The Depression of the 1930s led to 25 percent unemployment in Chile, a short-lived Socialist Republic led by an air force commander in 1932, and the election of a left-leaning government in 1938. The 1940s saw the beginning of inflation as a major factor in Chilean politics, as the government spent more than it had and printed more money to cover the difference. Inflation averaged 38 percent per year during the 1950s, and political parties began to coalesce into three major groupings.
The two major parties of the 19th century, Conservative and Liberal-"Liberal" in the 19th century meant a commitment to small government, free trade, and disestablishment of the Catholic Church-were now united as the parties of the right. They supported private property but did not place any great emphasis on the obligation of property owners (who had benefited from government backing) to show compassion to those whose ancestors had not been so politically adept. Meanwhile, the Communists and Socialists were on the left, with the Socialists, oddly, often further to the left; Chilean Communists believed in the salami strategy of seizing power slice by slice over several decades, while many Socialists favored consuming the whole hog at one sitting.
The major power in the center-and the swing vote in elections generally-was a new kid on the block, but one powered by Chile's major religious tradition. The Partido Democrata Cristinano (PDC), the Christian Democratic Party, commenced in 1957. Some of its members emphasized voluntary efforts to bring about class reconciliation through the provision of Christian charity, but others tilted toward government-forced income redistribution. Many, coming out of the Catholic "communitarian" position, emphasized governmental pressure in the economy, worker management, and agricultural cooperatives. PDC political tacticians positioned their creation as a moderate party that could work with, and in the process de-fang, Chile's Communist and Socialist parties.
The 1958 vote was 31 percent for the right's Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez, son of a previous president; 29 percent for the left's Salvador Allende Gossens, leader of Chile's Socialists; and 21 percent for Eduardo Frei Montalva of the PDC, with the other 19 percent going elsewhere. Congress had the right to choose the president from the top two candidates, and the tradition was always to choose whoever received the most votes: Alessandri became president. He fought inflation by placing a ceiling on wages, and dropped it from the average of 38 percent annually all the way to almost zero in 1960, but at a political price: The left gained popularity. To forestall what looked like an Allende victory in 1964 the right agreed to support the PDC's Frei, and he gained 56 percent of the vote to the left's 39 percent. Sept. 11 was nine years away.
The Catholic Church in Chile is the country's largest organization with a vision of class reconciliation rather than class warfare. From that vision, beginning in 1944, grew what is now Hogar de Cristo, Chile's largest mostly nongovernmental social services network. Begun by Jesuit priest Alberto Hurtado, Hogar has grown into a big business, with 500,000 contributors (average contribution per month 1,000 pesos, or about $1.50). Hogar now gets one-third of its money from government and two-thirds through contributions and enterprises (such as the biggest funeral business in Chile) that it runs.
With hundreds of sites throughout Chile, and offering almost womb-to-tomb help, Hogar is the elephant that, if felt in only one place, can be mistaken as a tree or a snake. A severe-looking portrait of Father Hurtado posted in many Hogar offices connects outposts, but some of today's Hogar officials want to make it clear that times have changed. For example, administrator Pablo Egenau, casually dressed in loafers, slacks, a shirt with the top two buttons unbuttoned, a necklace, an expensive-looking watch, and a half-mullet haircut, constantly fiddled with a blue highlighter as he sat in his office with pink walls explaining Hogar, and he emphasized the broad diversity of its operations. But he was emphatic on one point: Hogar allows "no religious teaching."
One of the sites he is proudest of is the Comunidad Terapeutica in La Pintana, an area of southern Santiago that visitors are told to avoid once night falls. The main road there goes by a government-commissioned abstract sculpture titled Somes Todos Iguales ("We are all equal"), but the 13- to 17-year-old boys of the Therapeutic Community are both below and above many of their peers. They are below in that they come from broken or never-formed families. They are above in that they get to live most of the week in a place that looks like a swank American summer camp, with new log lodges and a swimming pool alongside which one teen was playing "Stairway to Heaven" on his guitar.
Comunidad director Rodrigo Barros stressed that his center did not teach religion and was up-to-date in the most advanced counseling techniques for helping teens who have been, or feel they have been, mistreated. His charges go home, generally to mothers and grandmothers, on weekends, but live Monday through Friday in the Comunidad and spend time in group therapeutic sessions that are supposed to ease their pain. For example, Mariano, 17, was hurt eight years ago when his parents separated, and often became angry. He could readily explain the Comunidad rationale-"If one boy is mad at another, he's supposed to talk about it with the other"-but when asked, "Does that make things better?" he still grinned and said "Non." But he wants to be an electrician, and the Comunidad school will help him get that training.
Mariano's friend Claudio-also 17 and from a mother-grandmother home-wants to be an electrician, thinks the Comunidad will help him achieve that, and is willing to put up with psychobabble. Bernardo, 15 and assigned to the Comunidad by a judge, was not so sure of the pain/pleasure ratio. He did not like therapy sessions-"They're so long, they're so boring." He kept asking for cigarettes and money, and listened intently when Mariano quietly asked, "Are there more drugs in the U.S." or here. Told "about the same," Mariano said, "Guess I'll stay here." But Bernado said, "I would go to the land of the towers."
Many Hogar groups are more traditional, but Chilean priests and ministers frequently expressed concern about the organization's bureaucracy and the tendency of some employees to emphasize material help, just as if it were a governmental organization, and neglect spiritual dimensions. Regardless of Mr. Egenau's disclaimers, some Hogar groups still do both, as do explicitly Catholic groups such as Fundación Las Rosas, which attempts to throw some light into the remaining years of the poor and lonely elderly.
The religious head of Las Rosas, Sacerdote Andres Ariztia de Castro, explained his program while sitting in an ornate room that included a plush couch on a plush red-and-blue rug. He and others sat below a chandelier that threw its light onto a wall gallery of paintings of baby Jesus with angels, Joseph and Jesus, Mary and Jesus, Jesus on the cross, Mary by herself, John Paul II, and other popes. Wearing a metallic blue short-sleeve shirt, gray pants, black shoes, and a black collar, he explained how Las Rosas runs 39 homes for the elderly and raises funds to pay 5/6 of the costs of caring for 2,800 ancianos and ancianas; the government pays 1/6.
Las Rosas homes show the need and the nightmare. At one, the abandoned elderly sat with heads bowed in wheelchairs under a sign, Con tu ayuda vivire feliz los ultimos dias de mi vida ("With your help, I will be happy during the last days of my life"). In others, bedridden men and women stared at the ceiling, sans television, sans books, sans anything. But in all the homes, nuns in habits quietly shuffled in and out of rooms, smiling rays of sunshine. "We make a big effort to bring in the relatives. We bring in pastors from other faiths," Father de Castro said. "Yes, they are lonely, but we try to help a person in meeting with Christ. An old man or woman should meet Jesus every day. The deepest loneliness is loneliness before God."
After the tour, as evening came, Father de Castro offered a snack in a dining room at the Las Rosas office that had beautifully ornate dark wood moldings, damask tablecloths, and elegant wallpaper slightly gone to seed. He spoke of how mistrust made development of programs difficult: "Chileans know that government social programs don't work, but those on the left believe that the right wants to abandon the poor. We have to prove with our actions that we have compassion for the poor." He explained that not only the old but the very young often lack protectors. He estimated that in Chile, where abortion is illegal, about 150,000 abortions occur every year. That is the numerical equivalent in the United States of 2.7 million abortions, twice the current amount. He expects that little by little the government is making it possible to legalize abortion in five or 10 years.
In the dark rooms the darkness deepened, until a driver anxiously hinted that it was time to leave so as not to be caught out on the roads late in the evening, the hours of crime.