To the Editor:
Mark Falcoff’s “Why Allende Fell” [July], . . . is a well-written excellently substantiated, balanced, and objective expose of Allende’s failure.
I believe a parallel from Chilean history is relevant. Jorge Manuel Balmaceda was also a populist; though descended from the aristocracy, he promoted programs which, for his time, the end of the last century, were just as radical as Allende’s in ours. He, too, once elected, alienated many of his followers until a civil war broke out. In 1891, before having to admit defeat, Balmaceda shot himself. François Mitterrand, leader of the French Socialists, recorded shortly after Allende’s death a conversation early in his term in which Allende darkly said, “If my experiment fails I would follow Balmaceda.”. . . The manner of Allende’s death may be a minor fact, and one which will long be discussed, but if it was suicide the act could be said to represent his tragic admission of failure. To the many ingredients of failure described so well by Mr. Falcoff should be added important psychological traits—Allende’s ambivalence toward the middle class from which he came and whose style he never abandoned, and the like. . . .
Mr. Falcoff overplays, though never so much as in other recent literature on Chile, the role of the U.S. State Department, the CIA, and ITT. . . [but] he also points out that there was no planned conspiracy to use Chile as a testing-ground against socialism. . . . In reality, the tragedy of Allende was a Chilean affair and should be judged as such, despite the enormous worldwide interest in this first experiment of an . . . elected Marxist regime. Mr. Falcoff rightly attempts to set the events in their proper perspective, [though] he seems to suggest that more attention should be paid to the role of the USSR and other socialist countries, including the half-billion dollars spent by them on Allende, a part of the story which has been ignored by most American observers.
I should also mention the seven years I spent in Chile and the many revolutions which I witnessed, from the collapse of the first Ibanez regime to the last election of Arturo Alessandri in 1932, none of which ended with the sort of brutal retribution, illegal arrests, refusal of habeas corpus, concentration camps, “investigations,” disappearances, and endlessly delayed process of justice which have characterized the current regime. All this is a first in Chilean history, without precedent, and it is the cause of the international indignation that the Junta finds so difficult to understand. Those of us who know and love Chile should, as an act of conscience and compassion, do as much as possible, through organizations and pressure on Washington, to help the victims of oppression.
In a lighter vein and in conclusion, let me contradict Mr. Falcoff’s judgment of Chile as “a not very interesting place” and inferior to other Latin American countries, all of which I also know and love. But the fact is that Chile . . . has music equally as fine as Brazil’s; a climate of eight rainless months which is not inferior to Mexico’s; and many tourist attractions. . . . Mr. Falcoff’s appraisal of the Chilean people is odd; in reality, they are remarkably homogeneous, intellectually sensitive and alert, and their sense of humor, even of the sarcastic and quixotic variety, is superb. Mr. Falcoff, give them another chance.
Gerard E. Neisser
New York City
Mark Falcoff writes:
I thank Gerard E. Neisser for his interesting and valuable comments. I quite agree that our possible distaste for any given Chilean government (or governments) should not make us insensitive to the sufferings of the Chilean people. The two are not coterminious. We should, as he suggests, “do as much as possible . . . to help the victims of oppression.” Unfortunately, many of those who now urge this course upon us (I except Mr. Neisser) were the ones who worshipped most dutifully at the shrine of non-intervention when Allende was in power.