Top Menu

Dear Reader, we make this and other articles available for free online to serve those unable to afford or access the print edition of Monthly Review. If you read the magazine online and can afford a print subscription, we hope you will consider purchasing one. Please visit the MR store for subscription options. Thank you very much. —Eds.

Salvador Allende: ‘Not in My Name’

Salvador Allende

Salvador Allende gives his inaugural address as president of Chile in 1970

Atilio Borón is an Argentine sociologist and author of Empire and Imperialism (London: Zed, 2005). He writes regularly on his blog,

On February 11, 2019, Ariel Dorfman published an article in the Nation, in which he imagined the advice the late Chilean president Salvador Allende would supposedly offer Nicolás Maduro in order to confront successfully the challenges of the current conjuncture. The present article is Allende’s fictional reply to Dorfman.

Translated by Camila Valle.

You know very well, dear Ariel Dorfman, that I am respectful of others but inflexible in the defense of my personal dignity and the integrity of my beliefs and values. You have breached my trust by “imagining” the reasoning and advice I could have given to the legitimate president of Venezuela, none of which I recognize as my own. They are yours, and I respect them, but I do not share them and I ask, amicably but firmly, that you do not attribute them to me. Your mischaracterizations of my thoughts and omissions or lapses in the letter are too many. Thus, I am obliged to write these sentences as a contribution, to shed light on the enormous confusion that, unfortunately, has been planted in the left of our country and leads it to adopt stances incompatible with its noble anticapitalist and anti-imperialist tradition.

As you know, I am a doctor and, as such, I never limited my professional conduct merely to the study of external manifestations of a sickness. I always looked for the origin, the causes. And I maintained this same attitude my entire political life. I will get to the point. In your imaginary letter to President Nicolás Maduro, you say that the “Chilean experiment—arriving at socialism through peaceful means—was besieged, suffering formidable economic problems, though nothing compared to the humanitarian disaster that afflicts Venezuela.” I must confess that it surprises me that a man of your talent has avoided all mentions of the root causes of the undeniable economic difficulties that plague Venezuela. And that, furthermore, you have assumed the malicious and perverse propaganda—like the kind weaponized against my government—to be true, preventing you from asking yourself if the country wanted to suffer, as the imperially dominated press assures, a “humanitarian disaster.” This expression, charged with malignant political intentionality, evokes the lacerating images we have seen produced by North American aggression in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and, before, in the Balkans. But nothing similar exists on the land of Bolívar. Imbalance between wages and prices? Absolutely. Hyperinflation? That too. Speculation, hoarding of essential goods, a black market like we had in Chile? Agreed. But there is also the food aid granted by the government through the CLAP (Local Committees for Supply and Production) boxes that are given to millions of families every three weeks. These boxes contain ten basic food items at a ridiculously low cost of about twenty U.S. cents. Low wages? Yes. But also, extravagantly low prices, almost gifted, for basic foodstuff, electricity, gas, gasoline, and transportation. Nevertheless, it is true that this is not enough, that many problems persist, that mistakes were made in macroeconomic management, just like—until now—no one has proceeded with the necessary rigor to combat the corruption that infects both private economic agents and some sectors of the state machinery. But to speak of a “humanitarian disaster” is nonsense and validates from the left the seditious discourse of the right. Plus, what is the origin of this disorder?

Your answer to this question is disappointing and could never be attributed to me as far as it points to the Bolivarian government as the cause of all these ills while completely ignoring the perfidious actions of North American imperialism. It is not anecdotal that in your fantastical reconstruction of my thought, the word imperialism—used many times throughout my political life to denounce U.S. arrogance in Latin America, especially during my years as president of Chile—is striking in its absence. Your assimilation of the dominant opinion prompts you to equate the offensive unleashed against me by the perverse duo of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, with that which Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Juan Cruz, and company launch today. You are completely mistaken. The White House is full of thugs and killers, some of whom are serial killers—Abrams, an ex-convict pardoned by George H. W. Bush, is the most extreme case but is far from an exception. In my time, I had to deal with reactionaries but not gangsters. You also cannot ignore imperialism’s methods of submission, which, destructive as they were in our case, are today incomparably more virulent and brutal. Did you not, by any chance, watch the lynching of Gaddafi and Hillary Clinton’s nauseating guffaw when she heard the news? Do you think that, at some point, Nixon called the Chilean armed forces to carry out the coup d’état? No. But Trump will do it and this difference is not a triviality that can go unnoticed by a man of your intelligence. Our government nationalized copper, banking, and vast industrial sectors; we regulated the markets and implemented agrarian reform. And we never had to face anything like the tremendous “economic sanctions” that today afflict the Maduro government. We experienced many difficulties, but we could import spare parts, medicine, food, essential supplies for our economy. Nobody confiscated our assets abroad as was done, in total violation of U.S. and international law, in the case of PDVSA (Petroleum of Venezuela) and its subsidiaries. Despite the tensions with Washington, we freely traded with the rest of the world, and Europe did not close its doors to us. We also did not share a large border with a country whose government would become a “proxy” for the United States (as is unfortunately the case today with Colombia) and from which the smuggling of basic goods was fomented and our currency destroyed. Not even a bandit like Nixon dared issue an executive order like the one, in his eternal dishonor, put out by President Barack Obama on March 9, 2015, declaring that the United States faced a “national emergency” as a consequence of the “unusual and extraordinary threat” that Venezuela represented for U.S. “national security and foreign policy.” In sum: the role of the U.S. government and its European accomplices (the gold stolen by the Bank of England is just one example of many) has been one of the most principal causes—certainly not the only one—of the economic crisis that affects Venezuela and the hardships of its people. Under such conditions, it is almost impossible to create an efficient macroeconomic governance and adequate state policies when, every time, the main variables are not controlled by the Bolivarian government but by the United States. Do you not think that you should have considered these differences when you lightheartedly equated the pressures of imperialism against the Popular Unity government half a century ago with the contemporary ones exerted on Bolivarian Venezuela, which are much harder and more destructive?

Having established this distinction, let us move onto the politics. It is true that my government never curtailed “freedom of assembly and the press, and did not imprison people from the opposition.” But neither did Maduro’s! How can you accuse the Bolivarian president of such a thing, how can you accuse him of being a “dictator”—something on which sadly vast sections of the astray Chilean and Latin American left agree—when the bloody guarimbas of 2014 and 2017 had to face an opposition that burned people alive for “looking like Chavistas,” attacked kindergartens and hospitals with incendiary bombs, destroyed public and private property, erected barricades that totally restricted people’s freedom of movement, forced people to remain in their homes and not go to work at risk of being executed for doing so, and fired arms at those who disobeyed their orders or at the forces responsible for maintaining public order? All of this with the added applause from the global right and the press elevating to the category of freedom fighters the false, so-called democratic leaders that openly promote violence. What do you, who has been living in the United States for decades, think would be the White House’s response in a situation like the one I just described? Would you consider the president trying to do anything they can to reestablish public order a “dictator”? There are no political prisoners in Venezuela. There are imprisoned politicians, but that is totally different. In fact, I guarantee that some of those imprisoned politicians, intellectuals responsible for incidents that led to the death of hundreds in 2014 and 2017, were given light sentences in Venezuela, but if they had been in other countries, such as the United States, they would have been sentenced for life or given the death penalty.

With regard to freedom of assembly and expression, the “president in charge,” Juan Guaidó—a seditious puppet wielded at will by Washington—maintained regular meetings with political and cultural Venezuelan figures who could come and go as they pleased without being harassed by authorities. These meetings occurred in the branch of the National Assembly in Caracas, a few blocks away from the Miraflores Palace where the supposed “dictator” Nicolás Maduro tends to his affairs. There are pictures that prove this irrefutably. This mediocre impostor can reference press conferences, give radio and television interviews, and enter and leave the country without him or his family being bothered. The leaders of the opposition make rounds on the streets of Caracas without issue and develop their political activities without restrictions. A friend of mine who was there in these days personally told me that he bumped into various of these leaders in the vicinity of the National Assembly. Could the Chilean opposition do this under Pinochet’s dictatorship? Can you imagine what would have happened if someone, in the middle of an episode of inebriation, had climbed up onto a stage and declared himself “president in charge” of Chile? Or would have gone out and promoted an invasion of guarimberos against his own country, like in these days is done on the international Simón Bolívar bridge, to then start a presidential tour of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina in a Colombian Air Force plane? In just a few days, the dictatorship would have imprisoned, tortured, and executed him without mercy. But there goes Guaidó, playing president of nothing, bossing no one around, ignored and ridiculed in his own country even by those opposed to Maduro, and counting for all of this on the collaboration of the murderous narcogovernment of Iván Duque, who gives him a plane at his disposal, and the fawning characters of the seedy world of Latin American politics, such as Mauricio Macri, Jair Bolsonaro, and Mario Abdo Benítez.

Look, Ariel, do yourself a favor: go to Venezuela, stay at a five-star hotel, and flip through the television channels you will have access to from your room. There you will notice the presence of almost all the international channels that demonize the Maduro government—CNN, Televisión Española, TV de Chile, and so on—and the resounding absence of teleSUR, the only television channel that offers an alternative vision to that of the dominant media conspiracy. And the ferocious “dictatorship” of Maduro does nothing to force the telecommunication operators to include teleSUR in your grid. In this comfortable hotel you will also be able to see most of the national channels constantly ranting against the government. Do you think that could happen under a dictatorship? But do not stay in the hotel. Go out and walk the streets of Caracas or any other city. Tell me if you see, like in almost all of Latin America, entire families sleeping on the streets or children begging for money or rummaging through the trash for food. Because of my past presidency, I will abstain from naming the countries in which these things form part of the quotidian landscape, but you know very well to those which I am referring. Go to the popular neighborhoods of Caracas: to Petare, the 23 of January, get on the subway and talk to the passengers. Caribbean people are very extroverted and will rid you of any doubts. They will criticize the government for the shortages, the low wages, they will complain about the inefficiency of certain sectors of public administration, of the corruption—but you will not find many who will tell you that they want to be governed by a president imposed by the gringos, as the press lies about every day, or that they want people to come and take their petroleum and natural resources, as Trump and Bolton explicitly announced. In fact, you will prove, like several of my friends did recently, that faced with the brazen aggression of the White House, the anti-imperialist and Chavista sentiment has considerably strengthened despite the economic hardships. Trust me: go, see, talk, and, most importantly, listen. Listen to the people and forget the hegemonic media, all bought or rented by the global corporate power to poison society with “fake news,” “post-truths,” and media blinders that hide the phenomenal immorality and corruption of the supposed saviors of Venezuelan democracy, inside and outside the country. And forget, too, of the “official knowledge” or the academy, in the United States as well as in Europe and Latin America, which, in its scandalous capitulation, has turned into a propaganda agency at the service of the worst interests of empire’s dominant classes.

You allowed yourself to advise President Maduro, in my name, to do what I tried to do but could not: call “a plebiscite so the people can decide the way forward for the country. If I lost, I would renounce the presidency and new elections would be held.” Did no one tell you that in mid–2017 and early 2018, the Bolivarian government tried to reach an institutional settlement in negotiations held in Santo Domingo under the direction of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and that, in the moment of finalizing the agreement, an order from President Trump made the representatives of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main opposition party, hurriedly abandon the premises right when they were about to sign the final document in the presence of the ex-president of the Spanish government and of Danilo Medine, the president of the Dominican Republic? Do you ignore that the U.S. government and its operators in Venezuela have repeated to the point of exhaustion that they do not want elections but the long-awaited “regime change,” the “exit” of Maduro, who they threaten to kill, as Marco Rubio, a true “official delinquent” to quote the Chico Buarque song, did in a recent infamous tweet? But supposing that the settlement in Santo Domingo had prospered, do you sincerely believe that the right and imperialism would have accepted the verdict of the ballot boxes in what would have most probably been the new triumph of Chavismo? Remember what happened to me: the coup was precisely to avoid the realization of a plebiscite that would have ratified my administration in the Moneda Palace. Do you think that it would be any different in the case of President Maduro? You cannot be that naïve.

Another thing: I have always been a democrat, but I have never loved the bourgeois conception of democracy. I have been a Marxist throughout all of my life and, faithful to that theory, I know that the struggle of classes is the motor of history and that its effects are as irresistible as the law of gravity. This is one of the most notable omissions of your letter, to which I referred at the beginning. I know that, for the bourgeoisie, democracy is tolerable as long as it does not affect its interests. When it does, it destroys democracy without further ado and without any remorse. In its place, it erects despotic, fascist, racist regimes that restore the threatened order. The history of my government irrefutably proves the omnipresence and exceptional gravitational force of class struggle. For this reason, I supported the Cuban Revolution from the beginning, because I saw that a new form of democracy with social justice was being born there. I also knew that it was not the model that could be applied in Chile because the histories, institutions, social forces, and political traditions of the two countries were very different. But I quickly convinced myself that radical, grassroots democracy established on the rebellious island was as valid as our “Chilean way to socialism.” And for the same reasons, I accepted, even as president of the Chilean senate, to be the president of the Latin American Solidarity Organization created by Fidel in 1967 to support the struggles for national liberation that were being waged in the third world, particularly Che Guevara’s in Bolivia. For this reason, I collaborated in guaranteeing the exit, safe and sound, of the men who accompanied Che and the guerrillas of Nancahuazú, as well as that of six young Argentines from the Trelew prison, where they were detained for their armed opposition to the reigning dictatorship in the country. For these same reasons, I invited Fidel to come to Chile for an extended visit, which awakened the worst hatred from the right and imperialism. This is why I believe that Maduro is correct when he considers me the precursor of the left cycle relaunched in Latin America by the election of Hugo Chávez to the presidency of Venezuela in 1998. And, for the same reason, I radically disagree with you when you affirm that to have sacrificed “my life for democracy and peaceful revolution is a faithful and luminous example for the people thirsting for liberty and social justice.” Politics is not about creating saints or heroes willing to immolate themselves, but about building societies that are more just and free—an arduous task bristling with danger under capitalism and the pressures of imperialism. By no means would I recommend President Maduro to make a virtue out of what in my case was an unfortunate necessity, product of the weakness of my government in the face of a reactionary coalition and the left’s inability to calibrate, in its just terms, the perverse and tyrannical nature of the oligarchic Chilean sectors and their North American mentors. My death in the Moneda Palace, like Che’s in Bolivia, was a call to fight to open great avenues, not to foment defeatism and resignation in the face of the most regressive forces of our societies.

Given all of the above, I request that you do not continue speaking in my name. If all that I have exposed does not seem convincing, go ahead with your preaching, but do so with your own name and not mine. Nobody, not even those who participated in my government, including the leadership of the Socialist Party of which I was a founder, or those who carry my last name or participate in this regrettable loss that affects vast sectors of the Chilean left, constructed on more than one hundred years of efforts, sacrifices, jails, and persecutions of all kinds, have the right to bastardize the political legacy that I sealed with my blood in the Moneda Palace. And I cannot hide from you the deep pain that overwhelms me when I see that, in this tremendous Venezuelan conjuncture, when the Bolivarian government faces a “historic transition” like the one I alluded to in my last message to the Chilean people, you take the side of Vargas Llosa (both father and son), Carlos Alberto Montaner, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Enrique Krauze, Jorge Castañeda, and all the complacent and conventional Latin American right, protected, financed, and promoted by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Foundation, and the enormous network of foundations and NGOs that serve as vehicles for imperialism’s cultural dominance. Or when I see that your name appears next to that of Macri, Bolsonaro, and Abdo Benítez. I would rather see it on the other side, grouped with those who believe that, in this moment, one is either with a government that came out of a popular vote—that ended illiteracy, expanded public health care like never before, gave more than two and a half million homes to its people, recovered the country’s natural resources, and won in twenty-three of the twenty-five elections called since it has come to power (if you have doubts about these, talk to Jimmy Carter, who could illuminate this question)—or one is with Trump and his lackeys inside and outside of Venezuela, whose exclusive objectives are to seize oil, gold, and coltan, among other strategic natural resources found in the Venezuelan territory. And I hope you do not insult my intelligence affirming that the goal of North American interventionism is to establish the empire of justice, liberty, human rights, and democracy. Show me a country in which that has occurred. Honduras, Granada, Panama, Brazil in 1964, Chile after 1973? Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen? What moves them to favor this type of “regime change” politics is desire to take over increasingly scarce natural resources and position themselves more favorably in the complex, international, geopolitical grid. All at the expense of the submission of our people and the subjugation of national sovereignty and self-determination.

I trust that you will be able to abstract yourself from the opinions dominant in the United States and, by almost “natural” projection, in its satellite countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, so strongly influenced by the media dictatorship that overwhelms us around the world, and that you can submit for review the ideas that you have exposed as if they were mine when they are not. In the past, you have written notable pages that enriched Latin American critical thought. Go back to your roots because you have lost your way. Your imaginary reconstruction of my thought is an inadmissible distortion of my ideas. Because of this, I reiterate: say what you will, but not in my name. And this is not a favor I am asking of you, but a demand born out of the respect deserved by my trajectory, political coherence, and life offered for remaining loyal to my ideas and my people. I fervently hope you can reconsider and resume the course that led you to accompany me in my governmental project.


Salvador Allende Gossens

2019, Volume 71, Issue 01 (May 2019)
Comments are closed.