Capitalizing on capitalism's problems


Issue: "A warmer Chile," Nov. 9, 2002

The Partido Democrata Cristinano (PDC), the Christian Democratic Party, succeeded in the presidential election of 1964, when Eduardo Frei won. Frei then went on to assemble what was called (according to John Gunther) "the most 'brilliant' Cabinet in the world. All its members are intellectuals, most were professors ... [and] not unconscious of their own merit." This was a recipe for disaster, especially when they and Frei decided to try to outbid Marxism for worker affections. The PDC government, recognizing that some self-disciplined tenant farmers would do better if they owned their own land, expropriated some estates-and farm workers whose lives were not so well-ordered demanded that the state grab land and give it to them. Frei, trying to win leftist support, contended that accumulation of private property was the root of all kinds of evil, and described PDC founders like himself as those who "rejected capitalism as a system; they believed and believe that it was, in its origins, materialist and inhumane."

In one famous speech Frei argued, "There is something worse than communism: anticommunism." With that belief he did little to avoid creating the conditions for Chilean Marxism's advance. Students occupied the main building of Catholic University in Santiago and obtained the resignation of the university president and effective rule by Marxists. The following year PDC students seized the main building of the University of Chile in downtown Santiago, Communists seized other buildings, and eventually the University's president and deans resigned. The PDC succeeded in dropping the voting age to 18 (which allowed heavily propagandized university students to vote) and allowing the illiterate 10 percent of the population to vote, which also had the practical effect of increasing the left's base of support.

Those votes apparently made the difference, as in 1970 Allende of the left received 36 percent, Alessandri of the right 35 percent, and Radomiro Tomic Romero of the PDC 28 percent. Allende, born in 1908, was running for the presidency for the fourth time, so he seemed familiar. He lived in the affluent Providencia section of Santiago with his wife and three daughters, owned a seashore villa across from a yacht club, owned an estate in the foothills of the Andes where he housed his longtime mistress, and drank a lot of Scotch whisky, particularly the expensive Chivas Regal-so to some he seemed domesticated. Congress followed tradition and made Allende president. Sept. 11 was three years away.

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What is the Christian way to help the poor? Some in recent decades, both in Chile and in the United States, have emphasized politics and governmental programs, but the Fundación Miguel Kast-a memorial to cabinet member Miguel Kast, who two decades ago died of cancer at age 34-hopes to help with spiritual and economic advancement in very poor communities like Buin about 20 miles south of Santiago. It's a place where even intact families have only seasonal work harvesting grapes, apples, and peaches, and where pro-Socialist posters seem always to be in season.

The problem-and the dire future, unless the foundation succeeds-is evident in Miguel, 10, who earlier this year was wandering the streets by day and by night. Miguel likes wearing a World Wrestling Federation T-shirt portraying "The Rock. Layin' the Smack Down." Miguel has watched The Rock on a television show made in "the land of the towers," and he likes The Rock because "he fights dirty." The problem in housing is also apparent; in a typical old, two-family house, each family had a bedroom, with a shared living/dining/cooking room containing a television, antiquated stove, and refrigerator.

At a Fundación building in Buin, though, 45 boys and 65 girls from ages 6 to 14 spend their after-school hours learning a different set of values than they are likely to have gained at home or in school. A sign in the office of teacher Sylvia Tapia proclaims Somos formadores de personas, no simples instructores ("We are formers of people, not simply instructors"). What underlies the entire effort is indicated by another sign in her office, No digas Padre si cada dia no te compartas como hijo, ("Do not call Him Father if each day you do not act like His Son").

The program's Christian base is not controversial as it would be in the United States. The Fundación receives 60 percent of the after-school program's cost from the Chilean government, which imposes no restrictions on religious content; children come from nominally or seriously Catholic, evangelical, and Mormon families. Religious development with biblical values is muy importante, says Mrs. Tapia, as did Miguel Kast himself, according to Fundación Presidenta Maria Teresa Infante. She said Mr. Kast's deep faith in God led him to put the person before the state, and to see progress as something that arises as God sets man on the road to salvation and has him exercise virtue. She said society errs when it emphasizes merely the delivery of material welfare and by doing so loses sight of spiritual welfare: "That's why Miguel emphasized the importance of liberty that allows the individual to grow as a Christian."


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