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Letters

HISTORIANS' MANIFESTO

I

Recently we have noted a notorious intensification in the tendency to manipulate and accommodate the truth on public matters pertaining to the last fifty years of Chile's history. The purpose of this manipulation has been to exaggerate some actions and to silence others in order to justify certain deeds. Nearly always, there is a tendency among some groups to lend legitimacy to the impermissible, and to present as true and objective what cannot be so, in an effort to give substance to their desired self-image. This tendency is facilitated by the almost exclusive access to the mass media that these sectors and groups possess. By means of extensive and all-powerful media control, they have managed to give an appearance of public truth to what is in reality only the historically distorted expression of private partisan interests.

We, the undersigned historians wish to offer the weight of our opinion, both as professionals and as citizens, prompted by the abundant dissemination of so-called historical truths, which we consider to be a manipulative abuse. Such assertions have strategic effects on the development of the historic memory of the nation and therefore on the evolution of civil sovereignty.

The manipulation is manifest, to a large extent, in the historical appraisal of:

a) the democratic process prior to the 1973 military coup;
b) the subsequent political process under dictatorial rule;
c) the issues of human rights and sovereignty arising during and after the dictatorship.

We consider that that manipulation is present on its more extreme and simple form in the "Letter to the Chileans" by the former general Augusto Pinochet. It is also present, in a more historiographic and professional version in the "Fascículos", or series, by the historian Gonzalo Vial, and published in La Segunda. It can also be found, in its more immediate and pragmatic form, in the submissions, explanations and justifications put forward for the benefit of the media by members of the political civil and military class in relation to the grave questions of human rights and sovereignty that today are being discussed, above all, in the House of Lords. These are three different forms and manifestations of the same kind of manipulation of history, that attempts to legitimise and justify a situation and a body of private interests that do not represent the circumstances nor the interests of the majority of Chileans.

Therefore, we feel compelled to state the following:

II

In his "Letter to the Chileans" ex-general Pinochet proclaims, among others, three 'historical truths':

(a) That the dictatorial intervention of the military between 1973 and 1990 was a "heroic deed, a Homeric feat, an epic achievement" of national character;
(b) That the political crisis of the former democratic system was the exclusive making of the Popular Unity, whose manifesto sought to impose - with "the preaching of hatred, vengeance and division" and the "sinister ideology of Marxist socialism", - an "atheistic and materialistic vision... an implacably oppressive system against freedom and rights… the rule of lies and hatred";
(c) That the "men of arms " acted as the "moral reserves of the nation" to reintroduce "unity for the country … not for a sector or a party", "respect for human dignity" and the "freedom of the Chileans", and to give "true opportunities to the poor and the neglected".

In relation to the first assertion, we wish to point out that in History we only employ expressions such as "heroic deed… Homeric feat… epic achievement" when a whole nation, or country, or national community have joined forces, taken decisions and carried out actions, as a whole, in the exercise of their sovereignty. This was the case when, for centuries, the Mapuche people fought against the Spanish invaders, or when the Chilean people mobilised themselves after 1879 in the Pacific War. To use these terms to characterise the armed action undertaken by one sector of Chileans against another, implies a peculiar, abusive and opportunistic use of concepts which have a more edifying meaning than this. In truth, that kind of action is not a national epic deed but a seditious action (independently of whether it is successful or not). If those Chileans who performed and supported the 1973 military coup consider that their action was an "epic deed", then it follows that the attempt to attain national economic development carried out by legal means by the defeated faction between 1932 and 1973 against another faction opposed to and obstructive towards their plans during all that time, should also be considered an "epic deed". It is necessary to differentiate between the 'opposition' that operated within the rule of law (the case of the defeated ones in 1973) and the opposition that operated with the use of force (the case of the victors of 1973). The actions of a democratic and legal movement seem closer to being "epic" than those of an armed one.

In relation to the second assertion, we have to state that the 1973 crisis was not due exclusively to the conduct of the Government of the Popular Unity. Truthfully, no serious historian would caricature that conduct by reducing it to the "preaching of hatred", to the implementation of "sinister" ideologies, to the "oppression" that its reforms inflicted on certain interests and rights, or the "rule of lies" that would have formed the basis of its reforms. That conduct was also due, and in no small measure, to historic processes of long duration, whose origins can be traced back to the XIX Century, or even before.

In fact, the Popular Unity administered (and precipitated) a crisis that was not only political but mainly economical and social. This crisis had been slowly growing for at least a century, a period in which historic responsibility cannot be attributed to the Marxist ideology or to the centre-left parties, but to the chronic and inept governmental rotation of power between the oligarchic elites of Chile. It must be pointed out here (as the Chicago economist Tom Davis mentioned in 1957) that the 'pre-populist' crises of 1851, 1859, 1890-91,1907-08, 1924, 1930-32, and the 'developmental' crises of 1943, 1947, 1955, 1962 and 1967-69, taken as a whole, reveal that the structural damage caused by a century of oligarchic and neo-oligarchic governments was difficult to be resolved through democratic means. For this reason, the attempts to reduce the structural crisis of Chilean society to the political crisis of the 1970-73 period, and to attribute strategic historical responsibility to the reformist programme of the Popular Unity government, have no place within the logic of scientific analysis, even if they have a role within the logic of factional arguments. This approach should not feature in the vision of true statesmen, who should examine the situation of all Chileans and consider the country's history in its entirety.

It is deplorable that in Pinochet's "Letter to the Chileans" neither the logic of historical science nor that of a true statesman can be found. The derogatory expressions used by the former general to refer to the sovereign options and actions of a faction of Chileans who in March 1973 attained 43.3% of the national electorate (not including those who voted for the centrist Christian Democrats) exposes the logic of a factional chieftain rather than the discernment of a national statesman. Why condemn in a derogatory manner the sovereign actions of nearly half of the Chilean citizens. Is that discredit necessary to displace the blame on to nearly half the national electorate for not only the responsibility for their own mistakes but also the responsibility for all the mistakes of the oligarchy from the past and to all the excesses of the triumphalist faction of the present? And, if one should blame others for one's own deeds - is it necessary to revile?

With reference to the third assertion (that "the men of arms" acting as the "moral reserves" fought for the unity of the country and the human dignity of the Chileans, etc.) we have to say that nobody is fighting for the unity of the nation when the 'arms of the nation' are used against nearly half of their fellow countrymen. Nobody is fighting for the dignity of the Chileans when the human rights of thousands of disappeared prisoners, hundred of thousands of tortured people, or prisoners, or dismissed workers, etc. are violated. Nobody guarantees "true opportunities for the poor and underprivileged" when the labour market, imposed by despotic means, is based on the widespread instability of employment and on a hyper-commercialised higher education system. We cannot describe as the "moral reserves of the nation" those who in a partisan way declare a 'dirty war' against half the nation, and who violate the human dignity of their fellow countrymen or carry out assassinations of political opponents inside and outside the country. Nor can we apply that description to those who invoke the superior principle of sovereignty in an attempt to justify and give immunity to attacks perpetrated against this very sovereignty. The arms of the nation must not be used by one faction against another, nor to the exclusive benefit of a minority, nor to usurp the sovereignty of all. When they are used in that way, the offence committed is against sovereignty. And that offence cannot be covered under a puerile mantle of devotion and public protestations, claiming the personal assistance of God and the Holy Virgin Mary.

III

In the "Fasciculos" published in La Segunda, the historian Gonzalo Vial puts forward the following historical theses:

(a) The polarisation of Chilean politics took place from the sixties onwards when the structural economic planning of both the Christian Democrats and the Popular Unity government were implemented, predominantly 'against' landowners and other employers' sectors linked to the Right.;
(b) Violence was introduced in Chile through "Guevarism" and its objective was "the division of the Armed Forces", the "colonisation" of the Political Centre and the intensification of the attack 'against' the bosses;
(c) As a result of all this, the Right became radicalised, and, given the "horrific prospect" of Allende's victory; also played the card of violence;
(d) The Armed forces were legalist, but had to intervene when "illegality became systematic" and different sectors, in view of the crisis, sought solutions of force ("civil war"); and,
(e) By omission, given that his analysis covers only the period 1964-73, Vial excludes all historical judgement concerning the 'State terrorism' that the Military Junta deployed during the coup d'état and concerning the period after the military situation was brought under control (i.e. a week after the coup of 11th September 1973).

Overall, Vial's historical theses are restricted to a period that allows him to explain so as to justify the 1973 coup d'état. These are presented in such a way as to attribute all the blame on the victims of that coup (i.e. the faction that implemented the structural planning and those who supposedly rejected the parliamentary-electoral way). Thus, the victims were responsible for having 'provoked' the crisis by having created the conditions of instability, illegality and violence that made military action unavoidable and necessary. His theses therefore do not have to explain or justify the necessity for the 'excessive measures' of implementing structural planning from 1964, nor to explain or justify the reasons why the military government perpetrated such an untoward quantity of 'excesses' after 1973. Thus, the study applies itself to a restricted period, to compose a truth that is both partial and linked - as everything seems to indicate - to the interests of one faction.

With respect to this approach, we wish to point out:

(a) The polarisation of politics did not originate in the "unyielding" character of the structural planning introduced from 1964, but in the accumulated effect of both economic stagnation and social crisis that had been dragging on from at least the beginning of the century. In fact, the confrontational polarisation of politics occurred with the outbreak of the "social question", as was perceived by the Encyclical Rerum Novarum as far back as 1891;
(b) The increase of social-popular violence, and the political radicalisation of a sector of the Left and of an important sector of the Chilean youth, was not not only the result of the "spell" of Guevarismo - which prevailed after 1960 - but to the reiterated demonstration of the failure of succesive governments including those of Aguirre Cerda, González Videla, Carlos Ibáñez and Jorge Alessandri. All of them used violent repressive methods to stop social protest and attributed their failure because to having their hands tied by the rigid framework of the (liberal) Constitution of 1925 and by the well-known intransigent obstructionism of the Senate's majority;
(c) The implementation of structural reforms 'against' landowners and other owners of large means of production was "intransigent" not only for factional reasons. There was also the need to remove harmful vested interests that had become deeply entrenched in the economic, social and political structure of agriculture, causing a situation of underdeveloped capitalism and chronic (a century and a half old) exploitation of the farm workers. These reforms had no other purpose than to incorporate those "economically dead forces" into the 'living' economy of the national market;
(d) The resistance of employers and their organisations to social and economic structural reforms had emerged well before " structural planning. Their opposition affected the social-democrat governments of the Partido Radical and even that of the conservative government of Jorge Alessandri. Thus, what happened after 1965 and after 1970 was not the emergence of that resistance but its political escalation. The large employers moved on from simple written protests and non-collaboration to open confrontation by means of the destabilisation of both the economy and the government (in progressive association with a foreign power), and to which effect they first launched an acusacion constitucional;
(e) Given the solid vote won by the Popular Unity in March 1973 (43,3%), sectors of the Right cast aside the parliamentary process to give impetus to the military coup (corn was thrown at soldiers, accusing them of being "chickens");
(f) The constitutional order was under maximum strain (with a risk of "civil war", according to Vial). However, the Armed forces did not intervene to reinstate the Constitution, or to call the citizens to a National Assembly to agree a new Constitution, using its sovereign rights. Neither did they intervene to give impetus to national reunification (which was pertinent to "pacifying" the country). Instead, they intervened to destroy the political power of the Left and even, on finer analysis, of the Centre, for which purposes they perpetrated a massacre and a violation of civil and human rights without precedent in the history of Chile.

This is the logic of historic manipulation, also present in the case of the Letter of ex general Pinochet, as in Vial's "Fascículos". There is total coincidence in the following aspects:

· history is restricted to the period when it is apparently possible to justify the 1973 Coup;
· the structural historical processes and the corresponding accumulated responsibility of the oligarchy are ignored;
· the 1973 political crisis is attributed to the implementation of the economic and social reforms;
· the intervention of the military is justified as inevitable and moral; and,
· the factional excesses carried out by the military government after 1973 are silenced.

The fact that Vial's series of articles are factually and contextually better presented, does not diminish or conceal their ostensible "factional" identity with the harangue of ex-general Pinochet.

IV

These days we have seen on TV government authorities and high military officers defending, with rare enthusiasm, the thesis that the indictment against ex-general Pinochet initiated in Great Britain and Spain is an affront to national sovereignty, and that to defend him with all the resources of the State is a patriotic duty. Furthermore, if he has to be judged, it must be under Chilean laws. It has been proclaimed and maintained, to this effect, the thesis that the "principle" of national sovereignty (following in this case the 1980 constitutional text) is above not only the "criminal acts" of any fellow national, but also above the international consensus on human rights. The government has given this principle, within and outside the country, supreme validity, postponing and subordinating any other principle, even the demand for justice that comes from the thousands of Chilean victims of those violations and from the citizens of the world who support them. On this, the following questions are pertinent: Considering the crimes against humanity, what is worthier? The "principle" of national sovereignty - as defined by the constitution, laws and decrees promulgated by the same dictatorial government that "commanded" those crimes - Or the "principle" of justice that both victims and humankind demand to be brought to bear? What is the Chilean State defending today?

It seems to us that the ultimate, essential subject of History is the question of sovereignty and human rights. Sovereignty emanates from individual and collective freedom, and human rights represent the universal legal establishing of that sovereign dignity. History is no more than the exercise of that sovereignty and the continuous validation of those rights. The Constitution and the Laws are legitimate as long as they express the sovereign will of the national community. If - and only if - they express it, can it be stated that they represent sovereignty. When the legislative will of the community is respected, the most fundamental of human rights is also respected, i.e. the possibility that that community may by itself build the reality that it sees fit to build. When people's sovereignty is usurped by a few, when those few pass laws for a minority, and they try to impose them on all, when those laws are imposed by the force of arms and not by the free and informed will of all the people, then it is not the people's sovereignty what prevails - we are witnessing the usurpation of that sovereignty. Laws that are passed under a state of sovereign misappropriation are illegitimate. The tribunals, judges, and police that act upholding them are not expressing sovereign justice but the interests of the minority that misappropriated it and benefited from it. This is not true justice. The legal mechanisms imposed by the usurpers, to protect themselves from sovereign justice or from international justice, is not an expression of sovereignty. This is, simply, a mockery of it.

We regret that in today's Chile the ruling classes have "deduced" sovereignty from the Constitution of 1980, disregarding whether this was the sovereign product of an informed popular decision, or a partisan imposition of the autocratic powers. It does not matter to them whether "that" sovereignty is used to defend the rights of the people, or to defend the interests of the dictators who usurped and violated the rights of the people. It is all the same in fact, that sovereignty is used to do justice to the assassinated and tortured, or to protect those who were complicit in those crimes.

In this way, it is not history what it is written, but anti-history. For this reason, to put those "principles" before factual truth and sovereign rights reveals not a vocation of public service but a slanted mockery against public interest from the part of a minority.

V

History is not only the past, but also, and principally, the present and the future. History is projection. It is the social construction of future reality. The most important of human rights consists of the respect to the ability of the people themselves to forge the future reality that they need. Not to recognise that right, to usurp or to falsify that right, is to impose, above all, not the truth, but a historic lie. It is to negate the very moral reserves of humankind.

Santiago, Chile, 25th January 1999.

(This list includes only those who had signed by 27.1.99).

Originally published in Punto Final, Año XXXIII, edición del 5 al 18 de febrero de 1999, No. 438, La Nación, Santiago.

Editors' notes:

1. Letter to the Chileans (Carta a los chilenos), written by Pinochet's close advisors Luis Cordero and Pablo Longueira, and authorised and signed by the former general during his house arrest in London. Dated December 1998, it was read publicly in Santiago for the first time on 11th January 1999. Both the Spanish and the English versions of this document can be found at the Pinochet Foundation's website.
2. Published under Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903 - pope from 1878 to 1903), the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum (1891) dealt with social issues. It condemned economic and social injustices created by early industrial development.

 

General Pinochet with Letter to the Chileans

 

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