On September 11, 1973, Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown through a CIA backed coup, that resulted in the seizure of power by General Augusto Pinochet. The removal of Allende satisfied the Nixon Administration which had seen the democratic election of Allende as a threat to the Western Hemisphere. To Washington, it was inconceivable to think that the events in Cuba were spreading across Latin America. The consensus was clear, Allende had to be removed. McCarthyism and the red scare led to anyone having left-leaning political views to be branded as a communist determined to see the fall of Capitalism. Among Allende’s supporters was Chile’s national poet, Pablo Neruda (1904-193). Twelve days after Allende’s removal and death, Neruda died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was sixty-nine years old. Forty-five years later, his poetry is still beloved in Chile and other parts of the world. And he is recognized as being one of the world’s greatest poets. I had heard of Neruda before and have been fortunate enough to visit Chile. It is a unique country and there is something special about it which is not easy to put into words. Chile truly is a place you have to see in person, to experience Chilean culture and travel through Patagonia. I admit that I did not know much about Neruda’s life, so when I saw this biography in my recommendation list, I did not hesitate to buy it and start reading nearly instantly. And what I have learned is more than I could have ever imagined.
Mark Eisner has researched Neruda’s life and has compiled a biography that is nothing short of outstanding. Surely, Neruda took some things with him to the grave as all great figures do. But his large volume of work, speeches and other writings have survived, and they would all help Eisner in what was a monumental task. Neruda’s story begins in 1904, an era remotely differently from the era in which we currently live. Eisner has recreated early 1900s Chile and first tells us the story of Neruda’s parents. His father, José del Carmen Reyes Morales, is a central character in the story and the beginning of the book focuses on his life before Neruda enters the picture. On July 12, 1904, the story changed for good, when his wife Rosa gave birth to a happy baby boy, Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, the future Pablo Neruda. The young child enters a world that is marred by affairs, illegitimate children, strict social class and backbreaking work on the railroad which in some cases proved to be deadly. Neruda would inherit some of his father’s nefarious traits and the would cause him consternation and scandal in his own life. And through his poetry, he allowed the world to read his emotions. But what many did not know then and may not know now, is that there was also a very dark side to the famed poet.
Eisner does not shy away from Neruda’s failings and when necessary, uses Neruda’s own words to drive home the point. As I read the book, there were some points at which I shook my head in both shock and disgust. In fact, there are several parts of the book that may prove to be upsetting to female readers. Incredibly, Neruda was able to compartmentalize his life and the ease in which he discarded those around him was quite frankly, disturbing. To the public, he was the rising poet and Eisner follows his developing career which threatened to place him in poverty. But through a series of events, blessed with luck, Neruda persevered and went on to create poetry that has changed the lives of millions of people. But what Eisner also shows, is the two sides of Neruda which were unable to be reconciled and a poet struggling with his own happiness while at the same time, oblivious to the errors of his ways.
Neruda was an outspoken leftist and his affinity for the Soviet Union and the communist system of government, earned him many enemies as well. The author explores this part of Neruda’s life and the fear of communism that spread across several continents. His devotion to communism following his admission into the Chilean Communist Party, would prove to be a thorn in his side until his final day. But for Neruda, staying in one place for long was never an option and this story is filled with travel around the world as Neruda works and creates in several countries. Through Eisner’s words, we follow Pablo and his many love interests across the globe as he travels to and from Chile both as foreign agent and fugitive. At times, it seemed as if his life was straight out of a Hollywood film. There is no let up and Pablo has forced Eisner to move full speed ahead. Once I started the book, it became increasingly difficult to set it aside for a later time in the day. I was glued to the pages, curious to see where Neruda ends up next and who makes an appearance in his life and who makes their exit. To say his life was unorthodox would be an understatement.
At over six-hundred pages, the book is not exactly a short read but the pace of the story will result in readers forgetting about the length completely. The story is engaging and Neruda was quite the character. But he possessed a natural gift and Eisner’s inclusion of his poems, gives the book an added air of authenticity to it. In those sections, he turns the floor over to Pablo who never failed to deliver.
Having completed the book, I have mixed feelings about Neruda. But that is a credit to the author’s talent. Eisner does not show the Neruda people want to see, he shows us the Neruda that we need to see in order to come to our own conclusions. A brilliant and talented poet was also at times a cold-blooded monster. He battled loneliness but had fans worldwide. Some would call him a walking contradiction and others might simply accept the label of eccentric. Regardless off the adjective, Neruda did not fit perfectly into any mold and Eisner has captured his complex character which at times did not function based on reason or logic. It is a great story of a unique person, who never faced his own demons but was able to capture the hearts and emotions of millions of people facing their demons. In death, he became a legend of nearly God-like status and remains a cultural icon in Chile. He is to Chile what Jorge Luis Borges is to Argentina. Those looking for a good biography of Pablo Neruda, will be more than satisfied with this gem by Mark Eisner.
On January 11, 2019, Netflix released ReMastered: Massacre at the Stadium, a look back at the violent coup in September, 1973 in which President Salvador Allende (1908-1973) was overthrown by the Chilean military. In his place, General Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006) assumed power and unleashed a reign of tyranny that lasted sixteen years and caused the deaths of thousands of Chileans. His reign came to an end when Patricio Aylwin (1918-2016) was elected as the next President of the Republic of Chile. Pinochet was arrested in October, 1998, by British intelligence and repatriated to Chile on March 3, 2000. He died on December 10, 2006, without having served a day in prison for the human rights violations that occurred during his time in office. Today he is largely recognized as one of Latin America’s most infamous tyrants. The story of his rise to power and fall are covered beautifully in Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability . His ruthlessness knew no bounds that tragic September day, and the military engaged in a purge of all perceived enemies of the new regime. Among the endless number of victims was former activist, playwright and singer, Victor Lidio Jara Martínez (1932-1978), known to the world as Victor Jara.
Jara’s widow Joan, is now 92 and has never ceased in her efforts to promote Victor’s legacy and find justice for his murder. In the Netflix documentary, his brutal death and the successful lawsuit against former Chilean soldier Pablo Barrientos, take center stage in the mission to unravel Jara’s final moments at the stadium. The film is thought-provoking and I do believe there is more to his death that remains hidden. After I finished the film, I became determined to learn as much as I could about Jara and his importance in Chilean history. I found this book by Joan Jara, wherein she discusses the Victor she knew and her life in Chile, a place that became her home away from home. British by birth, life took her across the Atlantic and to Santiago, where she continued to perfect her craft as a performer. Soon she was divorced with a young daughter trying to find her purpose far away from the bustling city life in London. Soon, a young charismatic singer crossed her path and before long, the story of Victor and Joan Jara had begun.
The beauty in this book is that Joan allows us into their home, to learn about Victor’s private life and his rise from the poverty-stricken town of Lonquén to become one of Chile’s most vocal supporters of Allende’s government. She provides a short biography on Victor and herself, filled with anecdotes that show how the basis for their political beliefs. As she admits, at first she had no fondness for anything communist but after witnessing the poverty and inequality in Chile and other parts of Latin America, she became more accepting of communist ideology. These beliefs would have far-reaching and tragic implications up until the time she fled Chile with Manuela and Amanda, her daughter with Jara. Today, it seems unreal that someone should be physically assaulted or even murdered for political affiliation, but this was the atmosphere that existed in Chile under Allende’s administration. Joan captures the atmosphere, recalling tense situations in which anarchy could have prevailed at the drop of a hat. Her analysis is a prime example for anyone seeking to understand how and why the coup had formed.
Joan takes us through the development of their relationship, their new daughter and success in the theater, a place she and Victor have always called home. Life is good and the girls are growing up nicely, but there is an undercurrent of dissent among the right-wing faction, determined to end Allende’s rule by any means necessary. The involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Allende’s downfall is well-documented. And the further fracture of Chilean society is critically examined in A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet by Pamela A. Constable and Arturo Valenzuela. I found myself startled as I read the book, at the revelations that it was openly assumed by many Allende supporters that the CIA was actively working to bring down Allende. It seems as if it was the secret that was not no secret. Perhaps the events in Cuba, Guatemala and Vietnam had provided fuel for the suspicion. The political turmoil that later engulfed the nation had started to build nearly the day that Allende was sworn in. The right-wing extremists failed to get the two-thirds vote to remove him from office and it was clear to Allende’s detractors that his removal would only come through violence. Allende was not oblivious to his precarious situation and even gave an unofficial last address to the nation in the days leading up to the coup. Little by little, dissension grew and the stage was set for September 11, 1973.
Open contempt by opposing parties had reached toxic levels in the week leading up to the coup and the audacity exemplified by enemies is recounted here by Joan. Some of the behavior might shock some readers. The descriptions of the brutality inflicted upon political opponents is reprehensible and as a woman states in the book, the coup taught Chileans how to hate. Similar to the Netflix film, Joan discusses that day in detail and how she came to learn about Victor’s death, her retrieval of his remains and her actions in the wake of his untimely demise. The story is riveting and Victor’s death silenced a voice of hope in a country that later endured a tyranny that soon spread across the continent, making its mark in places such Argentina and Uruguay under the regimes of Juan Perón and Juan María Bordaberry. Today, the dictatorships are a dark reminder of the past and the perils of extremism.
In January, 2019, I visited Chile and it has found a place in my heart as a true gem. It is hard to put into the words, the feeling that comes over the body upon the arrival on Chilean soil. To many of its neighbors, Chile is the black sheep of Latin America. But similar to its neighbors, it too has suffered through and survived its own history of military rule under right-wing dictatorship. Victor Jara was one of many voices who spoke out and took action to transform society in the hope of correctly many of mankind’s mistakes. His belief in his actions made him a marked man but Jara refused to abandoned his position and stood by his beliefs until the end. Joan has kept her husband’s memory alive in both the Netflix documentary and his book about their time together and the man she simply knew as Victor and his life which truly is an unfinished song.
December 10 will mark twelve years since Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (1915-2006) died from the effects of a heart attack in his native Chile. For many Chileans, he is the epitome of evil and a ruthless tyrant whose regime persecuted thousands of citizens, many of whom were “disappeared”. He also has his supporters, known simply as “pinochetistas”. His rise to power after the CIA- backed coup that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende (1908-1973), resulted in a new level of human rights violations across Latin America. Allende’s removal and death has become known as the other September 11th and a day that no Chilean can ever forget.
Washington’s involvement in the coup and the destabilization of Chilean politics was initially kept hidden from the American Public through the efforts of President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (b. 1923). The true story of the Nixon Administration’s interference in Chile might have remained a carefully guarded secret if not for the efforts of famed reporter Seymour Hersh who broke the story of what was known as Track II and the CIA efforts to bring down Allende’s government, through a published article in the New York Times. But what Hersh did not know at the time, was that the relationship between Washington and Pinochet was much darker and uglier than anyone could have imagined. It is here in this look at the Pinochet file, that author Peter Kornbluh goes deep inside the story of what became Chile’s worst nightmare.
I warn the reader that this a book you will not want to put down once you have started. From the beginning, it pulls the reader in with an iron grip as Kornbluh opens our eyes to what really happened in the 1970s as Chile was on the verge of taking a different course from the one approved of in Washington. As an American citizen, I found myself overcome with a range of emotions from shock to anger and eventually regret. Declassified documents serve as the backbone of the book and what is contained in those files is simply astonishing. As a nice supplement, Kornbluh includes copies of the documents for the reader’s reference. Some readers, particularly Americans, may find the story hard to believe at first. But I assure you that this is not fiction. Similar to Jacobo Arbenz (1913-1971) and Mohammed Mossadegh (1882-1967), Allende found himself on the wrong side of Washington foreign policy as he embraced a left-leaning government, believed by many to be a possible pawn of the Soviet Union. The beliefs were unfounded but the suspicion was enough for the Nixon Administration to set in motion, a deadly chain of events that gave rise to one of Latin America’s worst dictators.
In a cruel twist of fate, the rise of Pinochet and its aftermath was not confined to Chile. Other rulers seeking to emulate Pinochet’s style, began their own campaigns of oppression and through the Pinochet inspired “Operation Condor”, they would embark on a campaign of extermination of exiled citizens designated as “Enemies of the State”. The wave of terror spread across several continents including the United States, culminating with the assassination of Orlando Letelier (1932-1976) on September 21, 1976. The attack also claimed the life of Ronni Karpen Moffitt (1951-1976), the wife of Letelier´s assistant, Michael. The attack in broad daylight, sent shock waves around the world causing anger and outrage across the nation. Operation Condor had reached American soil but the U.S. Government´s response is one of the darkest moments in its history with Chile. There is far more to the story of Operation Condor and Kornbluh does a masterful job of explaining it, in all its mind-blowing detail.
Kornbluh takes us on a carefully guided timeline from start to finish where we witness the downfall of the Pinochet regime. On October 5, 1988, Patricio Aylwin (1918-2016) was elected the next leader of Chile in a landslide victory after U.S. Officials warned Pinochet not to interfere. Aylwin served four years and was succeeded by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. Although out of office, Pinochet still maintained a presence in Chilean politics. But as Washington threw its support behind the newly elected government, Pinochet’s star began to fade and while in London recuperating from back surgery, he was arrested by British Agents and held for over a year before being returned to Chile where he was indicted more than a dozen times for a multitude of crimes. At the time of his death, convictions and imprisonment loomed on the horizon and his departure allowed him to escape justice. But his dark legacy remains a reminder to Chileans of a past which should never return.
This book is simply incredible and the amount of research that went into is nothing short of monumental. Kornbluh has given us a gift that will continue to give as more learn about a ruler that controlled a country with an iron fist used in conjunction with murder, arrests and other acts of violence. They will learn about the many American citizens in Chile, also murdered at the hands of the Pinochet regime and their own government’s inaction and indifference. For the families of Charles Horman, Boris Weisfeiler and Frank Teruggi, Pinochet escaped the fate that laid before him. But their efforts and help with this book have resulted in the full story of his murderous reign. The Chilean government long denied any involvement in Operation Condor, Letelier’s murder and other deaths that occurred as Pinochet expanded his power and used the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), under the rule of the infamous Manuel Contreras (1929-2015), as his own personal group of enforcers. But as we now know and can see here with our own eyes, there was far more than meets the eye. Pinochet had support from many places and some of them will certainly surprise the reader. I firmly believe that every American should read this book, to understand what was done in the name of our country and why it should never happen again.
If you find that you enjoy this book, I highly recommend Pamela A. Constable and Arturo Valenzeula’s “A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet“.
The Cuban Revolution, carried today by Raul Castro, set an example for other Latin American nations and became the shining example of a successful campaign to resist U.S. intervention. In time, more countries began to look to Cuba as a model for their own revolutionary goals in an effort to spread Marxist ideology throughout Central and South America. Salvador Allende’s efforts to spread the beliefs throughout Chile would be in good faith but severely short-lived. On September 11, 1973, he was overthrown in a military coup led by the late General Augusto Pinochet. Allende, who died of reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wounds, tried unsuccessfully to lead Chile down the path of socialism inspired by his Marxist-Leninist beliefs. The removal of Allende and assumption of power by Pinochet, would bring Chile some of its darkest days. Political suppression, unemployment, famine, murder and corruption became constant aspects of Chilean society under a dictator with an insatiable appetite for power, greed and subordination. Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela bring the past to life with this excellent historical account of a crucial period in the history of Chile. Under Pinochet, the dreams of change, freedom and economic prosperity began to fade as the income gap between the rich and the poor became the largest in the country’s history. Poverty, depression, health issues and domestic surveillance by the notorious DINA would transform a once free society in a military state. Freedom of press, expression and religion became archaic ideas subject to intimidation, imprisonment and in some cases, death. Schools and universities were under rigorous scrutiny in efforts to purge them of any ideological teachings by the far left bearing a haunting similarity to Nazi controlled Germany.
Old opposition movements began to re-form and newer organizations began to take shape eventually dividing Chilean society between Communist, Christian Democratics, Humanist parties and pro-regime organizations. Tension began to simmer and Pinochet’s time in office began to see its last days. His reign lasted from 1973 until October 1988, when the Chilean people demanded change and elected Patricio Aylwin by a large margin bringing democracy back to a country in need of hope and security. His election was a culmination of years of disillusionment by the Chilean public, and even the Regan administration. The Chile we know today is far removed from its darkest days under one of the most notorious dictators in Latina American history. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the regime of Augusto Pinochet and Chilean politics.