Except for inflation, the economic indices were good as Salvador Allende took power late in 1970. Copper prices were strong and unemployment was about 3 percent. Allende moved quickly to socialize the economy by seizing some foreign firms and taking over banks. He also encouraged tomas (seizures) of farms; French writer Suzanne Labin described one: "A band armed with clubs and rifles forces its way onto a farm, orders the whole of the owner's family to pack their bags, pushes them out into the road, gathers together all those who work on the farm, tells them that it is their property from now on, and sets up a banner with the words, 'This property has been seized by the people.'"
Allende explained his objectives in a 1971 interview with France's Regis Debray: "As for the bourgeois state at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it. To overthrow it [and ...] expropriate the means of production which are still in private hands.... To open up the road to socialism. Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism."
Food output fell sharply. In December 1971, thousands of Chilean women marched in the streets of Santiago, banging on empty pots and pans to dramatize the growth of shortages and skyrocketing prices. Leftist counter-demonstrators threw rocks at the marchers and attacked with clubs, carabineros came with tear gas, and Allende imposed a state of emergency that allowed him to censor newspapers, close radio stations, and ban demonstrations. He soon announced that the government would be in charge of all food distribution, and "neighborhood vigilance committees would watch for black-market or other non-approved activities." He seized control of the Kennecott and Anaconda copper mines and provided no compensation to their owners, with the obvious result that foreign investment in Chilean industries decreased sharply.
As the economy shrank while government spending increased, currency printing presses worked overtime and inflation leaped. The consumer price index, which stood at 100 in December 1970, was at 122 a year later and 322 in December 1972; in September 1973, it was at 942. Money in circulation soared from 3.7 billion pesos when Allende took office to 74 billion in September 1973. Runaway inflation received the most attention early in 1973, along with Education Minister Jorge Tapia's announcement that the government would establish a single nationwide curriculum, modeled on East Germany's, that would include compulsory courses on Marxism.
The current government's plans are much more modest, and do not involve doing away with the relaxed relations of church and state. That understanding is evident in lunchroom signs at municipal Escuela Rayen Mapu, a 584-student public school several blocks away from the Fundación Miguel Kast's center in Buin; one sign reads, Dejad que los ninos vengan a mi, por que de ellos es el Reino de los Cielos. That picture of Jesus letting the little children come unto him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, is diminished in force by a picture of the four food groups drawn in exactly the same shrine-like, reverent style.
Students at the municipal school as part of their school week have two hours of religion classes (Catholic or evangelical), and all pray for people who are sick. And yes, the school has a sick look, with dirty walls distinguished largely by graffiti. Bathrooms that were officially cleaned 15 minutes before are still dirty. "Yes, we have a problem," acknowledged school official Jose Quiroz. "The bathrooms were cleaned badly. No supervision." But problems go beyond the janitorial, Mr. Quiroz said. The school has a sports teacher, but he is old; besides, the government has sent no sports equipment. The school has a good library room has no books in it, because the government provides books for classes but not for libraries. The government gave the school Ping-Pong tables but they were left out in the rain because the government did not supply a convenient storage room. The government does not allocate money for repairing broken things.
That litany from Mr. Quiroz is common, said Maria de los Angeles Santander Meersohn, a specialist in education policy issues. "The government gives money but doesn't let schools decide how to spend it. A powerful teachers union has pushed for municipal schools to receive a 20 percent supplement to their regular funding if they are failing; the result, Mrs. Meersohn said, is that schools have "incentives to be the worst." But Mr. Quiroz says his hands are tied: "We cannot get better teachers because they do not want to come to this school. They say the students do not have clean habits. They know that some are violent."
As municipal school leaders complain about students, so private school leaders complain about governmental education officials-but students can change, and bureaucracies rarely do. Heard repeatedly: The government doesn't have good standards, just bureaucratic content requirements. The government gives free books, but they are at times politically loaded, and in small municipal schools government is god and a book from the government is treated like a saint. Since parents do not receive the vouchers directly, they feel that education is free and they don't have a right to ask for something different. Government officials say they want only a minimum curriculum under their direction, but their minimum may not allow time for anything else.
But back to the municipal school in Buin: It is owned by "the people," but the people do not seem pleased by it. "Last week we had people cleaning all our roofs," Mr. Quiroz said. "During the weekend people came here and threw more stones on the roof." Mrs. Milevsic smiled sadly upon hearing that and said, regarding the Fundación Miguel Kast building, "The best sign of what we're doing with people here is that they do not destroy the place. We don't have guards and night watchmen, for the community sees the place is for them." She added, "In government programs, no one has ownership. But a private program is like our houses. We take care of our houses."
In a sense, those center-left government slogans-ASI CRECE DE CHILE 2002-2006 ("Chile grows up like this with you")-are an attempt to make Chileans think that the government's house is their house, the government's office is their office. But few are readily fooled: The office is that of the person who sits in it. Salvador Allende three decades ago deliberately said that the government's house was no longer for the middle class or the affluent: "I am not the president of all Chileans." Since, in Allende's Marxist faith, "the existence of classes and social sectors with antagonistic and opposing interests" is irrefutable, he declared that the government's house was now owned by the working class. Allende and his associates would now take care of it, and anyone who threw stones on the roof would be shot. Furthermore, he deemed a fool anyone who thought that rich and poor actually needed each other, could help each other, and could visit each other in their own houses.