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Salvador Allende episode has lessons for present day too

Posted on Jan 17 2014 | IANS

By Vikas Datta, Jaipur, Jan 17 : The US-instigated 1973 coup against then Chilean president Salvador Allende, which led to the death of the first elected Marxist leader of South America, holds relevance even in the present day as it demonstrates how some unwelcome characteristics of American foreign policy persist, says a Colombian writer who has written a book on the episode.

Allende's case also demolishes the perception of the Cold War as a relentless conflict for influence between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union as shown by the latter's disinclination to come to the help of an increasingly friendless leader, who only managed to obtain some backing from Fidel Castro's Cuba, said Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, author of "Story of a Death Foretold" at a session titled the same at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 here.

"The way US intervened indirectly... in fact (then US national security advisor Henry) Kissinger wanted the US role to remain a secret... they (the US) had fingers everywhere but didn't want to leave fingerprints... they used the then Brazilian military ruler... it was war by proxy," he said.

"These remain characteristics of the US foreign policy to the present day as Edgar Snowden and Wikileaks revelations and the US response to them show," he said.

On why he chose to write about Allende, he said the Chilean leader's example shows how people can bring change when they mobilise themselves politically, and that events in a a country considered peripheral can have reverberations on the international order.

"In 1969, Kissinger had claimed that history would never take place in the (global) south... it would happen in Beijing, then in Moscow, pass through Europe and finally end in the US... Allende changed all that," said Guardiola-Rivera.

Colombia's Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, author of "Story of a Death Foretold" at a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014.

He contended it was a conflict between two world views - that of the then "right dogmatic" Richard Nixon administration in the US and Allende who wanted to curb the "sense of entitlement" of the Chilean elite, who considered rest of their countrymen beneath their consideration.

Guardiola-Rivera said he became inspired by Allende after hearing the acceptance speech of Nobel laureate author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who had dealt with the coup episode fictionally.

"I thought Marquez's work was fiction until I came to know about Allende," he said.

Allende's removal was a crucial moment in Latin American literature as all writers except Marquez and one Argentine writer stopped writing fiction for quite some time, he said.

"I became determined to deal with the episode fictionally but then realised that it was not something to be dealt with in a novel but a classical Greek tragedy... when the characters know what was going to happen but still proceed."

However, Guardiola-Rivera said Allende was no martyr and was in "love with life" as well as a weakness for wine and women, an optimist "though not in the romantic sense" and one very conscious of his mistakes.

"The US considered him more dangerous than Fidel Castro, though he never wore green fatigues, didn't have a beard, did not advocate armed struggle and was a democrat along with being a Marxist," he said.

He said it is heartening to see how Allende remains a role model for present-day youth in Chile who were not even born at that time or were told about him by their parents fearful of the consequences.

"It shows that idealism can persist even though violence is unleashed against it," he said referring to the crackdown under Allende's successor, Gen. Auguste Pinochet.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at

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