In this episode of From the Vault, we explore the historic election of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970 and the forces that conspired to overthrow his socialist government in 1973, through the study of three historical components of this period in Chile’s history using recordings preserved by Pacifica Radio Archives.
First, we examine the years leading up to the election of Salvador Allende as president, framed by the social movement of workers, students, activists, artist, professionals, politicians, and intellectuals that resulted in Allende’s rise to national leadership. We hear from anonymous Chilean workers as they describe conditions in the factories before the Allende presidency; author Antonio Skarmeta, whose novel Ardiente Paciencia inspired the 1994 Academy Award-winning movie Il Postino speak on the political climate of Chile in the 1960?s; and Joan Jara, widow of legendary folk singer Victor Jara, Chile’s version of Bob Dylan, speak about her husband’s leftist music and how it helped keep the Allende election movement inspired.
The second historical component we study is the Allende presidency itself, from 1970 to 1973. Starting with the changes in working conditions resulting from Allende’s ambitious agenda to reduce unemployment and increase workers wages, we listen to a worker describe the how conditions had changed under the new socialist leader. At the close of Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s visit to Chile just a year into Allende’s rule, the president’s farewell speech to Castro reminded his supporters that he was willing to die to complete what he called the people’s mandate. Fidel Castro’s visit had a galvanizing effect on the anti-Allende opposition, and a year later we hear Allende voice his concerns of a coup d’etat to the United Nations Assembly. Finally, the first lady of Chile, Hortensia Bussi de Allende recalls the terrifying events surrounding the coup of September 11, 1973, in an interview recorded on December 1st, 1973 by KPFK’s Victor Vasquez.
Finally, we hear how the September 11th, 1973 coup affected people in Chile and around the world. As international condemnation grew surrounding the coup, certain Chilean exiles were speaking to the possibility of U.S. complicity in the overthrow, and those sympathetic to the Allende government remaining within Chile were branded as terrorists by the ruling junta: union leader, artists, professors, and shantytown dwellers alike were subject to human rights abuses, torture, and disappearances. For perspective, Salvador Allende’s personal physician Dr. Jose Quiroga, a witness to Allende’s death during the coup, speaks on those circumstances with journalist and author Gabriel San Roman in a 2008 interview.
Gabriel San Roman is a contributing writer for the Orange County Weekly in southern California, and the author of the book “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement, now out on PM Press.[social_share]