This time, few are trying to save Chile

January 23, 2000|By Robert Reno

THE process of saving Chile from socialism turned out to be a squalid affair that lasted 17 years, during which Chilean democracy was extinguished by a particularly unattractive military dictatorship.

What made it so offensive was that it often mimicked -- in extra-constitutional violence, sheer thuggery and naked oppression -- the very process by which various communist revolutionaries "saved" their nations from capitalism.

And now Chile has another duly elected socialist president, Ricardo Lagos, cheered by crowds in Santiago this past week as he acknowledged the presence of the widow of the last duly elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. Mr. Lagos has socialist credentials that include a nomination to be Allende's ambassador to Moscow and a stay of 20 days in the jails of Augusto Pinochet. Mr. Lagos comes to office with a clear majority of the votes cast. And even the

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cf01 practically fell all over itself assuring its readers that Mr. Lagos' election was not an occasion to dust off plans for destabilization of Chile. The

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cf01 came perilously close to saying there is such a thing as a "good" socialist.

It noted that "the comeback of a socialist in this election might thus appear to be an open door to new troubles. But look a little closer and what you see is a Chile that has come to embrace the economic freedom that sprouted under the Pinochet dictatorship."

If only his American apologists and sponsors had looked a little closer at the political and civil freedoms that were extinguished under Pinochet, it might not have taken 17 years to save Chile from socialism.

Even if he escapes his Spanish and British tormentors, Pinochet will suffer the humiliating fate of returning to a homeland ruled by a man he once jailed, representing a party he spent so many years tormenting. And people who take satisfaction in the housebroken nature of Mr. Lagos' socialism should be reminded that the Chilean army remains vigilant in its barracks.

It may be that Mr. Lagos simply doesn't have the death wish that drove Allende. He appears to have a will for national reconciliation that is alien to Pinochet's shoot-the-wounded instincts.

What we can be sure of is that the Pinochet apologists will go on with their tortured arguments that the flowering of "economic freedom" in Chile even remotely justified Pinochet's excesses, that it was necessary to spend 17 years ramming into Chilean heads a knee-jerk hatred of socialism that they have now rejected in a free election.

Robert Reno is a Newsday columnist.

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