Carlos Rangel’s Chapter 9: The Forms of Political Power in Latin America v3

First published in 1976- still relevant today.
In a new redacted version of Yvan Katz’ original translation from French, with annotations, reference links and photographic illustrations.
Introduction by M.T Rangel

The following essay was originally the last chapter— chapter 9—in a larger work written in 1976 by Carlos Rangel—who passed away thirty one years ago this last January. The full work is a book titled in English: “The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States”. This (chapter 9) essay is of particular relevance today in its sociological understanding of different structures of power that historically have prevailed in Latin America, how they came about, and how they have affected the development of this region. It is also a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of following the wrong leaders, and an educational tool that points to the thinkers and progressive leaders worthwhile paying attention to again today, many of whom the American reader may have never even heard about before.: Victor Raúl Haya de La Torre, Rómulo Betancourt, Eduardo Frei, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Angel Rama, among a few others mentioned here.Let’s take as incidental the historic events, because dressed behind different dates and names, patterns repeat.

Take the case of Chile—which is discussed at length in the essay. In 1970-73, events took place there that have unfolded in ways shockingly familiar to Venezuelans today under the rule of the Dictator Nicolás Maduro and before him, Hugo Chavez. And what Perón did to Argentina is absolutely comparable to what Chávez did to Venezuela. Which is all to say that outcomes can be predictable, and that labels can be deceiving. This should be considered good news, since it means that what might have been considered an unpredictable—and undesirable—outcome, can be, with foresight and acumen, anticipated and prevented or solved.

An insight that comes from this essay and that I find particularly fascinating is how the lines blur—specially at historical junctures—between what is Social Democracy, Christian Democracy, Republicanism, Liberalism vs. Conservatism, Authoritarianism vis a vis Marxist-Leninism, and Fascism vs. Communism. Or even what it means to struggle for independence. Understanding the differences in the philosophical backgrounds of these concepts is essential to the understanding of the political theater that unfolds around us, whether were paying attention to it or not. Is it possible that the politicians themselves don’t understand these subtle lines and differences? Because it seems that many times the views of what is one form of political power as opposed to another comes so much from the identity with an affiliated group rather than the real philosophies themselves. What it may be called is one thing, but what is is it, actually?.

Peronist Argentina is a case in point, another important historic moment/lesson where the lines between Communism and Fascism were blurred. While fighting in favor of the labor movements, the development of a strong repressive regime was also developing, without a program of real progress, but with smoke and mirrors until the treasury ran out. This is still taking place in today’s Venezuela, the one that Chavez left as his legacy. And as what also happened in Chile, it is the most dispossessed that suffer the most while egotistical leaders play with people’s lives.You will also read about the Venezuelan rise and fall from a backward feudalistic strong-man type rule, labeled in Latin America a “caudillo”, to a liberal social democracy, only to fall once again in the hands of “caudillos” (Carlos Rangel saw Cuba’s Fidel Castro as yet another one in a long string of Latin American “caudillos” and nothing more, with a regime that became as repressive as that of any other authoritarian country). How can the poisonous cycles of powers that Latin America has been suffering be avoided once and for all?.

Latin America in the nineteenth and twentieth century had been able to rely on the military—the only organization that could be counted on to run efficiently—as a release valve. Even though it wasn’t ideal that the military would have to step in to reboot the administrative power structure by kicking out the offending regime, it was done for the sake of the greater good—at least from the point of view of all involved—to see a smooth transition towards a more promising regime.

The pitfalls of politicization of the Military is at the heart of this story.Witness what occurred in Brazil, when the military realized they didn’t have to return power to a civilian administrator [which had been previously the accepted protocol and norm], because they finally figured out that the military had a more efficient potential operation apparatus: Military dictatorship. They did pour more resources into the public sector and make as a result a more efficient running country. The catch: At what price no freedom? Yes, it was a very repressive regime. An unexpected outcome of having the military be—as Carlos Rangel calls it— the “spare tire party”.

In short, Rangel’s view of the phenomena that takes place in rises of power is an invaluable study where here, we have the opportunity on the anniversary of his birthday (September 17th) to revisit these important insights, meditate about them and make them available to a wider audience. He would have been 90 years old today. He died before his 60th birthday. When he died, we lost one of the most lucid thinkers about how to move forward for a better Latin America and a better world. But we can still learn lessons today from his writings, if we apply the ‘long-lens close-up view’—that he had— to our current events and challenges.

M.T.Rangel, September 17th 2019

Editor’s note: (Wherever curly {} brackets are seen in the text, they are enclosing notes from Carlos Rangel, inserted in his use of quotes.
Wherever square [] brackets are seen in the text, they are enclosing notes from this editor. Editor’s note will also be indicated at times within the text with the initials: ‘e.n’, or ‘mtr’
Edited and annotated by M.T.Rangel from the translation from the original French by Ivan Katz,


Cipriano Castro and Juan Vicente Gómez the Venezuelan super- caudillos of the end of XIX century and first part of the XXth

The basic political problem of independent Spanish America is that the different republics have not succeeded in replacing the institutional equilibrium that disappeared in 1810 through 1824, along with the Spanish empire. The challenges peculiar to the second half of the twentieth century such as radical changes in mass expectations caused by new developments in communications, the demographic explosion caused by the sudden decrease in mortality rates—particularly infant mortality—the ideological virulence of the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ [as opposed to simply ‘Marxist’] ‘Third World’ view of life, and more recently, the military and economic power of the countries that endorse that ideology, these challenges have revealed the fragility of even those policies and institutions that earlier had been thought of as lasting and solid, such as those in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Mexico is the only Spanish American country that in the last fifty years has not experienced any changes of government by civil war or military coup d’état. On the other hand, it experienced at least forty-six irregular changes of government in the first quarter century of its independence. In Venezuela, no fewer than fifty civil wars occurred in less than one century (from 1830 to 1902), one of which, the so-called Federal War, or “the long war“, which lasted from 1859 to 1863, was as cruel and bloody as the wars of independence had been half a century earlier. In Bolivia there have been one hundred and sixty civil wars or coups d’état from 1835 to the present: an average of more than one a year.

Broadly speaking, various societies will react in a like manner to like stimuli. Faced with arbitrary rule, with insecurity, with the lack of a stable and adequate judicial and institutional framework, men will be driven to seek refuge within heavily centralized, pyramidal system of social relations, under the leadership of a tyrant (1). The societies within the Spanish American republics broke up and dissolved when faced with the institutional vacuum that resulted from the wars of independence. A vacuum that developed at the very start of disturbance. Each single country, each region, even each village, was able to re-establish peace only by appealing to a caudillo for protection (2). It may be said that a primitive feudalism developed. It was natural for this kind of social structuring to emerge for it reinforced the existing pattern of the haciendas, the virtually autonomous social units on which the agricultural economy was based even before the fall of the Spanish empire.

(1). This is why Communist countries have reinvented a ‘caudillismo ‘of their own, known as a ‘personality cult’.
(2). ‘Caudillo’ means chieftain. So does ‘cacique’. The Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy defines the word literally as “the chief of an armed band.”

Porfirio Días, the Mexican super-caudillo, as a young officer

At the start, there were as many caudillos, or war lords, as specific geographic conditions permitted, each lord exerting his authority over a limited territory. Strong men emerged among them and brought larger areas under their control, so that a regional structuring emerged. This led to nation-wide rule by super-caudillos, each suppressing or subduing regional caciques much in the manner in which the kings of medieval Europe subdued or eliminated lesser feudal barons.
Arturo Uslar Pietri has argued that the super-caudillos developed as a natural response to existing conditions: “[Juan Manuel de] Rosas,[José Antonio] Páez, Porfirio Diaz, Juan Vicente Gómez were the products of the land, of tradition, and of historic necessity. They owed their immense power to the fact that they incarnated the reaction of a rural world that had severed its connections with the Spanish empire in the hope of implanting republican and liberal institutions that had no roots whatsoever in the past. The historic caudillo was the native reply to the power vacuum. Latin America saw the emergence of a form of social organization that was contrary to the republican ideas that had been fashioned in Europe but that perfectly suited the Latin American economic and social structure. Men like Don Porfirio Díaz or Rosas emerged because they reflected the thoughts, the inclinations, the deep feelings of the majority of their people. In the fullest sense of the term, they were their spokesmen, their representatives, the symbol or the dominant collective feeling of the time” (3).

(3). “El caudillo ante el novelista”. El Nacional, Caracas, May 11th, 1975.

There is little new in this interpretation. [Simón] Bolivar had said much the same thing in his own way, and so had José Martí. Many other Spanish Americans pointed to the same explanation, either to deplore it, or to use it to justify their own position. This made an essentially sound interpretation appear ambiguous and distasteful. Many who have quoted Bolivar (4) have done so to justify themselves or—their leaders or caudillos. The Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jiménez, who ruled from 1952 to 1958, took as motto a sentence of Bolivar’s: “The best government is that which gives the people the greatest social security and the greatest happiness”. This, in order to convey the impression that the Liberator would have endorsed the excesses of his, (Jiménez’s) regime: The suspension of public liberties, prison, torture, exile, or death for opponents of the regime, the theft of public funds, the absence of all moral sense, as preferable to the risks and pitfalls of democracy.

(4) Or even [Francisco de] Miranda. Being not a caudillo, but a European career officer and a philosophe of the Enlightenment, he led the first Venezuelan Republic [only] to see it fail in 1812. “Trouble, all these people can do is to make trouble”, the Precursor [ Title given to him posthumously for his role in Latin American Independence] exclaimed, witnessing the growing gap between the illusions he had formed in the United States, England, and France, and the pitiful troops of the republic, manned by illiterate peons and led by overexcited Creoles unable to agree among themselves. Bolivar’s criticism of the first republic (see pp. I97-200 of this book) refers to what Miranda simply and directly called “disorder”.

In 1908, just before his regime collapsed, the Mexican super-caudillo Porfirio Díaz stated: “I believe democracy to be the one true, just principle of government, although in practice it is possible only to highly developed peoples…. Here in Mexico we have had different conditions. I received this Government from the hands of a victorious army at a time when the people were divided and unprepared for the exercise of the extreme principles of democratic government. To have thrown upon the masses the whole responsibility of government at once would have produced conditions that might have discredited the cause of free government” Citizens active in public affairs had three choices: 1: They could oppose the “telluric” forces incarnate in the caudillos, which would have been a suicidal stance; 2: They could withdraw into anonymity; 3: They could collaborate with the caudillos and so hope to accede to the higher positions of government.(5).

Those who chose the third of these options and felt embarrassed about their choice welcomed the ‘Positivism’ of August Comte, [Hippolyte] Taine, [Ernest] Renan, and [Gustave] Le Bon, which was beginning to have influence in Latin America. In this philosophy they saw an apology for their position. They certainly did not use ‘Positivism’ as a tool for the objective understanding of the phenomenon of caudillismo. Instead of criticizing the government for being personal, arbitrary, and brutal, these men enlarged on the merits of absolute rule, contrasting it with civil war or anarchy, which they presented as the only possible alternatives.

(5) Interview with the American journalist James Creelman, Pearson’s Magazine, March 1908, quoted in Lewis Hanke, ed., History of Latin American Civilization, 2nd ed., vol.2, pp. 295-96.

The few who did not choose to collaborate with the caudillos criticized those who did for having become lackeys of power. No doubt they had, as have those who walk in their tracks today, serving the new caudillos in the modem mold, like Fidel Castro in Cuba. A friend of mine, a writer who has long been, and continues to an extent to be, an admirer of the Cuban Revolution, admitted in private in 1974 that on each successive visit he has made to Cuba since 1960, he has grown more concerned with the government’s tendency to resort to personality cult, arbitrary rule, and the pyramidal pattern of authority that characterized the darkest and most unproductive periods of Spanish political and social life in the nineteenth century.

Arturo Uslar Pietri has argued that the super-caudillos developed as a natural response to existing conditions: “[Juan Manuel de] Rosas,[José Antonio] Páez, Porfirio Diaz, Juan Vicente Gómez were the products of the land, of tradition, and of historic necessity. They owed their immense power to the fact that they incarnated the reaction of a rural world that had severed its connections with the Spanish empire in the hope of implanting republican and liberal institutions that had no roots whatsoever in the past. The historic caudillo was the native reply to the power vacuum. Latin America saw the emergence of a form of social organization that was contrary to the republican ideas that had been fashioned in Europe but that perfectly suited the Latin American economic and social structure. Men like Don Porfirio Díaz or Rosas emerged because they reflected the thoughts, the inclinations, the deep feelings of the majority of their people. In the fullest sense of the term, they were their spokesmen, their representatives, the symbol or the dominant collective feeling of the time” (3).

(3). “El caudillo ante el novelista”. El Nacional, Caracas, May 11th, 1975.

There is little new in this interpretation. Bolivar had said much the same thing in his own way, and so had José Martí. Many other Spanish Americans pointed to the same explanation, either to deplore it, or to use it to justify their own position. This made an essentially sound interpretation appear ambiguous and distasteful. Many who have quoted Bolivar (4) have done so to justify themselves or—their leaders or caudillos. The Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jiménez, who ruled from 1952 to 1958, took as motto a sentence of Bolivar’s: “The best government is that which gives the people the greatest social security and the greatest happiness”. This, in order to convey the impression that the Liberator would have endorsed the excesses of his, (Jiménez’s) regime: The suspension of public liberties, prison, torture, exile, or death for opponents of the regime, the theft of public funds, the absence of all moral sense, as preferable to the risks and pitfalls of democracy.

(4) Or even [Francisco de] Miranda. Being not a caudillo, but a European career officer and a philosophe of the Enlightenment, he led the first Venezuelan Republic [only] to see it fail in 1812. “Racket, all these people can do is to make a racket”, the Precursor [ Title given to him posthumously for his role in Latin American Independence] exclaimed, witnessing the growing gap between the illusions he had formed in the United States, England, and France, and the pitiful troops of the republic, manned by illiterate peons and led by overexcited Creoles unable to agree among themselves. Bolivar’s criticism of the first republic (see pp. I97-200 of this book) refers to what Miranda simply and directly called “disorder”.

In 1908, just before his regime collapsed, the Mexican super-caudillo Porfirio Díaz stated: “I believe democracy to be the one true, just principle of government, although in practice it is possible only to highly developed peoples…. Here in Mexico we have had different conditions. I received this Government from the hands of a victorious army at a time when the people were divided and unprepared for the exercise of the extreme principles of democratic government. To have thrown upon the masses the whole responsibility of government at once would have produced conditions that might have discredited the cause of free government” (5). Citizens active in public affairs had three choices: 1: They could oppose the “telluric” forces incarnate in the caudillos, which would have been a suicidal stance; 2: They could withdraw into anonymity; 3: They could collaborate with the caudillos and so hope to accede to the higher positions of government. Those who chose the third of these options and felt embarrassed about their choice welcomed the ‘Positivism’ of August Comte, [Hippolyte] Taine, [Ernest] Renan, and [Gustave] Le Bon, which was beginning to have influence in Latin America. In this philosophy they saw an apology for their position. They certainly did not use ‘Positivism’ as a tool for the objective understanding of the phenomenon of caudillismo. Instead of criticizing the government for being personal, arbitrary, and brutal, these men enlarged on the merits of absolute rule, contrasting it with civil war or anarchy, which they presented as the only possible alternatives.

(5) Interview with the American journalist James Creelman, Pearson’s Magazine, March 1908, quoted in Lewis Hanke, ed., History of Latin American Civilization, 2nd ed., vol.2, pp. 295-96.

The few who did not choose to collaborate with the caudillos criticized those who did for having become lackeys of power. No doubt they had, as have those who walk in their tracks today, serving the new caudillos in the modem mold, like Fidel Castro in Cuba. A friend of mine, a writer who has long been, and continues to an extent to be, an admirer of the Cuban Revolution, admitted in private in 1974 that on each successive visit he has made to Cuba since 1960, he has grown more concerned with the government’s tendency to resort to personality cult, arbitrary rule, and the pyramidal pattern of authority that characterized the darkest and most unproductive periods of Spanish political and social life in the nineteenth century.

Fidel Castro, Cuban leader

The Cubans themselves whisper that they are governed by ‘sociolismo’ (a pun on the word socio, which means “partner” but also “crony” or “accomplice”). Another admirer of the Cuban Revolution in its early stages, the Uruguayan Angel Rama, one of the most intelligent and cultured Latin America’s intellectuals today, wrote “Caudillismo and paternalist dictatorship are forms of government characteristic of Latin America. They are still widespread today, covered over by a seemingly modern terminology that helps give a sheen of persuasive universalism to forms as old as our independence. Reading Regis Debray’s “Revolution Within the Revolution?”, I was surprised to find the same old formula of caudillismo being re-exported back to us dressed in the language of the Paris Ecole Normale. We had thought caudillismo so much a local product that it could not possibly be cast in the intellectual mold of Marxism! This tour de force simply proves the resilience and pervasiveness of caudillismo. However, upsetting it may be to intellectuals seduced by ideas that come from Europe, the fact is that even those societies of our continent that claim to be most modern in matters of ideology have fallen back on caudillismo.
The proof has been given that the living reality of Latin America is still prone to the kind of government that concentrates all power in the hands of a providential leader” (6).

(6). “Una remozada galería de dictadores” (A rejuvenated series of dictators), El Nacional, Caracas, June 1st, 1975.

A Venezuelan of an earlier generation, Pedro Manuel Arcaya, one of whose accomplishments was to have assembled for his personal use the best library in Venezuela prior to 1940, recorded in his memoirs a description of Venezuelan provincial life before the end of the nineteenth century. He vividly portrayed how the citizenry had only just recovered from one civil war when another came sweeping down like a hurricane, killing off men and cattle, destroying everything in its wake. Arcaya raises the question of whether it is not better to be governed by a super-caudillo such as Juan Vicente Gómez (who ruled from 1908 to 1935) than to experience a series of such calamities. A man such as Gómez will resort to whatever means—terror, exile, persuasion—he may feel necessary to destroy his sub-caudillos or force them to submit; once he has established unquestioned authority, however, he will go on to enforce a period of peace.

Antonio Guzman Blanco a XIX century Venezuelan oligarch, that ruled Venezuela directly and indirectly over 30 years.

Bloody and protracted civil wars have frequently resulted from the collapse of institutional order; it is natural for a strong, autocratic regime to emerge, and for the people to be tolerant of its philosophy for the sake of the new-found stability. Thus, Russia put up with Stalin, and Spain with Franco.
We should also note that in Latin America, the super-caudillos have been the real artisans of our precariously founded nationhood. They succeeded in establishing a system of feudal, personal loyalties over the national territory as a whole; they created the modern, centralized professional armies, and eliminated the armed bands of irregulars that had controlled provinces or regions; they further unified the nation by building the telegraphic networks that allowed news and instructions to be received and relayed rapidly, and the railway facilities and roads that in a few days could dispatch loyal troops with all their equipment, to the borders of the country—an operation that previously took months.
If we look at the matter from this angle, Bolivia appears as the most unfortunate of the Latin-American countries. It has known an endless series of petty dictators, each of whom in turn managed to seize power and hold it for a brief spell with a maximum of corruption and brutality, but none of whom was endowed with the gifts of the stabilizer, pacifier, and builder that were displayed in other countries by such absolute rulers as Rosas, Juan Vicente Gómez, or Porfirio Díaz; none retained control long enough to be called a caudillo.

This is not to say that these efficient dictatorships were any way pleasant to witness let alone to endure. In Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, Sarmiento related how, between 1835 and 1840, almost every man in Buenos Aires experienced one or more terms of imprisonment. Rosas made a practice or having men jailed in groups of two or “three hundred, chosen at random. When they were released two or three months later, their places were taken by others. What had these people done? Nothing at all: this system of arbitrary arrests was simply Rosas’s way of teaching proper obedience. The Venezuelan caudillo [Juan Vicente] Gómez filled his subjects with such terror that when he died, no one dared publicly to display relief, for fear that the tyrant’s demise had been yet another ruse staged by the old fox, who besides everything else, had acquired a reputation for sorcery and extrasensory perception. Several days passed before people dared show any of their feelings, and almost two months went by before the political consequences of his disappearance from the public scene became manifest. Even then the system instituted by this super-caudillo maintained itself without too much trouble, no doubt partly because of the shrewd and flexible tactics of his successor, the Minister of War, but mainly because of the horror instilled by practices of the late government—such as suspending opponents by the testicles or executing them (as was done with at least one prisoner) by hanging them by the lower jaw from a meat hook. The prevalence of this kind of cruelty filled all Venezuelans who had reached the age of reason by 1935 with fear of the state and its police, a fear that continued even when Gómez’s regime of terror came to an end.

The Consular Caudillos

The Spanish American caudillos, from the time of independence to the last third of the nineteenth century, found a power base primarily in the class of large landowners. These came to play the role of powerful vassals whose fidelity the tyrant could count on as long as he maintained the double policy of guaranteeing their privileges while keeping them in terror of himself. Ambitious rivals occasionally emerged from this class, to foment the kind of revolution whose caricatured portrayal, in a comic and folkloric vein [Woody Allen’s Bananas comes to mind], constitutes one of the particularly humiliating aspects of the stereotyped view foreigners have of Spanish America. But once the United States had clearly defined its imperialistic vocation with the Spanish American War and the Panama Affair, no caudillo could rise to prominence in Latin America for over half a century without understanding that henceforth, power was to be based primarily on North American support. Once a caudillo had understood this and acted on it, his rule was assured, under North American protection.

Juan Vicente Gómez, Venezuelan super-caudillo who ruled Venezuela for over 30 years in the early XX century.

The Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy defines a consul as a “person accredited by a foreign State to protect its nationals and interests in the country to which he is accredited”. Thus, consular caudillos developed, such as [Juan Vicente] Gómez, who was tacitly delegated by the United States in much the same manner as Rome had delegated Herod to be King of Judea.

Porfirio Diaz, who governed from 1876 to 1910, was another consular caudillo. He deliberately extended exorbitant privileges to foreigners and to foreign investors, ostensibly to promote the modernization and unification of the Mexican nation (an effort in which he was largely successful, to Mexico’s continuing benefit), but also to secure the protection of the investor countries, primarily the United States. As United States “consul” in Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, after many years of service, merited an interview with a North American newspaperman. In this conversation, details of both his cruelty and his submissiveness to foreign powers are candidly presented, alongside a discussion of the positive aspects of his rule. The author concluded: “There is not a more romantic or heroic figure in all the world… than {this} soldier-statesman, whose adventurous youth pales the pages of Dumas, and whose iron rule has converted the warring, ignorant, superstitious and impoverished masses of Mexico, oppressed by centuries of Spanish cruelty and greed, into a strong, steady, peaceful, debt-paying and progressive nation…For twenty-seven years he has governed the Mexican Republic with such power that national elections have become mere formalities” (7). Before Porfirio Díaz “…neither life nor property was safe.” With Díaz, Mexico has risen “…among the peaceful and useful nations.” Before Porfirio, “…there were only two small [railway] lines…[Now] there are more than nineteen thousand miles of railways…nearly all with American managers, engineers and conductors…”

(7). This quote and those that follow are from James Creelman, in Lewis Hanke, 2nd ed., vol.2, pp. 293-303.

Before Porfirio, the mail, carried aboard horse-drawn coaches, was slow, costly, irregular, and unsafe. On a regular trip between Mexico City and Puebla, for example, the mail was frequently the object of two or three holdups. Creelman pointed out—perhaps with some exaggeration—that the national mail network now covered all the national territory, and had become inexpensive, safe, and rapid. Porfirio had the sparse, inefficient telegraph network extended to 75,000 kilometers in good working order. In his [Díaz’] own words: “We began by making {damage to telegraph lines} punishable by death and compelling the execution of offenders within a few hours after they were caught….We ordered that wherever telegraph wires were cut and the chief officer of the district did not catch the criminal, he should himself suffer; and in case the cutting occurred on a plantation the proprietor who failed to prevent it should be hanged to the nearest telegraph pole. These were military orders… It was better that a little blood should be shed that much blood should be saved. The blood that was shed was bad blood; the blood that was saved was good blood.” Creelman described how one billion two hundred million dollars in foreign capital were invested in Mexico thanks to Díaz. In 1908, new investments reached the astounding total of two hundred million dollars a year. “The cities shine with electric lights and are noisy with electric trolley cars; English is taught in the public schools…[and] there are nearly seventy thousand foreigners living contentedly and prosperously in the Republic….”

Porfirio Díaz, Mexican consularsuper-caudillo ruled Mexico with an iron fist for 35 years, from 1876 to 1910

But what earned Diaz the gratitude of the United States was his punctiliousness in the settlement of Mexico’s foreign debts. The United States attached particular importance to the repayment of debts by Latin-American states neighboring on the Panama Canal, for reasons discussed in Chapter 3. Creelman related that the price of silver, which at the time was Mexico’s main export, dropped sharply just then, and that Don Porfirio’s advisers pleaded with him to suspend the repayment of the country’s foreign debt. “The President denounced the advice as foolishness as well as dishonesty, and it is a fact that some of the greatest officers of the government went for years without their salaries that Mexico might be able to meet her financial obligations dollar for dollar…. Such is Porfirio Diaz, the foremost man of the American hemisphere.”

We may question the sincerity of this grossly flattering article and expect the author to have been well rewarded for it. But we would then have to conclude that Don Porfirio also bought off [Elihu] Root, the United States Secretary of State, who formulated his admiration in the following terms: “Of all the men now living, General Porfirio Diaz, of Mexico, {is} best worth seeing: Whether one considers the adventurous, daring chivalric incidents of his early career, whether one consider the vast work of government which his wisdom and courage and commanding character accomplished, whether one considers his singularly attractive personality, no one lives today that I would rather see than President Díaz. If I were a poet, I would write poetic eulogies. If I were a musician, I would compose triumphal marches. If I were a Mexican, I should feel that the steadfast loyalty of a lifetime could not be too much in return for the blessings that he had brought to my country. As I am neither poet, musician nor Mexican, but only an American who loves justice and liberty and hopes to see their reign among mankind progress and strengthen and become perpetual, I look to Porfirio Diaz, the President of Mexico, as one of the great men to be held up for the hero-worship of mankind.” (8)

The “positivist” apologists of the Latin-American tyrants felt assured that after a few decades of “peace, order, and work” (the motto of Juan Vicente Gómez), the different countries of the continent would learn to live in civil peace and be ready for democracy. They argued that before Porfirio’s accession to power, Mexico had experienced sixty years of bloodshed, but that after benefiting from his rule, it would be blessed with an era of “justice and liberty.” This was [Elihu] Root’s hope as well.

The power of consular caudillos—among whom Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua and Rafael Leónidas Trujillo of the Dominican Republic were second-rate specimens—fed on itself. The sale of concessions to foreign investors and the economic activities that directly or indirectly resulted from them brought money to the national treasury; this allowed the consular caudillos to offer their officers better pay, their troops better arms, and their partisans greater spoils—all the while repaying the national debt. Porfirio, who brought the system to its point of perfection, offered foreign investors advantages so great that they alone would almost have sufficed to motivate and justify the Mexican’ xenophobia that followed and that has endured ever since. The United States’ support of these consular caudillos, so profitable to American interests in the short run, was soon to create wide resentment and difficulties of many sorts in Latin America, which no doubt will continue to erupt in the future.(

(8). Quoted by James Creelman in Hanke, 2nd ed., vol.2, PP. 302-03.

(9). Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was more lucid, or perhaps more wary, than [Elihu] Root, was once asked to withdraw American support from Trujillo because he (Trujillo) was “a son of a bitch”. “Yes”, said Roosevelt, “but he is our son of a bitch”.

The Mexican System

The “positivist” apologists of the Latin-American tyrants felt assured that after a few decades of “peace, order, and work” (the motto of Juan Vicente Gómez), the different countries of the continent would learn to live in civil peace and be ready for democracy. They argued that before Porfirio’s accession to power, Mexico had experienced sixty years of bloodshed, but that after benefiting from his rule, it would be blessed with an era of “justice and liberty.” This was [Elihu] Root’s hope as well.

Armed band of Mexican Revolutionaries, 1910

But in 1910, Mexico became the scene of an explosion of violence unparalleled since in Latin America [known as the Mexican Revolution]. Indeed, the introduction of more lethal weaponry has made such outbreaks all but impossible without foreign intervention. Mexico lived in a state of revolution for some twenty years. Not until 1929 was a centralized authority able to assume effective control over all the national territory. That year the different revolutionary factions were reunited into a single party, which at first was called the National Revolutionary party and then, in 1938, Party of the Mexican Revolution. Since 1946 it has had the paradoxical but appropriate name of Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI).

Alvaro Obregón, founder of the National Revolutionary Party, which later become the paradoxically, yet appropriately named Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI

The Mexican system, as it has come to be called, has been criticized on the grounds that it is not a true democracy, but rather an oligarchical democracy, a “directed democracy”, rife with graft, entailing a strong dose of “constitutional” lying and hypocrisy, in which little relation exists between what the government says and what it does. At the same time, we must recognize that the Mexican government is not basically tyrannical; it is merely strong. And the smoke-screen double-talk it practices may well be, along with other related subterfuges, one of its political virtues, distasteful in a way, but politically successful because it corresponds to Latin-American idiosyncrasies. Spanish American countries seem willing to tolerate a wide breach between words and deeds. They have produced millions of speeches, issued thousands of press releases, party platforms, manifestoes, parliamentary resolutions, student demands, professional-association statements, thousands of laws and decrees, and hundreds of constitutions. The smallest of Latin American republics is sure to have been the source of more codes of law than Great Britain.

As we have witnessed, countries frustrated by their lack of real power find in rhetoric a form of compensation that satisfy those who practice it and those who listen to them. It is worth noting that Juan Vicente Gomez, the Latin-American caudillo most satisfied and secure in his power, remained a very discreet, even a taciturn, caudillo: he was not interested in being hailed as an intellectual or—a leader of international stature. But he was an exception. Usually Latin American leaders chafe at their relative insignificance on the international scene, even when they are unquestionably the master at home, and tend to drown their self-doubts in endless oratory. And this is all the more true of men on-the lower rungs of power. The Latin American masses, at the bottom of the social ladder, may not be able to express their feelings, but they expect their leaders to speak for them; they are ready to follow a leader who knows how to fit words to the dreams that lie deep in their collective psyche. Demagogues can thus make their way on the steppingstones of this basic, pervasive psychological need: Witness Juan Domingo Perón [Argentinian fascist leader from the 1970’s]. The most remarkable feature of the Mexican system is that it has made revolutionary rhetoric the chief and permanent fulcrum of a political machinery controlled by neither a demagogue nor a caudillo, but by a “common man” (these days usually a technocrat) who will hold the presidency for a single six-year term.

Mexico has virtually a one-party system. The PRI does not seek to learn what the people want, but claims to interpret the popular will through symbolic elections in which it invariably claims for itself over ninety percent of the votes. Each President in turn is the absolute leader, a virtual monarch for the set term of his rule—but no longer. The other cogs of power, such as Congress or the judiciary, may be seen as stage props to varying degrees, dependent on the President’s will. The same holds true of the armed forces, which in other Latin American countries constitute such a steady threat to stability. The news media either are directly controlled by the government or keep their criticism within limits (10). The private sector of the economy exists in symbiosis with the government and the PRI, as do labor unions and the farmers’ associations. In fact, the PRI has succeeded in controlling, directly or indirectly, all the special-interest groups of Mexican society as well as all shades of political opinion except the extreme right, the Manchester liberals (11), and the Maoist, Guevarist left (12).

(10). The government has the means to exert different forms of pressure on the media it does not control directly. For example, it holds a monopoly on the import or manufacture of newsprint.
(11). The reference is to the Manchester school of Cobden and Bright, the “Apostles of Free Trade.”
(12). In recent years, the students have constituted a source of trouble for the system. But, as in other countries of Latin America, students stop dissenting as soon as they graduate from the university; each then goes his or her own way to further personal ambitions.

This is not to say that all sectors or the population are satisfied that they have proper hearing or representation or that the basic social problems have been solved. The peasantry still lives in poverty, and migrants from rural areas crowd shantytowns that surround the main cities, while millions of Indians lead a marginal existence in Mexican society. But relations between the different interests within the country, and the apportioning of appointments within the system are carried on in an orderly and acceptable manner, under the supervision of the PRI.The secret of the system’s viability and longevity—qualities rare on the Latin American political scene—lies in two factors: the President cannot seek re-election (this is an absolute rule that so far has been scrupulously respected), but he is all-powerful during his tenure, and practically appoints his successor (13). When he hands over the presidency to the new incumbent, he does so without any reservations. The newcomer will be the one new shining star in the political firmament; he will need to fear no rivals and will not allow anyone else to share the public limelight with him.

Qu’est-ce que le Tiers-État?:What is the Third Estate?

As in Sieyès’s Tiers Etat, this new Sun President, who until his nomination was nothing, now suddenly is all. His nomination as candidate by the PRI, and hence his certain election to the presidency, is not made public till the very last moment, and he himself traditionally plays a discreet role till that time. It is said that he is “in hiding.” Once his selection as official candidate has been made public, he sets off on what appears to be a classic electoral campaign, through which he becomes known to people and solicits the broad support of which he definitely stands in need.

(13). Mexican political scientists are reluctant to admit this. They make the perfectly well-founded observation that there are limits to the President’s freedom in choosing his successor. He could not, for example, nominate his wife, as did Governor Wallace of Alabama. But however we look at the question, the Minister of the Interior is almost invariably nominated as the PRI candidate. If the President holds out hope to other ministers, it is in order to keep his options open and to stave off a premature transfer of power. Nor is there a single case on record of the new nominee’s not being a member of the outgoing President’s Cabinet. We may say that the President is assembling candidates for his succession when he selects his Cabinet.

For this plain, uncharismatic citizen whose name until the day before was still quite obscure must now make himself recognized as the new embodiment of perennial revolutionary rhetoric. He achieves this by donning the mantle of nationalism, egalitarianism, anti-imperialism. He becomes the champion of the Third World, of the native (the noble savage), the peasant, the worker, etcetera. His inauguration marks his apotheosis as the newly anointed standard-bearer of the revolution, in neat coincidence with the final setting of his predecessor’s sun.

Common sense dictates a double task for the ruler: he has to control the social body, and at the same time he has to induce the various, largely centrifugal component forces of society to be tolerant of and patient with his leadership. If we grant that the process of government, through its very operation tends with time to arouse discontent among the governed, the Mexican pattern of ruling out from the start the possibility of renewed tenure for the President has much to recommend it, for it allows outsiders or contenders on the fringes of power to hope that someday their moment will come. Whether this hope proves founded or not is not the point here. The fact is that the ambitious are far less tempted to force a “non-institutional solution,” as a Putsch is called in Latin America.

We could say, more bluntly, that the swarm of men who have derived profit from the existing regime, and who naturally clustered in widening circles around the outgoing President, are in due course forced to relinquish their positions and to do so in good will, as it were, without conflict-and hand over power to the swarms forming around the new leader. But we should not overlook the positive aspects of the Mexican system. Mexico has experienced nearly fifty years of stability, from 1929 to the present [1976], while other Latin American countries have been prey to far worse governments, or like Chile and Cuba, victims of national tragedies. At the same time as it makes for stability, the Mexican pattern prevents the sclerosis of power—as was witnessed, for example, at the end of Porfirio Diaz’s rule, when an unduly extended term of office led to blatant gerontocracy.

Some may argue that the Mexican model would not have such favorable results but for the nearness of the United States. The formidable neighbor to the north may exacerbate problems in the Mexican national psyche, but revolutionary rhetoric keeps these from becoming unbearable. And the United States also stimulates economic development, through the massive influx of North American tourists and the steadily growing export of Mexican manufactured goods. A substantial quantity of these goods is produced by North American firms attracted to Mexico by the lower wages, by trust that Mexico will maintain good relations with the United States, and by preferential trade agreements. (Mexico chose not to join OPEC in order not to be automatically deprived of the advantages that a new law on foreign trade, passed in 1974 by the United States Congress, grants “developing countries” other than OPEC members). The common border also provides an opportunity to help relieve population pressure, through clandestine emigration to the United States. This “geographic privilege”, already operative under Porfirio Diaz, has gained further momentum since 1940, when Mexico started capitalizing on the United States’ formidable war and postwar expansion. Thus, it has found in its proximity to the United States a significant and possibly a decisive, factor for economic growth and political stability.

The Military “Party”

I have noted that one of the chief successes of the Mexican political system has been the effective neutralization of the military, and this at a time when the development of increasingly powerful weapons has caused armies throughout the world to play an even greater role in political affairs.

Naval officer Wolfang Larrazábal (right), transitional leader of Venezuela after the over through of Commandant Márcos Pérez Jiménez (left), January 23rd, 1958

In Latin America, there have been two distinct ways in which military men have reached the presidency. Formerly, successful caudillos, men without formal military training, automatically became “generals” and chiefs of the armed forces through the same process that carried them to supreme power. More recently, career officers have become President mainly by happening to hold the highest rank at the time the armed forces intervened “institutionally”. I have already analyzed the first process in my study of caudillismo and will now examine the second (14).

(14) Fidel Castro rose to power in the first of these ways. This is another reason he can be more readily understood if examined within the framework of Latin-American ‘caudillismo’.

The first armies of independent Spanish America were those—perforce improvised—of the wars of independence. At the same time, the old order and stability were being destroyed, which caused the emergence of caudillismo. From approximately the middle of the nineteenth century, at different rates in the various countries, regular armed forces were to emerge, which invariably ended up wielding excessive influence on political affairs. Nor could this have been otherwise in ill-structured, undisciplined nations, in which a ruling class worthy of the name hardly existed, in which the middle classes had emerged only recently and were timorous and indecisive, and in which the popular masses were quite unable to imagine that they would ever play play a role in decision making.

In this relative vacuum, the armed forces came to constitute a dominant institution—more effective, or less ineffective, than others. The military had the advantage of sharing a sense of values that encompassed discipline, unity, esprit de corps and of being able to transmit clear and concrete instructions in an organized and effective manner. Thus, they were committed professionally to certain socially useful attitudes that were far from widespread in Latin American societies. In recent years they have even become, or claim to have become, more proficient than many civilians in disciplines that, although unconnected to the military profession, are included in the curriculums of the war colleges. Note that military schools have not experienced the difficulties and setbacks of the civilian universities: They are the only institutions of higher learning that have not had to suffer the assaults of the Castro-Guevarists and that have therefore maintained or even improved their academic standards. Furthermore, graduates of the military academies frequently also study civilian disciplines and become qualified sociologists, [engineers], physicians, lawyers, psychologists, anthropologists, and so on.

In the pursuit of their career, officers know that their professional advancement is contingent on their steady adherence to a program of continuing education and while their professional viewpoints and ambitions are naturally shaped by the traditions and prejudices of their profession, the more intelligent among them learn from war games to consider issues from a wide strategic angle. Thus, though they are not basically different from other Latin Americans, or superior to them, their training and the theoretical problems they have had to face at all levels—particularly at general-staff level—prepare them to regard political questions in a global context.

Latin-American officers belong to a sort of international freemasonry. They attend advanced courses and seminars in various institutes in the United States, Europe, and Latin America, or at the Center for Anti-Subversive Tactics, which the United States has set up in the Canal Zone.

Military Studies chart

These meetings, along with others that are organized by the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty, allow officers from different nations systematically to compare their views and methods. The mutual distrust that understandably exists among members of less homogeneous Latin American professional groups is much less prevalent among the military of different nations.

It could be argued that the armed forces of each of the Latin American countries other than Mexico, once they have become professional and institutionalized, constitute to all practical purposes another political party: no doubt a special kind of party, but in any case, a permanent element of the political scene. They thus become a “spare tire” party, the nation’s last resort when civilian political structures prove unable to surmount a crisis, or to rally contending elements under a single workable authority (15). In this sense, military intervention in politics may be viewed as an “institutional’” step, rather than as a “non-institutional” outside force, as is usually claimed: a predictable step to which the nation resorts whenever it requires exceptional measures to regain its balance, or to clear the ground for a new redistribution of power.

[ editor’s note: What Venezuelans are praying for today: (A, E and D in the above chart), in 2019: for the military high rank to ‘see the light’, and help deliver the country back to them without (or with little) bloodshed (G). Without the help of the higher ranks of military—which so far has not occurred—, this will not happen unless there is more local insurrection (C) or/and external help (B and F) ]
(15) “Latin American militarism should not be blamed on the military. It is due to our {civilian} political movements that have not been able to understand our respective countries and have created {power} vacuums. These vacuums have then been filled by the only organized institution that exists in the Latin American countries”. (Carlos Andrés Pérez, President of Venezuela, press conference, Mexico, March 22, 1975.)

The Venezuelan crises of 1945 and 1948 exemplify these two situations. In 1945, the country’s system of government was immobilized by the oligarchy that had inherited control of the state from Juan Vicente Gómez’s protracted regime and was resolved to stay in power.

Dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, with his appointed successor, Eleázar Lopez Contreras

This oligarchy failed to understand that after the Second World War it was no longer possible to repress the ideas and aspirations of the new middle class or to take for granted the passivity and obedience of the workers and peasants, who were now being worked on by ‘Aprist’ teachings [ see Appendix I of this document] spread by university students and graduates from the middle classes and the provinces. The armed forces stepped in, allowing the Venezuelan Aprist party, Democratic Action, to assume power and initiate an ambitious project of social, economic, and institutional reform. But three years later, the party’s unwillingness or inability to let other groups play a role in the government led to its political isolation. All other sectors in the country came to view Democratic Action’s too-exclusive approach to governing as a threat, a step toward a one-party system that would display all the shortcomings but none of the strengths of the Mexican system. The military stepped in once again, and cut short this threat, real or imagined. Democratic Action made a comeback as the governing party eleven years later. By then it had developed into a much more mature movement, able to take a new approach to the task of governing. This time it drew on the participation of other groups, and a much more stable political system resulted, even though this second chance coincided with the Cuban Revolution, so unsettling to Aprism as a whole.

An interesting variation of this pattern occurs when a military dictator brought to power by a ‘coup d’état’ forgets his position of “delegate of the armed forces” and tries to act as a caudillo, the dictatorial leader of the armed forces. In such a situation, the army usually topples the would-be caudillo first, then withdraws to its barracks, and leaves overt political action to the civilian parties by re-establishing political and civil rights and creating the preconditions for free elections. This description, which explains the need for the “military party” and summarizes its pattern of action, applies to the period of one-half to three-fourths of a century that separated the foundation of professional armies in Latin American countries from the watershed of the Cuban Revolution.

[Fidel] Castro’s success has led the Latin American military to reconsider precisely what elements of a crisis constitute a threat to their unity or even their existence—and a call for a Putsch. To under-stand how much this question means to them we must remember that not only their instinct for survival, but also their esprit de corps and ideology, lead them to view the armed forces as the very heart and cornerstone of the nation. The lessons of the Cuban Revolution—in which the army was dissolved, and its officers were dragged to trials reminiscent of Roman circus games and condemned to death or imprisonment—were not lost on them. They began detecting signs of an impending constitutional crisis—which would implicate them and drag the army into a general collapse of the political system—not only in the familiar power vacuums that had triggered their takeover in the past, but in a wide range of governmental actions or non-actions as well.

Cardinal Augusto De Silva and General Augusto Pinochet

A parallel could be drawn between these “new armed forces” and the “new Church”, which I discussed in Chapter 6. Like the Church, the Latin American army commands have started to face the question of their institutional survival in a new global political context, which elsewhere (i. e., in Cuba) has led to uncontrollable and irreversible change. Not surprisingly, the military have displayed much less subtlety than the church in their maneuvering, and have appraised the situation in tactical terms, and in a regional rather than ecumenical framework. The church operates in much easier and more flexible conditions. It is free to try to adapt itself to the most radical changes, and renege on former commitments when it finds it has sided with a hopeless cause. It can even, when it wishes, establish contacts at the highest level with the “enemy” and negotiate with him as with an equal. It can welcome (or discreetly encourage) individual commitments, and flirt and play along with the “revolution”. It can even allow the preaching of “new wave” policies, for it retains the right at any time to suspend its priests, place them under an interdict, or excommunicate them. But the armed forces know no such flexibility. If they act, it must be in a straightforward manner that commits the institution as a whole, taking on responsibility openly and absolutely, with all the risks this entails. Within these limitations, however, the armed forces have several options, varying in strategy from the Brazilian to the Peruvian pattern of action, which I shall now discuss.

The Brazilian Model

US President John Kennedy and General João Goulart

Well before 1964, the Brazilian Army command had made up their minds on how to lead Brazil to the great future the country had so long been promised but never had reached—a situation that inspired the cruel joke that Brazil was, always had been, and always would remain a country with a great future. The army command developed a clear blueprint for its takeover and future policy, under the influence of a group of high-level civilian lecturers at the War College. These were men who had succeeded in staying aloof from the political disorders that followed the suicide of the civilian caudillo Getulio Vargas in 1954, and also from the attendant period of financial irresponsibility and galloping inflation. The conclusion they reached was that far from a confrontation with the United States, Brazil should seek to become a major economic power in Latin America, friendly to Washington and able to serve as a stabilizing pole and a center for anti-Soviet influence, economic and political.

They were convinced that the United States would look favorably upon Brazil’ s emergence on the scene as a major power, able to relieve the United States of some concerns in this part of the globe. Thus, once Brazil was properly governed, stable, and practicing an ad hoc foreign policy, it could hope to be a Western bastion in the South American continent, drawing active assistance from the United States. One might even imagine Brazil extending its influence to the western coast of Africa and, through Portuguese-speaking Mozambique, to the Indian ocean.

In this connection, I must repeat the observation stressed in the first pages of this book that generalizations about Latin America are not applicable to Brazil. No Latin American country other than Brazil could project itself into the role of a great world power. And yet Brazil shares its Iberian origins, as well as its historic development and its national character with the rest of the continent. Now, the policies of civilians constitute one of the areas in which the Portuguese speaking nation shows the fewest affinities with other Latin-American countries, and where there is the least sympathy, understanding and communication. The policies and actions of Brazilian civilian leaders such as Getulio Vargas, Juscelino Kubitschek, Janio Quadros, or Joao Goulart were difficult to understand in Caracas, Lima, or Buenos Aires. But Goulart’s elimination by the Brazilian armed forces was something Spanish Americans readily understood, and with which the military of other Latin-American countries could readily identify. But for the first time in the twentieth century, the armed forces of a Latin-American country were seizing power without expressing or even implying any intention of returning to “normal” political processes after a certain length of time, a limitation that was often agreed to beforehand.

Thus, they put an end to the consecrated pattern through which the primacy of the Constitution was upheld—even though elections usually served the purpose of bestowing on a de facto President the legitimacy of constitutional recognition. Goulart’s replacement was something very different: the junta that was taking over categorically refused to promise elections, even at some indeterminate future date. The second new and surprising element was the Brazilian military’s firm and immediate resolution to proscribe the whole stratum of high civilian personnel that had manned the key posts of the state in the last decades, thus creating a break, a kind of political ‘cordon sanitaire’, between past and future political leadership. Thirdly, the “revolutionary” military government undertook the ruthless repression of any pre-Soviet political action, whether open or, in the nation’s life, including the universities (16).

(16) This repression has been called Brazilian “fascism”. The Marxist Leninist-Third World ideologists apply this term of opprobrium to any government that tends to oppose pro-Sovietism whatever its position may be on other matters. Correspondingly, they carefully keep from applying the term to any government, however militaristic, repressive, or chauvinistic, whose overall policy happens to serve Soviet strategy.

Roberto Campos, Brazilian economist.

Finally, the new military leaders and their civilian advisers (“technocrats” such as economists Roberto Campos and [Antônio ] Delfim Neto) initiated a new plan of economic recovery. Some have disingenuously argued, and others misguidedly believed, that this plan sought to foster the primacy of the private sector. On the contrary, it was proposed to strengthen the public sector of the economy, which was already very powerful and extensive. It emphasized a program of government guidance that aimed primarily toward controlling inflation, while stimulating and guaranteeing savings and attracting the foreign investments needed to step up exports. This “Brazilian revolution”, as it is called, was conceived by men who viewed the nation’s problems in their totality. Today, after having watched the new policy in effect for twelve years, we would be foolish to deny that it has been fairly successful, in its own terms and deliberately chosen policies, particularly if we bear in mind developments in other Latin-American countries (17).

The military government’s financial policies have given the country the impetus it required for economic growth and have come close to reaching the targets the government set itself. The interior provinces and all the country’s borders have been opened up to travel from the settled coastline by a vast new road network [which began the process of deforestation for the sake of a better economy that now in 2019, is reaching a global tipping point of disaster. But that is a different story]. Until the slowdown of the economy that resulted from the fourfold increase in the price of oil in 1974 (Brazil is a big oil-importer), expansion had progressed at a rate of 10 percent per annum, or more. Inflation was finally brought under control and stabilized at a figure that, although still very high (20 to 25 percent a year), is predictable and manageable. This stabilization has been achieved through a system of readjustments in prices, wages, credits, and bank interest rates that deserves to be widely studied-particularly now [1976], when an inflation rate of 20 percent is no longer characteristic only of Latin America. Universities have been renovated, their productivity has been improved, and priority has been given to scientific and technological training.

At the same time, to check the desperate and violent resistance of the extreme left to its political death sentence, the government has resorted to methods comparable to those used by the most brutal caudillos. From 1971 on, the government might have allowed itself to be less repressive but did not think it expedient (or possible) to dismantle its police apparatus, in which torture and arbitrary treatment had become institutionalized practices. It would seem that in our day only a repressive regime, of one ideological tinge or another, is able to enforce strict curtailment of the purchasing power of the majority of citizens, a limitation that is required for accelerated capital accumulation and rapid economic growth. Between 1964 and 1969, the real earning power of the lowest-paid Brazilian workers fell by 30 percent, while the average earnings of university graduates rose by 50 percent. No doubt this, too, had been planned and worked out prior to the military coup d’tat, and constitutes an essential element of the general design of what has been called the Brazilian model.


Argentinan President Juan Perón

From 1966 to 1970, Argentine officers under the leadership of General Juan Carlos Onganía made an attempt to institute a government on the Brazilian model. They were unsuccessful, for a number of reasons. Argentine society was far less pliable. It had already reached a higher level of culture and consumer expectation than Brazil. Unlike Brazil, Argentina no longer seriously thought that as a nation it had a great destiny. Finally, it had been deeply shaken and intoxicated by the fascist demagogy of Juan Domingo Perón. By 1970 the Onganía government had clearly failed to make Argentina accept the Brazilian formula, and was therefore replaced by another military government, this time of the “constitutionalist” model described earlier: An interim regime designed to transfer power to civilian politicians through elections. In this case, the process resulted in Perón’s restoration in September 1973, as elected President. The example of Argentina, clearly the most successful Latin American country, is proof of the difficulty Latin American culture experiences in overcoming its characteristic neuroses, particularly its inferiority complex vis-à-vis the United States.

Argentina was foremost among Latin American nations in admitting as self-evident the political, social, and economic advancement of North American society compared to its own, and in attempting to adapt North American institutions, laws, and even attitudes and behavior patterns, as a means to its own development, Argentines saw themselves as especially well adapted to this approach, and came to flatter themselves that they were about to succeed. I have already mentioned that the “classic” Argentine Constitution of 1853 was so closely modeled on that of the United States that Argentine jurists faced with constitutional problems have occasionally appealed to North American precedents. Argentina also followed the United States in implementing a policy of open immigration like the United States, it admitted on favorable terms the European capital it needed to finance the infrastructure of its ambitious agricultural development, its railway construction, its ports and cold-storage facilities. Like the United States (and unlike any other Latin-American country), it vigorously encouraged popular education. And Argentina was properly rewarded for all this with a spectacular economic and cultural surge.

By 1910, one hundred years after independence, the country appeared more European than Latin American, entirely free of the slowdown and hopelessness in which the rest of the subcontinent lived. To Argentines’ thinking, their country was on its way to becoming equal and even superior to the United States. However, this policy taken over from a very different society ultimately did not suffice to erase a deeply rooted cultural difference. For Argentina, the period between 1860 and 1910 constituted a half century of illusion as well as of achievement: the country succeeded in achieving a resemblance to the United States, but in fact it resembled the United States only as a hothouse plant resembles its wild sister flourishing in its natural habitat. The Argentine hothouse, the milieu in which the Argentines felt they were building a “southern colossus” able to rival the United States, was in fact an oligarchic democracy whose ruling class was allied to enormously wealthy cattle interests. The Argentine plant grew so well that it ended by smashing through the glass panes of its hothouse ; and out in the native air, exposed to universal suffrage, oligarchic democracy became chaotic democracy, full of inner contradictions, demagogical ineffectual, incapable of holding in check the factions and the forces of disintegration that are characteristic of Hispanic societies. In such circumstances, and in spite of its prosperity, Argentina failed to make the transition from rapid growth and capital accumulation to a wider distribution of wealth and power. In 1933, the United states responded to its great crisis very appropriately, with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Argentina failed to meet the same challenge with a suitable response; instead it experienced a series of convulsions that started with a military coup d’tat that in 1930, led to Perón (1945), and has not ended yet.

The United States was not immune to the virus of fascism, but in the North American context Mussolini’s and Hitler’s gospel proved attractive only to a minority. Roosevelt, an embodiment of the United States’ genius for political self-renewal, rose to the occasion. He conceived a policy that halted the prevailing, self-destructive laissez faire and gave guarantees to the labor movement (already deeply rooted in the States—a native son in no way alienated from North American society as a whole). By contrast, fascism held a great attraction for Argentines, especially army officers like Juan Domingo Perón, who had been a military attaché in Rome and spent a long time with Mussolini’s Alpine troops. Fascism offered a political alternative that not only was radically different from the crushed illusion of successfully emulating the United States, but also was actively anti-North American, antidemocratic, anti-Communist, populist, and nationalist. Here was a “philosophy” able to soothe the wounded pride of a frustrated country.

From 1939 on, Argentine industry had grown rapidly in response to the war situation, which prevented the import of European and North American manufactured goods. This industrial boom was further stimulated by the government through a policy of financial and political support. By 1943, there were more workers employed in industry (the very great majority in Buenos Aires) than in agriculture or ranching. The situation was propitious for Perón. He may not have been the only Latin American officer seduced by fascism, but he was the only one who had Argentina as an operational field and who displayed the daring and political acumen to capitalize on an aspect of fascism or Nazism that is not always sufficiently emphasized today : its ability to galvanize crowds through a mixture of unabashed demagogy and grossly chauvinistic nationalism. Besides, once he was in power, Perón like the other fascist demagogues, showed himself ready to give some substance to his promises to the industrial workers: he improved their working conditions, and gave them higher real wages and a populist style of government.

Juan Peron and Evita Duarte

[Here is how Juan Perón rose to power:] After the military coup of June 1943, Perón was made Director of the National Labor Department—an undersecretary-ship others had turned down. From that apparently modest power base, he set about strengthening the existing labor unions and creating new ones. He also instituted a control system that benefited the unions protected by the Labor Department (that is to say, by himself). As Director of Labor, later as Minister of Labor and Social Security, then as Vice-president, he showed his readiness to settle issues in favor of the working man. As one labor leader put it: “Finally, here is an official who does not automatically side with management, but shares our concerns, resolves our problems, and even teaches us how to watch over our interests!”. Within the government, Perón steadfastly made himself the spokesman of factory workers, recommending labor reforms, housing developments, health and social security programs, and so forth. In two years, he became the most powerful man in the military government. The officers around him grew concerned, and in October 1945, he was dismissed and imprisoned.

Evita Duarte then came into the limelight. Perón’s mistress and a third-rate actress, she showed a real sense of leadership at this critical juncture and organized an enormous demonstration. The workers who took part (los descamisados, “the shirtless ones”) occupied the heart of Buenos Aires and refused to vacate it as long as Per6n was not released. On October 17, Perón was freed. He was unmistakably in control of a new political situation. His first move was to marry Evita. Then he announced his candidacy as the head of a new party in the presidential elections scheduled for February 1946. At first, he called his organization—whose political platform was a loose adaptation of Mussolini’s Fascism— the “Labor party”. Later he gave it the name of Justicialismo. Perón earned the Church’s support by suggesting that the “new Argentina” would encourage a close alliance between the Catholic faith and the state, to check the secular free thinking propagated by foreign liberal and Marxist influences which had been poisoning the fatherland in the last years. The United States Ambassador inadvertently brought more popular votes to the Peronist cause, through public statements announcing his government’s displeasure with the growing success of a notable sympathizer of the Nazi-Fascist Axis. Perón’s triumph at the elections was legitimate, shattering, unassailable. He easily won the presidency, while his party took two-thirds of the seats in the House and all but two in the senate.

At the time of Perón’s accession to the presidency, Argentina had accumulated enormous financial reserves, due to an exceptionally favorable balance of trade during the five years of the Second World War. But in record time he succeeded in turning that surplus into a deficit, through his policy of stimulating consumption and promoting economic activities that flattered Argentine ultra-nationalism but were costly and unproductive. He nationalized public services. The railways, which until then had been making profits under private (foreign) ownership, were soon burdened with skyrocketing operating expenses and in the red. Wages and other benefits for industrial workers were increased by decree, without any consideration of productivity. Consumption was subsidized. To pay for all this, as well as for an extravagant project of industrial self-sufficiency, heavy taxes in the worst Spanish mercantile tradition were placed on the sectors to which the economy owed its prosperity—namely, agriculture and ranching. In general, the relation between costs and sales prices was artificially restructured, to the immediate material and psychological benefit of the “Descamisados” (18). This earned Perón the lasting support of unionized workers in Buenos Aires, who still call a pleasant spring day a “Peronist day”.

(18). One of the negative and irreversible consequences of Perón’s economic policy was to heighten the tendency, ever-present in Hispanic and particularly in Spanish American societies, toward giving up the productive fields of agriculture and ranching for industrial, commercial, and administrative city-based activities. Buenos Aires boomed and became more than ever the parasitic capital of a hyper-cephalic nation.

But Argentina has been practically ungovernable ever since. The crisis that crippled President Isabel Perón’s (19) mandate in June and July of 1975, can be traced to yet another effort by a post-Peronist government to rescue the country from the economic unrealism into which her late husband had plunged it between 1946 and 1950. Evita Perón died in 1952. When he lost her, Perón lost part of what, without any doubt, had been a shared charisma. Although popular in its origins, Justicialismo, like all forms of fascism, tended to be repressive, pretentious, and obscurantist.

(19). Perón’s second wife, who was his Vice President, inherited power on his death in 1974.

General Juan Domingo Perón

It now became a brutal police regime, the daily La Prensa, Argentina’s great paper and one of the foremost in the Spanish language, was banned because of its opposition to the government. Public administration set records for corruption; the state’s incessant interference in private business inhibited the development of any significant economic activity outside government “protection”. Galloping inflation began to erode the earlier, spectacular rise in the real wages of industrial workers. Even Perón’s “Ultra-nationalism” turned against him when he tried to salvage the badly threatened economy by granting oil-prospecting rights to foreign corporations. The Church had been alienate earlier; now the armed forces resolutely turned their back on him, when certain of his friends started talking of the creation of paramilitary brigades comparable to the Nazi S.S. (20).

(20). Thousands of Nazi officers, including Adolf Eichmann, received a friendly welcome in Argentina after the defeat of Hitler’s Germany. Peronist fascism naturally had an anti-Semitic aspect and stressed that Argentina had let itself be contaminated by diverse “cosmopolitan” elements—in particular by the large Jewish minority. The following “poetical” incitation to pogroms appeared in the Peronist magazine El Caudillo as late as May 1975:
“Today is the day we break everything.
Nine o’clock in the evening is the right time.
You are invited to come and destroy the enemy outposts.
When everything is burning, they’ll know whether we meant business or not.
Let the fire join the cries, the cries the night, the night the smoke, the smoke the neighborhood, the flames the flames.
Let us be fire.
The world remembers only that which is brutal and tremendous.
You will be paid a reward for every usurer who runs away in fear.
Bring the torches, the whips, the chains, the tar, the pipes, the bottles, and to be sure, the weapons.
The neighboring kilns will supply the bricks as usual.
Throw stones!
Let them fly!
They will hit the mark!
Let a thousand bricks fly toward the sky,
Each one seeking its own target,
Each on its own trajectory, going through store windows, splintering the panes, the bricks have the floor!!!
For those Jews who die of fear, without being touched,
There will be a double reward.
We recommend piling up at street corners the contemporary horrors that go under the name of art.
Don’t get the pyres mixed up.
Don’t get them confused.
Order is what we want.
To each thing its own stake…
Let us carefully apportion our diverse and motley hate.
Let us separate our black and white hatred.
Fire everywhere!
Let us fire our hatred red-hot.
Our masterly hatred will run the moneylenders from the temple,
That they may have nowhere to come back to….
They have sucked our blood and they have fleeced us.
It is right that they should pay with their blood.
Let us encircle the [Jewish]neighborhood.
None will be allowed to leave without prior notice,
And proper permission.
Feel free to plunder, requisition, do anything you wish…
May a thousand cudgels come down, a thousand skulls crack!
Impure books will be burned separately.
All around, post bills to tell people what is going on.
Let everything be destroyed.
Then we will level the ruins….
In the morning, we’ll meet at street corners.
Cheer the fatherland,
Sing songs of hope.
Shake off the dust a bit.
Say good-bye.
Take up our place in the ranks again.
Breathe in deeply.
Go home again! “
It is difficult to say whether these Peronists were speaking seriously or in jest, but the Argentine officer class had not forgotten Hitler’s success in subduing the Reichswehr.

In September 1955, a military coup d’état removed Perón from power on the grounds or excessive administrative corruption. The descamisados staged a few weak demonstrations in favor of the dictator, under the pitiful slogan “We want Perón, honest or crooked”. Perón temporarily disappeared from the scene, but the irresponsible and corrupt trade-union system he had set up lived on to plague later governments. From his exile, Perón assiduously cultivated and encouraged the most diverse factions at home, leading each to believe that it would eventually have his special blessing when he returned to power.

More of the Same

Many groups took the bait, including the Marxists—­not only the orthodox Communists, but also, starting in 1959, the Castroists and the Guevarists. Because Perón had been anti-North American, and the United States had been anti-Peronist, the Castroists came to look upon the President in exile as a kind of messiah, and upon his delegate, Héctor Cámpora, as his prophet. They seemed to have forgotten the style of Perón’s government from 1946 to 1955, as well as the successive stops he made during his exile, which took him from Stroessner’s Paraguay to Pérez Jiménez’s Venezuela, with a brief stopover in Panama (where he met Maria Estela—”Isabelita”—Martínez); then to Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, and finally to Franco’s Spain, where he settled in 1960. By 1973, the Argentine armed forces had convinced themselves, or had led themselves be convinced by Perón (who certainly offered them guarantees), that there was only one way out of Argentina’s permanent political crisis: Peronist participation in the elections. In Madrid, Perón entrusted his flunky Cámpora with the task of wearing his colors at an election whose outcome was not in doubt. On election day, May 25th 1973, Cámpora appeared at the balcony of the Pink House surrounded by presidents Allende of Chile and Dorticós of Cuba.

On the square below, flags proclaimed “Chile, Cuba: The Argentine people greet you”. Hundreds of Latin American Marxists of lesser stature than Allende or Dorticós had come over as to a new Mecca, and assembled that same evening amid the crowd that surrounded the Villa Devoto prison, waiting for Cámpora’s government to issue its first order, which was the unconditional liberation of the hundreds of underground fighters, the ‘Montoneros’ (“leftist” Peronists), and members of the people’s Revolutionary Army (Guevarists). Cámpora left the scene when he had fulfilled his limited assignment and had made possible the transition from military government to Perón’s return. In leaving, [Cámpora] took on himself responsibility for any “softness “toward the Marxist guerrilleros who for so many years had defied military power. In October, new elections gave the presidency to Perón, with 62 percent of the votes, as compared to Cámpora’s earlier 52 percent.

Press Conference where Peronist Ana Guzatti journalist was denounced for her questions.

Three months later, at a press conference at the Pink House, a 29-year-old leftist Peronist journalist, Ana Guzetti, asked the President this question: “What will be the government’s stand concerning the police groups that are even now busy murdering the members of revolutionary organizations?” Amid the general consternation, and not hiding his anger, Perón replied: “Can you prove what you say?” “The recent murders of popular and labor activists prove it, Mr. President”, Ana Guzetti insisted. On the spot, and in front of the journalists, Perón gave the order to “proffer charges against this young lady.” “Mr. President, I am a Peronist activist”, said Ana Guzetti. “Congratulations, you certainly know how to hide it”, replied Perón. El Mundo, the newspaper that employed Ana Guzetti, was suppressed soon after this on the charge of “encouraging guerrilla activities”. The young journalist found herself unemployed when La Calle, another newspaper where she had found work, was banned for reasons of “state security”. During a mammoth demonstration somewhat later, Perón expressly disavowed the slogans carried by ‘’Montoneros’ and members of the people’s Revolutionary Army, who left the demonstration in protest. This put an end to the illusions of those who seriously believed that Per6n had switched from Fascism to Communism during his stay in Franco’s Madrid.

Argentine Anti-communist Alliance

These details need to be filled in to make clear that the AAA (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance), the rightist terrorist organization—working hand in hand with the police and which is still murdering left-wing activists [1976] —was not the “post-Peronist” creation of José López Rega (Perón’s trusted astrologer and the gray eminence in his last years). An excuse offered by some in the hope of preserving Perón’s image (and Evita’s) for posterity. The AAA was part of Perón’s system of repression. And Perón himself was a brutal and unscrupulous demagogue, one of the most pernicious false heroes of our Latin American history (21)

(21). Ana Guzetti was kidnapped on April 29, 1975, following Perón’s death, presumably by the AAA. It seemed certain she would never be heard from again, because back since the end of 1973, a shocking number of disappearances or murders of left-wing activists have been recorded in Argentina, more than matching the high number of murders, kidnappings, and other acts of terrorism by the extreme left, which has since gone under-ground once again. An “insurrectional focal point” was started in Tucumán province, about five hundred kilometers north of Buenos Aires. Ana Guzetti unexpectedly reappeared alive. Her captors had only beaten her.

The Difficult Task of the Democrats

Rómulo Betancourt, first freely elected president of Venezuela.

Political leaders and statesmen committed to the ideals and achievements of the liberal revolution are not quite absent from the Latin American scene. But their limited reputation, as compared to that of the caudillos, demagogues, and tyrants, serves to prove how little respect the world pays to decency and moderation in politics. In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon mentioned Augustus’s advice to his successors to keep within their inherited boundaries. This counsel of moderation was followed by his immediate successors but transgressed after the accession of Trajan. Gibbon commented: “As long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters“. As long as men reserve their praise, their admiration, and their romantic longings for murderous leaders who dispense with civilized political conduct in the name of “revolution,” while dismissing true democrats as “mere reformers”, Stalin will have more followers than Léon Blum, Clement Attlee, or Walther Rathenau. Fidel Castro and Perón will be ‘in’ and Rómulo Betancourt, Eduardo Frei, Rafael Caldera, and Carlos Andrés Pérez will be ‘out’.

The European or North American reader may not be familiar with these four political figures. They are the most recent exemplary democratic, “reformist” leaders to have held power in Latin America. Frei, who was President of Chile from 1964 to 1970, and Caldera, who was president of Venezuela from 1969 to 1974, are the two most remarkable Christian Democratic leaders of the Western Hemisphere. Betancourt and Pérez have been Presidents of Venezuela, the former from 1945 to 1947 and from 1959 to 1963, the latter since 1974. Both are Social Democrats.

Following the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935, Rómulo Betancourt, who is now nearly seventy years old, set out to create the Venezuelan Aprist party ‘Democratic Action’, which for the last thirty years—alternately in power and in (legal or underground) opposition—has dominated the country’s political life, defined its aims, and helped Venezuela progress toward them.

In his youth, Betancourt was attracted to Marxism-Leninism, but later he switched to the views of Haya de la Torre (22), which he felt were far more adapted to the Latin American situation. Like Haya, Betancourt refused to give the Comintern the kind of servile obedience that the orthodox Communists demanded. He felt not only that automatic alignment with Comintern directives was humiliating, but also that a policy that was dictated from abroad and did not take into account the cultural diversity of nations, was bound to fail. Communists had no standards of judgment beyond the party line that the Soviet Communist party handed down. And since [the 1935] Venezuela lacked a proletariat and was governed by a feudal oligarchy tied to North American power, an orthodox Communist party ‘enfiefed’ to Moscow would have been as powerless and as ill-adapted to the local reality as a polar bear in the tropics. Someday perhaps the general precepts of Marxism-Leninism might apply un-adapted to Venezuela. But in the meantime, and as far as could be foreseen, the only sensible policy—and, indeed, the only policy consonant with true Marxism—was to recognize local conditions as they were. This would involve trying to bring about the reforms required on the basis of a wide coalition, grouping peasants, workers, intellectuals, university students, and progressive business managers: that is to say, any groups or individuals sincerely interested in contributing to modernization.

(22). e.n.: In the book, we are sent to a section in chapter 5. Since here we are only presenting chapter 9, we have included the relevant portion of chapter 5 in question. The chapter is called Latin America and Marxism, and the sections we have included from it are Haya de la Torre and APRA, and Imperialism: the Fist Stage of Capitalism.

The time was ripe. Though Venezuelan society had remained basically rural and feudal, it had been traumatized by the sudden emergence on the national scene of a modem, dynamic industrial sector, the oil industry, which was run by foreigners mainly for their own profit, and which contributed greatly to the development of militant consciousness in the nation.

The contractual arrangements that controlled the exploitation of oil wells showed no concern for the national interest they represented. [This was] Venezuela’s greatest scandal in Juan Vicente Gómez’s day and immediately thereafter. Here was an issue that could be used to unite the great majority of the nation. The political program of the Democratic Action party rejected the system of concessions, through which North American and Anglo-Dutch corporations reaped nearly all the benefits deriving from the oil industry and practically controlled the economy and the life of Venezuela. Betancourt and Democratic Action knew that it would have been utopian to strive for nationalization of the oil industry in the immediate future. But as early as 1943 they saw that they could take advantage of a Congressional debate on new (and less unfair) legislation to reduce the privileges of foreign corporations.

Betancourt at first refused to play a role in a military coup d’état. With the consent of the lesser leaders of Democratic Action, he tried to obtain from the government a promise of constitutional reform that, within a reasonable time, would lead to presidential and legislative elections based on bona fide universal suffrage. When the government gave a scornful reply, it was promptly overthrown.

Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo co-founder of Acción Democrática and OPEC

Rómulo Betancourt became provisional President. The future promoter of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, was appointed to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, responsible for the oil industry as well as for such questions as the price of beans and the size of nails. Strange as it may seem, Venezuela, the world’s third-largest petroleum producer and its largest exporter, did not have a ministry specially concerned with oil. It continued to depend for petroleum statistics and other basic data on the foreign corporations.

A profile of Pérez Alfonzo published by the New York Times in November 1973, when the price of oil rose by some four hundred percent, stressed that this Venezuelan Aprist, far more than any Arab sheik or Persian shah, was responsible for launching the cartel of oil producers. At the same time, OPEC received the most adverse coverage in the press of the oil-importing countries. In fact, OPEC’s action only proved that oil had for years been priced at an absurdly low level, to the short-term advantage of the richest and most industrialized countries in the world. This imbalance played an important role in further stimulating advanced economies, without providing just compensation to the poorer countries that were nominal owners of this scarce raw material. (23)

(23) From the point of view of the oil-importing countries, the only criticism that can rationally be made of the readjustment of the price of oil on the international market is that it was so sudden that it drew the attention of the rich consumer countries too dramatically to their dependence on foreign oil producers. They then began to display some interest in the welfare of the OPEC countries in the future, when there would be less demand for oil as a fuel, or to take the extreme case—when oil as a source of energy would have been altogether superseded by nuclear power [and later, other and cleaner models of renewable energy]. Their concern must be considered suspect, for it would never have occurred but for OPEC. Anyone unduly worried about the distant future should be reminded of Lord Keynes’s dictum “In the long range, we will all be dead”. [Very short sided view, to be sure. This view tries to remind that:] Furthermore, oil is not just, or even primarily, a source of energy it has far more varied and interesting uses in the petrochemical industry and it seems highly improbable that it will lose its usefulness. The long-term problem rather, is how to extend the productivity of the wells and to make the best use of this non-renewable natural resource. Within orthodox economic theory, there is no better guarantee for this than high prices.

The New York Times’ coverage was good journalism, but perforce stated the issue only superficially. Pérez Alfonzo could not have been effective had he not been part of a political project that was elaborated in Mexico in 1924 by the Peruvian Haya de la Torre and introduced in Venezuela in 1945 by Democratic Action. From 1959 on, Venezuela worked to persuade the other oil-producing nations—each of them weak when acting in isolation—to join forces, and to elaborate a common plan of action that would in due course allow a group of small countries jointly to confront consumer groups in the great industrialized nations of the West and Japan. In the same years, the Latin-American Communists, carried away by the success of the Cuban Revolution, attacked more viciously than ever such men as Haya de la Torre, Betancourt, and Carlos Andrés Pérez, branding them as “traitors and running dogs of imperialism”, and throwing themselves heartily into armed struggle, urban terrorism, and the furthering of “insurrectional focal points”. They scorned OPEC, since for them the only correct policy for oil-exporting countries was the total stoppage of all oil exports to Western powers. And if this met with reprisals—economic or military—from the industrialized nations, so much the better! The ultimate aim, the true revolutionary path, was the creation of more Vietnam-style confrontations throughout the world. Any mechanisms for negotiation, for mutual adjustment, for a continuation of cooperation and interdependence between advanced capitalist countries and Third World countries (including the OPEC countries), could only be the despicable invention of the “traitors to History”, comparable to the equally despicable endeavor, on the part of “petit-bourgeois”, democratic, reformist labor unions to improve the standard of living of workers, rather than let them live in misery and hasten the revolution through a general strike.

For several years, the multinational oil companies and the principal oil-importing countries failed to take OPEC seriously. But in 1973, a number of factors suddenly turned in favor of the oil-exporting countries. A false buyers’ market had existed until that time, loaded in favor of the large importers. The price of crude oil had been artificially pegged down to such a low level that the importing nations were able to raise more income from local sales taxes on gas than the exporting countries from the sale of their only natural resource. Overnight the situation changed to a seller’s market. It suddenly became clear that oil had always been underpriced at the source, that it was a nonrenewable resource, the demand for which had been increasing at runaway rates, precisely as a function of the artificially low prices, The low pre-1973 price level was particularly absurd in light of the much higher price, and short current supply of other forms of energy.

The sudden correction of this situation showed Venezuela that its interests had been far better served by Rómulo Betancourt and Democratic Action than Cuba’s had been by Fidel Castro and the Communist party. Strategically, and as an example of how a developing country can gain control of its own natural resources, the nationalization of the Venezuelan oil industry is far more significant than Fidel Castro’s expropriation of the United States-owned sugar industries (24). Venezuela was able to achieve this result without “Vietnamization”, and this is why its palpable success failed to satisfy the Communists. They do not view the nationalization of foreign-owned basic industries as a worthwhile economic goal in itself, or as an affirmation of national sovereignty, but only as a means of confrontation by which to effect a break between the developing countries and the non-Communist, developed countries—a step in the grand strategy of world revolution.

Rómulo Betancourt: The “Anti-Castro”

Rómulo Betancourt: The “Anti-Castro”

In January 1959, when Fidel Castro entered Havana, Rómulo Betancourt had just been elected President of Venezuela, after being in exile for ten years. We should step back to those years and look briefly at the reasons for the overthrow of Democratic Action in November 1948, by the same young officers—majors and captains—who had ushered the party into power in 1945. After three years of Democratic Action government, these officers had come to feel that the crafty Betancourt had got the better of them, that they had borne all the risks while Democratic Action had ended up controlling all the power. Labor unions had proliferated and were becoming aggressive, as were the members of Democratic Action, and by contagion, the civilian population, the “rabble”. The respect and fear that the military uniform had traditionally inspired in Venezuela were vanishing. Perhaps—the officers thought in 1948—this Rómulo Betancourt had been, or still was, secretly a Communist? At the very least he was trying to institute indefinite one-party rule in Venezuela, on the mode of the Mexican PRI. The officers came to doubt their own political acumen.

(24). The Venezuelan nationalization of foreign oil concerns oil concerns became law in August 1975, when Congress ratified the bill proposed by PresidentCarlos Andrés Pérez two months earlier. Take-over of operations went into effect on January 1st, 1976.

The fact is that, under Betancourt, questions of public interest were for the first time in memory discussed freely and democratically, in the streets as well as in the media (Congressional debates were even broadcast over the radio). After having been muzzled throughout fifty years of caudillismo, Venezuelans were stirred and unsettled to an unprecedented degree by this new-won freedom.

The practice of free speech in our subcontinent easily degenerates into personal vilification designed to bring about military intervention against the current government. Far less often does it press for reform or enlighten public opinion. In 1945, Betancourt was only the fourth civilian President in Venezuelan history, except for some insignificant figures delegated by caudillos to play interim roles. Of the three who preceded him (all before 1892), two had been overthrown by military coups d’état.

The fifth civilian President, who immediately succeeded Betancourt’s provisional presidency in 1948, received three-quarters of the vote in the first election in Venezuela to have universal suffrage and a secret ballot. The new President was an intellectual, the novelist Rómulo Gallegos, chosen by Democratic Action to symbolize its rejection of the past and the start of a new era.

But Gallegos was not a politician. He imagined that because, as President, he was commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he would be immune from a coup d’état, for a Putsch would constitute a betrayal of which the Minister of War could not be capable. One of the first objectives of the 1948 coup d’état was the assassination of Rómulo Betancourt, but he managed to escape, take refuge in a foreign embassy and go into exile. Neither his prestige nor that of Democratic Action was diminished by the ruthless repression that lasted until January 1958.

Venezuelan Military dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who after a coup in 1948, held on to power for ten years, by installing a repressive military regime.

By then, the armed forces had grown tired of the political incompetence of the military dictator they had installed, who was forgetting that he owed his position to them and was starting to play caudillo. They staged a coup of the kind I discussed earlier, aimed at re-establishing a new civilian legitimacy, and restore civic freedom. In December 1958 they called an election. This was easily won by Betancourt and his party.

Fidel Castro’s charms at work, in his triumphal New York city visit.

In the interval between Betancourt’s electoral victory and February 1959—date of his inauguration as President—Fidel Castro became the biggest news story not just of Latin America but throughout the world. No Latin-American leader had ever been in this kind of spotlight before. At first, everyone, including the Unites States, acclaimed Castro as an authentic hero, a revolutionary social democrat, a guerrillero David who had vanquished the Goliath of the armed fo­rces, a radical Catholic reformer, a young Hercules set to clean the Augean stables of Cuban politics.

Betancourt remained skeptical. He had met Fidel in Havana, when the Cuban was only a student terrorist— an idealist, no doubt a courageous man, but also an adventurer and an egomaniac. There was no telling how he would develop, now that he had seized power.

In fact, after a few months, the new democracy in Venezuela was caught between two fires. On one side were the old enemies of democracy and liberty in the Caribbean area, the most wily and ruthless of whom was the Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo; on the other were the Venezuelan Castroists, many of them former members of Democratic Action attracted by Fidel’s wonderfully insolent defiance of North American imperialism, and therefore eager to renounce social-democratic, reformist, Aprist ways and to commit themselves to the revolutionary shortcuts advocated by Fidel and Che.

Trujillo, as usual, went straight to the point. He provided the bitter, right-wing enemies of Betancourt and Democratic Action with the means of assassinating the President. In June 1960, a bomb shattered Betancourt’s car, killing the general commanding the President’s military guard, who was sitting in the right front seat. The President, just behind him, received a severe shock, and his hands were badly burned when he tried to open the doors of the blazing car. He nevertheless refused to take any sedative and insisted on being immediately released from the hospital to return to the presidential palace. Two hours after the attempt on his life, he spoke to the country on radio and television. His hands were heavily bandaged, and his pronunciation was blurred because of his swollen, charred lips, but he was fully in control of himself and of the situation.

Romulo Betancourt, after the assassination attempt on his life, speaking to the nation.

Anyone who believes Communist propaganda of the supposed repressiveness of Betancourt’s government should know that when the authors of the bombing were apprehended, they were tried under due process of law and received relatively light sentences. At no time were they ill-treated. So lax were the conditions of their imprisonment that one of them was able to escape by jumping out of the window. Their sentences were reduced for good conduct or through grace or amnesty (25), so that ten years later, all were free men.

(25). The leaders of the Castroist-Communist insurrection against Romulo Betancourt’s Aprist government were also free by 1970. Some are now Congressmen, others newspaper editors, leaders of legal political parties, professional associations, or labor unions, university teachers, well-placed artists and writers. Compare this to Cuba, where thousands of people were shot and hundreds of thousands exiled and where tens of thousands of dissidents are still in jail, including men like Huber Matos, the hero of the Sierra Maestra, condemned to twenty years of hard labor for having questioned Fidel Castro’s pro-Sovietism.

Although steadily opposed to all that Trujillo stood for in Caribbean and Latin-American politics, Venezuelan Communists were at this particular juncture (1960) unremittingly hostile to the successful social-democratic reformer who so consistently had bested them. Their hatred of Betancourt was fueled by their regret that paralyzed as they were, by having to follow the erratic course of Soviet orthodoxy, they had not seen in Fidel Castro, prior to his triumph, anything more than a “petit-bourgeois adventurer”, whose antics ran dangerously counter to the popular-front line reintroduced by Moscow in 1955 (26).

(26). See pp.123-24 of this book.

By contrast, the Communist party had been a model of moderation in the interregnum between January 1958 (when the military dictator Marcos Perez Jiménez was ousted by his fellow officers) and Betancourt’s election in December. During those eleven months, the Communist party played the role of ardent defender of democracy and followed a popular-front soft line. Its members had pinned their hopes on helping to elect a candidate who, they felt, could be maneuvered into policies carefully tailored to profit Soviet aims without unduly provoking the United States.

Now, in 1959 and 1960, they were beginning to understand that they might well have let slip a unique opportunity when they failed to attempt to seize power during the interregnum. With a degree of boldness, they might have assumed the leadership of a loose, “progressive” coalition quite uninterested in any democratic electoral mandate—a pattern that would have paralleled Fidel’s during the early months of 1959. We will never know whether they would have been successful in installing a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, as Fidel Castro was to do one year later in Cuba. But after Fidel’s success they thought that they might at least have made the attempt. Having missed their chance, they now resolved to apply the strategy of the insurrectional focal point, based on the Cuban example.

Fidel Castro, in his attempt to start a generalized revolutionary process in Latin America, was perfectly conscious of the strategic importance of Venezuela and its oil, and provided Venezuelan Communists with all the help he could—sending arms, money, and even a group of Venezuelan guerrilleros trained in Cuba and officered by veterans of the Sierra Maestra.

Guerrilleros in the hills around Caracas

Today everyone has agreed that this gambit was deplorable, including those who took part in it. The violence that ensued was almost as costly as an all-out civil war. There were innumerable terrorist attacks, and much bloody skirmishing and fighting, both in the cities and in certain rural zones that had been selected as insurrectional focal points. Sizable insurrections broke out in a period of five weeks on two naval bases led by officers who either had been secretly active in the Communist party for a long time or had been won over by the Cuban Revolution.

Betancourt had to spend most of the time during his nearly five years of government holding Venezuelan democracy together. He had to reckon not only with attacks from within, but also with a widespread, international slander campaign, which was meant to present him to the world as the “anti-Castro,” which he certainly was, and as a monster of repression who had sold out to the North Americans, which he was not.

Betancourt and the Venezuelan people should be understood as sharing the Aprist search for a truly Latin American policy, progressive without being subservient to the Soviet strategy elaborated in 1920 (27). Hence the need, from the Communist point of view, to discredit Betancourt and his party by any and all means, including distortions and outright lies.The pro-Castro, anti-Betancourt propaganda campaign was particularly virulent in France, which, for reasons rooted in its own character and history, was drawn to the Cuban Revolution. Castro’s success proved that there were limits to North American power and pointed to a certain ambiguity in the North American‚ “anti-colonialist” stance. France’s humiliation in Indochina was not long past, and the dream of Algerie française was in the process of being liquidated.

‘Robin des Bois de la Sierra’ (Robin Hood of the Sierra (Maestra)

The French press was unanimous in its pro-Castroist reaction. L’Aurore and Paris-Match, as well as L’Express, Le Monde, Les Temps modernes, and of course the Communist L’Humanité, all viewed Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as the avengers of France’s humiliations. Such an endorsement, when given by the right, was totally irrational—but the right is by definition visceral and non-rational. The liberals, “the men of good will” were in sympathy with Castro, from bias or misinformation. And naturally, the many who feel the world is a little better off with each new American setback, and with each success of Soviet foreign policy, greeted Fidel and El Che as the apostles of the rising anti-North American revolution in Latin America. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his 1964 letter to the Swedish Academy refusing the Nobel Prize, saw fit to make an allusion to the heroic (Communist) Venezuelan guerrilleros and the horrible (social democratic) Venezuelan government. In his eyes, Betancourt had committed the crime of failing to declare his solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, as another Latin American social democrat Allende was to do much later, out of vanity and weakness. The crime of which Sartre accused Venezuela was that of defending itself against an utterly unjustifiable insurrection imported from abroad. Sartre entirely ignored the fact that Venezuela had just begun to enjoy an era of liberty and popular reform and had made considerable progress toward freeing itself from foreign economic dominance. Significant reforms attest to this purpose: Venezuela’s membership in OPEC, the final suspension of further petroleum concessions to foreign corporations, and the setting up of a national oil company that some fifteen years later was to help make possible the full nationalization of the oil industry.

Betancourt succeeded in defeating the insurrection toward the end of his tenure. The next elections (1963) were won by a Democratic Action candidate (Raúl Leoni), and those of 1968 by the candidate of the main opposition party, the Christian Democrat Rafael Caldera.The 1973 elections brought another Aprist candidate to the presidency, Carlos Andrés Pérez, Rómulo Betancourt’s Minister of the Interior during the most trying moments of the Castroist-Communist insurrection twelve years earlier. He is Venezuela’s President today. Pérez, like Betancourt, was called names that would far more aptly have suited the present Chilean ruler, General Pinochet, and eve more, Fidel Castro. But Castro is exempt from such opprobrium. When he disregards basic human rights, on a much larger scale, and with effects far more lasting than the Chilean dictator, he does so in the name of the Revolution.Under Pérez’s presidency, the aims set by the Venezuelan Aprist movement for the country have very nearly been reached. Citizens have been given their basic civil rights, financially the country is very prosperous, income from oil has quadrupled, and the oil industry has come under state control. This last point has earned the praise or the soviet press and Fidel Castro. Communists are realists, who know that fallen martyrs such as Allende can be put to good use, but that live rulers are far more immediately interesting—especially when, like the Venezuelan social democrats, they have proved tough and durable [And are sitting on such a rich subsoil].

The Chilean Experience

Jorge Alessandri – President of Chile, Engineer, businessman and politician. Presidentf from 1958 to 1964. Senador between 1957 and 1965 and Representative between 1926 a 1930. Served in various ministries.

“In one hundred and fifty years of independence, Chile had succeeded in evolving a common national sense of values shared by the great majority of citizens. This common ethos was communicated within the family, in school, during military service, in the office…throughout the whole of social life. It was a common code that provided the mental foundation of the Chilean people…to an extent unparalleled in any other {Latin American} countries. A historical conscience progressively developed which was clearly perceived by the soul of the nation. Chileans were convinced that theirs was a great country, strengthened by ethnic homogeneity, by a demanding system of education, by a spirit of tolerance that so far had reigned for one hundred and fifty years. Except for brief spells, the country had been governed by democratic regimes.

“The house of representatives had functioned from the start of independence and was one of the oldest in the world. Positions of public trust were filled by election, and this process lent legitimacy to leaders as well as to their policies. The Chilean educational system enjoyed a well-earned prestige. Soon after independence, scholars from abroad, such as Andrés Bello, [Domingo Faustino] Sarmiento, [Alexander Von]Humboldt, [Jean-Gustave] Courcelle-Seneuil, and many others, had taught at Chilean universities… The primary and secondary education systems had enlisted the assistance of German, French, English, and Spanish educators. The armed forces were modeled on the German, and later on the North American model and the navy underwent British training. In short, the country had the foresight to open itself to the outer world and to take advantage of the cultural assets of the West.

“The Chileans were patriotic, intelligent, well educated, courageous, skilled negotiators. They had a reputation for humor, and for a manifest openness to new ideas: above all they were respectful of their constitution and of the law. They respected religious opinions different from their own. Their Civic sense had earned them the nickname of The English of Latin America” (28).

(28) .Gonzalo Martner, “Chile, mil días de una economía sitiada” (“Chile, a Thousand days of Siege Economy”), Caracas, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Facultad de Economia, 1975, pp. 1s78-79.

It is remarkable that this eulogy to the Chile we have lost came from the pen of one of the main actors in the political drama that in three years, from 1970 to 1973, put an end to the order he was praising. For Gonzalo Martner was in charge of national planning throughout the administration of Salvador Allende. A man who at his inauguration as President was given charge of the country just described by Martner, and who, three years later, handed to posterity the Chile Pinochet governs today [editor’s note: remember, this essay was originally published in 1976].

Of course, Martner’s purpose in proposing his full argument was quite different. He was trying to prove that Chile’s national tragedy was due not to Allende and his collaborators, including Martner himself, but to the unjust and perverse resistance of others. He placed the blame on opponents, from inside and outside, of Allende’s attempt to transform Chile into a Communist country—though he had received a very slim electoral victory—and was stretching to the breaking point the limits defined by the Constitution. These limitations on Allende’s power and his “tolerance” of opposition were in no way gracious concessions on his part, as has been argued, but were due to Chile’s legal framework and to the pluralism and tendency toward law abidance that Martner recognized as typical of pre-Allende Chile.

But, as Jean-François Revel said in commenting on Allende’s performance, “a statesman worthy of the name should not be surprised to find that his enemies oppose him”. He cannot complain that “those I sought to destroy failed to give me their support” (29). The same European and North American “progressives” who had vilified the Aprist Rómulo Betancourt and Carlos Andrés Pérez, from 1959 on, because they would not allow Venezuela to follow in the footsteps of Cuba or Vietnam, now applauded the Aprist Allende when he foolishly adopted the pose of a “second Fidel”, although this involved a course of action that by 1970 had lost all attractiveness and relevance, and was less justified in Chile than in any other Latin American country.

(29) “Faut-il se taire?” (Must we keep quiet), L’Express, Paris, no. 1213, October 21-27, 1974, P.54.

The society described by Gonzalo Martner hardly needed to yield to the enticements or the interference of the distant, primitive Cuban adventurer, already discredited by more than ten years of personal dictatorship and subservience to Soviet world strategy. Salvador Allende failed to secure the absolute majority of the vote required for election to the presidency on the popular ballot. He obtained 36.2 percent or the votes, slightly more than the Conservative candidate, Jorge Alessandri (34.9 percent). The Christian Democratic candidate, Radomiro Tomic, ran a poor third (27.8 percent) (30).[By law] In Chile, when no one candidate received an absolute majority, Congress was called upon to make the final choice between the two candidates who had polled the highest percentage of votes.

In the 1970 electoral bind, the Christian Democrats could have allied themselves to the Conservatives and elected Alessandri without violating either the spirit or the letter of the Chilean Constitution. This situation paralleled the French elections of 1973, in which the partisans of Chaban-Delmas preferred to give their votes to Giscard d’Estaing, rather than to François Mitterrand, who had polled the strongest minority vote in the first ballot. The French and, until 1970, the Chilean constitutional systems both aimed at defining a consensus solution, in a democratic spirit of compromise and agreement. Alessandri proposed an arrangement of this kind to the Christian Democrats. Frei, the Christian Democrat who enjoyed the greatest prestige and was accepted not only by the majority of his party, but also by a majority of his countrymen, had been barred from the 1970 presidential race, since the Chilean Constitution ruled out the immediate re-election of an outgoing President. And the Conservatives viewed Tomic’s position as so close to Allende’s, so far to the left, that they concluded that a candidate of their own would be more attractive and would draw a plurality of votes.

The French and, until 1970, the Chilean constitutional systems both aimed at defining a consensus solution, in a democratic spirit of compromise and agreement. Alessandri proposed an arrangement of this kind to the Christian Democrats. Eduardo Frei, the Christian Democrat who enjoyed the greatest prestige and was accepted not only by the majority of his party, but also by a majority of his countrymen, had been barred from the 1970 presidential race, since the Chilean Constitution ruled out the immediate re-election of an outgoing President. And the Conservatives viewed Tomic’s position as so close to Allende’s, so far to the left, that they concluded that a candidate of their own would be more attractive and would draw a plurality of votes.

It now seemed probable that, in line with an unbroken tradition, Congress would ratify Allende’s plurality, and thus select a President who would surround himself with men quite ready to bury Chilean democracy. To prevent this, Alessandri proposed to the Christian Democrats an arrangement that was in agreement with the letter of the Constitution, and quite in line with the “British” genius for intelligent compromise that Martner attributes to pre-Allende Chileans: he asked the Christian Democratic Congressmen to help elect him, in return for which he would immediately resign, thus creating a situation which Frei would again be legally entitled to run, and would doubtless beat Allende by polling more than 50 percent of the popular vote. This calculation miscarried by a narrow margin (30). Six years earlier, the Christian Democrat Frei had polled 57 percent of the popular votes against 38.5 percent for Allende, who in 1964 was already the candidate of a Socialist-Communist coalition.

The Christian Democrats turned down this solution, after heated discussion, and thus must bear a considerable burden of responsibility before history: this proved to be their last opportunity to forestall the coming tragedy. Allende himself could have other opportunities to avoid disaster, but he too, neglected them.

Eduardo Frei, President of Chile from 1964 to 1970

Eduardo Frei’s had been a sound government, widely representative of his country as a whole and very much in the progressive and sophisticated tradition of Chilean democracy. Frei was aware that he owed his election in 1964 largely to the support of the Conservatives, who had agreed not to enter a candidate of their own for fear of splitting the anti-Allende vote and opening the door to his Marxist Popular Unity. Frei nonetheless put into effect a series of reforms that can only be described as Aprist (31).

(3I). Some Chilean or Venezuelan Christian Democratic political theorist should undertake a study to show in what way the two Christian Democratic regimes in Latin America (Frei’s in Chile and Caldera’s in Venezuela) differ from Aprism. The most notable difference seems to be the social origin and the schooling of the leaders (as well as their idiosyncrasies, which are accidental). The Christian Democratic leaders practically all stem from the middle bourgeoisie. Their higher social origin is reflected in a better formal education; they have attended Catholic schools and colleges and owed their early political commitments not to the influence of Marx and the Mexican Revolution, but to that of enlightened priests, the papal encyclicals that dealt with social problems, and the work of such Catholic writers as Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier. The ultimate aim of their political action is a millenarian dream, a society that will combine Christian solidarity with an ill-defined but non-oppressive collectivism that they refer to as to the principle of “communal property” (propiedad comunitaria). But when they came to power, their concrete measures of reform and their conception of national goals were practically identical with what Haya de la Torre had been proposing since 1924. In their youth these Christians had viewed Marx as the devil incarnate. Now, like the Aprist social democrats, they openly endorsed some theoretical aspects of the Marxist-Leninist-Third World perspective [the more purely Marxist components]. Following the death of Pius XII, they saw in the flexible policy the Vatican adopted vis-a-vis Marxist ideology and the Communist empire an encouragement to synchronize their action with the development of Marxism-Leninism-Third World-ism in Latin America and throughout the world. This position, in line with world trends, has greatly increased their recently won popular acceptance.

Frei “Chileanized” the copper mining and refining industry, with the government acquiring 51 percent of ownership; he launched a significant and well-conceived program of agrarian reform and encouraged a policy of industrial growth and diversification, as well as a more equitable distribution of wealth. His government, which was too radical for the Chilean right, was too moderate for the left wing of his own Christian Democrat party. That Frei’s policies met with opposition from the extremes or the political spectrum indicates that he stood in the centrist mainstream of Chilean politics, and that he gave his country a sound and realistic political orientation based on the realities of Chilean, Latin American, and world politics between the years 1964 and 1970.

The divergences between the centrist-oriented Frei and the leftist Tomic, and the desire, natural in any group, to shake off the authority of a leader too long in power, led the Chilean Christian Democratic party to turn down Alessandri’s proposal. As soon as the result of the popular vote was known, Tomic rushed to congratulate the Marxist candidate in front of photographers and journalists, as if his triumph were already a certainty. Frei was not in a position to censure Tomic: this would have seemed self-serving and counterproductive in the climate of civic courtesy that then still dominated Chilean politics. All that Allende’s opponents could do was to place certain conditions on his ratification by Congress, by way of a constitutional reform protecting freedom of expression, education, and worship, and guaranteeing governmental noninterference in military affairs. Before this, no one in Chile had thought that such special guarantees were necessary. The fact that they were now rushed through shows how general was the conviction that Allende was committed to subverting the open, democratic society in Chile, which was based on the rule of law, tolerance, and mutual respect, and to replacing it with a Marxist-Leninist society largely structured on the Cuban model.

Even then Allende could still have saved Chile—and himself. Tomic’s victory over Frei in the final Congressional vote that gave Allende the presidency implied that the Christian Democrats were willing to cooperate in the evolution of Chilean society toward democratic socialism during Allende’s presidential term. This agreement provided the new President with a basis for a tacit alliance with Tomic’s party on the many issues about which they were of one mind. No doubt such an alliance would have led to disaffection on the extreme left wing of the Popular Unity coalition, as well as on the right wing of the Christian Democratic party. And had Allende followed this wise course, international opinion would not have hailed him as a “revolutionary”. Like Rómulo Betancourt and Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1960 to 1963, he would have been berated as a “traitor to the proletariat” and accused of “selling out to imperialism,” et cetera. He might even have had to repress some shows of violence by the extreme left, comparable to those the social-democratic Venezuelan government had had to face ten years earlier. But he would still be alive today, and Chilean democracy with him. And the world would never have heard the name of General Pinochet.

Oil on the Fire

Salvador Allende, President of Chile 1970-1973

Allende apparently never gave even cursory consideration to the possibility that the Christian Democratic party might be ready to meet the new administration halfway. From the very first day he showed himself uncompromising, unreasonable, and condescending. He may have adopted this stance out of vanity and weakness of character, giving in to Guevarist fashion (“one, two, three many Vietnams”). In any case, his actions show that he did not think of himself simply as a President within the country’s democratic, reformist tradition, but, rather, as being destined to achieve a social and institutional break with the past, a revolution. It was usual in Chile for a new President to try to conciliate those who had not voted for him, to put aside partisanship and take on the role of “the President of all the Chileans”. Allende launched his presidency by refusing to abide by this tradition and announced that he would not be the President of all the Chileans but would start from the principle that Chilean society was characterized by an unbridgeable class conflict. He intended to be a partisan in that conflict.

True to his word, Allende put into practice, or allowed others to put into practice, a number of measures designed to “awaken the conscience of the people “, that is, deliberately to exacerbate the class struggle (32). He was fully successful in this, but successful beyond his hopes, drawing all Chileans, not just the “proletariat,” into active, violent confrontation. After three years of his rule, 40 percent of the Chilean population had come to argue passionately that, the other 60 percent constituted an impassable obstacle to the nation’s progress and happiness. No doubt Allende had succeeded in creating considerable “class consciousness” among those 40 percent. But the other 60 percent can hardly be blamed for viewing with alarm the future as “insects” (Lenin) or “earthworms” (Fidel Castro), that awaited them if Popular Unity effectively succeeded in its stated purpose of irreversibly revolutionizing Chilean society.

(32). Witness an astounding “state visit” by Fidel Castro in 1971 that lasted almost a full month, during which he traveled from one end of the country to the other, haranguing the crowds as if he, not Allende, were the President of Chile.

Castro on a State visit to Chile, with Allende in tow.

This is how the country described by Martner was transformed into an unrecognizable Chile, in which the majority were so desperate that they greeted the coup d’etat of September 1973 with joy and relief; even today this segment of the population would for the most part be found more willing to put up with the regime of General Pinochet than with the prospects held out by Allende. As for Allende’s achievements only one seems unquestionable: he did succeed in convincing all Chileans that, in accordance with Marxist theory, class conflicts admit of no compromise, and that one part of society can hope to progress only by destroying the values, beliefs, and way of life of the others. But this scenario can be played out in reverse and to the detriment of the “proletariat.”

The proposed victims, foremost among them the officers of the armed forces, can take the initiative if convinced that they are acting preventively and in self-defense. Allende and his collaborators carry the full responsibility for that outcome.

The pro-Allende rhetoric in Chile and throughout the world during the years 1970-73, and even more, the interpretation given to events after the September 1973 military coup, suggests that the Popular Unity movement acted democratically, almost naïvely while it was in power, and that it fell victim to its own exemplary patience, to its resolve to respect legality when faced with unscrupulous enemies. Indeed, the regime may have tried to follow legal forms—but only because Chilean institutions and traditions would have tolerated no other approach. Popular Unity had no other choice but to proceed indirectly and stealthily in its attempt to transform the presidency, with its limited constitutional power, into a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. At no time was the Allende government as candid as some would have us believe. If Allende stayed as close as he could to the letter of the law, out of principle, while acting as much as possible against its spirit, it was not out of principle, but in order to insure the support, or at least the neutrality, of the armed forces. All the while, he allowed the foundations of Chilean democracy to be sapped by indirect non legal channels. And even those disingenuous tactics, while accepted (or inspired) and supported by the Communist party were openly criticized as too soft by some members of Popular Unity and even by some important figures in the Socialist Party of which Allende was the nominal leader.

Carlos Alta-Firano, Secretary General and real boss of the party, openly urged the government to prepare for the inevitable civil war that was in any case needed to lay the bases of true revolutionary power. The extreme left of Popular Unity—consisting of the small parties ‘Movement of the Revolutionary Left’ (MIR), ‘Organized Vanguard of the People’ (VOP), and Unified Popular Action Movement (MAPU)—shared this perspective. As Régis Debray imprudently revealed in 1971(33), Allende himself privately admitted that only tactical differences existed between himself and Fidel Castro or Che Guevara: unlike his Cuban friends, he was obliged temporarily to respect “bourgeois legality”, for reasons specific to the Chilean situation. The systematic erosion of legality belies the propaganda presenting the Popular Unity government as a model of democracy.

(33). Entretiens avec Allende (Conversations with Allende),Paris, Maspero, 1971.

The steady deterioration of Chilean democratic institutions has been most authoritatively analyzed by ex-President Eduardo Frei, in a report to the World Union of Christian Democracy (34). In this report, Frei stressed that throughout the period under discussion, Popular Unity remained a minority group in Congress, in city governments, and in local, professional, and farmers’ organizations. He pointed out that by 1973 Allende had lost the majority he had initially secured in the industrial and mining unions, including those of the cop-per mines, which are Chile’s principal asset. In popular polls, the highest percentage of votes ever attained by the Allende coalition was 43 percent (in March 1973). “The degree of the government’s tampering with these elections knew no precedent in Chile’s history: it made use of the State’s administrative machinery, used enormous financial means, and exerted pressure… including violence, not to mention documented fraud affecting at least 4 or 5 percent of the votes, the government having printed thousands of false identity cards”. Allende’s partisans, being a minority, were perforce limited in the means they could use to convert Chile into a dictatorship.(

(34) Report dated November 8, 1973, addressed to Mariano Rumor, President of the Italian Christian Democratic party and of the World Union of Christian Democracy.

“Yet”, Frei continues, {they} “openly flaunted the laws, never hesitating to disregard legal decisions. Whenever they were defeated at a union, or student election they refused to recognize the majority decision, and set up a parallel organization endorsing government policy, which the government from then on protected while it persecuted the other organization sprung from legitimate elections…. In their attempt to gain control, they even envisaged replacing Congress with a ‘Popular Assembly’ and setting up popular tribunals, some of which were actually functioning [by the time of the coup d’état]…They also presumed to modify the educational system so as to replace it with a training program in Marxist consciousness”.
Frei went on to describe the resistance with which the majority of Chileans soon met these measures, and the growing discontent among opposition parties, unions, other popular organizations, professional associations, the press, and so forth. The Church attempted to remain neutral, and even sought to establish institutional cooperation with the government, comparable and parallel to that of the armed forces, but finally balked when Allende sought to place education squarely at the service of Marxist ideology.
The Supreme Court unanimously found the executive branch guilty of refusing to recognize the decisions of the courts. The Inspectorate of the Treasury denounced a number of actions and decisions of the executive as illegal. For three years the majority of Congressmen formulated grievances against the executive. To top it all, when constitutional reforms were approved, President Allende refused to promulgate them, and persisted in his refusal even though the judiciary arbitrated the quarrel in favor of the legislative branch.
According to Frei, by mid-1973 it could no longer be doubted that the Popular Unity minority government had resolved to install a totalitarian dictatorship, and that it was progressively moving in this direction:
“The parties represented in the government no longer hid their purpose. The Secretary General of the Socialist party openly called on the soldiers and sailors to disobey their officers and incited them to rebellion, as did other [minority] parties in power [the MIR, the VOP, and the MAPU]; they did this so clumsily that the Communist party itself… manifested its disagreement even though its position… did not differ in regard to the ends to be reached, but only as to the means to follow.
“Two more key factors have to be taken into consideration: 1: Once the new Allende administration had taken over, thousands of representatives of the {violent} extreme left from all parts of Latin America converged toward Chile. Tupamaros from Uruguay, guerrilleros from Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and from other countries. The Cuban Embassy became a veritable ministry with a staff that outnumbered… the total number of employees working at the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in I970…. Men known throughout the continent for their guerrilla activities were promptly integrated into the civil service and spent their time mostly on paramilitary instruction, setting up guerrilla training camps on Chilean territory to which even members of the armed forces were denied entrance.
2: The accelerated smuggling of weapons of all sorts, not only automatic rifles, but also heavy arms such as machine guns, high-power bombs, mortars, antitank guns of recent models, ambulances, and a full complement of logistical communications equipment…et cetera. The Chilean Army had never seen hardware of this sort, produced in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. {The infrastructure of} a full-fledged parallel army was thus set up. What democracy could survive such a situation?” (35). None, of course, and the answer to Frei’s rhetorical question is that Chilean democracy was doomed, one way or another, from the moment the Christian Democratic party rejected Alessandri’s proposal and opened the door to Allende’s ascension to the presidency in 1970.

(35) Ibid.

From the Breakdown of the Economy to the Breakdown of Democracy

Only considerable economic success could have persuaded Chile to put up with the political abuses of the Popular Unity government, but the Allende administration proved utterly inept in economic matters. When Frei left the presidency, Chile was standing by all its international obligations; it had accumulated reserves amounting to five hundred million dollars—an unprecedented figure. During the last two years of Frei’s mandate, the country had contracted no foreign debts other than those destined for capital investment.When it was learned that the Christian Democrats would cast their votes for Allende in the final congressional vote for the presidency, the economic situation immediately took a turn for the worse. And the responsibility for this economic deterioration, which began even before Allende’s inauguration, lies with Popular Unity. This was the natural reaction or a free-enterprise system that had just learned it would soon be cornered and throttled by an incoming government.

Allende’s first economic measures included a general wage increase, the freezing of prices, the setting of an unrealistically high fixed official rate of exchange for the national currency and a considerable increase in public expenditures, largely invested in the acquisition of private enterprises. The appropriation of private businesses was carried out at a steady pace through a variety of means. The stock market panicked, so that the government was able to acquire control of many corporations by buying up their shares at nominal cost. Other corporations, whose shares were not quoted on the stock market, were disrupted by endless strikes, which were organized to justify the state’s interference on the basis of reactivating production. Agriculture experienced the same kind of strangulation as private industrial activity. As was to be expected, the copper mines, which represented practically the single source of foreign exchange, were expropriated. The state took over the 49 percent of the stock still in foreign hands and assumed direct control over their administration.These measures led to a sudden rise in the purchasing of consumer goods, both domestic and imported—at artificially low prices—which were in fact subsidized by the state through the arbitrarily high rate of the Chilean escudo, supported by a hemorrhage of foreign-currency reserves.

These measures led to a sudden rise in the purchasing of consumer goods, both domestic and imported—at artificially low prices—which were in fact subsidized by the state through the arbitrarily high rate of the Chilean escudo, supported by a hemorrhage of foreign-currency reserves. Naturally, this at first created a feeling of euphoria. Productivity remained low, but employment figures and production rose temporarily. The real purchasing power of salaries rose by nearly 30 percent.

But this mini-boom during the first months of 1971 reflected only the dissipation of reserves, the spending of wealth built up in previous years. During the second half of the year, the discrepancy between production costs and prices—further compounded by the stagnation or actual decline of production in industry, agriculture, and cattle breeding—inevitably resulted in shortages and in the development of a black market. In 1970, the last year of the Frei administration, Chile had had a positive balance of payments of 91 million dollars; in 1971, there was a deficit of 315 million dollars. In November 1971, after a year of the Allende administration, Chile had to declare itself insolvent and asked for a moratorium on its foreign debts (36).

(36) It is true that following the expropriation (without compensation) of the North American mining companies Anaconda and Kennecott, certain foreign sources of credit, including the World Bank and the Export-Import Bank, stopped extending loans to Chile. But it is wrong to point to this as the chief cause of Allende’s economic difficulties. Bankruptcy was rendered inevitable by the economic measures Allende took early in his tenure, in particular by his sudden stimulation of consumption while production leveled off. Further, the Popular Unity government succeeded in securing such sizable loans abroad (from other Latin American countries and from Western Europe) that Chile’s foreign debt rose by 800 million dollars in three years. The Chile of Popular Unity had difficulties raising loans in the Communist World: These countries contributed only 9 million dollars in loans in 1970 and barely 40 million in 1973. (See Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress [ICAP], Internal Efforts and Foreign Financial Needs for Chile’s Development, Washington, D.C., 1974.)

One month later, the artificial value of the escudo began to crumble: the central Bank of Chile could no longer support the national currency. In one year, the government doubled the amount or paper currency in circulation to finance its programs.
(37). Private investments, national and foreign, had fallen to zero. The state had invested its assets mostly in nationalizing existing sectors of production. It had added practically no new sources of production to the economy. A majority of the professional and highly skilled members of society were by now shaken and demoralized. A large number were in opposition to the government. Many chose to emigrate (26 percent of the country’s engineers, for example).

(37) In September I970, at the end of Frei’s mandate, the free market rate of the dollar was 20 escudos. At the time of Allende’s fall, a dollar was worth 2,500 escudos on the black market.

The seriousness of the economic crisis that Allende had created soon became apparent. Inflation had at first been artificially contained, while unbearable pressure built up on the Chilean escudo. But by mid-1972, prices exploded. Between June and December of that year, the consumer price index increased fourfold. This figure was to double again before Allende’s fall. Besides, this index was purely theoretical. Many of the goods it listed could only be found on the black market, at prices that were much higher than listed and that truly reflected the deterioration of the currency. In September 1972, industrial production began to drop in absolute terms—a trend that continued until the end. Agricultural and livestock production in the third quarter of 1973 was 25 percent below what it had been before Allende’s rise to power (38).

(38) One stroke of ill luck for Allende between 1970 and I972 was to see the average price of copper fall from $0.64 to $0.49 per pound. But in 1973 the price rose to $0.80 per pound, and even this near-doubling in the price of Chile’s chief export could not stop the national bankruptcy.

As for the copper mines, the Popular Unity regime had hoped that once this key industry was taken over by the state, the “super earnings” that had supposedly been kept secret by the foreign companies would suddenly appear. In fact, the state administration not only proved inefficient, but also had to meet the miners’ demands for higher wages and improved conditions, which they had been led to expect instantly by decades of Marxist propaganda. In this as in other sectors, the “Chilean road to socialism” found itself encouraging higher consumption at a time when production and productivity were falling. In May 1973, the government made a belated effort to peg the rate of increase of miners’ salaries down to that of the price index; the result was a disastrous strike that lasted two and a half months, and a miners’ march on Santiago.

Chilean workers began striking in all sectors

The first serious crisis of the Chilean Marxist experience had occurred the year before, in 1972, when the truckers staged their first strike. The government described this as a truck owners’ lockout. In fact, it was a gesture of despair on the part of thousands of small truckers, owners of only one or two vehicles, who were threatened with ruin by the government’s resolve to set up a state transport company. This strike sparked off the “class consciousness” of Chileans who disagreed with the new administration’s orientation. What had begun as a limited strike soon spread to taxi and bus drivers, tradesmen, doctors, nurses, dentists, airplane pilots, engineers, and even farmers. The Christian Democratic party, by now thoroughly aroused, gave its full support to this nation-wide explosion of discontent. It is said that the CIA provided financial aid to the truckers-which is perfectly possible, as is the allegation that it supported the opposition newspapers, which the government was attempting to ruin by reducing, and later by suppressing, advertising. Such acts of interference in the domestic affairs of a foreign country, intolerable as they are in themselves, should be viewed in conjunction with the matching interference from the other side, which Frei mentioned in his letter to Mariano Rumor.

The Chilean Marxist experience can rightfully be blamed for having created a climate of civil war in which dirty tricks had become commonplace. And this in a country that until then had been a model of decency in the never-very-innocent field of politics. Be that as it may, the government lost the strike and was forced to give a number of key posts in the Cabinet to military officers before the truckers and other workers agreed to return to their jobs. This concession gave Allende a reprieve that he could have used to redress the situation.

But he failed to take advantage of the opportunity, hoping that the parties constituting the Popular Unity Coalition would secure an absolute majority in the March 1973 Parliamentary elections. Frei described the tricks and the probable fraud that the coalition used at the polls. Even so, Popular Unity did not win more than 44 percent of the votes, and Allende thus lost any hope he may have had of achieving a majority, either of the popular vote or in Congress. At this point the Communist party proposed to consolidate the ground secured thus far: They felt that Popular Unity should agree to give way on a few issues in order to secure the greater part of the nationalizations and the other measures it had rammed through.

But once again Allende let himself be convinced by the irresponsible radical elements of the Socialist party, the MIR, the MAPU, and the VOP. Only two days after failing to win the majority, the government made public the education reform mentioned earlier, eliminating any school not directly controlled by the state, and transforming primary education into an instrument of Marxist indoctrination. As might have been expected, this project unleashed a political storm.

For the first time, the Catholic Church openly manifested its opposition to a measure proposed by the Allende administration. Thousands of students from demonstrated in the streets of the main cities. The military leaders, who had left the Cabinet after the elections, also expressed their disagreement. Allende had to suspend the decree. But his fate and that of Chilean democracy were sealed. On June 29, the first—solated and clumsy—attempt at a military uprising was soon checked by the armed forces themselves, without a shot being fired. But Allende lost his head and rushed to the radio and television, to exhort the workers to counter by seizing all factories.

In one day the number of large industrial firms under state control increased from 282 to 526; production and productivity fell to a new low.

Truckers strike in Chile, July, 1972

In July the truckers again went on strike and did not return to work until the government fell in September. Even before these new crises, the Chilean economy had reached an annual rate of inflation of 323 percent. Once again Allende appointed generals to key positions, in the hope of neutralizing the armed forces while waiting for some miracle. Or perhaps it was not exactly a miracle that Allende was looking forward to: on August 7, Naval Intelligence reported the discovery of a plot to lead the sailors of Valparaíso and Concepción (the two main naval bases) in an uprising. The plot was uncovered and aborted. Naval Intelligence formally accused the Secretary General of the Socialist party, Senator Carlos Altamirano, as well as the leaders of the MAPU (Oscar Garretón) and the MIR (Miguel Henriques). On September 9, Altamirano openly admitted this charge but justified himself on the grounds of “awakening” the sailors’ conscience to their officers’ reactionary opinions. At the other extreme of the military hierarchy, the government had been attempting to divide and politicize the armed forces by promoting the officers they viewed as supporters, and by depriving of their commands or retiring those they supposed to be opponents of the regime (39)

(39). Information on exactly what occurred in Chile between 1970 and 1973, though scattered, is available [and more so now, in 2019]. There is no excuse for those who form an opinion on this matter without endeavoring to know the facts: these are readily available, even in the versions of sympathizers or militants who played an active role in Popular Unity. Paul E. Sigmund has drawn up a short and objective account in “Allende in Retrospect, Problems of Communism“, Washington, D.C., May-June 1974, pp.45-62. For an alternative reading, divergent in interpretation although the facts themselves are not seriously in dispute, see “Showdown in Chile,” by Andy Zimbalist and Barbara Stallings, in Monthly Review, New York, N.Y., vol.25, no.5, October 1973, pp.I-24, and the special issue on Chile of Latin American Perspectives, Riverside, Calif.,vol.I, no.2, Summer 1974.
[e.n: And for a more purely Marxist critical análizis of what occurred in Chile, there is Alan Wood’s “Lesson of Chile 1973“].

Democracy and Marxism-Leninism

The events in Chile that culminated in the overthrow and death of Salvador Allende had a world-wide echo. Some have drawn from this tragedy the conclusion that freedom is an obstacle to the reform of social and economic structures in favor of the masses. They argue that the democratic system intrinsically involves a certain duplicity, in that it allows the participation of Marxist ideas in the general political controversy but is ready to use any means to keep Marxists from governing if they happen to be duly elected. This argument is utterly misleading and can only be arrived at by inverting the roles of culprit and victim. The lesson to be learned—once again—from the Chilean drama is that Marxism-Leninism is basically incompatible with democratic government.

Democracy is by its very nature a system in which power is shared, distributed, dispersed. It is founded on the principle implicit in all democratic constitutions, that power must never be concentrated. And this principle in turn postulates a respect for the opinions, ideas, interests, and even the prejudices of minorities. The spirit of democracy is not peremptory. It affirms the principle that neither public authority, nor the majority on which such authority bases its legitimacy, is invariably right on all issues, and that the opinion of the rest of society must therefore also be taken into consideration. It follows that in a democracy, the government must never commit the collective body of the people to an irreversible course, unless there is almost unanimous agreement that all other options have been eliminated. This is why one basic article of faith in a democracy is a belief in the possibility of conciliating contending interests, among both individuals and social classes.

Democracy is not so unsophisticated as to claim that there are no social antagonisms or tensions amounting to class struggle. But it holds that a workable compromise solution can always be found that will be acceptable to these contending interests—or at least preferable to the alternatives of civil war or tyranny. Such truly democratic solutions may never be perfect or fully satisfy any of the parties, but they have the merit of reducing hatred and intolerance as prime determinants of social actions. Thus, they keep issues from being settled by resort to violence, the “divine judgment” that invariably gives victory to the strongest and—as we have seen many times in recent history—condemns the weakest to subservience and extermination.

‘Marxism-Leninism’, on the other hand, recommends exacerbating social conflicts (class struggles) by all possible means (as was done in Chile) until such time as, private property having been abolished, all conflicts have ceased, social classes have vanished, and antagonism has been removed from the social body. According to this view, as long as the Peaceable Kingdom has not returned to us, and the lion has not lain down with the lamb, any kind of political or social concession to the “class enemy”, unless intended as a tactical ruse, should be viewed as treasonable, for conciliation will only retard the inexorable majestic progress of history to its ultimate fulfillment.

Many of our contemporaries, some of them quite well intentioned and respectable, have credited and continue to credit this fable, including the men who influenced Allende’s policy while he was President of Chile. Democracy, which is undogmatic, admits that some minds may be seduced by this apocalyptic and messianic vision of history. It even allows that such ideas can play a role in improving human society, provided that they are propagated without violence. As a corollary to its own basic principles, democracy is committed to surrendering power to these men if they rise to the top through the electoral process, if they are able to convince a sufficient number of voters.

This is what occurred in Chile, although Allende received only a narrow plurality of the popular vote and secured his final selection by Congress through pretending to accepts certain limits to his executive authority even stricter than those defined in his country’s democratic constitution But sincere Marxist-Leninists (or social democrats who become their servants, such as Allende) view such a situation as a tactical, intermediate position from which to conquer absolute power. If they used their legally won power within its prescribed constitutional limits and governed accordingly, they would be in violation of their political philosophy. To be true to themselves they must attempt to grasp all levers in the social process, and transform the mandate entrusted them by consent into absolute and permanent control. This ambition is utterly undemocratic. And if, in the process, the Marxist-Leninists happen to misjudge the balance of forces within the society, as they did in Chile, they end up destroying their country’s democracy [and economy]. Having accomplished this, they will then proclaim their attachment to the democratic process that they have just destroyed. But this is pure deceit, the bitterness of men who have lost a war, not the concern of men who had worked for peace.

The Marxist-Leninist view of the matter was recorded once and for all by Lenin in his copy of Clausewitz’s On War, where, next to the famous sentence stating that war is but the extension of politics through other means, he turned the formula around and stated that politics is the extension of war through other means; for war would be the natural state of mankind until the coming of the Marxist millennium.

Having accomplished this, they will then proclaim their attachment to the democratic process that they have just destroyed. But this is pure deceit, the bitterness of men who have lost a war, not the concern of men who had worked for peace. The Marxist-Leninist view of the matter was recorded once and for all by Lenin in his copy of Clausewitz’s On War, where, next to the famous sentence stating that war is but the extension of politics through other means, he turned the formula around and stated that politics is the extension of war through other means; for war would be the natural state of mankind until the coming of the Marxist millennium.

The Peruvian Model

José Carlos Mariátegui, or “the Amauta,” as he was known to comrades. Early XX century Peruvian socialist thinker .

The Peruvian Army had traditionally been far less liberal in its attitudes than the army of neighboring Chile. Yet in 1968, it launched a political course in which some analysts have claimed to see a “Peruvian road to socialism”.

Peruvian society was more backward than that of any other major Latin-American country. The racist, overbearing, intransigent Creole oligarchy that prospered even before independence had dominated the country ever since. This class did not look with favor upon emancipation from Spain. Independence had to be imposed on Perú by the Argentines and the Venezuelans, who did not wish to see any vestiges of the Spanish empire left in the continent. The Peruvian armed forces had always been a reflection—and until recently, an instrument—of this oligarchy. Coups d’états had been frequent, aimed at maintaining the social and economic status quo whenever the sheer ineptness of civilian politicians in power threatened the traditional power structure.

The emergence of APRA in 1924, with its program of anti-oligarchic and anti-imperialistic reforms tailored to the Latin American economic, social, and political realities, represented the only real threat to the status quoin all the history of Peru. This explains why the principal mission of the Peruvian Army after 1924 had been to bar APRA’s way to power—a task they undertook particularly gladly because one of APRA’s earliest exploits (in I932) was the massacre of all the officers garrisoned in the city of Trujillo.

Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, the founder and soul of APRA, returned from exile in 1931 and announced his candidacy for the presidential election. He won the election, but the armed forces immediately superseded him through a coup d’état, the first of several Haya would have to face in his tormented political career. Thirty-one years later, in 1962, after several periods of imprisonment, five years of political asylum at the Colombian embassy in Lima, and decades of exile, he ran again, was elected, and promptly overthrown by another coupd’état. After a year, the military government called for new elections, narrowly won by the architect Fernando Belaúnde Terry, a “technocrat” from the Popular Action party who turned out to be inept as both administrator and political leader, and who was, moreover, caught up in a scandal involving illegal oil concessions to a North American company.

APRA would doubtless have won the following elections, scheduled for 1969. The military did not want this to occur, but neither did they feel they could once again cancel the election ex post facto, as they had done in 1931 and 1962. In Belaúnde, they had hoped to find a non-Aprist civilian able to introduce the urgently needed program of economic and social reforms, and so remove the ‘raison d’étre’ of Aprism by stealing its thunder. By then, the Peruvian military [which would become The Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces] had sincerely come to appreciate the need for this kind of social reform. As noted earlier, their professional training, which was quite impressive in itself, had been in recent years supplemented by graduate studies at the so-called Center For Higher Military Studies (CAEM-Centro Académico de Estudios Militares), through which they had acquired a new insight into the political, social, and economnic afftairs or their country.Deeply impressed by the Cuban revolution and the Alliance for Progress, [a U.S. initiative], they came to realize the extent to which they had been defending a stultifying conservatism that made them increasingly vulnerable in a changing world. There can be no doubt of the steady consultation and mutual influence between these Peruvian officers and their counterparts in Argentina and Brazil. Like the Brazilian generals in 1964 and the Argentines in 1966, they had come to the conclusion that there was no political group (except APRA, which they hated) able to take charge and prevent a crisis that would threaten the unity, and even the continuation, of the existing armed forces.

Juan Velasco, President of Perú’s new military junta, which was to be called Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces 0after coup d’état in 1968 on President Fernando Belaünde’s governemt.

They decided to step in, but this time not with the limited aim of assuring an interim rule between two periods of civilian government, as they had done in 1962. The formula no longer seemed applicable: that card had been played and lost. As the armies in Brazil and Argentina had done earlier, they now seized power nakedly, without any pretense of intending to turn it over to civilian leadership in the foreseeable future.

Peruvian military coups d’état had so far been simple, brutal, direct; they had been intended to salvage a social and economic order whose legitimacy was itself not being questioned. But here was something different. With this new intervention, the armed forces took over full responsibility for the conduct of political affairs, with the firm intention of implementing some of the same reforms that they had kept APRA from undertaking and that non-Aprist civilian administrations, one after the other, had been unable to put into effect. Thus, this military intervention was frankly political. It employed basically political strategy and tactics; it had to refer and respond to the challenges present in the Peruvian, Latin American, and global political contexts.

To understand the situation, we must consider the limited range of political and social forces that existed in Peru, besides the army, that could have been brought into partnership within the new government. There was of course the traditional oligarchy, whose instrument the military had been so far, but this was the very group whose power and prestige they were now set on destroying, so as to cleanse from their own image their collusion with traditional privilege. And the new military junta could turn neither to the second-string parties that had supported Belaúnde, nor to the high-level, independent “technocrats” who had served in his government, since it was specifically against Belaúnde [and his ‘system’] that they had staged their coup. APRA was excluded by definition.

Yet they stood in need of some civilian political endorsement in order to legitimize the take-over, to help forestall the pattern of rejection traditionally set off by military take-overs in all of Latin America, and particularly in Perú. Only one such group remained, the “Unity of the Left,” which had been set up by the Peruvian communist party to participate in the municipal elections in Lima in 1967, and which on that occasion had polled 15 percent of the capital’s vote (whereas, for the country as a whole, the figure had never exceeded 5 percent). The Peruvian general or, more likely, generals, who decided on this tactical alliance of the armed forces (now dubbed “revolutionary”) with the Communist party (“the organized working class”) hit upon a remarkably astute formula. The unexpected alliance with the Communists, who had so far been an insignificant group, paid considerable political dividends. Though few in number and ill-organized, the Peruvian Communists had considerable influence in the very intellectual, literary, and artistic sectors that might have been expected to oppose a military coup d’tat. These influential groups now gave the military junta their endorsement.

Even more importantly, international “progressive” opinion, instead of viewing the new regime in the stereotyped image of power-hungry, repressive, military Latin American putschists, hailed them as nationalists, anti-imperialists, and Third Worldists. When the time came to apportion the spoils, the military did not ignore the good tum the Communists and their international friends were doing them. The new leaders sincerely wished to push through a program of reforms, and they appointed Communists and fellow travelers to second-level executive positions to oversee the new measures. Thus they rewarded the Communists for their assistance while utilizing their services as zealous bureaucrats. The renewed political excommunication of APRA further endeared the military junta to the pro-soviet international community, for reasons that are traceable to the years 1926-1927 (40).

(40) See pp. 114 and 117-I9 ·

This arrangement was to the advantage of both parties. To the Communists it gave psychological satisfaction, and to the military, a political advantage at the moderate cost of couching a whole series of their decisions in Leninist, Third World rhetoric. As some substance had to be given to such talk, Peru’s foreign policy came to reflect that rhetoric. The military government re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, thus going counter to a decision of the Organization of American States that had thus far been broken only by Mexico. It developed commercial and technical exchanges with the socialist-bloc countries. It applauded the triumph of ‘Chilean Popular Unity in 1970. and in 197I, Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende paid state visits to Perú.

The Peruvian government undertook the nationalization of a number of North American concerns, some of which had a real significance while others were merely of symbolic importance. In this connection, Perú launched a bitter discussion with the United States government on the amount of compensation due American firms, and on the principle of compensation itself. The controversy, and Perú’s having unilaterally decreed the extension of its territorial waters to a limit of two hundred miles, threatened the country with economic reprisals by the United States. The Peruvian government responded by publicly expressing doubts about the relevance of the inter-American system, and in particular of the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty (41).

(41). See p.51.

Perú now started purchasing weapons from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia and enlisting the services of Yugoslav technicians. The military government’s application of ‘Marxist-Leninist-Third-World’ rhetoric to foreign affairs led it to plead for the Third World’s economic and cultural independence from imperialism and similar views. Only the style and vocabulary made their program different from that which the Aprist would have implemented, had democracy been allowed to function in Perú. But the Communist garb in which the secretaries to the military advisers dressed their policies earned them the whole hearted support of the world-wide pro-Soviet propaganda apparatus, for their contributions to‚ “world revolution”.

I am reminded of Stalin’s cynical remark when he proclaimed, in 1924, that this feudal monarch, the Emir of Afghanistan was “objectively revolutionary” (42). But no two situations are identical and the Peruvian military from 1968 through 1975 cannot be equated with the Emir of Afghanistan in 1924. When they decided to assume power in 1968, the military leaders were fully aware of the sad role they had played for years as watchdogs of an iniquitous status quo, and in reaction to this tarnished image promulgated a number of much-needed reforms.At the same time, they taught the military of the other Spanish American nations a new trick, which their Arab Counterparts had long before learned from Nasser: in our time, world opinion is generally ready to welcome the most naked Military grab for power, provided it wears the cloak of “socialism”, and “anti-imperialism” and matches its dialectic with a few actions.

(42). See p.111.

How to Stamp Out the Free Press and Be Congratulated for It

The new Peruvian regime’s commendable reforms were balanced by other less attractive measures such as their destruction of the free press. The government instituted press control in 1970 and has since then liquidated the few remaining independent papers. These were confiscated with the promise that their ownership would eventually be handed over to deserving and representative “social groups” (workers, peasants, intellectuals, etcetera), a measure that supposedly would guarantee true freedom of information. This was of course only an excuse to suppress the independent papers while appropriating their printing facilities and well-established names. No Latin American military leader had dared do this before except Perón, who confiscated Buenos Aires’s La Prensa in 1951. The Peruvian military government claimed that the papers being taken over had been in the service of reaction and imperialism and thus made their assault on freedom of the press acceptable to “progressive‚” world opinion. But another of the junta’s actions sheds light on this particular hoax. In 1968, a few weeks after the overthrow of Allende, the new leaders had published a book called Why? exposing the previous administration’s failures: its economic and institutional mismanagement, its administrative corruption, etcetera. The book was entirely made up of extracts from the Lima press. One story that was omitted, although it had received ample coverage, was the exposure of a network of organized smuggling, discovered by journalists, which brought a military minister to trial and then to jail. The coup d’état cut short any further examination of this affair, which had threatened to compromise other leading military leaders who were now important members of the new ruling junta. Thus the government made use of the press to discredit the former regime, and then suppressed it on the pretext that it was “deceitful,” “oligarchic,” and “pro-imperialist”.

Significantly, the first Lima paper to fall following the military coup was APRA’s La Tribuna. Next came Expreso, confiscated in 1970 on the excuse that it was owned by the Minister of Finance of the government overthrown two years earlier. Expreso was handed over directly to the communist party. This was one of the most significant and from the viewpoint of propaganda, one of the most effective of the military government’s gestures in favor of the Communist party. Five influential dailies now remained outside the control of the government or of its docile communist allies: La Prensa, Ultima Hora, El Comercio, Correo, and Ojo. The government started a campaign of intimidation and harassment against them, controlling the distribution of newsprint, pegging the sales price despite the rise in production costs, depriving the papers of the traditional benefit of governmental advertising, and encouraging labor troubles. On July 27th 1974 finding that these measures did not suffice to force the papers into complete submission, the government simply confiscated all five. Formal direction of the newspapers was at first largely entrusted to communists or communist sympathizers. But this apparent delegation of power—like many other measures of the so-called Peruvian revolution—did not really give the communists control, and all these papers now simply followed the official government line. When the time came, a year after the papers’ confiscation, to hand over editorial control to representative “…workers’; peasants’; professional, cultural, and educational organizations…”, the ministry simply announced the indefinite extension of the ‘status quo’, as well as a purge of all journalists—editors included—”who had not fully identified with the revolution.”

It would seem that at this point the military government decided to curtail sharply the responsibility it had so far entrusted to the communists. They had been useful allies in the early days, but now were not needed, and had even become a source of some embarrassment.

Generals and Intelligentsia

The sequence of events in Perú since 1968 shows how armed forces that were the most blatantly reactionary in Latin America could succeed in seizing power, governing effectively, and imposing policies with the full approval and support of the very groups that should by rights have been their most active adversaries. The Peruvian armed forces, as an institution, succeeded in making the world forget their steady support of an oligarchy whose myopia, social insensitivity, racism, and habitual exploitation of the downtrodden had earned its members the title of “Afrikaners of Latin America”.

The Peruvian military further managed to clear themselves of their share of responsibility in bringing about the inept regime of Fernando Belaúnde Terry. They managed to cover up the role they had played in his government, including their involvement in some rather shady affairs, such as the smuggling scandal referred to earlier and their implacable anti-guerrilla repression in 1965. And this cleansing of their public image cost them very little.

As we have seen, the Peruvian Communists shared the new military leaders’ hatred of APRA, and readily agreed to serve them. In exchange for this they were given promises but little real power. Both on the domestic scene and outside, the Communists were satisfied to see the new leadership assume Third World, anti-imperialist rhetoric and a measure of opposition to Washington—a degree of opposition, we should stress, that was carefully gauged so as to fall within the limits of what the North Americans could tolerate. The new regime introduced some of the same urgently needed social reforms that had been implemented much earlier in other Latin American countries by more honorable governments—governments that at the time had been denounced as reformist, inept, and even reactionary by the same propaganda machinery that now praised the Peruvian dictatorship.

The leftists who were attracted and enrolled as‚ “fellow travelers” by the military government included a number of “intellectuals”, a group that other Latin American dictatorships had thought it necessary to persecute. The Peruvian generals preferred to enlist the cooperation of these men, by pretending to assume the rhetoric of anti-imperialism, or by initiating “cultural measures” that paid homage to the myth of the noble savage—for example, declaring the Quechua language an official language of Peru, on a par with Spanish. The government also granted a number of these former opponents’ administrative positions, which neutralized them and in many cases entailed their eager collaboration with the military dictatorship.

Nearly ten years have passed since the Peruvian military set this course, and their political success has been phenomenal. In the political storm unleashed in Latin America by the Cuban Revolution, they were viewed as prospective victims. Che Guevara undertook his Bolivian adventure of 1967 largely because Bolivia was at the heart of the South American continent, while neighboring Peru was supposed to be one of the weakest links of the imperialist chain, one of the countries that could be expected to be transformed most readily into a “another Vietnam”.

But in July 1969—hardly twenty-one months after Che’s death—Fidel Castro buried the Guevarist concept of the “irrecuperability” of the military. In his “ten million tons of sugar cane” speech he declared that, in very little time the Peruvian government had proven itself to be “objectively revolutionary”.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara “Implacable foe of the Latin American military officer class” and author of “Guerrilla Warfare” “La Guerra de Guerrillas”-. He believed that
The principal reason to conduct guerrilla warfare within a country is because all peaceful and legal means of recourse have been exhausted. In this his beliefs hit a breaking point with Fidel Castro

Che Guevara, on the other hand, had remained until his death the implacable foe of the Latin American officer class. Venezuelan guerrilleros who met him in Cuba in 1963 attempted to press on him the advisability of tactical alliances with progressive, nationalistic, patriotic officers—the thesis dominant among Latin American Marxist-Leninists today. El Che responded: “In the Cuban Army there were some {officers} who could be described in those terms, but officers are all sons of bitches…all Latin American officers have sold out: Their culture, their techniques, their education have been shaped by the yankees. It is an error to entrust a revolutionary role to the military…. Class imperatives prevent any significant political conflicts from occurring within the army.”

When the Venezuelans pointed to [Che] the participation of certain “Castroist” officers in the uprising of the two Venezuelan naval bases in May and June of 1962, Che responded: “And tell me, Venezuelans, after those uprisings, what did these officers do? Did they take to the hills? And where are the weapons they seized? Did they have plans to take advantage of this insurrection? Let me tell you: The military like to do easy things such as staging bloodless coups or palace revolutions. In this country too, when we were moving up from Oriente toward Havana, certain officers rose against Batista in order to save their necks and the system. But Fidel wasn’t fooled” (43).

(43). Rafael Elino Martinez, ¡Aqui todo el mundo está alzao!, pp.273-74.

Fidel Castro may be right, and Che wrong. But it could also be the other way around. Castro’s insight and instinct in conquering power and keeping it as a caudillo in his own country has been matched by his myopia in assessing the overall Latin American reality. Che’s predictions may yet be borne out, and the approach taken by the Peruvian military may prove to have been the one appropriate and effective way of neutralizing in Perú, the “Long March” that Regis Debray had predicted for Castroism in Latin America.

Perú’s was the most archaic and stratified society in Latin America; APRA, the only civilian political group that could conceivably have carried out the much-needed reforms, was disqualified. In such circumstances, perhaps no social force other than the “military party” could—paradoxically—have been expected to bring about change. The military’s rule in Perú will come to an end sooner or later. It may then be remembered for having liberated the country from the individuals and the political power groups that had proved unable to open up Peruvian society between the years 1924 and 1968, and for giving the coming generation a new start. Who knows but that the country will be successful in evolving a democratic, nonmilitary, institutional government? But if such a trend is to develop, one of its harbingers will have to be the rebirth of an independent press (44).

(44). Developments in Peru since 1968, and in Portugal between the revolution of 1974 and the discomfiture of the Portuguese Communists and their military friends in late 1975, have some points in common, but also considerable differences. No doubt, the way in which the Peruvian military succeeded in softening world opinion by dubbing themselves “Socialist” served as an example to the Portuguese military. But the double allegiance—to the armed forces and to the Communist party—that characterized a number of Portuguese officers had no parallel in Perú. The officer corps in Peru, without exception, underwent strict and disciplined professional training. Portuguese officers, on the other hand, were shaken by the long colonial wars, and besides, included a number of secret Communist party members—civilian cadre—who had been hastily trained as combat officers for the colonial emergency in Africa. When a double allegiance of this sort becomes fairly widespread in a military establishment, it can transform a military coup d’état into the spearhead of a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. It is evident that such dual loyalty invariably works against the military establishment, since the true allegiance of such “red officers” is to the Communist party, which aims at the destruction of traditional armed forces. It follows that when sincere party members accept the army uniform, they do so only to work toward the dismemberment of the institution they are pretending to serve, and its replacement, in due course, by a completely different body, subject to the political control of the Communist party and staffed by a new officer corps.

The Last Consular Caudillo

No Latin American caudillo was able to impose his personal rule longer and more effectively than Porfirio Diaz, who owed his success to his alliance with the imperialist power of the United States. Now, as James Creelman clearly understood (45), Don Porfirio was a man out of the ordinary, admirably suited to the primitive political environment of which he was a product.

(45). See pp.225-27.

He was also the perfect representative of a fascinating human type: a primitive chieftain among his followers, the leader of the pack among lesser wolves, and therefore intriguing to mild, bookish men, who find little attraction in the “bourgeois” rulers of countries where power is traditionally exerted by civilized institutions.

Fidel Castro, consular Caudillo:First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba

It has been a major paradox for Latin America in the second half of the twentieth century that the ruler to receive most adulation, among us or in the rest of the world, should be a tyrant on the basic pattern inherited from our continent’s history. Naturally, some of Fidel’s popularity among certain types of European or American intellectuals stems from his attachment to the Soviet Union, and from the opportunity to orchestrate propaganda that such a position automatically entails. But if we look beyond this, we find his attraction is also based on the primitive character of his leadership, which harks back to patterns of governance long established among us. The most enthusiastic of his European admirers are to be found among members of the younger generation, who have no personal recollection of the kind of personal, tyrannical rule and political primitivism that Europe experienced in the period between the two world wars and until 1945.

Thus, the fact that Fidel Castro is primarily a traditional Latin American caudillo, and moreover, a consular caudillo, the agent of a major foreign power, tends to be lost. Castro’s patron power is the Soviet Union, with which he dared to ally himself at a propitious moment. Here again, we see an alliance that is profoundly humiliating to the consular caudillo’s country, but essential to him, since he owes the stability of his personal rule to his Consular services.

Fidel Castro’s political ideas during his early career as a student leader seem to correspond to a kind of Aprism. In his early anti-North Americanism, he shared the feeling prevalent throughout the continent as a whole. Nor was he the first Latin American to have sought power on the basis of an anti-imperialist platform. But most “anti-imperialist” Latin American leaders who have made their way to the top have known very well that they could not stay in power without the support of the United States, and they built up a relationship with the North American embassy well before they became heads of state.

Fidel Castro acted no differently, but as he could not go to the embassy in Havana, nor the North American Ambassador his headquarters in the Sierra Maestra, he made his contacts through American journalists and other emissaries. By the second half of 1958, it was clear that the United States had despaired of Batista, whose consequent “destabilization” might and probably would, lead to a take-over by the Social Democrat Fidel Castro—with Washington’s (guarded) blessings.

Fidel Castro and Richard Nixon
Fidel Castro in NY, talking with journalists

In 1959, his first year in power, Castro visited the United States, was interviewed sympathetically and at length by both press and TV and had a meeting with Vice President Nixon in Washington. Castro’s take-over was received with the active sympathy of wide and significant sectors of North American opinion. For many months, he enjoyed the support of many North Americans who knew Cuba and loathed Batista. What brought about the coolness, and then the break, between Castro and the United States (or between the United States and Castro)? We might simply suppose that Fidel had always been a convinced Communist, a Soviet agent under orders to create in Cuba a situation that was embarrassing to the United States and of maximum tactical advantage to the Soviet Union. In this role he could be supposed to have attempted deliberately to provoke direct American military intervention, even if that threatened his own destruction. In this light, Castro’s insistence on multiplying gestures of provocation toward the United States would appear, and could be explained, as planned and deliberate. His survival in power could be ascribed to Washington’s lack of nerve.

This hypothesis would be in line with Che Guevara’s personal obsessions (“One, two, three…many Vietnams”) but never, it seems to me, with Fidel’s relentless hunger for personal power. Of course, one factor we must take into account here is Che Guevara’s unmistakable influence on Fidel in making key decisions, such as the sudden confiscation of North American property, that determined future developments. But even so, I don’t think the explanation of Castro’s being a Soviet agent applies.

He seems to be the very model of a caudillo, a man whose single purpose it is to conquer and hold absolute rule. Such a man has an almost unerring instinct for how to rise to power. He manages this through means that appear hopeless or impracticable to others. What he does may well be the reverse of what reason would dictate: Castro’s simplest and safest course from the start would have been to reach an agreement with the North Americans and to make terms with the Cuban middle class, which was articulate, strong in numbers, and exuberantly pro-Castro.

But this course would have forced him to share power, which he intended to wield alone. From January 1st, 1959, the detailed meanderings or his course may have been unpredictable, but its ultimate strategic objective was removing any obstacles that might stand in the way of unlimited personal power. There were visible steps in Fidel’s struggle for absolute control, some of them sordid enough.

Camilo Cienfuegos- Member of the famous insurgent expedition Granma with Fidel Castro, along with Fidel CastroChe GuevaraJuan Almeida Bosque, and Raúl Castro, which launched the Cuban Revolution

Witness the mysterious disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos, the imprisonment of Huber Matos, or Castro’s order to reverse the acquittal of the military pilots accused of “war crimes”. The men were then found guilty in a second trial —more like an auto-da-fé— conducted in the Sports Palace in front of thousands of spectators and T’V viewers). Witness the executions which at one point took place daily [adding up to] thousands of victims, the imprisonment of tens of thousands—many of whom are still in jail fifteen years later— and finally, the exile of hundreds of thousands of Cubans (46).

(46). I should also mention the gradual estrangement of Che Guevara, and Fidel’s encouragement of Che’s adventures abroad-first in the Congo, then in Bolivia-and their tragic outcome.

These sequences of steps would at some point produce a fatal collision between Castro and the United States. But before this happened, Fidel dared to take an astounding, un-thinkable step, a stroke of genius: He saw that his strength, both within his own country and abroad, was at its zenith, and knew that he could not hope to find in the United States support or even acceptance for his aims and methods. The United States was preparing for a presidential election, weakly spearheaded by the outgoing President Eisenhower. Christian Herter had become Secretary of State following the fierce John Foster Dulles’s death.

Castro and Nikita Khrushchev hug. Credit: JFK Library

Castro felt that in this situation the United States would hesitate to react in a crisis [e.n: This was during the height of the Cold War with Nikita Khrushchev’s Soviet Union]. He [Castro] decided to play the most daring and risky card in the hand of diplomacy: an outright reversal of alliances. He carried it off successfully, and at the eleventh hour gained the protection of the other super-power.

The years that have gone by since have dissipated the lyrical illusion of a socialist island inhabited by noble revolutionaries walking in the footsteps of the noble savage, uncontaminated by Stalinism and capable of steering clear of it. The results of Communist rule in Cuba are perhaps even more disheartening than the application of Marxist-Leninism to Eastern Europe.

The most telling sign of what is really going on, as in Eastern Europe, is the desperate desire of the supposed beneficiaries of the “new society” to escape to any country where an “old” more or or less liberal society still exists. And how few Castroists from other Latin American countries, exiled or expelled from home, such as survivors or the Chilean Popular Unity or the “left-wing Peronists threatened by the AAA (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance), are tempted to settle in Cuba!

The punishment and humiliation that Fidel’s government inflicts on Cubans who want to leave the country are worse than those the U.S.S.R. meters out to Soviet Jews who wish to emigrate to Israel. But even this price, and the serious risks and difficulties involved in illegal escape from the island, have not deterred hundreds of thousands of Cubans from fleeing from their native country and seeking shelter in any foreign country. Close to ten percent of the overall 1959 population now have gone to live abroad. If Cubans were freely permitted to leave, a much larger proportion would have done so.

Here is a criterion in terms of which we can reasonably judge all of the Marxist-Leninist political regimes the world has known up to now, including, of course, Castro’s Cuba: They are the only political systems in recorded history that have forcibly had to block the flight of citizens who are ready to leave everything behind, all their property and even their kin. And such exile is not the exceptional, painful decision of a small minority who are obeying certain principles or are marked politically and must leave for reasons of personal safety, but the wild hope of millions (47). But Castro has achieved what he wanted. He rules Cuba as an absolute monarch, although his power is delegated to him by the U.S.S.R., and he governs under the Soviet Union’s protection, as Herod governed Judea as the consul of Rome.

(47) Even the German Jews, except for the most farsighted, refused to leave Germany, their country, after 1933—until it was too late to leave.

His prestige has fallen in Latin America and throughout the world, but not as much as he deserves. For Castro continues to be the hero who defied the United States. This is why he still claims a place in the hearts of all who envy or fear the North Americans. In Latin America this motive acts more powerfully than anywhere else. Castro is the only Latin American leader whose antagonism toward the United States is beyond doubt. A word from him in favor of the social-democratic President of Venezuela, or of the military dictator of Perú, is of sure political usefulness to either. What is more, either of them, when Fidel condescends to approve, probably feels a secret thrill at the receiving, from such an unquestionable authority, a certificate of good anti-North American conduct

Latin America and Marxism

The following is a section in chapter 5 (Latin America and Marxism) from the “Latin Americans: Their Love Hate Relationship with the United States. The editor felt it necessary to include it here as an appendix to Chapter 9, since it was referred to in there, and is an important component of the argument Rangel makes in that chapter.

Haya de la Torre and APRA

I said earlier that the most important Latin-American Marxist before Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Allende was the Peruvian Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre (1). This requires some explanation. Castro, Che, and Allende are fashionable today: they have been, and continue to be, immensely popular throughout Latin America, because their basic political stand is in direct defiance of North American power. This position has earned them the well-orchestrated endorsement of the international Communist movement, and also the sympathy of the Western European nations. Since 1945, these nations have come to resent fairly openly the disproportionate power of the United States and found comfort in the setbacks to Washington’s foreign policy—sometimes with a measure of masochism (2).

(1). Raúl Haya de la Torre was born in 1895.
(2). Western Europe prefers to see Washington’s setbacks occur in Latin America, rather than closer to home (as for instance, in Portugal or Africa).

Haya-de la Torre soon ran into trouble with the Third International, and he and his disciples have since been the victims of a masterly campaign of defamation waged by the same pro-Soviet groups that built up Fidel Castro, Allende, and Che Guevara—and with the same persistence and intensity. Haya and his disciples’ main purpose has been to give the Latin American countries democratic regimes as a transition toward social democracy. The North American and European press has shown so little interest in this important trend that even informed citizens and assiduous readers of newspapers and magazines may never have heard of Haya de la Torre or his American Popular Revolutionary Alliance [APRA].

Haya founded APRA in Mexico in 1924, under the double influence of the Mexican and Russian Revolutions. From 1910 onward, the Mexican Revolution constituted the most significant social upheaval in Latin America since the wars of independence. It had been launched spontaneously on the modest slogan of “Honest elections, no re-election {of the President}”, issued at what proved to be the ripe time against a caudillo too long entrenched in power, whose autocracy had degenerated into a gerontocracy.

The protracted, widespread, and bloody peasant insurrection unleashed by this apparently innocuous slogan confirmed that the surface amenability of Latin American societies hid a constant, dormant resentment and a great potential for sudden violence, and that the agrarian problem—the latifundia and the status of the peons—had not been solved but, rather, had deteriorated in the hundred and fifty years since independence had been established. As for the Russian Revolution, Latin Americans could not remain indifferent to the promises of its early days, when the world still had high hopes for a generalized change in production and ownership patterns, leading to the abolition of inequalities, injustices, and various forms of nationalism.

Emiliano Zapata, Mexican farmer and horse trainer, future leader in the Mexican Revolution.

Revolution was therefore the order of the day. But what revolution? Mexico’s had come to a halt, hereby demonstrating that there were but limited prospects for a primitive social conflict lacking both strategy and ideology. As early as 1924, the Russian Revolution embarked on an unforeseeable course of its own, guided according to a pattern that had little to do with the basic tenets of Marxism. Its deviations and tactical mistakes were beginning to arouse concern among those who were aware of what was really going on in Russia.

At best, it was quite obvious that the conditions in Latin America—or in “Indo-America,” as Haya de la Torre called it—differed greatly from those that prevailed in pre-revolutionary Russia. Haya returned to the sources in Marx and Engels and found himself questioning Marx’s prediction that the experience of the advanced capitalist countries would offer the backward countries a relevant model for their own development. Even less did he accept Lenin’s thesis (the official thesis of the Third International, as we have seen) that it was the destiny of the backward countries to provide cannon fodder for a “world revolution”, with its center—in the Soviet-Union and its Mecca in Moscow.

Haya argued that Latin America offered the example of a hybrid and unrepresentative sort of capitalism, which could not be expected to fit the classic pattern of development that Marx and Engels had traced for France or Germany. What was the class structure in Latin America? A burgeoning though weak bourgeoisie, connected to the import trade but unconnected to a national industrial sector (since no such sector existed) coexisted with a feudal oligarchy, whose members, the great landowners, wielded practically all power through alliances with the army and with the Church. Where industry was more than the sum of small manufacturers and cottage industries, it was in the hands of foreign capitalists.

Zapata and his general, including Pancho Villa

The same was true of the basic infrastructures—the railroads, port installations, etcetera, and the export of both agricultural and industrial goods. The proletariat was small in number and could in no case be expected to act as the only promoter—much less the principal promoter—of the urgently needed reforms. On the other hand, the peasants were numerous and had shown during the Mexican Revolution that they represented a considerable potential fighting force.

Soldaderas, often called Adelitas, were women in the military who participated in the conflict of the Mexican Revolution, ranging from commanding officers to combatants to camp followers.[1]
source: wikipedia.

[e.n: even the women were able to enlist, as ‘soldaderas, or Adelitas, a first in revolutionary action].

The middle classes, including intellectuals and university students, were irked by the constrictive nature of the Latin-American social and political structures, and were ready to be enlisted in nationalist revolutionary action. Furthermore, Haya felt that the various Latin American countries could not be expected to modify and improve their national situations in isolation. The failure of the Mexican Revolution loomed as an eloquent example: The struggle could only be considered at the level of Latin America as a whole. Haya therefore thought of the APRA as a movement that was neither national nor altogether international, but distinctly Latin American in scope as well as in character. Strengthening the political and economic unity of the continent was one of its main purposes.

The basic tenets of APRA were the following:
1—Action against Yankee imperialism; 2—Unification of Latin America; 3—Progressive nationalization of land and industry; 4—Internationalization of the Panama Canal; 5—Solidarity with all oppressed peoples and classes. The fifth point was intended as a friendly gesture toward the Third International, but to no avail. The Communist International knew no worse enemies in the world than socialists not under its control, and immediately launched a campaign of defamation. Haya was accused of being an agent of British imperialism, because he had limited his call for revolutionary Latin American action to the struggle against Yankee imperialism. [Somehow] This was sufficient proof that he sought to protect the British!

In his later statements, Haya made it clear that he was opposed to all forms of imperialism. This clarification naturally did not silence the Third International: The issue had been only a pretext. In fact, they were attacking Haya and his APRA because he had dared take on the struggle for socialism without joining it to the Third International [Congress]. In his main work, Anti-imperialism and APRA (written in 1928, but not published until 1930), Haya provided the following explanation: “My statement did not imply that APRA’s anti-imperialism limited itself to fighting Yankee imperialism and no other such as British imperialism. It happens that the five propositions of APRA were announced in Mexico in 1924, and were addressed primarily to the sector of Indo-American countries in the Caribbean, where United States imperialism is aggressively present….Further, for most of our peoples, Yankee imperialism is synonym for all modern imperialism….But as our Communists were making use of this false ambiguity to state that my use of the word “Yankee” reflected dark designs on the part of APRA which stemmed from secret ties with British imperialism, I clarified the matter on several occasions…and in particular in my book Remarks on Imperialist Britain and on Soviet Russia {published in 1932}.

Written in México in 1928, and marginally known or commented about, the book only managed to get finally edited en Chile en 1936. Since Haya de la Torre was at that time at the head of the Aprist resistance against the dictatorships, the manuscript had to travel clandestinely to avoid the totalitarian inquisition.

In another passage, Haya candidly explained his difficulties with the Third International: “At the start of the European autumn of 1926, I received a friendly letter from Lozowsky, the President of the International Red Labor Movement or Profintern, saying that he welcomed APRA. “I answered Lozowsky in a long letter in which I confirmed certain points we had already discussed in Moscow: the unique characteristics of America, socially, economically, and politically, its radical contrast with European realities; the need to study American and, in particular, Indo-or Latin-American problems apart, in all their complexity. I restated my sincere conviction that it was not possible, from the viewpoint of Europe, to formulate magical formulas for the curing of Latin-American ills. Assuring him of my admiration for the perfect knowledge the Russian leaders had of their own country’s social reality, I told him I could not help noting their evident lack of scientific knowledge of things American. I pointed out to him that I had personally explained my views in conversations with Lunacharsky, Frunze, Trotsky, and other Russian leaders. After a long, patient, and careful visit to the great country of the Soviets, I had decided not to adhere to the Communist party, thinking then—as I still do now—that it was not the Third International that could resolve the grave and difficult problems of Indo-America.” It is easy to imagine the anger with which the Soviets received this declaration of independence from a man and a movement they counted on to promote Comintern policy in Latin America. The next year, in 1927, they took advantage of the First Anti-imperialist World Congress in Brussels to excommunicate APRA. Immediately after this, agents of the International became active in Latin America, mobilizing a network of Communist parties that were duly subservient to Moscow or creating parties where none existed. In this they resorted to a formula and to mechanisms too well known to require further elaboration here. It is worth noting however, that the Mexican-Communist party coordinated and made possible the series of attempts that culminated in Trotsky’s assassination.

Imperialism: The First Stage of Capitalism

One of Haya’s most interesting theories is that in Latin America, imperialism, far from being the ultimate stage capitalism, as Lenin and the Communist International would have us believe, was but the first stage. He argued that no economic system deserving to be called capitalist existed in Latin America prior to the influx of foreign investments from advanced capitalist countries. Whatever other effects this inflow of capital may have had, it launched the process of modernization of national economies that previously had remained feudal and pre-capitalistic.

Haya argued that the effects of capitalism fueled from abroad were varied and complex and had both positive and negative aspects. He noted three of the latter: 1—A basic disequilibrium was triggered by investments that had been selected, not to help develop the internal economies of Latin American countries, but to meet the capitalist countries’ needs in mineral or agricultural raw materials; 2—The traditional power structures soon formed alliances with the foreign investors (and with the embassies of the foreign countries)and so further strengthened their positions (25); and 3—The new arrangements placed even more obstacles in the way of Latin American political unity.

(25). See “The Consular Caudillos,” pp.224-27.

Revolution in Latin America could begin only after a certain number of necessary conditions were present—the will to develop the national economy; capital to prime the developmental process; and, most important, the emergence of a modern proletariat, able to organize itself into unions and willing to be mobilized tactically and strategically. Massive foreign investments led to all three of these necessary steps.

What has been forgotten—and the Communists have done all they could to make us forget it—is that on this point Haya de la Torre was in agreement with [Karl] Marx and [Frederick] Engels. It is quite clear that insofar as diagnosing the means by which the backward countries can reach socialism, Haya de la Torre stands a as an orthodox Marxist, whereas Lenin and the Leninists are revisionists. The term will worry only those who think, argue or fight their battles around quotes and references to Marxist and Leninist holy writ.

But if we leave aside matters of ideological orthodoxy, simple common sense appears, in this case to be on the side of Marx, Engels, and Haya de la Torre, whereas it is Lenin, the Leninists, and the Stalinists who have tailored the historic facts to fit their purposes. They did this when they had to face up to the fact that the revolution had started in backward Russia and not in England or Germany. They did it when they argued that the revolution could live and develop even though it was bottled up in one country (the same backward Russia), with all the Stalinist corollaries that entailed. They have done it since 1945, rejoicing over such odd (from the point of view of Marxist orthodoxy) “socialist” triumphs as the political developments in China, North Korea, Albania and Cuba. And they do it when, in forecasting the future of socialism, they go on brandishing the theses of the Second Congress of the Communist International: They argue that the role of Third World countries in bringing about the future consists in sacrificing themselves on the altar of World Revolution, and therefore goad these countries on to policies designed to provoke the advanced capitalist countries into self-destructive punitive actions, such as the Cuban blockade, or the French and subsequent North American military action in Vietnam.

The Communists’ anger and acrimony toward APRA grew in direct proportion to Haya de la Torre’s success and influence. By 1929, “Aprist” parties (or parties influenced by APRA) had developed in Peru (Haya’s homeland), and also in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. In general, what could loosely be called Aprism has been the Latin-American socialist alternative to Marxism-Leninism. And the Aprist, proto-Aprist, or Aprist-inspired parties have shown themselves far better able in practice to influence the parties. Throughout their history, all Latin-American Communist parties except Chile’s have been paralyzed by their need adhere to the dictates laid down by Moscow. The Aprist or APRA-inspired parties, on the other hand, have remained creative and democratic during the same period.

Time magazine cover 1933, the same year Gerardo Machado, dictator of Cuba was deposed with the aid of Aprist dissidents and the U.S.

Aprism has supported attempts at armed revolutionary insurrections, including one in 1933 that, with North American help, succeeded in overthrowing the Cuban dictator [Gerardo] Machado. It must be noted however, that Aprism has not aimed for “dictatorship of the proletariat” but rather, for the abolition of oppressive, traditional power structures. It has aimed for the establishment of reformist democracies that would respect the rights of man and thus contribute to freeing the peasantry from the servile conditions under which it still lives. Aprism has militated to have foreign investments made subject to regulations (for the first time!), with the ultimate purpose of nationalizing all the basic sectors of the economy. It would at the same time stimulate national capitalism, a step without which no socialist revolution is conceivable, or even desirable, according to Aprism (and according to Marx and Engels). In a [different] part of this hook, I tell the story of the Aprist party with which I am most familiar, the “Democratic Action” party in Venezuela. I would like to make it clear that Aprism deserves far more attention and study than it has so far met with, either within Latin America or outside, from those who—knowingly or not—accept the Communist version of contemporary Latin American history. Any Latin American political development that succeeds in initiating social and economic progress with freedom and the rights of man will owe a great deal to Aprism.

The above Carlos Rangel—1976