Salvador Allende Offers a Way Out for Venezuela’s Maduro

Santiago de ChileNicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president, has frequently invoked Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown and died in a US-backed coup on September 11, 1973, as a hero and a model. As a fervent supporter of the democratically elected Allende, who worked with him in the Presidential Palace in Santiago in the months before the military takeover, I feel compelled, therefore, to imagine the words of advice Allende might direct from beyond the grave to his Venezuelan colleague at this dangerous moment for Latin America.

Seňor Presidente Nicolás Maduro:

I send you these words as you fight for your political life, vowing that you will not be deposed as I was in Chile by a military coup carried out by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, terminating democracy in my country for 17 years and leaving a lasting legacy of pain and injustice.

I understand why you wish to emphasize the similarities between your situation and the one I endured. Though there are many uncomfortable and embarrassing differences between us—which I will not hesitate to point out—there are also striking and alarming parallels. As in Venezuela today, revolutionary Chile back then was ferociously divided into two warring camps, with leaders of Congress seditiously asking the military to intervene against the constitutional government, goaded on by the more prosperous sectors of the population, whose interests were under siege as we gave birth to a society for the majority and not the select and privileged few.

The Chilean experiment—we were trying to build socialism through peaceful means, rejecting the sort of armed struggle that had prevailed in all previous revolutions—was in trouble, and undergoing considerable economic difficulties, albeit nothing like the extraordinary humanitarian disaster plaguing Venezuela at this moment. And just as Nixon and Kissinger and American multinational companies conspired against Chile in 1973, Trump, Pence, and Pompeo (not to mention the redoubtable Elliott Abrams, of Iran-Contra infamy) are leading the effort to oust you, the constitutional president of Venezuela, through the force of arms.

Latin Americans can be excused if they see in this imperial arrogance a sad repetition of the countless interventions—military, political, and financial—in the internal affairs of countries around the world that have disgraced Washington’s foreign policy for far too many decades.

Despite these resemblances between Chile in 1973 and Venezuela in 2019, I feel that you do a disservice to history and to the cause of revolutionary change by comparing yourself to me. I was, throughout my life, and until the moment of my death, a defender of democracy in all its forms. Never, during my three years in office, did I restrict the freedom of assembly of my opponents (even when some of them engaged in virulent tactics and terrorist acts), nor did I curb in any way the freedom of the press (even when papers, radios, and TV stations owned by the Chilean oligarchy were calling for my removal and spreading lies about my person and my tenure). Not one person was jailed for expressing his or her opinion, nor, heaven forbid, was anyone tortured while I was president. If anything, my opponents were given free rein, which they grievously abused, helped by millions of dollars expended by the CIA. And I scrupulously respected the result of all manner of elections during my time in office, especially when they were unfavorable to me. One other disparity: You have enormous support from Russia and China, whereas I asked what was then the Soviet Union for help and received not a penny in aid (maybe as payback for my having condemned the Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968). As for China, it had reservations about our libertarian revolution, and later refused to break relations with the Pinochet regime.

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