Chile, and Castro stayed here for over a month. And so we did very clearly see a link and a very cohesive movement that was started by Che Guevara, and all these revolutionary expressions had now the opportunity, under the protection or umbrella of this formal democracy, that they had a chance to take control of this country, although they were not elected by the majority.
INT: We were discussing the perception of the Chilean confrontation during the Allende government by the Chilean people - were they in a Cold War or weren't they? How did you read that?
AA: Well, Allende had been a candidate of the left several times in the past, and in the previous election against Mr. Frei Sr., Allende was defeated, but he was always identified with the socialist and Marxist left, and all of what that implied in the midst of the Cold War. And so by the end of the Sixties, during the government of Frei Sr., there were several very, very specific expressions of these revolutionary movements and actions, or expressions here in Chile. And so the left had become more and more violent, although they were trying to convince that they will win with votes and make a democratic government. So the fear and all the predictions and all the bad things that were said about Allende were coming true now that he was elected finally. So there he was, this phantom, and all the bad things that were said and all the strategy during the campaigns, and the horrors that could happen if he was elected, now it was a reality because he was the President of Chile. And so this fear, plus all the economic measures and the legal measures and all the governmental acts that were done by Allende, were absolutely coherent with what he had said and what everybody thought about him.
INT: What about the flight of capital from the country, and the business community who had as much fear as anybody else, I presume? In the context of a civil war, how would the sides have lined up against each other, and where would the army have been if they hadn't acted on their own?
AA: The armed forces have always acted as a block in general in the history of Chile. This was not the first time that the armed forced jumped in. And so, as institutions, they acted very close, and they, I think, would have acted the same way, because the fear was ... from the armed forces and from the opposition, was that there was another coup from the government that was in preparation, with all the Cubans and all the foreigners and all the leftists in Chile. So it is my belief that this was a matter of time. We were heading towards a civil confrontation, and it was a question of who came first.
INT: Do you think the armed forces waited too long to solve the situation?
AA: I think they did, because they wanted Congress to declare that Allende had violated and put himself beyond the Constitution, and the Christian Democrat Party, who was instrumental for Allende to become president, because they didn't have the vote in Congress: it was the Christian Democrat Party who gave them the vote... that same party, three years later, declared in Congress, in the House, that Allende had put himself beyond the Constitution and had violated the Constitution, and that was precisely what the armed forces were waiting for. Just after that, Allende was overthrown.
(Request for full answer)
INT: So in the circumstances, when you get to 1973 - economic disorder, chaos, threat of anarchy, the right squaring up against the left in all manner of means, newspapers like El Mercurio being shut down and everything - can you talk to me about those times, and give me your opinion about whether you think the army could have acted sooner?
AA: The armed forces could have acted sooner, and they took longer than I would have liked or I would have expected, because they were waiting for some very clear signals from Congress. And that clear signal came when the House, by the majority of votes, with the Christian Democrat Party votes, declared with the opposition... well, they were part of the opposition... that Allende had placed himself beyond the Constitution and then had violthe Constitution. That was the signal that the armed forces were waiting [for], and a few weeks after, Allende was overthrown.
INT: Do you think that they had been plottfor a long time, or just dithering about plotting?
AA: I think there was plotting, there was plotting in the navy, but the co-ordination amongst them came, I think, very few months or weeks prior to... I think they all had their own little plan how to do things, but I think the co-ordination amongst all the armed forces and the police came at the very end.
INT: Do you think the Americans had anything to do with it?
AA: I don't think so, I don't think so. It has been said that even there were American pilots that bombarded the Governmental Palace. I am absolutely convinced that the Chilean pilots are excellent and they did a great job, and that they don't need any foreign pilot(s). That, I think, is really an offence to the air force in Chile. And I don't know about the CIA or the Americans, but obviously the US were looking very closely at what was happening in Chile, because of the Cuban influence, very, very strong Cuban influence, and the threat that Chile could become a second Cuba.
INT: So after September 11th, 1973 - could you tell me where you were on that day, and how you felt subsequently?
AA: I was studying...
(Request for full answer)
AA: On September 11 of 1973, I was studying at home and preparing for an exam that same day, and we heard on the news that something was happening, and we were told not to go out of our homes, to stay home. Then we heard and we saw the airplanes bombing the Moneda Palace. And I would say that it was very, very exciting, but at the same time it was a big relief that the armed forces stepped in and that this scenario and this country of chaos, of uncertainty and a very unsafe atmosphere, came to an end. We did not envisage, of course, what would happen, and how long, and what the problems would have been, but I think there was this critic mass of people willing to rebuild and put together an economy in a country that was in a shambles.
INT: Do you think that Chile had been infiltrated so much that the new government, the military government, had to spend so long enforcing their rule before they could pave the way to a return to democracy?
AA: I think what really happened was that there was a project, there was a very, very sound economic reform, which did not encompass everything - it was basically economic - and I think it was long enough for that project to produce results and to convince the population and the Chileans that there was a new consensus and that there were certain things that were discussed in the past, that now there was evidence that they worked, and that there were many things that perhaps did not work but we could still discuss and will continue to discuss. But there was a minimum consensus about the economy that I think... what is so valuable about this experience is that it worked, and it has continued to work with a democratic government and with Chilean presidents and the majority of the opposition against the military government. So Chile did not have this minimum consensus in the past.
INT: But it had a very long Cold War, if you look at it in terms of... the jury, I would say, is still out on the question. And I'll ask you the question, because we ask all the interviewees: when do you think the Cold War started in Chile, and when did it end?
AA: I that the Cold War probably started with the revolution in the Soviet Union, and it just sort of kept crawling; but basically I would say it started to become a very powerful student movement and expressions of Marxism and violent expressions of illegal seizing of university and property and land, in the Sixties, (Overlap) with Cuba... excuse me... I would add, the Cubans were, I think, very important and instrumental, because in Chile, if you look at what happened in the universities, it came before than what happened in the revolution in France, in Paris. It started here, for example, the illegal seizing of the Catholic University, which was a very, very... I would say a landmark of political unrest and leftist expressions, or against the establishment, against the Church, in the Sixties, under Frei Sr.
INT: ... It's been regularly called "America's backyard", Latin America, and we can go back to the Monroe Doctrine and all the other doctrines. But the Cold War certainly exacerbated America's traditional feelings about foreign interference in the territory to its south. ... There's a theory that Chile won a victory for America when Allende was toppled, but American reaction to it was not satisfactory, was somewhat critical. Does that sort of leave a taste in the mouth, or does it not bother you?
AA: I think, during the Allende government, Allende and his allies they hurt US interests here very, very strongly - IT&T, the big copper mines - and so they made it a point that they wanted to take all these foreign properti(es), and particularly the American investment in Chile. And so what could have been a victory for America, and that afterwards became very critical against the Pinochet regime because of human rights, I think, yes, that there is to a great extent, a taste that they only looked at human rights and they had a very partial view. We did not know what was going on, because a lot of this information about human rights was not publicly known, but I think the United States applied a very strict standard. And for the armed forces it was critical, because afterwards, when they had... the Pinochet regime had problems with Argentina and with other neighbors, the US denied any military aid or any military assistance. And I think that was, I think, quite unfair. And so then Chile decided to make a big effort to manufacture some of those things internally and to buy from Europe and other markets. But the Chilean situation was obviously very, very beneficial for American interests and American investments, and they started to flow back. And there were sort of two... the governmental sort of level, which was very critical, but on the other hand, the business was active and back in business.
INT: The Cold War has finished here, do you think?
AA: Yes, I think so, I think so.
INT: Thanks very much.