Chile needed a leader, they needed change and they needed help. Salvador Allende promised great things, and he said he was one of them-one of the workers. He promised money, land, health and better lives. The lower class finally felt like they were going to have the finer things in life, yet the middle and upper class saw this as all their hard work being taken away and unfairly distributed among the poor. Allende had good intentions; unfortunately, he was caught in the middle of a war zone between the wealthy class and the working class that only could have ended badly. The U.S. was threatened by Allende’s socialist ways, therefore recruited Augusto Pinochet, who was head of the Chilean Military, to lead a coup to replace Allende. Pinochet would then rule for sixteen years between 1973-1989 in a dictatorship. Although Pinochet established a country where the unemployment rate decreased, education increased and technology advanced, he also caused quality of life among the urban poor to decrease, deindustrialization and urban resettlement, as well as enforced the kidnapping, torturing and killing of Chilean citizens.
Allende spoke for the people; he truly believed that he could make things better for Chile, to help out the lower class. According to Chasteen, Salvador Allende was a medical doctor, a socialist and a Marxist who won the democratic election for Chile in 1973. His supporters came to be called the Popular Unity, in which consisted of poor urban workers that had hope for a better future. He was not an advocate for armed revolution and was “committed to Chilean constitutional traditions” (Chasteen, 297). While Allende was in office he enforced price freezes and wage increases to give the poor a higher living standard. This way they could live comfortably and afford items that they needed. The middle and upper classes fought back with the help of the United States CIA. Popular Unity responded by taking over the factories that had not been nationalized. They wanted to fight back in even stronger measures but Allende wanted the Chilean path to stay constitutional. His opponents, however, did not have the same concerns for the constitution. After Popular Unity had won by even more than the previous elections, the United States cut off all international credit to Chile as well as assembled and trained the Chilean Army. The U.S. sent Chilean army tanks to block the streets on September 11, 1973 and ordered the army, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, to seize Chile and overthrow Allende. Allende took cover in his office, while taking over the radio waves to give one last speech. Allende declared to the people that he would not resign, he would pay for their loyalty with his life and that the people of Chile who followed him, should defend themselves, but that they should not give up their lives. He assured them that the actions they had accomplished would not disappear and that one-day their work would be acknowledged and accepted. He proclaimed that the people who destroyed Chile would be punished. Allende’s last speech was horrifyingly beautiful and he would end the broadcast with the sound of a gun, ending his life, just as the Chilean army charged through his office door.From that day on, everything would be different for the people of Chile. Some people would argue that it was different in a bad way, but although Pinochet’s entrance into office was dramatic, he did huge things that rebuilt Chile. Joaquín Lavín was the leader of the Chilean Right Today and a supporter of Pinochet. During the regime of Pinochet, the world economy was booming which lead to advances in technology, all due to a global integration that took place in 1975. The result of this incredible advance in technology, allowed Chile to improve their health standards and according to Lavín, “every Chilean born today will enjoy 35,000 more hours in his lifetime than those who were born in 1970” (Lavín, 499). In addition, Lavín argued that within the last fifteen years, Pinochet was able to put 445,000 more cars on the road as well as giving two million homes televisions. Pinochet’s successes did not only stop with technology advances that lead to better health; he also had an effect on education in Chile.
In 1960, while Allende was in office, only about eight percent of Chileans finished high school, but by the 1980s, thanks to Pinochet, there are about thirty one percent. Moreover, Lavín states that in 1970, while Allende was still in office, only about 302,000 Chileans went onto secondary school. Whereas when Pinochet was in office in 1985, it was about 670,000 Chileans and approximately 2,700 private schools were subsidized by the state. Due to the fact that more students were going to get better education, the number of students that were entering the work force dramatically increased by seventy four percent. Since technology and education were advancing, the economy in Chile advanced as well.
Between 1970 and 1986 almost one million Chileans entered the workforce and private insurance became a reality to more than two million Chileans. Now that more households possessed televisions, upper and middle class citizens were now exposed to commercial marketing as well as children being a new target market. Chile was now theoretically selling a dollar of products to every one person on the entire planet.
In addition to more people in the workforce, education also allowed access to college language programs since connection with the world increased dramatically. Chile having access to collective languages gave them opportunity to participate in foreign trade. According to Lavín, fruit exports grew by twenty five times and Chile was high in trade for peaches, nectarines and especially in grapes. Before Pinochet, Chile’s imports consisted of only about sixteen percent of their capital goods, but Pinochet raised it to twenty five percent. By 1986, Chile was importing about 3,000 tractors; this being the second highest number ever recorded to be imported in Chile. That would be a 149% increase from the number of imported previously. International trade was a huge step and led the way to rebuilding a better Chile.
While good things came out of Chile from Pinochet’s military regime, he caused some catastrophic, traumatizing and unconstitutional events to get Chile where they are today. Ernesto Tironi, a sociologist who was a major figure in the opposition to the Pinochet regime, argued against Lavín. The negative affects of the Pinochet dictatorship can be broken up into three categories: wealth and income, health, housing and infrastructure as well as the unconstitutional treatment of the Chilean people.
When Pinochet and his army tanks plowed through the streets of Chile on September 11, 1973, everything that the urban poor had worked so hard to get was all taken away. 2.3 million Chileans made up what were called “pobladores” (Tironi, 505) and were forced out of their homes and into a part of Santiago far enough away so that the wealthy families would not have to see poverty. They were shoved into “Shantytowns” (Bruey, 475) with the excuse that it was to make Santiago into more “homogenous areas” (Tironi, 505) and because the land was considered valuable. However, this resulted in the poor being shoved into an area where there were fewer resources in education, health and transportation as well as inadequate opportunities. The living quarters in these “Shantytowns” were extremely cramped usually about 500 square feet split into three or four floors and fitting up to 800 people on each floor. Out of the 2.3 million pobladores, there were only seven telephones for every 22,000 inhabitants. Health standards also showed inadequate, reporting eight out of ten pobladores consumed fewer calories than the minimum a human is supposed to consume daily. This was mainly because women often times made sure that their children and their husbands ate before themselves and even then, families would not have enough food by the end of the day and would consume a cup of tea as their dinner.
Lavín stated that technology was advancing and that Chile now had cars, phones and televisions, but Tironi revealed that the wealthy had 697 automobiles for every 100 inhabitants whereas the urban poor only had fifteen. Since automobiles were not a resource available to the pobladores, they had to travel by bus; moreover Tironi explained that sixty three percent of the residential streets were not paved, which made transit nearly impossible. If the roads were not the issue than delinquents were, where the offenders would assault the people aboard the buses. Due to the fact that these pobladores were shoved into a community with little to no opportunity, they were affected by unemployment, which meant suffering from declining income. Most pobladores spent about twenty six percent of their salary on public transportation, which lead to about twenty five percent of people just traveling by foot and mind you, with consuming fewer calories than the bare minimum needed. While food was already scarce, seventy percent of the family expenses were used towards food, in turn meant that other expenses needed to be eliminated just to be able to afford meals for the family.
Often, families had to eliminate things that they were once able to afford when times in Chile were good. If families were lucky enough to still have a job, the working conditions were often brutal. The workdays were extended to twelve hour days in which became extremely extensive for jobs like railroads and transportation. Bosses were given the right to fire their workers for the good of the company, which frequently meant that they found someone else to work for cheaper pay, such as contract or seasonal workers. In New Zealand, their Kiwi growers were paid about sixty four dollars per hour since Kiwi was profiting about $25,000 per hectare, whereas Chileans were paid between two and four dollars for that same profit. In addition, Pinochet made it possible for companies that Chileans were working for, to not allow issues to be negotiated, to not allow collective bargaining and to not allow the right to strike. These restrictions along with the living conditions Chileans were forced to live in were completely unconstitutional. Allende wanted to make a better life for the poor and had things moving in the right direction. When Pinochet came into office, the poor were left to deal with unemployment, meaning no income, which led to not being able to afford the basic needs of life and a very unstable family.
On top of having to deal with the pain and suffering of poverty, some Chileans had to literally deal with pain and suffering. Chasteen writes: “thousands of supporters of Popular Unity, from folksingers to peasant organizers to university professors, were herded into the Santiago Stadium, many never to be heard from again, their bodies shuttled to secret mass graves…thousands fell victim to a well organized program of official but clandestine torture and murder” (Chasteen, 300). Nancy Guzmán, a Chilean journalist, conducted an interview with a man involved with the interrogations and tortures, named Osvaldo Romo. When Guzmán asked Romo what the tortures were like, he responded with things like “electric grills” (Guzmán, 241), which were basically wiring that they would wrap around the person’s genitals, put in their mouths and in their ears. They would then sometimes dump water on them and crank up the electricity through the wires. Guzmán proceeded to ask Romo how those people would react and completely un-phased by the inhumanity of these actions, he responded with the fact that they would react in pain, and sometimes even pee themselves. “They don’t die. They feel like they are going to die, but they don’t” (Guzmán, 242), as if that made it okay. During the interview, Romo also tried justifying that the raping of women was a lie, with the argument that the women did not have a toilet where they were, therefore would do their bodily functions on the ground that they slept on, were unwashed and smelled bad, and because of that, no one would want to touch them and risk getting an infection. After thirty years of silence, President Richard Largos documented that there had been about 27,255 cases in 1,132 political prisons, military barracks, and clandestine detention centers (Largos, 588). While the government offered pensions, free education, healthcare and housing for torture victims, there is no asset in the world that can fill the burden that is left by torture.
In conclusion, although Pinochet was able to advance health and education, improve the economy and launch technological advances; all that is remembered is blood stained streets, centuries of empty pockets and the haunting memory of it all, that will forever linger in Chilean streets.