Vol. 12 No. 14 · 26 July 1990

Pinochet’s Chile: Those who went and those who stayed

Tony Gould

3659 words

Nothing has really happened to me during these 16 years: I’ve not lost anybody, any relative or friend; one or two friends are now living outside the country, but that’s all. I never suffered anything; I’ve not been persecuted, nothing. Only once, I was under arrest for eight hours. Those eight hours were because I was visiting a friend who had been taken to gaol and I was held there for a little interrogation – quite cordial and friendly and respectful. So nothing happened to me. And yet I don’t think there is anything in my life that is half as important to me as the coup. The rest is nothing compared to that. Up to that point I was interested only in Medieval Spanish literature. Now I can’t understand it: how could I?

Jorge Guzman is an academic and a novelist – a highly intelligent and articulate man who was surprised to find himself talking to me about things he had never discussed with anyone before: about, for instance, the differences in experience and perception between those who went into exile after the Pinochet coup and those who remained in Chile. In the beginning, he told me, those who stayed (of whom he was one) were hated and reviled by those who had left the country; they were considered traitors and collaborators. Guzman found this perfectly understandable. But he was somewhat taken aback to discover, when he first went to the United States in 1975, that he had to prove he was not a fascist. ‘Are you staying there?’ he was asked. ‘If you said yes’ he told me, ‘you had to follow up with an explanation. Which I didn’t. I simply said yes.’ It was ridiculous, he said, this cleaving of the country in two: the good ones and the bad ones, with the good ones being those who had left. Later it changed, ‘and we became small heroes for having stayed.’

In Guzman’s view, the main difference between the exiles and those who remained during the Pinochet years is that the latter were obliged to ‘become reconciled with reality’. ‘Before the coup,’ he said, citing his own experience:

I lived among dreams, historical dreams, political dreams. I thought we could do anything. I mean, we were such fools that we thought this country was independent. That is really to delude oneself to the point of lunacy. We thought we were independent. Now, I live in reality and I have found out that I have to work with it, in it, for it, from it.

No longer content to be an expert on Medieval Spanish literature on the one hand, and a novelist on the other, he began to pay attention to Latin America:

You have to belong where you belong. And here in Chile you must be interested in Chilean history, in Latin American history and in Spanish history, with a view to knowing who you are, and to seeing the reality that surrounds you. We have been living for centuries trying to hide the fact that we are descendants of Indians and Spanish. The Spaniards and the Indians who are our grandparents are both denied by us. This is crazy, but Chileans, and Latin Americans in general, despise with equal force the Spaniards and the Indians.

With equal force? Well no, not equal, he admitted when I challenged him: more the Indians, but also the Spaniards. He went on to explain the point with reference to the Spanish and Latin American custom of having a double surname, the mother’s following the father’s. ‘If you are a Chilean and your name is, let’s say, Jorge Guzman MacPherson, you never forget the MacPherson. But if you are called Jorge MacPherson Guzman, you certainly forget the Guzman!’ As far as genes are concerned, there are, of course, some pure Indians and some pure Europeans: but culturally ‘one of the things that is characteristic of Latin America is the fact that we are all half-breeds.’ Latin Americans are different. That is why he called his latest book Diferencias Latino-americanas, and had two pictures of himself on the cover – in one bearded and wearing a conquistador helmet and in the other cleanshaven, in a woolly hat with earflaps. This is all part of the reality which those who stayed have had to come to terms with.

Another apparent difference is not so much between those who stayed and those who went as between the ones who stayed and their former selves:

If you had come to Chile, let’s say, in 1970, you would have found us very passionate in political matters; but at the same time you would have detected that all of us were linking our personal bourgeois development to whatever was going to happen. So it was me who was so important, my personal development needed a change in politics. Not any more. I don’t think any of us gives a damn about ourselves. I have heard with these ears a Communist in 1972 say: ‘How come the Government doesn’t take good care that we, the intellectuals of the regime, are supplied with cigarettes? They’re so scarce we have to queue up and lose our precious time. They should take care that we have our cigarettes every day.’ We were going to be perfect, we were going to be brave, we were going to be beautiful, we were going to be intelligent, therefore we needed a change in Chilean politics. That’s the one thing we have gained: we have turned ourselves over to the society in which we live, whatever that means.

Guzman is not knocking the Allende years, far from it. There was then, he says, a real sense of freedom. Indeed, it pre-dated Allende: there were perhaps eight years of freedom, from 1965 to 1973, when it seemed ‘that the world was there waiting for new initiatives, that you could change and turn yourself into something you never dreamt you could be.’ He himself was affected by the spirit of the age: he was tempted to move into the wilds, though he never did. But he told me a story of someone who had, and it sounded like a parable:

Lola Hoffman was a well-known psychiatrist; she had worked with Jung. She had a son, and this son fell in love with a married girl and they ran away to an island in the southern part of Chile, where they led a beautiful life. He had everything, a little hut made of logs; and with his hands he carved the cradle of their first child. Then the coup came, and one day she said, ‘I think I’ll return to Santiago for a few days,’ and she did. Well, she did not return when she said she would. Months went by, and then she came back and said: ‘You know what, I met my ex-husband in Santiago and he’s very rich now. He’s become the director of a bank, and I fell in love with him all over again. So I’m going back to my old life.’ I think that is very typical of what was happening in those years: you went off into the wilderness and began living with nature, and then, when the coup came, you realised your limits were much narrower than you thought.

Marcos Garcia de la Huerta is a colleague of Jorge Guzman; both work in the Centro de Estudios Humanisticos in the faculty of mathematical and physical sciences of the University of Chile, which had a moment of glory when it was upgraded from a centre, servicing students of engineering, to a department, enrolling its own humanities students on degree courses. This spanned the last months of the Allende regime and the first two years of the military dictatorship. Now it is a ‘graveyard’, according to another academic still eking out a living there. De la Huerta was an allendista who, like Guzman, survived the purges following the military coup because he was lucky enough to be in a sciences, rather than an arts faculty. At the time he was also teaching in a department of philosophy in the port town of Valparaiso, and from there he was immediately and unceremoniously dismissed. In one sense, he stayed in Chile because he did not have to go, in another he stayed because he did not see why fascists should have it all their own way. By continuing to teach, in however humble a capacity, he and others like him kept open alternative possibilities.

He, too, deplores the exiles’ self-serving division of the country into black and white, good and evil, and its indiscriminate branding of all those who remained after the coup as at least covert supporters of the regime, pinochetistas. Perhaps this would not have mattered so much if the exiles’ version of events had not prevailed to the extent it has in the world’s media. This oversimplification did not allow for the continuation of opposition from within. Its subtext is that the only opposition worthy of the name is the pure – and often abstract – opposition of the exiles.

Enrique d’Etigny, until recently rector of one of the new private universities in Santiago, La Universidad de Humanismo Cristiano, laughs at the bafflement of a group of Swedish academics who visited Chile in the Pinochet years. Influenced by the exiles’ view, they said to him:

What do you want us to do? First you tell us to have nothing to do with the regime. Now you say, well, perhaps this Pinochet’s not so bad after all, we have to reform things from within. We don’t know if we’re supposed to co-operate or not.

As d’Etigny points out, neither exiles nor stayers form a single, monolithic group:

First, you have to realise that there are two kinds of exiles: one is voluntary, and the other is compulsory, let’s say. The reactions are very different when you can’t come back and when you just go and you might come back. Then, with those who stayed, there are two positions: those who stayed in official jobs in the university or elsewhere, and those who stayed outside the university, independently as intellectuals. And of those who stayed in the university, well, again you have to distinguish between two groups. Among those who supported the new government and were involved in the creation of a new society [he laughs], there were some conservative, traditional groups who considered this a way of going back to the real values of the old Chile. But these were a minority. The more liberal group, including most intellectuals who stayed, had the feeling that they were keeping the torch burning of what was possible in the future. Most of them thought it would only be for a short period: it was not in the Chilean tradition; it might last two years and then it would revert to normal. So we had to stay here to keep the flame of intellectuality alight.

When things did not return to normal after two years, those intellectuals who stayed in the hope of better things to come tended to cultivate their own gardens, so to speak.

‘When the coup came’, says Adriana Valdes, who was teaching at the Catholic University, ‘there was not much that we could do openly. My own feeling was that now I would have time to study all the difficult things that I couldn’t study before! We thought it would be for a short time, we thought it would be two or three years. There was this thing that told you that the military were not very intelligent; no intelligent people were with them and perhaps if you wrote something that was terribly subversive they would not understand it – if it was not written in the language of the slogans they understood. This flight into higher culture was a kind of displacement, like an animal, into the ecological place where you could be safer. There was an aesthetics which started in 1975, una estetica del guino, which means the ‘wink’. You could show things which had a double or triple meaning; people were into that.’

The evil deeds of the Pinochet regime, combined with the effective propaganda of articulate exiles, plunged Chilean intellectuals, already geographically isolated on the far side of the Andes, deeper into quarantine. They found it almost impossible to entice academics from other countries to visit, even when they made clear their own opposition to the regime.

If the intellectuals who remained in Chile were increasingly isolated, those who went, or were sent into exile, lost contact with their own country and were, many of them, trapped in a time-warp. When they started to come back, in the last years of the dictatorship, they were not exactly welcomed with open arms. ‘There was some bitterness and some resentment from the people here towards the people outside,’ says the writer Jorge Edwards, ‘because you had from inside the impression that the exiles were becoming professional exiles. And it was a lucrative profession. Among the people outside there was a feeling that the people inside were collaborators.’ Mutual hostility will, no doubt, be overcome in due course, but in the meantime, as d’Etigny explains, ‘it’s not easy to re-integrate the two groups, because they have developed different attitudes and different philosophies. Those who stayed inside, they had the real tough time; and those who were outside, they believe they had the real position, the new philosophy and open minds, and that they can probably have a better influence on the country.’

The attitude of the returned exiles depends, in many cases, on how successful their period of exile turned out to be: the more successful, the more confident they are of their own rectitude and, correspondingly, the more critical of what they see around them. Armando Uribe is a poet, an international lawyer and ex-diplomat; he was Chile’s ambassador to China during Allende’s time and spent many of the subsequent years of exile teaching at the Sorbonne. Unlike most Chileans, who are relaxed in both dress and address, Uribe is always impeccably turned out in a suit and tie, chain-smokes through a long cigarette-holder and prefers, to an almost fetishistic degree, the formality of the usted mode of address to the easy intimacy of tu. He is also a great and emphatic talker with a wide range of reference. ‘Having lived in France,’ he says, ‘I have this habit of numbering my points: but because I am South American I always get the numbers wrong.’ His strongest feeling on returning to Chile last year was one of ‘arrogance – because the people who stayed were more or less accomplices of the regime.’ It is this kind of arrogance which provokes jibes along the lines of ‘they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing’ from those who stayed behind.

Antonio Avaria was Armando Uribe’s cultural attaché in China – one is tempted to cast him in the role of Sancho Panza to Uribe’s Don Quixote. ‘The coup,’ Avaria said, ‘destroyed my future, my life, interrupted the way I was going in life.’ He quotes Che Guevara with approval: ‘I used to be a doctor.’ If asked, Avaria would say: ‘I used to be a writer.’ Psychologically, he has found it very difficult to adjust to being back: ‘People here, well, they have got used to living without me.’ As Marcos Garcia de la Huerta puts it, ‘those who return leave their external exile only to discover a new one: internal exile.’

Guilt and suffering are recurring themes on both sides. ‘At the beginning, for the people that remained, we were the guilty ones,’ Armando Uribe says. ‘With the passage of time, and with the atrocious conduct of the Junta, things began to turn and their guilt began to germinate. Because they felt guilty, and because they had thought we were guilty, they finished up thinking that they were the wronged ones.’ Antonio Avaria makes much the same point: ‘People thought they were having it difficult here, under the dictatorship. We also thought we had it quite hard over there, struggling for life in foreign countries, changing countries like shoes.’ Mario Valenzuela, a career diplomat who headed the foreign service under Allende and spent most of his exile in London working for the United Nations maritime agency in Greenwich, says: ‘People here are envious of our suffering, and then that we have succeeded.’ Envy, he reckons, is the Chilean vice. For him, living abroad had a sobering influence: ‘We Chileans are frivolous, show-offs. Even after this experience. In England one becomes more serious.’

Both Valenzuela, who managed to visit Chile every two years while he was working for the United Nations, and Uribe, kept thoroughly abreast of all that was going on in Chile during their absence, Valenzuela following events ‘almost obsessively’ and Uribe being fed endless stories. But neither yet feels at home there in the way that another returned ex-diplomat, the novelist Jorge Edwards, does. Though he was expelled from the diplomatic service after writing an article about the coup in Le Monde, Edwards was never formally exiled: he simply chose to remain in Europe. Edwards had been chargé d’affaires in Paris after Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet and Allende’s ambassador there, had fallen ill and returned to Chile, and he stayed on in Spain until the situation in Chile improved sufficiently for him to feel he could return. Before coming back for good the following year, he made an exploratory visit in July 1978, when he met various writer friends, including the poets Nicanor Parra and Enrique Lihn, whose disenchantment with the Allende regime predated its downfall and was so vocal that they came to be seen by many exiles as arch-collaborators, despite the fact that they were soon to be as implacably opposed to the military dictatorship as they had ever been to Allende. ‘It was like the first Christians meeting in the catacombs,’ Edwards recalls. ‘I understood very well their situation, and I understood their reasons for staying in Chile, because I felt myself much more comfortable with them than with the intellectuals in exile.’

One reason for this was that Edwards was far from popular with the exiles after he had written his memoir of the time he spent as chargé d’affaires in Cuba, Persona Non Grata, in which ‘I had allowed myself to criticise Fidel Castro – the only one who remains in place,’ he adds with a laugh. As Cuba had been an exemplar for the whole of Latin America in the Sixties and was regarded as a model for Allende’s Chile in particular, it was, to say the least, not very tactful of Allende’s appointed representative there to side with the dissident writers against the state and make his opposition plain both at the time and afterwards in his book. It was only his friendship with Neruda – who, despite his Communism, was no fan of Cuba either – that saved Edwards from a fate far worse than Paris (a diplomatic posting to Guatemala, say) after his stint in Havana.

Nor was it only ‘jet-setting left-wing exiles’, eager to bask in the reflected glory of such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes, who took a dislike to Edwards’s book. Jorge Guzman, for instance, regards it as symptomatic of the self-importance of Chilean intellectuals at that time: ‘He judges Cuba, not for whatever Cuba is, good or bad, but for the impact Cuba made on him. He was expecting this or that and he was not satisfied with it. That was the Chilean way in those days.’

Certainly Edwards is as vain as the next writer, but he is also very shrewd, as when he points out that ‘exiles in Spain and France, or Spanish or French intellectuals who were talking about Chile, were talking as if Allende had been a perfect democrat, which I doubt very much. I imagine Allende’s intentions were democratic, but he didn’t produce a democratic situation, because his extreme Left was all the time provoking things that were going beyond the law, and he didn’t control that.’

This is the heart of the matter. For a democrat, to have to choose between a dictatorship of the proletariat and a dictatorship of the military is to be faced with Hobson’s choice. The manner of Allende’s death in the Moneda palace and the subsequent mythologising of it have obscured the extent to which, for whatever reasons, things had fallen apart well before the military intervention. None of the Chilean intellectuals I spoke to had a good word to say about Pinochet, though a few may have supported, at least tacitly, the idea of military intervention as a means to restore a workable democracy. What divides them is not their attitude to Pinochet, but their attitude to Allende. In this regard, I suspect, those who remained in Chile are by and large more realistic, less starry-eyed, than those who went into exile. As Adriana Valdes said (with particular reference to the Communists, but the remark has a far wider application), ‘the exiles had to keep faith to justify their years of exile. Those who stayed had to make adjustments to survive within the existing situation in Chile.’

With the transition to democracy the two sides may be able to forget their differences and forge a new Chilean identity which they can share. As Chile’s leading novelist, Jose Donoso puts it, ‘It didn’t happen in Chile as much as it happened in Spain, where there was a real hatred between those who went and those who stayed, la Espana adentro y la Espana afuera. There’s not that much of Chile to go round, you can only make one country really.’

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences