Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Free At Last...

The world spent the better part of Wednesday listening to the miraculous rescue of the trapped Chilean miners.  As I write, they have just all been rescued.  Throughout the day we’ve been allowed to bear witness to the unfolding of  “good” stories, filled with happy endings and huggings and tears of pure joy.  (And most of us have shed a few ourselves.)
  
Beyond the incredible individual stories of the trapped miners’ bravery and stoicism and gallantry, we have also seen the swelling of Chilean national pride.  And what a welcomed sight it has been when we remember the suffering that these fine people endured in the last years of the Twentieth Century under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.  And although there are economic critics today [Here] who assert that Pinochet’s rightwing privatizations of the economy are still delivering huge profits only to the few, at least  Chilean life is freer and more egalitarian today than it was under Pinochet’s iron fist.
In 1970 the Chilean people elected Dr. Salvador Allende, a Marxist and a member of a prominent Chilean family, as their President. [Here]  The election was a close three-way race and was the first time a South American people freely elected a Marxist to lead them.  Dr. Allende was a well-known political figure in Chile, having previously served as a Senator and a Cabinet Minister.  He had also previously ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency three times before his victory. 
Allende immediately nationalized industries and collectivized farm land.  The rightwing responded with strikes and protests and political unrest.  The Nixon White House was agitated, as we can imagine.  The Chilean military, ostensibly at the request of the Chamber of Deputies to “restore order,” staged a coup after attacking the Presidential Palace with ground and air attacks.  Inside the palace, Allende vowed not to leave and allegedly  committed suicide before the palace was overwhelmed.
Pinochet was in charge and so were the so-called Chicago Boys who were Chilean economists who had been trained initially at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, the program funded by the Ford Foundation.  When they completed their studies, they, in turn, settled into Chilean universities to recruit more economists and were ready with a 500-page economic plan, called “The Brick,” which called for privatization of government-owned programs and industries and deregulation of most government controls, thus opening Chilean doors wide to foreign corporations, and foreign capital.
Meanwhile, Pinochet’s military began a reign of terror that “disappeared” thousands of Allende supporters, and made torture and imprisonment without due process a regular occurrence.  (Michelle Bachelet who was a very popular President of Chile from 2006=2010, had been tortured and imprisoned by Pinochet during this time, as was her mother. [Here])
Pinochet was finally voted out of power in 1990 after ruling for 17 years and throwing all of Allende’s ideas and supporters under the bus.  The story of Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys, the “Brick,” and the economic theory that fed the Chilean human rights debacle is told in fascinating detail by Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine which we shall write about in the future.  
There are critics today who say that if Chile’s mining industry had been more responsibly regulated, the heroic rescue that we are witness to today would not have been necessary.  In our cheers about this rescue, we should not overlook this criticism.  There are lessons to be learned here.  There are an average of 39 fatal accidents every year in Chile’s privatized mines.  Just six days before the mine disaster, a Chilean labor department report said that there were “serious safety deficiencies” in the mine but no action was taken.  
One wonders if there will now be some Chilean discussion about proper, sensible public regulation of those mines.  While we cheer, we also pray that the Chilean people will demand that this will never happen again.
Never.  Never.  Never...

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