Upward mobility without warfare


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

In January 1973, Allende imposed the first food rationing in Chilean history, with each family assigned a quota of basic foodstuffs, and the process controlled at the local level by "Community Commands."

Business owners were hiding food out of concern that they would be ransacked. Darry and Earlynne Thompson, missionaries in Concepcion, remember standing in breadlines and not having enough to feed their baby, except that Christians sneaked food to them. They remember the revolt of private truck drivers, who took the tires off their vehicles. Tear gas was in the air on most days. "We'd stand in line and then ask what the line was for."

Former president Frei, belatedly seeing the seriousness of Allende's plans, called rationing "a clear and definitive action toward totalitarian control of the country.... The people of Chile cannot tolerate that they be submitted to a dictatorship without escape." Frei in March told an Italian journalist that Chile was headed for "Marxist-type totalitarianism." Allende supporters were preparing to back up their intentions by force, should Congress balk; as journalist James Whelan documented in Out of the Ashes, Cuba and other Communist countries had sent for Allende's disposal enough machine guns, bazookas, mortars, antitank guns, carbines, automatic pistols, ammunition, and explosives to equip a division of over 15,000 men.

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In July 1973, Socialist Party head Carlos Altamirano said a civil war was inevitable and that "the people are prepared to burn and blow up this country ... in a heroic liberating and patriotic offensive." Some workers, influenced by Marxism and trained by Cuban instructors, along with several thousand Castro wannabes who made up MIR, the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left), seized factories and fortified industrial areas. Nor was the middle class sitting by idly. Sixty thousand owners of 75,000 trucks went on strike in late July. Some 110,000 bus and taxi drivers joined them on Aug. 2. Later that month, 440,000 shopkeepers and 3,000 doctors went on strike, and calls for Allende to step down increased.

When some 2,000 wives of truckers demonstrated on Aug. 12 in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace, the government ordered its carabineros to attack the women with tear gas and clubs. Fidel Castro, who had given Allende an AK-47 that el presidente enjoyed toting around, advised him to rely on "the formidable strength of the Chilean working classes ... your strong resolve and heroic leadership hold the key to the situation." Sept. 11 was less than a month away.

There is another way for workers to advance than through class warfare, and the 550 male high-school students at Liceo Industrial Italia, in a poor area of Santiago, have found it. Italia's job is to provide a liberal arts education but to make sure that all graduates are prepared for jobs as electricians, welders, draftsmen, designers, and so on. That's the Italia road to personal and societal advance: If people work hard at their trades and receive the fruits of their labors, they will not be susceptible to the demagoguery of the left, and there will be no need to choose between one type of dictatorship and another.

Italia's renovated building, with its wood-colored tiles and pastel yellow and blue pillars, belies the fact that the school dates only from 1986. Classrooms are warm, the students seem happy and full of energy, and the teachers wear white lab coats and are ready to explain their teaching. Science teacher Fernando Jorquera, for example, noted, "We show the hypotheses about the beginning of the world, such as evolution. But we teach the Creation. Life started with God." The school receives its per-student funding from the government but is under the authority of the Sociedad de Instrucción Primaria, a private, nonprofit corporation "dedicated to giving excellent education to girls and boys coming from families without means, generating the right to equal opportunities."

Unlike the recent memorial foundations, the Sociedad dates from 1856, when wealthy individuals decided to help the poor by funding and leading a "war against ignorance." Claudio Matte became president of the Sociedad in 1892 when he was 34 years old, and remained involved in it for the remaining 64 years of his life. A dozen of his descendants remain involved in the Sociedad in various ways, with Patricia Matte Larrain serving as president. She noted that all Italia's graduates "get jobs. They are ready for work in major industries, and companies like the discipline of our students, the way they respect property and are on time. These technical jobs are good ones-these graduates will earn more in Chile than lawyers-and they need to be filled by people with good technical training and good values."


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