NEWS

‘United Europe, counterweight to the US’

For people in the USA, September 11 will always symbolize the day the Twin Towers were destroyed in a terrorist attack by the Al Qaeda group, which killed nearly 3,000 people on that day in 2001. For Isabel Allende, September 11 was the day in 1973 when her father Salvador Allende, the socialist president of Chile, died when the presidential palace in Santiago was bombed by Augusto Pinochet’s airplanes with the blessing of Henry Kissinger. In the 30 years since, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. In its last elections, Chile got its first socialist president since Allende, and Isabel Allende, a leading member of the Socialist Party, is now parliamentary speaker. It was in this capacity that she visited Greece this week at the invitation of her Greek counterpart, Apostolos Kaklamanis. In this interview with Kathimerini, Allende spoke about the dreams of yesterday and the harsh reality of the present. The US claimed to be «exporting democracy» in its war against Iraq and in its wider effort to redraw borders in the Middle East. Your country and, in particular, your family has its own tragic experience of regime changes with the overthrow of the Allende government by General Pinochet. How do you perceive the Bush government’s policy in the light of that experience? We have left behind us the age of bipolarity that ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. At present, the USA does not appear to be at all tolerant of governments it doesn’t like. Of course, the US government of the time bore a grave responsibility for the military dictatorship imposed in Chile. There was widespread intervention in our domestic affairs and the military dictatorship enjoyed US support. That experience was a major lesson for us. But the Americans also learned a lot and already under the Carter government, they gradually began to change their stance toward Chile and Latin America in general. Today, relations between the USA and Chile are on a very different basis. We have an open dialogue with the USA. Naturally, we disagree on various issues. We have signed a free trade agreement, something which is of vital interest to us, as is a similar agreement we have signed with the European Union, soon to be ratified by the Greek Parliament and those in other EU member states. As I said, however, we have our differences and our reservations. We believe that the USA is not the most suitable country to be telling the rest of the world what democracy is and what isn’t. It could be making the same mistake it made in Chile. By no means do we agree with the principle of «preventive wars,» which only creates dangerous precedents, particularly to the extent that it legitimizes unilateral strikes outside the framework of the United Nations. Therefore, we look forward to the strengthening of the EU. We have every reason to want a strong, more united Europe, present on the international stage, a Europe that could provide a counterweight to the hegemony of the USA. Salvador Allende has gone down in history as the prototype of a revolutionary socialist. The current president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, represents the center-left model, the «Third Way,» as in Blair’s Britain or Schroeder’s Germany. Do you believe that your father would have been satisfied with the government in Chile today? It is not easy to compare the past with the present. We cannot bring forward in time a specific experience of a different era. My father was a person of his age but he managed to be far ahead of his time. The 1960s was a time when the wind of revolution was blowing through Latin America, with the Cuban revolution, «liberation theology,» the strong emergence of various movements inspired by Che Guevara and so on. Nevertheless, my father never espoused armed struggle. He believed that in a country such as ours, with its cultural and political development, change would come within institutional, peaceful processes. That was the «Chilean Way» toward a socialist society, with growth, justice, democracy, pluralism and freedom. Today, Chile is very different and so we can no longer use models from the 1960s and 1970s. Within the Lagos government is the Christian Democratic Party, which supported to a great extent the Pinochet coup against Allende. Is it easy for the Socialists to coexist with those who were once their political enemies? Naturally it was not easy at first. We had to overcome the deep divisions of the past. Now we have restored a relationship of mutual respect, one could say a brotherly relationship, within the framework of a coalition government, as we have a major challenge to confront – the deepening of democracy in Chile and a victory for the center-left against the right alliance. I would like to emphasize that the Socialist-Christian Democrat alliance is not purely for electoral purposes but is based on a vision for the country, on principles and programs, despite the undeniable fact that we have political differences which we make no secret of. However, these differences are not more important than our duty to secure stability within the country and to complete the transition to democracy, which has already taken longer than it should have. Why has it taken so long, given that the dictatorship fell in the 1980s? It is true that we are still, in one way or another, in a transition period. This is because there is still the heritage of a military dictatorship, with privileges (for the military), gaps in the Constitution adopted during the 1980s, the institution of appointed senators, an electoral system that perpetuates bi-partisanship and allows a minority among the people to acquire a majority in Parliament. All these are remnants of the dictatorship and should be wiped out. The Spanish judge Balthazar Garzon caused an uproar when he tried to bring Pinochet to trial. Others, for example, the writer Christopher Hitchens, have raised the issue of prosecuting Henry Kissinger, among others, for the coup in Chile and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. What is your view? I believe that what happened in Chile regarding Garzon’s initiative was wonderful, because for the 500 or more days that the crisis with Pinochet lasted, Chilean society was stirred up. Our people realized that human rights are something fundamental and that international cooperation is needed to secure respect for these rights on a world stage. That is why I believe we need an International Criminal Court. The USA has refused to sign a treaty to set up such a court. I believe that it is absolutely necessary and I am glad that this is also the EU’s position. We cannot allow crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against human rights to continue to go unpunished. This is the lesson we learned form our own experience. What is the last memory you have of your father? … I remember that his greatest concern was the fate of his friends, his associates and family, as the bombing of the presidential palace had already begun and we did not know if we would get out of there alive. His main worry was for all the women in the palace. These days, we see regimes falling but we don’t see many Allendes, leaders ready to die with dignity for their ideas. Different times, different leaders…