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.
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."
Mrs. Matte, after observing close-up education professors in government offices and schoolrooms, was not impressed: "The leftist government says all children must collaborate, work together. But we want an orderly classroom." Drugs, such as the cheap cocaine derivative pasta base (ba-say), obstruct civil order, as does pregnancy: "The leftist government now says to young people, 'do what you want, it's your body.' But we do not want the pregnancy rates to go up. The government says we should teach abstinence, but it provides condoms and birth control pills. This summer condoms were passed out on the beaches. Then the pregnancy rates go up." Smiling sadly, she added, "We are as modern as the United States in this way."
Chile's compassionate conservatives have learned other things as well, Mrs. Matte said: "We have learned from experience in the United States that money itself will not do much. The current government is improving salaries but not pressing for results.... Our teachers are paid by performance. In municipal schools, teachers are paid the same. If they do a bad job they can't be thrown out. Here, if they do a bad job, they are out." When Mrs. Matte and the school's headmaster enter a room, all the students stand up. "You see, the students are in rows. There are many to a class, but they have discipline. Compare that to the municipal schools: You will see many teachers not devoted to children, and children doing nothing. Those teachers don't believe they can make the difference with children from poor families. Have you heard their excuses? Have you seen their dirty bathrooms?" (And I did hear and see.)
Despite its religious teaching-historically Catholic, but now allowing Protestant study as well-and a refusal to follow official pedagogy, Italia receives funds from the government for each student enrolled. The system of payments is not the best, for voucher systems depend on parental involvement, and the Chilean system-checks sent directly to the schools, so that parents do not see so clearly that the choice is theirs-does not create a sense of empowerment. Meanwhile, the government is now "trying to push you to teach certain things in a certain way. Taking care of your body, taking care of ecology, trying to teach the green vision and the idea that the child has a lot of rights over the family."
Nevertheless, Mrs. Matte strongly supports government financing of school choice: "This school could not exist without the vouchers, and vouchers would work even better in your country. I have seen that grassroots people in your country get involved in politics much more than here, so that parents with strong beliefs in the United States will lobby more strongly."