Posted on December 9, 2019

Dissident Publications Matter

Benjamin Villaroel, American Renaissance, December 9, 2019

Hay Harina Solo Para Tres o Cuatro Dias

By the time Marxist Salvador Allende became President of Chile in 1970, the political parties of the Right had been in a state of both chaos and remission for decades. The two traditional conservative parties: The Liberal Party (as in “classical liberal”) and the Conservative Party, were all but finished, having been slouching towards irrelevancy for over half a century. The populist-nationalist Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, (more-or-less the Juan Perón of Chile) who had served both as dictator (1927-1931) and as president (1952-1958) had died in 1960, and like so many caudillos, left no political heir or organization. Various small right-wing parties, such as the Agrarian Labor Party (1945-1958), the National Christian Party (1952-1958), the National Populist Party (1958-1963), and the National Action Party (1963-1966), were dissolving as quickly as they were forming.

In 1964, the country lurched leftward with the newly elected Eduard Frei Montalva, and much of the right foresaw that this would pave the way to a Communist future. In a desperate gambit, the National Party was formed in 1966, fusing what remained of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the National Action Party, and hoping to bring in as many independents and centrists as possible. In 1970, their candidate for President was Jorge Alessandri, the last living conservative former President (1958-1964), and a generally well-liked figure. Alessandri narrowly lost to Salvador Allende: 35.29 percent to 36.63.

It was a terrible defeat. Chile began to move Left arguably in the 1920s and inarguably since the 1930s. This slide had accelerated in the second half of the 1960s, and now there was to be a Marxist President. His only domestic opposition consisted of right-wing political figures and parties that had been losing for decades.

Dissent, however, takes many forms. What the Right lacked in political organization it made up for in intellect. Starting in the 1960s, dissenters from Chile’s increasingly hegemonic Left began founding an impressive array of magazines and newspapers, and the rightist publications that already existed dramatically increased the frequency and intensity of their polemics against the regime.

The most important of these was El Mercurio (“The Mercury”), Chile’s most longstanding newspaper of record. In 1970, it was owned by the conservative businessman Agustín Edwards Eastman who, after voting for Jorge Alessandri in that year’s election, promptly left for the United States. He went on to petition the American government for help both in undoing Allende’s election and in making sure El Mercurio stayed afloat (he eventually succeeded on both counts). Throughout Chile’s Marxist years, El Mercurio unrelentingly attacked the President, openly calling the regime unconstitutional and its actions illegal.

El gobierno ha quebrantado gravemente la Constitucion

The paper did not go unpunished. Allende found plenty of ways to harass the newspaper and its staff. First, the government declared its intent to nationalize Chile’s largest pulp and paper company, the CMPC (an intent that was ultimately resisted through great effort). The CMPC supplied paper for El Mercurio, and not coincidentally, the President of the CMPC at the time was none other than Jorge Alessandri — the country’s foremost conservative political figure. The government then fixed the price of paper artificially low, which hurt the CMPC, and sent lawyers and bureaucrats unannounced to El Mercurio’s offices to seize accounting books in a desperate search for accounting errors or typos that could justify government penalties and taxes.

One of the Allende regime’s favorite tricks was to let Communist street thugs attack the government’s enemies, not prosecute them, and then say, “We don’t have anything to do with those guys. They are terrorists, we are the government; how could we possibly be working together!?” El Mercurio’s Santiago building was regularly pelted with rocks and homemade bombs. The government did nothing to protect the paper and instead denounced it as a threat to public security.  The government even managed to halt circulation for an entire month, claiming this was necessary for the safety the nation. This decision was upheld by a Leftist judge.

El Mercurio soldiered on. CMPC managed to resist nationalization, and although plenty of the staff at El Mercurio feared that Allende would use the military to establish a total dictatorship, they kept on working against that eventuality and hoped for the best. The same was true for Chile’s many other dissident outlets: Portada, founded in 1969 to oppose the Left; Que Pasa, founded in 1971 to oppose Allende, and La Segunda, another old paper of record. As El Mercurio was the oldest and most prestigious, it got the most government harassment, but did not shoulder that burden alone. Allende saw dissent of any kind as a threat, and took serious steps to end it, especially when the economic crisis worsened.

Renuncie! Hagalo por Chile

Much as we may dislike Allende, he was right to view these publications as a threat — and not just because most of them published writing that was just shy of calling for the military to intervene. To look over the names on their mastheads and contributor lists is the same as looking at a list of government officials and ministers between 1973 and 1990, that is to say, during Pinochet’s military regime, installed after the successful coup against Allende.

Gonzalo Vial and Jaime Guzmán both played important roles in founding Que Pasa and Portada. Vial went on to serve as Minister of Education and was the military regime’s de facto historian; Jaime Guzmán was the military regime’s foremost intellectual, and the principal author of the 1980 constitution still in use today. Sergio de Castro, the main economics writer for Que Pasa, became one of the most influential economists in Chilean history, served in various cabinet positions, and wrote Chile’s now legendary economic reforms. Pablo Baraona, a regular at Portada, was almost as important as de Castro. Arturo Fontaine, a frequent contributor to El Mercurio and Que Pasa, became Ambassador to Argentina (an extremely important position in Chile). William Thayer, another columnist for Que Pasa worked for the military government in various capacities, and helped draft the country’s new constitution.

These are only some of the most prominent examples. Almost every contributor who did not later have an affiliation of some kind with the military regime had either died or just wanted to make money in Chile’s new and prosperous economy instead.

Which is to say, writing matters, dissent counts, and it’s not over until it’s over. Today, American dissidents are threatened with deplatforming instead of nationalization, and with antifa brawlers instead of Communist bomb-throwers. But the situation is broadly the same, and history shows that the censored and harassed dissidents of one era can — and have — written the constitution for the next.

So, support American Renaissance today. Speaking up is half the battle.

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