The Guardian • Issue #2071


Milk, education, socialism

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2071
The display at the commemoration in Fairfield.

The display at the commemoration in Fairfield.

Alejandro Salvador Allende Fernández, Salvador Allende’s grandson, was in Sydney for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1973 coup against the Allende government in Chile on 11th September. He is the grandson of the former president of Chile, Salvador Allende. His mother Beatriz is known as Allende’s revolutionary daughter, and worked for Che Guevara for many years. His father was a Cuban diplomat and politician of the Cuban Communist Party. Alejandro kindly granted the Guardian an interview.

The monument of Salvador Allende and his grandson Alejandro Fernández in Fairfield Sydney.

The monument of Salvador Allende and his grandson Alejandro Fernández in Fairfield Sydney.

Alejandro Fernández: I was born in Havana. At the time of the coup d’état in Chile my mother was almost eight months pregnant with me.

She barricaded herself along with Salvador Allende and my aunties, in the Moneda Palace. They almost got killed. It was thanks to the efforts of Allende who wanted to push them out along with a group of workers that they survived. He did not want to sacrifice their lives. [Allende lost his life during the coup while in the palace.]

They ended up going into exile. It was the Russians who sent airplanes to Chile and thanks to Aeroflot they saved the life of my mother, my father and our comrades who were waiting to go in exile as they were going to be killed.

I was born two months later. I’m going to be 50 on November 5. I grew up in exile in Cuba although I never felt like I was a refugee. I felt like I was Cuban. Also, my father was a Cuban agent, he was Cuban as well. So it was almost natural.

Guardian: What do you know about your grandfather and the achievements of his government, its social program?

AF: The program was very long, there have been many studies. What Allende tried to do, what he had promised all his life, was to give to the middle class and the lower class access to basic things like milk, like education, health programs. He nationalised the copper. Thus, he was really hated.

Allende was a freemason. He was a very successful man but he put all that aside. He dedicated his life to those who were in a social situation of disadvantage in Chile. Also, he wrote a book about psychiatry, about the health problems of the Chileans and he discovered that a lot of the problems were avoidable if the state assumed the role of looking after the people. For that he was hated.

G: Hated by whom?

AF: He was hated by the Americans, by the fascists, he was hated by people all over the world including in Australia who helped the Americans at the time of the coup. They are going to declassify those documents soon. His agenda was vast and it was for that he was hated.

Yes, with all due respect, Australia* [its intelligence service] played a part against the government of my grandfather. I look forward to reading that when it is made available. I hope one day to see that history, what they did to look after American interests.

G: So, what was the government like before Allende?

AF: The previous president was Eduardo Frei. The socialist change was unavoidable. The right wing tried to stop the program of the left by any means. They tried to stop the left, the Popular Unity, including by arms; even before Allende was president, they killed people. Allende’s life was in peril many times, that’s why they created GAP [Grupo de Amigos Personales –Group of Personal Friends] because they couldn’t trust the army.

They were comrades from the Socialist Party, from MIR [Movement of the Revolutionary Left]. I think my mum worked for them. They protected the president.

G: I understand Allende and Fidel Castro were close friends.

AF: Yes, they were really close friends. I think in the beginning they met many times when Allende was a senator. There is a history between Allende and Castro. Allende was one of the only politicians that went from Latin America to Cuba after the revolution.

The majority of them supported Castro in the beginning because they wanted to get rid of Batista. But then a few years later, well then, he [Castro] said the character of this revolution is socialist and then that was it.

They had a long friendship, but I’m not sure if in the beginning Castro looked at Allende with distrust like many people did because it was quite weird a revolution in democracy. Castro said that Allende wanted the same goals by different means. Allende was a Marxist, a freemason, but now they are trying to portray him as a social democrat.

He renounced freemasonry because they behaved really badly. They aligned themselves with the forces that were trying to overthrow Allende. So now these people, they feel guilty and they’re rescuing the reputation of Allende.

G: A lot has been written about the 17-year Pinochet dictatorship especially about the tens of thousands of people who were murdered, tortured or disappeared. I know the Chilean armed forces have been asked to release more information, and recently President Boric announced a National Search Plan. How much information has been released?

AF: I believe this has been really slow. Once Chile restored democracy there was a pact between the first president after Pinochet, Patricio Aylwin, and the political forces that were in power at the time, the social democrats. They weren’t the socialists of 20 years earlier. The army always blackmailed the governments not to investigate or else we could go back.

Obviously, the tribunals, the Catholic church, and many other institutions really support the investigations. Actually a few priests were killed. Finding the truth has been very slow because the new democracy in Chile is being built upon impunity. That is really what has happened.

So, justice and truth have been painfully slow in Chile because there is blackmail. Also, there has not really been a will to investigate. So that is why we are here today, to raise our voices for those who lost their voices.

G: What about the new government of Gabriel Boric?

AF: The new government of Boric is really trying. Not long ago they arrested the killers of Victor Jara. One of them killed himself before going to jail, so there was a bit of a problem. They are trying, but they are under horrible pressure. There is a new populism in Latin America, including Chile, incredibly right wing, incredibly fascist and the government is under a lot of pressure.

G: Are the military still in Parliament?

AF: No, but the military are still there basically. My sister Maya is the minister of defence. There is still a great awareness of the people who were part of the coup that are still there. She has to take her security very seriously. I admire her greatly.

I truly hope that the truth and reconciliation can happen one day in Chile. That is not going to happen, there is not going to be peace, until they tell us about the disappeared.

It is very hard. It is like a state of torture for the families. Can you imagine that you do not know what happened to your son for years. There’s no closure. That’s why they call it torture.

G: How many thousands of disappeared would you estimate whose fate is unknown?

AF: Around 3000. They have found a few hundred. I have been to some of the burial sites. It’s very sad. A friend of mine, for example, could not bury his father. It is still sad but it does bring peace.

G: It does help with closure?

AF: Yes. It does.

G: What is the economic situation in Chile now?

AF: It is very difficult. There is a lot of inflation, a lot of problems. There is a new problem with migration. Before we never had it. No one was interested in going to Chile. So now we have Venezuelans, Colombians, but that brings resentment amongst the population.

There is the problem of COVID. The whole continent is really struggling economically.

G: Is the right wing using this migration to foster divisions?

AF: Yes, they are using that. There are many Venezuelans. It’s so unfair because Chile is a big country, so let’s be generous. When we were in trouble Venezuela received us and not just us. In the 1970s and ’80s they received every refugee that wanted to go there. They are great generous people.

G: What is the situation for the Indigenous Mapuche people of Chile?

AF: I know it is a problem that has divided the country since the formation of the republic. The way they treat the Mapuches is awful. It is a secret holocaust. Those people have been deprived of their language for many years. They took their kids. They were forbidden to speak their Mapudungun language. They took their land and put them in the cities which was not their environment. It was like here, in Australia.

Today they have a voice. They are learning. They are fighting the Chilean state. I hope one day that they are recognised as part of Chile, as a national minority. They should have a voice, a presence in parliament. They are still active today, fighting the state of Chile.

G: What can we do here in Australia in solidarity with the Chilean people?

AF: It is important to raise our voices for those who were silenced.

I think the Australians have been great. What I ask of the Australian people is to write to their MPs, their judiciary, to anyone, about this woman who is here, Adriana Rivas**. It is scandalous that she is enjoying every step of the [judicial] system trying to avoid being deported to Chile for crimes against humanity.

We have here a woman whose hands are full of blood. It is a shame. I understand that justice has its steps but they know who she is, what she did. She came here and escaped justice. Please, please send her back to Chile.

She was the secretary of Manuel Contreras who was one of the most awful torturers. She wasn’t just a secretary, she was a militant, she was a fascist and she [allegedly] tortured people. She was [allegedly] involved in killing and torturing, in disappearing people, she was working for them [fascists] in her bloodthirsty career. She is not innocent.

* Despite the evidence and the fact that the United States has declassified numerous documents that prove Australia’s involvement, the Australian government still refuses to open its records on the details of this participation.

** Adriana Rivas worked for Chile’s feared National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) during the Pinochet dictatorship, between 1973 and 1977. She is wanted in Chile on charges of being involved in the kidnapping and disappearance of seven people, including Víctor Díaz, secretary of the Communist Party at the time. Rivas has said in an SBS interview:

“Everyone knew there was torture, it was an open secret, everywhere it was known.

“Everybody knew they had to do that and break people somehow because communists are impenetrable.

“It was necessary, just as the Nazis used it, and as in the United States, everyone does. It’s the only way to break people, because psychologically there is no method.”

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