" If anything is certain, it is that I, myself, am not a Marxist."
Debates and all the political excitement currently happening, have a way of bringing back memories of one of the most crucial times in Chilean history, when a marxist man, by the name of Salvador Allende Gossens, assumed the presidency in one of the most controversial elections ever recorded.
It also reminds me that there are always two sides to every story. I am sure that some of my friends and relatives experienced this episode in our lives in a much different way. But this post will tell my side of the story, without minimizing the other, as I am very aware that people, some of whom I knew well, suffered deep pain, lost loved ones, parents lost children, children lost parents, and many perished in the process. So much grief, so much devastation.... so much greed …
In the 1970's I lived in Santiago, Chile. I was a happy-go-lucky citizen, who got up each morning, left my home at sun-up, walked two blocks to the bus stop, while enjoying the beautiful view of the Andes mountains, and headed for work. We shopped at food markets, felt free to walk to the park or meet with a group of friends in the corner of our homes. This story takes place when I lived in a cute street named 'Gerona'. My neighborhood was an example in civility and tolerance. In this one block lived christians and Jews, democrats, socialists, marxists, communists, British, Americans, Muslims, Spaniards and Turks, and we knew each others' families. We held no animosity toward each other, regardless of our political or religious views or social class status.
My next door neighbors were a talented and lovely marxist and atheist family. In contrast, I was Catholic and christian-democrat. She was my art teacher. He worked at a bank, their children were my friends. We all attended the same school. They never pushed their views on politics or religion and we never pushed ours either. In the other homes, across the street, lived a friend of Salvador Allende, in fact his right hand man, an actress, a magazine editor, a newspaper editor and other friendly folks. We all co-existed in harmony.
It was around that time that presidential elections were held. I was a new voter and proudly headed to the national stadium to cast my choice. A right of passage. Unlike modern elections, we showed our ID, were given a tiny piece of paper, put an “X” next to our candidate's choice and it went into a box.
There was a sense of uneasiness at the “possibility” of having a Marxist president.
Unusual things happened during that election. My information comes directly from relatives and friends that belonged to the communist movement, who told me that, on that election day, they had driven buses filled with poor citizens, and for a few coins, were transported from one place to another to cast their votes for Allende. In the 1970's, computers were not a regular part of our lives ...
For some of us, it was a dark day when it was announced that Salvador Allende would be the next president. Mother was concerned. It was obvious that the new government was not amicable to US citizens. In those days, my Chilean Father was a retired military, owner of a photo engraving business, my American Mother, a teacher in a British School for girls and I worked in downtown Santiago as a legal secretary. My siblings were still in school.
For a few months we all sat tight and waited to see what would happen. We gave this man the benefit of the doubt. But slowly I started to notice some changes. My Father would buy excessive amounts of flour, sugar and non-perishables. I mentioned this to Mother, who said that she suspected dad was “going down the deep end”. Little did we know that, during the revolution that would come in just a few months, when all the stores were closed, the food that he 'hoarded” would come in handy. Obviously, Dad, being involved with the military, was privy to information that the rest of us were not.
Food became scarce very fast. There was talk that the airports would be closed. Farms were forcefully taken from their owners. There was a massive trucker strike from one end of the country to the other. Schools and universities were also on strike. Political marches and activities were beginning to develop and violence became a daily occurrence. Dead people in the corners, covered with newspaper, would greet me each morning on the way to work. Walls covered with blood. The police cistern truck (those that spray water by force) would be active, trying to control marches and political demonstrations. The smell of tear gas was prominent. On one occasion I was stuck in a little office while protesters were being ordered by police to stop. They refused and I found myself in this tiny room, which quickly filled with tear gas, making it difficult to breathe or see, a horrifying experience.
I became active in the political movement. Joined La Guerra de las Mujeres (The Women's War), I banged pots and pans, as did most of women in the country, who opposed the current government. Each night, at the same time, we would beat our pots and pans with a wooden spoon, for months...protesting the lack of food. I joined a neighborhood group, where we talked about what we would do if the guerrillas would come and try to take our homes. We had a plan to move the children away by climbing over walls to others homes and kept ladders nearby, if we needed to escape. I learned to use a nunchack and a gun. I marched in protest. We would throw chicken feed in front of the military as they paraded in the streets and called them “chicken” for not coming to the aid of the country.
It was during those months that Fidel Castro came to visit Allende. He was a huge admirer of Castro. He presented the, then Chilean president, with a silver gun as a gift. I remember the man, impressively tall, standing on an open army truck, with his green uniform and full beard, gun on his holster. A commanding presence... I thought to myself, as I was caught in the middle of a group of communist supporters...who, in their right mind, would come and visit a country, be greeted by it's people and wear a gun! I found that disrespectful.
The situation deteriorated fast. Production of goods had almost come to a halt. Schools and universities were closed, or running at half speed. Strikes were plaguing the country. Violence increased. Food became a luxury.
I remember Mother, waiting for a secret clandestine delivery of meat from the local butcher, in the dark. He would deliver, she would pay and the truck would quickly disappear.
When Christmas came, it was ordered that Santas who would be ringing bells on the street "were allowed" to wear the usual Santa attire, but they had to add a Chilean poncho and spurs to their boots...Santa was a reminder of American culture and that was not acceptable. Also Christmas trees were outlawed. Dad hired a taxi cab to drive us to the florist neighborhood, near the cemetery, where wreaths were made, bought a Charlie Brown tree, hid it in the trunk of the car and rushed home. We kept the curtains closed that season, so the tree would not be seen from outside. Dad paid extra to the cab driver for his silence.
On another occasion, Mother went to buy a liter of cooking oil. She would bring a bottle and oil would be pumped from a large drum. This time there was a long line. She stood there and waited. The line did not move. There was a parallel line, of those who belonged “to the party”. They would walk in and come out with bottles filled with oil. A man at the door would explain that, if you signed with the Marxist party, you would not have to make a line. Families who signed were given unlimited supplies of bread... Mother was given two pieces. There was no toilet paper...we used newspaper.... Sometimes we did not have hot water, as the delivery of propane tanks would not be made due to strikes.
Fear escalated. One morning, we woke up to find several homes marked with a large black tar “X” on the fence. These were the homes of military personnel or their relatives. Later on it was discovered that the military living in those homes would be executed at a banquet and their families arrested.... my home had a black X.
One early September 11th morning, I took the bus to work. As we approached the center of the city, I noticed barricades, military, police, ambulances, arms. Then tanks, rushing through the Alameda, the main street, amongst other military vehicles. Air Force jets and helicopters were hoovering above our heads. A police man ordered the driver of my bus to turn around and leave the vicinity immediately.. The driver did as he was told. As I arrived back to my neighborhood I could hear the loud planes, the sound of bombs exploding and gun shooting. I could see smoke in the sky. The earth shook under my feet. I ran home. As I neared my home, I saw my next door neighbors running too, hugging each other in front of their home, crying. They disappeared inside their house and drew the curtains closed. I have always remembered that instant of my life with much detail. The Mother and Father hugging their children, their sobs, their fear. Later on, I learned of my Father lending money to that family so they could buy groceries, as the banks were closed and they had not expected to be found in this situation. Now the roles were reversed and they were the enemy in the eyes of others. My Father, a military man, who would have been killed by the Marxist government, was helping a neighbor, in their worst time... that is called humanity ... they were a family, just like us...
It was a long day. The radios in the entire country were seized by the military, and only special bulletins were heard. The rest of the day, classical music was played. The two television stations, each belonging to the universities, were also seized. People desperately rushed to get home.
In the early evening, the much awaited first communique by national radio and television....the military junta had taken over, citizens were ordered to stay inside their homes. In case of a medical emergency, they were to stand in the street holding a white flag and wait for military help. We could not meet as a group, all stores were closed. Any group of more than 3 people would be arrested or shot. Curfew was 24 hours until further notice.
The Military Junta was comprised of a representative of each branch of the arm forces, including the police. They selected Augusto Pinochet, an army man, as their leader. I knew him, I knew his daughter Lucia. In my humble opinion, we had no other choice but a military junta. Things had deteriorated to the point of no return.
On the 4th day, following the military coup, stores were allowed to open for 4 hours. There was a pharmacy nearby and Mother had a birthday. We rushed there and purchased whatever we could find, Band Aids, sulfa powder, gauze, some mints....that was Mom's birthday gift that year! Unfortunately, not all stores could open. Four hours was not enough for a store owner to leave home, open his or her shop and return home in a timely manner.
Allende's house was raided. While most of the country suffered poverty, hunger and lack of basic needs, his home was filled with niceties, food, American whiskey.
It was such a sad time. No matter which side you belonged to, suffering was felt. People were arrested, tortured, killed, just as the previous government had done. Many disappeared, some went to live in exile. Some of my schoolmates I never saw again. They went on to become famous in other countries, as singers, painters, actors. It pains me to think that I was never able share in their accomplishments, their gift. I felt such a loss. They were so dear to me.
Around this time, the police raided homes across mine. They found disturbing evidence. Like a tunnel that was excavated and connected several homes. The magazine editor, who so often would offer me a ride to work in his chauffeured car, and who, each time I accepted, would say the same thing: “would you like the magazine or the newspaper?”...turned out to be Allende's right hand man. They committed suicide at the same time. His house had a tunnel.
The way to recovery was long. The breakage of family and society, excruciatingly painful. Losses in every corner of the country.
The curfew lasted for many months. Eventually it remained a night curfew, but large gatherings were prohibited, which made Mass not an option.
I know that this a simplistic account of that time in history. I could go on and on and give facts and forwards with numbers and data. I know all that. I also know all the rumors and misinformation in both countries... but the emotional and human aspect is what is of interest to me.
Over the years I have had to listen to young foreign exchange students, who have not a clue of what life was like during those years, speak as though Allende was a hero, a savior, a saint who was done wrong. They have fresh ideas, they do not know how it feels to live in fear, to see death and be unsafe. I was even told once that the pictures and books I showed of Chile before and after the marxist government, 'insulted their intelligence' .... there is not much more that one can say to close minded people that lack the experience of living in other countries.
Interestingly enough, a modern statue of Salvador Allende is on a plaza in Santiago. He is, after all, a part of Chilean history.
Writing this blog made me remember so many friends, one in particular, Homero. A simple guy, with Coke bottle glasses. With a voice like no other. A humble young man, who sung in the circles of famous Chilean folk artists. He went to France and I never heard frm him again. I was also prompted to find my old dusty books sleeping on the bookshelf, written by brave authors of those controversial days.
"Proceso a una Traicion" ~ Process to treason....
In those books I found excerpts (below) that I had highlighted long ago....in those days we did not call it highlighted....we called it "underlined"...
--- On that grim day, around 4 pm, military authorities broadcasted through radio chain, that “Salvador Allende Gossens, ex-president of the Chilean Republic, has committed suicide, using the a weapon with the following inscription: 'For Salvador, from his comrade in arms , Fidel Castro' ---
And from the fierce women's war... another book "La Epopeya de las Ollas Vacias" ~ "The Epic of Empty Pots"
---“Because never, in any country, in the entire world, had women of such caliber made drums out of the cooking pots in their hands
---“Chile showed the world an original way. This scrawny and poor country, this country that we all believed helpless, won the honor of twisting the hand of communism on their own, without help from anyone, with purity of heart, with its civil resistance, with women and their cooking pans and the courage of his soldiers, this country was brought back from hell “
---“Chilean women, whose suffering, humiliation and heroism, hoping for liberty and enduring the Marxist government for almost three years, with emotion, THANK the Armed Forces in the anniversary of our National Independence. The country has returned to her freedom...”
"El Experimento Marxista Chileno", The Chilean Marxist experiment
---“Allende's government was moving at hurricane speed, often acting outside the law, to confiscate private property, with the hope that, by transforming the economic structure of Chile, it could destroy the financial base of the opposition parties and the free press”---
Finally, winning comes from working together for the good of all.... winning comes from civility and respect toward our fellow human beings. And winning comes from exercising that right of passage that I feel so proud of: “VOTING”. Don't be a by-stander, become actively involved in your community, in your schools, in your government, in the betterment of the neighborhood in which you live. But most of all, we need to raise a generation of humans that know respect, that think of education as an important part of their lives and understand the meaning of humility and acceptance.
I am now getting off my soap box and reminiscing of a time gone by, but very important, never-the-less.
And on other news...
I finished “The Wedding Quilt” for my niece, so beautifully pieced by her Mother. It is now on it's way to North Carolina.
Mariner's Compass Quilt, made from silk dupioni... luscious... soft... delicious....
I am preparing to participate in a craft show on November 17 at Gloria Dei Church. A unique group of women who do tole painting, sewing and other delicious crafts. This year we will offer goodies to eat. Come see us if you are nearby!
And one quilt leaves the long arm and another climbs on...In the works, a "demure" Oregon Duck pinwheel quilt for friend in Cottage Grove.
And in my sewing room, many t-shirts await their place in two Memory Quilts for a friend who lost much. I hope to make her proud with these heirloom pieces.
Also in my sewing room, a restoration job for a very old and tattered quilt from a beloved friend. It will turn from a large piece to a lap quilt, but the love that was poured into its original making will remain intact. Hope that it will bring good memories and warmth to my friend. I will try to preserve the style with which it was created.
Joe's tomato trees are still producing juicy and delicious fruit and friends Sally and Jim shared the fruits of their orchard....they brought purple corn, apples, pears and tomatoes.... thank you friends!!!
I baked our usual gluten free focaccia, using these delicious tomatoes...
...and made a fresh tomato, onion, parsley salad from our garden, with oil, pepper and salt.... simple, yummy!Apple, peach and blackberry crisp... from fresh fruit....
Tomato sauce and chicken stew.... mmm mmm....
Wednesday Church Night for Children has resumed it's music program, you can find me on those nights playing guitar and dancing to the tune of Father Abraham and other oldies with elementary age boys and girls. It makes my heart happy!
And I continue to help students with editing their essays for scholarships. I now do it via Internet, quickly and mercilessly.... and I visit all the high school English classes, once a year, to discuss how to write good essays, where to find inspiration and information and the etiquette to applying for scholarships. I hope that, one student at a time, I can make a difference. The “Naggers” at North Bend High School, is a program near and dear to my heart. I am one of the 'original' ... (that means old) ... founders. It is actually called the North Bend Career Advisers, but volunteers are lovingly called “naggers' because that is what we do...we nag about deadlines, nag about spelling mistakes, grammar and applications for college....all that good stuff that turns our youth into productive members of this country. It is not unusual to hear a student walk in the Student's Services office and ask: “is my nagger here”???
The weather is turning. Rain drops rock me to sleep or wake me up. Nature shows its full spectrum of colors. There are many a ~Maria-kind-of-day~ on their way ...I love it! Good things to come.
Thanks for visiting my little world.
And remember, no matter what party you belong to, VOTE!