Foreign Correspondent


For the benefit of REASON readers, the editors have asked me to write a column on the cultural/political scene of Latin America, an anticipation of which already appeared in the October 1971 issue. Whether this subject may be of any interest and/or use to you is something we shall soon find out. But merely supposing this column shall have a periodic recurrence, I believe it is worthwhile to point out, from the very beginning, certain facts which must be remembered when considering our theme. They are, in a nonexhaustive list, the following:

There is not a single and homogeneous Latin America. This continent is formed by very different countries, distinguished by a) their cultures (from traditional, Indian-Hispanic societies to modern European-influenced ones); b) their economic structures (from pastoral to half-industrialized countries; c) their climates (hot, and cold, and humid, and dry, etc.; d) their racial stocks (there are zones where Indians are a majority—Mexico, Peru, Bolivia—others where whites prevail—Uruguay, Argentina—and still others where blacks comprise a majority—coast-line Brazil); e) their natural resources (from predominantly mining countries to predominantly agrarian ones, with large urban areas in between; and f) their social structures (zones where middleclasses are predominant and zones where they simply do not exist).

All these differences account for some surprising comparisons; middleclass inhabitants of Buenos Aires (Argentina) or Sao Paulo (Brazil) probably have more in common, culturally speaking, with inhabitants of Rome, Paris, or New York than with poor Indians living in the forests of Paraguay, the hills of Peru, or any other non-urban zone.

On the other hand, of course, there are mutual interests and common characteristics (all pertaining to the "Latin" world). But whenever a broad generalization is made, it generally leaves aside some millions of individuals, some countries and/or some important phenomena. This does not mean one cannot talk of "Latin America"; one can, and sometimes must, always keeping in mind—or explicitly mentioning—the differences.

There are no libertarians in Latin America. In fact, there are no "libertarians" elsewhere than the U.S.A., if we disregard, as I believe we should, isolated ones (like myself and some old-anarcho-socialists still calling themselves that way). This "uniqueness" of U.S.A. libertarians obstructs the understanding of social reality outside the U.S.A. and, consequently, causes wrong estimations and actions when confronting such reality. When alternative possibilities are considered in the U.S.A., it is always an element in such analysis that there is in existence a small minority or libertarians with a measurable voice and influence. It would be very different if it were not; it would be just like everywhere else.

The preceding fact is merely part of a much bigger one: the ideological spectrum in the U.S.A. is very different from the one prevalent in the rest of the world, including Latin America. U.S.A. is definitely more "capitalist oriented" than all other countries and, on "civil liberties," the U.S.A. is, in general, the freest country in the world: opposition to the Viet Nam war, the mere proposal of a volunteer army, and "Oh Calcutta!" all at the same time are unthinkable phenomena in almost any other country, where they would be regarded, respectively, as treason, unserious, and outrageous.

Capitalism never had a chance in Latin America. This same affirmation, although generally true, is in itself an example of the kind of assertions criticized before in this column as too general. But if properly explained it is useful. We all know that "laissez-faire" capitalism never existed totally anywhere. Yet, regarding Latin America, it must be stressed that an economic system primarily based on the profit motive, private property, and the free market existed even less. Qualifying this assertion we must recognize that, in some countries, something approximating it existed for some time (and the relative past prosperity of these countries is, in great part, attributable to it). But it was never really "internalized" by a majority. And yet, the poverty and injustice still comparatively prevailing (and which the said half-capitalism eradicated in part) are, in the mind of all people, a failure of capitalism and/or a consequence of imperialistic policies of capitalist countries.

Given this necessary introduction, I shall focus now on some of the most important political/social processes now developing in Latin America. I refer to the last elections in Chile and Uruguay. This analysis shall be useful as a further and more concrete introduction toward the subject of this column and, also, as the starting point for the consideration of a libertarian approach to Latin American reality.

The events I shall refer to happened within a given context, formed, basically, by the following facts: 1) the emergence, in the last 10-15 years, of the so-called Third World, a group of countries underdeveloped and excolonies, which follow an "independent" foreign policy (in relation to the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R.), a statist road to economic development, and which, collectively have a newly acquired influence at the United Nations;

2) The Marxist strategical theory that a socialist taking of power in the U.S.A. or Europe is improbable (the May 1969 riots in France helped to reveal the basic "conservative" attitude European workers are developing). Therefore, revolution must come through an encircling operation (of a nonmilitary nature) of the underdeveloped countries, being "liberated" and socialist against the developed countries. Then these last cannot "exploit" the first anymore, capitalist countries shall enter into a crisis, so the argument goes, and socialism shall reach them (of course, if Nixon continues with his present New Economic Policy, this "encircling" shall not be necessary);

3) In the underdeveloped countries not yet "liberated," there are three alternative courses of action for revolutionary movements: free elections, rural guerrilla, or urban guerrilla. Restricting our analysis to Latin America, we can see that the second alternative was successful in Cuba (although this is debatable, since Castro appeared, at the beginning, as the leader of a merely democratic anti-Batista movement and only late made evident his totalitarian ideology), and unsuccessful elsewhere (the failure of the Venezuelan guerrillas and, more fundamentally, the death of Argentine Che Guevara in Bolivia showed the scarce possibilities of this course). Based on the now famous minibook of the late Brazilian Carlos Marighella, the urban guerrilla—third alternative—was increasingly adopted by young Marxists. Yet, despite some spectacular successes typical of all kinds of well-organized terrorism, these guerrilla movements are isolated from the population and, although capable of effective strikes against the Establishment such as kidnappings and hold-ups, they are also incapable of taking the Power, which is, after all, their purpose.


In this context, Socialist Allende's victory last year entered as a new fact. It added a new and active member to the Third World, meant another step in the encircling theory, and gave new brilliance to the first alternative—free elections—completely disregarded by young Marxists as illusory.

Briefly, Allende was the candidate of a coalition of several parties: Socialist, Communist (these two being the more important), a small group of exChristian-Democrats, and a majority of the traditional Radical Party. This coalition won 36% of the votes, but obtained the support, in the Electoral College, of the Christian-Democratic Party, thanks to an agreement on, basically, two points: structural reform of economic/social institutions and the compromise of the coalition to respect democratic institutions (mainly, freedom of the press, free elections, freedom in education).

In spite of these "safeguards" it was conceded at the time by most commentators that it was only a matter of time before the so-called "copper curtain" would descend over Chile. These pessimistic prognosticators pointed to past coalitions in which the Communist Party took part and finally dominated. Yet, historical record, in this matter, was not so clear-cut:

a) The Chilean Communist Party was once already a part—in a minority position—of a Popular Front, when Radical Gonzalez Videla was elected Presidente back in 1946. But it was dumped in 1948 and declared illegal;

b) The Spanish Communist Party during the Civil War, was—in comparison with other important parties (Socialist, Anarchists, Trotskyites) more "moderate" [1];

c) Arbenz' regime at Guatemala in the 50s was crushed by a Central Intelligence Agency-backed armed invasion;

d) De Gaulle's first "Ministre d'Etat" after the Liberation was Maurice Thorez, general secretary of the French Communist Party and a staunch Stalinist.

All these examples, although having essential differences with the present Chilean situation, show that "historical record" as such, does not "prove" that, once in power, Marxists are never displaced (if you think of East European countries, remember the presence of the Soviet Army).

Also, it must be noticed that the Communist Party, all over the world, has taken the same "moderate" position that it took at the time of the Spanish Civil War and is being accused by more revolutionary Marxists of being "objectively in support of capitalism" [2]. In Chile itself, a guerrilla group called M.I.R. (never mind what these initiials mean) said, of Allende's victory, that his regime would not be able to transform Chile into a socialist country and they proposed then the continuance of terrorism. As a matter of fact, Allende belongs to the more moderate, minority faction of the Socialist Party which, as a whole, is more extremist that the Communist Party itself.

At the time, the first reaction of the Chilean middle and high classes was downright panic. Lots of money went to Switzerland, U.S.A., Spain, and Argentina. Many wealthy Chileans traveled around considering possible places to establish themselves. But finally there was no mass emigration. This fact became a very important one in the process that followed.

The record shows that after one year of socialist rule, Chile has not become another "popular democracy." There has certainly been implied a swift move toward a further nationalization of economic activities, but this has not yet meant the abolition of private property [3]. But the main question is of a political nature: would the Marxists, once in power, respect the press, the existence of political parties, dissenting opinions? Despite some isolated attempts of coercion, the fact is that a police state is not functioning in Chile, with the last free elections being a good example of this.

On January 16 two simultaneous and partial elections were held in the Provinces of O'Higgins and Linares in order to replace a resigning representative and a dead Senator. Culminating the action of a vigorous and intelligent opposition in the Congress (where opposition parties are a majority), the National Party (rightist) officially supported the Christian-Democratic candidate for Senator, who won; at the representative elections the Christian-Democratic Party, allowed its followers freedom of action (meaning if not formally, in fact, support for the National Party candidate, who also won. Therefore, at both elections, after one year of Marxist rule, free elections were held and the nonMarxist opposition won, the theme of the campaign being, precisely, the support, or not, of the socialist experiment.

This result may be analyzed from several points of view. The one I am particularly interested in is that these elections, however partial, show what an intelligent, nonhistoric opposition can do in the face of a Marxist government. Notice, in the first place, that in spite of an almost universal pessimistic prognosis, the Chilean bourgeoisie stayed. This is an all important factor against this kind of regime, since the presence of a noncooperative, resistant middle class sabotages all the propaganda efforts these regimes need to stabilize and proceed with their program. Chile is full now of boards exhorting laborers to work harder. Besides the fact that this exhortation must come as some sort of anticlimax to many workers who thought socialism meant instant "dolce far niente," the whole propaganda effort is cut down by the immediate dispersion of counter arguments from the opposition through the still existent free press, by word of mouth, etc.

This is why the permanence of the Chilean middle class has been so important, helped with the cautious, nonprovocative but critical attitude of the nonMarxist press. The massive propaganda of socialist regimes can only have success in the absence of opposition (critics demoralize, divide, etc.). If, as in Cuba, a massive emigration had occurred, no source of opposition would have been left to keep vigil against Marxism.

Another fact to be considered is that despite the move toward statism, and because of the said non-emigration, antigovernment forces still have economic power, which usually translates also into social and political power. The situation would have been entirely different if all private business had been left behind by emigrating owners. Also, if all professionals who engage in private practice had left the country, opposition forces would have been without some important "piece de resistance," such as professional organizations, an independent judicial power, etc. In other words, if the so-called "private sector" is reduced by a government to a 30% proportion and if this policy causes the emigration of the owners and producers of the remnants of that private sector, no doubt about it, there shall not be any private sector at all. This will mean, in political terms (the level at which this analysis stands) the lack of any influence of the then nonexistent private sector in the society at large and a much easier and quicker road to serfdom.

(This does not at all imply a value judgement from a moral point of view of any emigrant unhappy with the situation of his country. Obviously, I believe any individual has (or should have) the right, both morally and legally, to look for a better "milieu" in which fully to develop his potential as a human being. The preceding analysis accounts for the fact that only a very few of those living in any country are willing to transport themselves to another spot on earth and that only in the face of a physical danger a massive emigration occurs.)

Also, the cool attitude of Nixon's government regarding the takeover of copper mines has been beneficial to the internal opposition. Those historic, disproportionate, and generally unexecuted threats some U.S. Senators are prone to enunciate against any government, country, or group who does anything which is wrong in their eyes do not really help either the internal nonchauvinistic forces, the "free-enterprise" cause, or American foreign policy, inasmuch as they are obviously from representatives of special interest groups, disdainful of a sane attitude of careful analysis of facts, hearing both parties, and attending to sensitive and sometimes subtle but important legal considerations. (Example: a few years ago, the Argentine government declared null and void several contracts signed in 1958 with American oil firms. In the immediate judicial process that followed—in which the law office the writer belongs to represented one of those firms—a "no-innovation" order was easily obtained, to be enforced until the termination of the process, therefore preserving adequately the rights of the parties involved. Not one oil well was occupied by the government. The foreign companies continued production as always. Yet, in U.S. newspapers the news merely consisted of a headline, "Argentine Government Confiscates Oil Business," with the corresponding uproar and disregard of the fact that the government sincerely believed the contracts were null and void, a matter which after all was a legal controversy. After some time a settlement was arrived at and some of those oil companies are happily extracting oil and earning money. These Chilean elections were partial, only two seats were in contest, but their relevance is much greater. They provide the opposition parties with a guaranteed (proved) strategy and give them more "glamour" (the so-called "winning glamour"), necessary to attract a sizable number of insecure, exitist voters. They also cut down the arrogance and impulse of the socialists (there has already been a Cabinet crisis) and finally, they provided an image of popular support to any armed resistance, which, conceivably, the opposition might have to turn to if, as an indirect consequence of this election, some Marxist groups pressure for a total and immediate installation of a Communist regime with the adjunct police state. Until now, any proposition to resort to the national Army to depose Allende would have been impossible; but now the situation has changed. Yet, this writer still thinks that every effort should be made to defeat Marxism in Chile through legal means, resorting to violence only in answer to repression.

I must add that I do not mean to say that I absolutely believe Chile shall not develop into a police state. I merely say that the pessimistic prognoses have not been honored; the existence of an active and politically imaginative middleclass obstructs—sometimes very successfully—the road toward a Marxist dictatorship; the free election of a Marxist government does not automatically imply that any "curtain" has fallen down; and it is possible that Chile shall remain within the nonMarxist countries and that the next President shall be exPresidente Eduardo Frei (Christian-Democrat), this time elected with the support of the National Party.


In Uruguay, as perhaps you already know, general elections of President and Representatives were held last November. I traveled to Montevideo and stayed the whole weekend (election day was Sunday) and therefore I can give REASON readers a personal account of what happened there. The two traditional parties are the "Colorado" (Red) and the "Blanco" (White) parties, who alternate in government periodically and comprise around 80% of the votes. There are, also, some small parties (Communist, Socialist, Demo-Christian, etc.) without any relevant success. The Colorado Party has been, traditionally, a center-of-left party, predominantly urban, internationalist, statist, very much like the Radical parties of Western Europe between the World Wars. The Blanco Party, traditionally, has been more conservative, predominantly rural, nationalist, even chauvinistic, and reactionary. Both parties are deeply divided within themselves in various groups, up to a point that some "colorados" are nearer to some "blancos" than to some "colorados" and vice versa. After Allende's victory in Chile last year, the Left imagined it was possible to repeat the Chilean experience and promoted a so-called "Frente Amplio" (Wide Front), with the support of the Christian-Democratic Party, Socialists, Communists, and some dissident leftist factions from both traditional parties.

The prospects for nonMarxists were ominous. The Frente Amplio comprised all the Left, in a country badly mismanaged and suffering a tremendous economic crisis, with deep social unrest and widespread discontent, and the ever present menace of terrorism personified by the urban guerilla group called "Tupamaros." Given that context, the possibilities of the Frente were good indeed. Colorado leaders told me personally, the night of the election as the votes were counted, that they were afraid of losing Montevideo (the capital city) and, "God save us," the entire country.

The fact is that after the count, the Frente Amplio suffered a tremendous defeat (they came in third in the whole country, far behind the other two parties, and were second in Montevideo). This result is in part the consequence of the determined stand made by the Uruguayan middleclasses against the "red threat" and of the traditional appeal of both traditional parties among workers and farmers. I was a witness on the Saturday evening before Election Day to an exciting car parade called "Marcha por la Democracia" (Parade for Democracy) which invaded Montevideo and was formed by both Colorado and Blanco sympathizers. The common slogan was "It Doesn't Matter Who Wins, Colorado or Blanco, As Long As the Frente Amplio Doesn't Win."


The consequences for my country—Argentina—of these two elections in the bordering countries of Uruguay and Chile have been very important. At the time of Allende's victory, Argentines suddenly contemplated the ominous prospect of a Marxist Chile at our western border, a logical fountainhead for guerrilla attacks and propaganda. It would have certainly meant the same if the Frente Amplio had won at Uruguay, our eastern frontier. More generally, these two elections have been a tremendous setback for Marxism in the southern part of Latin America.

Another consequence relates to the global strategy of Marxism in this area. We had already seen that rural guerrillas had failed and that urban guerrilla are also isolated from the people. The first alternative—free elections—was, during 1971, the newly attractive road to socialism. Both elections show the lack of any really successful strategic option for the Marxist movement.

Finally, the lessons to be derived from both experiences, are to my judgement, the following:

1) In the last instance, the more effective barrier against a Communist dictatorship is the existence of a national (local) bourgeoisie, determined and politically sophisticated. No foreign pressure, no foreign aid, no foreign army can help, if there is not a sufficient number of people willing to stay and fight.

2) It is urgent to disengage the U.S.A government from the private business adventures of U.S.A. citizens and corporations in foreign countries.

3) It is necessary to avoid hardline policies from some U.S.A. leaders, generally conservatives, which only help to encourage an internal front against "those damn yankees," a front from which the only beneficiaries are, of course, the local nationalists and statists.

4) Do not let your local protectionists use the excuse of hostile Latin American governments to sustain and impose discriminating tariffs, quotas, and barriers against Latin American goods, which only cause further poverty and hate at both ends of the line.

5) Don't panic, stay cool.

N. Guillermo Molinelli is an attorney in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is also an instructor in political science at the School of Law of the University of Buenos Aires.


[1] See Hugh Thomas "La Guerra Civil Espanola," ed. Ruedo Ibérico, Paris, 1962; and Pierre Broué "Trotzky y la guerra civil espanola," ed. Jorge Alvarez, Bs. As., 1966. Anarchist and Trotzkyite accounts of the war generally accuse the Spanish Communist Party of losing the war, due to its opposition to the abolition of private property during the war. The argument says that if this reform had been implemented, the worker-and peasantclasses living under "nationalist" dominance would have seen its true wishes in action and raised against its oppressors. From their point of view, it is not a wild idea.

[2] As a noted Trotzkyite author says the Soviet Union is now gradually integrating herself to the international market to become "the public sector of the capitalist world" (Jorge, Semprun, "La deuxiéme mort de Ramon Mercader," ed. Gallimard, Paris, 1969).

[3] If you counterargue with the takeover of copper mines, there are several qualifications to take note of. In the first place, bear in mind that the victim of the takeover is a foreign corporation; however disgraceful it may seem to us internationalist libertarians, it is common to all countries (including the U.S.A.—ask, for example, if a foreign bank can act within U.S.A. territory with the same rules that a national one has; it cannot, being subjected to discriminatory rules), a discriminatory attitude toward foreign capital and/or foreign citizens in subtle but nevertheless effective ways. Also, from a formal point of view, the problem at present does not seem to involve indemnity, but concerns reaching an agreement over amounts and modes of payment (cash vs. bonds), plus an eventual compensation against taxes supposedly owed by the foreign enterprises. I happened to think—without much concrete evidence—that the truth belongs, probably, to the U.S. firms, but the problem is not that simple. Finally, remember that perhaps (I am not sure but it is very probable) nor is the American public any more sure, this is not a matter of expropriation of "property" but of cancellation of a "permit" which is entirely different. Besides, unless one uses an extremely fine criterion, one violation of the principle of private property (supposing there is "property" involved) does not really mean that the principle of private property has been abolished. If this were the case, this institution would not exist in any country at all, including the U.S.A.