Michael Walzer famously asked if there could be a decent Left. Well, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) proved that there certainly is no decent Right. The WSJ recent “After the Coup in Cairo” opined: “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.”
Translation: Egypt is not generating enough profit for international capital. Therefore, the country’s rulers should prioritize the liberty of the “free market” over the freedom of Egyptian citizens.
Missing in this paragraph is any historical, much less humanitarian, context. The early 1970s Chilean government of democratic socialist Salvador Allende suffered “chaos” partly due to actions by the Nixon administration to flood the world market with copper (Chile’s primary mineral export), fund a covert propaganda campaign against the President, and sponsor disruptive activities by upper-class citizens. Despite these problems, Popular Unity’s (Allende’s electoral coalition) congressional representation grew in the 1973 by-election, indicating the growing popularity of his government’s reforms.
The overthrow of the government on September 11, 1973 marked an immediate end to Chile’s democratic socialization. Pinochet’s “Chicago Boys” subsequent economic experiment dramatically increased poverty in the country, privatized pensions for nearly everyone (conveniently excluding the military leaders), and opened Chile up to unchecked neo-liberal thievery.
Chile’s transition back to democracy was hardly due to the General and his junta’s midwifery skills. In fact, a plebiscite in 1988 ended the dictatorship despite a large campaign by the government against a return to representative democracy. The election results, made famous to many Americans by the 2012 movie “No,” was partly solidified when the Americans decided to recognize the votes. The message was clear: General Pinochet no longer could rely on Washington. The Cold War was over; capitalism had won. Embarrassments like Pinochet were no longer useful to D.C.
The American government then was honest in a way the WSJ was this week. For neo-liberals, if there must be a choice, then liberty and freedom of the market must triumph over democracy and liberties of people. If people are “irresponsible,” as Henry Kissinger described the pro-socialist Chilean electorate, then one can justify a state intervening to correct a market failure. Freedom from state interference is only sacred for economies, not for the people who make them run.
David Duhalde is the Treasurer of Boston DSA. His parents met through Chile Solidarity.