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The Forgotten History of the Chilean Transition: Armed Resistance Against Pinochet and US Policy towards Chile in the 1980s

  • VICTOR FIGUEROA CLARK

Abstract

The history of the transition to civilian rule in Chile largely overlooks or marginalizes the role of the armed and confrontational forms of resistance to the dictatorship. This article traces the pre and post-coup history of the Left's engagement with armed forms of struggle and evaluates the effects their incorporation into the struggle against the dictatorship had upon the regime and the Reagan administration. It concludes that armed resistance was a major factor in determining US policy to Chile during the 1980s, and therefore played an important role in the transition as a whole.

La historia de la transición hacia gobiernos civiles en Chile en buena parte pasa por alto y marginaliza el papel de formas de resistencia confrontacionales y armados contra la dictadura. Este artículo rastrea la historia de las actitudes y experiencias de la izquierda chilena hacia la violencia antes y después del golpe, y evalúa los efectos de su incorporación en la lucha en contra de la dictadura sobre el régimen y la administración Reagan. Concluye que la resistencia armada fue un factor importante en determinar la política norteamericana hacia Chile durante los años 80, y por lo tanto jugó un papel importante en la transición en general.

A história da transição da ditadura para o governo civil no Chile negligencia, ou marginaliza, o papel das formas armadas e conflitivas de resistência ao regime. Este artigo delineia a história do engajamento da esquerda com formas armadas de luta antes e após o golpe, além de avaliar os efeitos que sua inserção no embate contra a ditadura teve sobre o regime chileno e o governo Reagan. Conclui-se que a resistência armada foi um fator de grande importância na determinação da política americana com relação ao Chile na década de 1980, desempenhando assim um papel importante na transição como um todo.

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References

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1 For examples see Otano, Rafael, Nueva crónica de la transición (Santiago: LOM, 2006); Robinson, William I., Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 172; Loveman, Brian, Chile: The Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 300; Oxhorn, Philip, ‘Where Did All the Protesters Go?: Popular Mobilization and the Transition to Democracy in Chile’, Latin American Perspectives, 21: 3 (1994); González, Francisco E., Dual Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Institutionalized Regimes in Chile and Mexico, 1970–2000, (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2008); Huneeus, Carlos, El régimen de Pinochet (Santiago: Editorial Sudamericana, 2000).

2 Interview with Palomo (FPMR central region commander), 14 March 2009.

3 Collier, Ruth Berins, Paths Towards Democracy: The Working Class and Elites in Western Europe and South America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

4 Drake, Paul and Jaksic, Iván (eds.), The Struggle for Democracy in Chile (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), p. 7.

5 See Carlos Huneeus, El régimen de Pinochet, pp. 236–8, also p. 501.

6 Wiarda, Howard J., American Foreign Policy Toward Latin America in the 80s and 90s (New York: New York University Press, 1992), p. 314; Cohn, Elizabeth and Nojeim, Michael J., ‘Promoting Democracy’ in Dent, David W. (ed.), US-Latin American Policymaking: A Reference Handbook (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995), p. 462; Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, chap. 2.

7 Hodges, Donald C., Intellectual Foundations of the Nicaraguan Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), pp. 246–50.

8 Carothers, Thomas, In the Name of Democracy: US Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years (Oxford: University of California Press, 1991), p. 160.

9 See Bawden, John R.Cutting off the Dictator: The United States Arms Embargo of the Pinochet Regime, 1974–1988’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 45: 3 (2013), pp. 513–43; Carlos Portales, ‘External Factors and the Authoritarian Regime’, in Drake and Jaksic (eds.), The Struggle for Democracy in Chile.

10 See Wood, Elisabeth, Forging Democracy from Below: Insurgent Transitions in South Africa and El Salvador (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

11 For a more detailed account see Furci, Carmelo, The Chilean Communist Party and the Road to Socialism (London: Zed, 1984); Roberts, Kenneth M., Deepening Democracy: The Modern Left and Social Movements in Chile and Peru (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 86.

12 Sicilia, Luis, Luis Emilio Recabarren: El sueño comunista (Buenos Aires: Capital Intelectual, 2007).

13 See Jobet, Julio César, Historia del Partido Socialista de Chile (Santiago: Ediciones Documentas, 1987).

14 Quiroga, Patricio Z., El GAP: La escolta de Allende (Santiago: Aguilar, 2001), pp. 1528 .

15 Enríquez, Miguel, ‘Algunos antecedentes del Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, MIR’, in Miguel Enríquez y el proyecto revolucionario en Chile, ed. Naranjo, Pedro et al. (Santiago: LOM, 1971).

16 Quiroga, El GAP. p. 35; Interview with Patán (a member of the PS military apparatus, the ELN and Allende's GAP, and later member of the PS Central Committee) 9 Feb. 2009.

17 Corvalán, Luis, Tres períodos en nuestra línea revolucionaria (Dresden: Verlag im Bild, 1982), pp. 169–70.

18 Interview with Luis Corvalán, former General Secretary of the Chilean Communist Party (PC), 11 Feb. 2007.

19 Corvalán, Tres períodos en nuestra línea revolucionaria, p. 170.

20 Politzer, Patricia, Altamirano (Santiago: Melquiades, 1990), p. 33.

21 Interviews with ‘Pedro’, later a member of the PC Military Commission, 30 May 2005; ‘Patán’, 9 Feb. 2009.

22 Toro, Carlos, Memorias de Carlos Toro: la guardia muere pero no se rinda … mierda, La vida es hoy (Santiago: Partido Comunista de Chile, 2007) , p. 235.

23 Miguel Enríquez, Algunos antecedentes del Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria; Interview with Carmen (member of the MIR), 3 March 2009.

24 Miguel Enríquez, Algunos antecedentes; Nelson Gutiérrez, ‘Ecos de XXX aniversario de Miguel’, available at www.archivochile.com/entrada.html.

25 p. 152.

26 Vallejos, Rolando Álvarez, Arriba los pobres del mundo (Santiago: LOM ediciones, 2011), pp. 84–5; Salazar, Gabriel, Conversaciones con Carlos Altamirano: memorias críticas (Santiago: Debate, 2011), p. 144.

27 de Zarate, Veronica Valdivia Ortiz, El golpe después del golpe: Leigh vs Pinochet Chile 1960–1980 (Santiago LOM, 2003), p. 67.

28 Interview with Ricardo Sanhueza, a PC military officer, 15 March 2009.

29 ‘Al partido y al pueblo de Chile’ (October 1974) in Documentos oficiales del partido comunista de Chile emitidos después del golpe militar fascista (no place of publication, no publisher, 1975), pp. 176–7.

30 Álvarez Vallejos, Arriba los pobres del mundo, pp. 176–7.

31 Salazar, Conversaciones con Carlos Altamirano: memorias críticas, pp. 409, 423.

32 Castro expressed similar views in front of socialist leaders. Interview with Carlos Altamirano, 20 March 2009.

33 Rolando Álvarez Vallejos, ‘La tarea de las tareas: luchar, unir, vencer. Tradición y renovación en el Partido Comunista de Chile (1965–1990)’, unpubl. doctoral thesis, Universidad de Chile, 2007, p. 291. Unrecorded conversation with Jacinto Nazal, 9 Feb. 2009.

34 Álvarez Vallejos, Arriba los pobres del mundo, pp. 174–5. Álvarez had access to the Internal Archive of the Communist Party of Chile and these quotes are from documents titled ‘Conversation with Fidel Castro in Havana 31 May 1974, Hotel Habana Libre’ and ‘Conversations between delegations of the Communist parties of Chile and Cuba, March 1975’ and ‘Plan for the military training of members of the JJCC’.

35 Millas, Orlando, Memorias 1957–1991: una disgresión (Santiago: Ediciones ChileAmerica CESOC, 1996), p. 191.

36 Manuel Contreras quoted in Álvarez Vallejos, Arriba los pobres del mundo, p. 175.

37 Interviews with Carlos Altamirano; Patán.

38 Interview with Patán.

39 Interview with Patán; Bukovsky documents: ct38–76, available at http://www.bukovsky-archives.net/pdfs/terr-wd/terr-wd-rus.html#7.4.

40 ‘Los documentos secretos de Honecker sobre Chile’, Revista Qué Pasa, 16 May 1998.

41 Interview with Patán.

42 PS, ‘March Document’ March 1974, p. 24, available at www.socialismo-chileno.org/PS/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=859&Itemid=52.

43 Resolutions of the Sept. 1976 PS Plenum, p. 11.

44 Interview with Óscar de la Fuente, 20 March 2009.

45 Interview with Andrés Pascal Allende (of the MIR political commission) 5 March 2009.

46 Concha, Enérico García, Todos los días de la vida: recuerdos de un militante del MIR chileno (Santiago: Cuarto Propio, 2010) , p. 161. García was in charge of the MIR's training in Cuba from January 1975.

47 Two interviewed sources, Andrés Pascal Allende and Carlos Zarricueta, mention 1,000 Miristas trained, and Pablo Buenaventura mentions 400 in ‘Territorios Fragmentados', p. 135, available at Archivo Chile and at www.archivochile.com/Derechos_humanos/testimo/hhddtestimo0026.pdf.

48 Interview with Andrés Pascal Allende.

49 Buenaventura, Pablo ‘Territorios fragmentados', p. 135.

50 Rodríguez, Guillermo, Destacamiento miliciano José Bordaz (Santiago: CES DPV, 2008), p. 65.

51 Marín, Gladys, La vida es hoy (La Habana: Casa Editora Abril, 2004), p. 146; Neltume, Comité Memoria, Guerrilla en Neltume: una historia de lucha y resistencia en el sur chileno (Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 2003), p. 91; Jerez, Luis, Ilusiones y quebrantos (desde la memoria de un militante socialista) (Santiago: Forja, 2007), p. 354.

52 Neltume, Guerrilla en Neltume, p. 53, pp. 81–4.

53 For a description of the Neltume events, including soldiers' testimonies, see Guerrilla en Neltume.

54 Carlos Huneeus, El régimen de Pinochet, p. 507.

55 PC internal leadership report cited in Álvarez Vallejos, Arriba los pobres del mundo, pp. 198–9; also Corvalán, Luis, De lo vivido y lo peleado, 2nd ed. (Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 1999), pp. 213–14.

56 Gutiérrez, Eduardo, Ciudades en las sombras (una historia no oficial del Partido Socialista de Chile (1970–1990) (Santiago: Editare, 2010), p. 123.

57 For a description of this process see Arrate, Jorge and Rojas, Eduardo, Memoria de la izquierda chilena, tomo II (1970–2000) (Santiago: Ediciones B, 2003).

58 Corvalán, Tres períodos en nuestra línea revolucionaria, p. 237.

59 Corvalán, De lo vivido y lo peleado, pp. 275–6.

60 Interview with Alfonso Castillo, 23 July 2009.

61 Korol, Claudia, Gladys Marín: conversaciones con Claudia Korol (Santiago: Ediciones America Libre, 2004), p. 47.

62 Moulian, Tomás and Torres, Isabel¿Continuidad o cambio en la línea política del Partido Comunista de Chile?’, in El partido comunista en Chile: una historia presente, ed. Varas, Augusto et al. (Santiago: Catalonia, 2010), pp. 300–1.

63 Interview with Igor Ribalkin (one of the CPSU International Department officials charged with attending to the Chilean Communist Party), 3 Oct. 2007.

64 Corvalán, De lo vivido y lo peleado, p. 223.

65 Military commission document cited in Álvarez Vallejos, Arriba los pobres del mundo, p. 195.

66 Interview with Pedro (of the PC military commission), 13 Feb. 2007.

67 Interview with Germán (a PC military officer and later member of the FPMR leadership). He recounts telling Shafik Handal, the leader of the El Salvadorean Communist Party about the way the PC was developing its military capacity. ‘You guys will split’ was the response, 3 Feb. 2007.

68 Nuñez, Luis Rojas, De la rebelión popular a la sublevación imaginada (Santiago: LOM 2011), p. 24.

69 Ibid., p. 22.

70 Minutes of NSC meeting, 6 Feb. 1981, Box 91282 [Caribbean basin and Poland], Executive Secretariat Meeting files, Ronald Reagan Library (hereafter RRL).

71 Kornbluh, Peter, The Pinochet File (New York: New Press, 2003), p. 412.

72 Morley, Morris and McGillion, ChrisSoldiering On: The Reagan Administration and Redemocratisation in Chile 1983–1986’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 25: 1 (2006), pp. 126 .

73 FOIA, CIA report, ‘Prospects for Chile’, 2 Sept. 1983; Memo ‘US Policy Toward Chile’ to ARA from Vernon Walters, 21 Nov. 1984.

74 Loveman, Chile, pp. 294–7.

75 Interview with Salvador (Commander of the Party's mass military work), 11 Dec. 2007.

76 According to the Chilean embassy in Washington there were 1,889 ‘terrorist attacks' in Chile between Aug. 1983 and Sept. 1984, with a success rate increasing to 92 per cent. Update on Chile, Dec. 1984, Latin American Affairs Directorate (LAAD), NSC Records, Folder: Chile 1987, RRL.

77 FPMR, Manuel cabalga de nuevo (Santiago: n/a, 1986), pp. 146–53.

78 FOIA, NID, 23 Aug. 1984.

79 A PC ‘Political Report’ from December 1985 cited in Rojas Nuñez, De la rebelión popular a la sublevación imaginada, pp. 45–7 and pp. 58–60.

80 Definition from the PC ‘Report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Chile, January 1985’, cited in Álvarez Vallejos, Arriba los pobres del mundo, p. 221.

81 FOIA, ‘Terrorism Review’, June 1986.

82 Korol, Gladys Marín, p. 92.

83 Carothers, In the Name of Democracy, p. 153.

84 Wiarda, American Foreign Policy, p. 314; Cohn and Nojeim, ‘Promoting Democracy’, p. 461.

85 FOIA, CIA Report ‘Pinochet under Pressure’, July 1984.

86 State Department sources quoted in ‘Ominous Scenario in Chile’, Washington Times, 7 Dec. 1984.

87 NSC Paper from 1984 on ‘US Policy Towards Chile 1987’, Folder Chile 1987 [02/15/1985–02/21/1985], Box 91172, LAAD, NSC Records, RRL.

88 Ibid.; Carothers, In the Name of Democracy, p. 154.

89 Carothers, p. 155.

90 Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, pp. 177–89; Alan Angell ‘Unions and Workers in Chile during the 1980s' in Drake and Jaksic, The Struggle for Democracy, p. 198.

91 Ibid., p.170.

92 Memo, Tillman to Pointdexter re Luncheon, 16 May 1986, Folder Chile 1986 (1), Box 91181, LAAD, NSC Records, RRL.

93 Interview with Carlos (the officer responsible for the FPMR's external logistics), 24 Sept. 2008.

94 Herreros, Francisco, Del gobierno del pueblo a la rebelión popular (Santiago: Editorial Siglo XXI, 2003), p. 468. This assembly included the Christian Democrats in a Private Political Committee representing the political parties. A Private Social Committee brought together the various social movements.

95 Research paper, ‘The Chilean Communist Party and its Allies: Intentions, Capabilities and Prospects', May 1986, Box 91703, Flower, Ludlow ‘Kim’ Files, RRL.

96 FOIA, CIA Terrorism Review, June 1986.

97 FOIA, NID, ‘Terrorism’, February 1986; CIA report ‘Pinochet and the Military’, April 1987.

98 In a manifesto broadcast to Chile in February 1986 the party stated ‘freedom has to be conquered, it is not a gift’. Chilean Communist Party Manifesto for 1986, 21 Feb. 1986, USSR International Affairs: Latin America and Caribbean, Folder (376000–379999), RRL.

99 Rojas Nuñez, De la rebelión popular a la sublevación imaginada, p. 347.

100 Chilean security forces eventually recovered over 3,000 M-16 rifles with nearly 2 million rounds of ammunition, 102 FAL rifles, 6 M-60 machine guns, 114 RPG-7 grenade launchers with nearly 2,000 rockets, 167 LAW rocket launchers, nearly 2,000 hand grenades, over 2 tons of TNT and nearly 15 tons of T-4 as well as blasting caps and other equipment. Cable, US Embassy in Chile, 25 August 1986, Chile Folder 1986 (7), Box 91181, LAAD, NSC Records, RRL.

101 ‘Chile Authorities Act to Prosecute Leaders of Strike’, The New York Times, 3 July 1986; ‘3 Chilean Rebels Die During Police Raid’, The Los Angeles Times, 2 July 1986.

102 Quoted in the Vicaría de la Solidaridad July 1986 Monthly Synthesis, available at www.archivovicaria.cl/archivos/VS4cd02b5bc5eff_02112010_1216pm.pdf.

103 Corvalán, De lo vivido y lo peleado, p. 293. Corvalán bases his testimony on his contacts within the PDC and PS leadership.

104 Minutes of NSC meeting, 18 Nov. 1986, Box 91304 [Chile], Exec secretariat NSC, NSC meeting files, RRL.

105 Confidential Intelligence Research Report, 23 July 1986, Folder Chile Documents, Box 91181, LAAD, NSC Records, RRL.

106 FOIA, CIA Research Paper ‘The Chilean CP and its Allies', May 1986.

107 Memo, Tillman to Pointdexter re Luncheon, 16 May 1986, Folder Chile 1986 (1), Box 91181, LAAD, NSC Records, RRL. Other motives for military discontent are also detailed in Loveman, Chile, pp. 300–1.

108 FOIA, CIA report, ‘Pinochet and the Military’, April 1987.

109 Huneeus, El régimen de Pinochet, pp. 214–15.

110 FOIA, CIA report, ‘Pinochet and the Military’, April 1987.

111 Interview with Salvador.

112 A 1986 interview with PC leader José Sanfuentes cited in Herreros, Del gobierno del pueblo a la rebelión popular, p. 471.

113 CIA report ‘Opposition to Chilean Government’, Oct. 1987, Folder Chile, the Communist Party and the Left, Box 91528, Flower, Ludlow ‘Kim’ Files, RRL.

114 Dobrynin, Anatoly, In Confidence (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 622; Savranskaya, Svetlana, ‘Gorbachev and the Third World’, in Radchenko, Sergei and Kalinovsky, Artemy (eds.), The End of the Cold War and the Third World (Oxford: Routledge, 2011), pp. 2830 .

115 Rojas Nuñez, De la rebelión popular a la sublevación imaginada, p. 321.

* I would like to thank Mr Maurice Pinto for the support that made this research possible, Professor Arne Westad and all my interviewees, including those not cited here, for their time and patience, as well as the staff at the Reagan Library in California for their help during my research. My gratitude also to the readers and editors at the journal for their incisive and helpful comments.

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