Ah Youth

Santiago, Chile March 7, 1966

On a Spartan field of dust, the Communist Youth of Chile encamped here last month to make a fervent appeal for allegiance in this old land of young men.

Attendance at the Congress was low and accomplishments apparently few, but there was no mistaking the challenge to the ruling Christian Democratic Party; youth will be served, but by whom?

By President Eduardo Frei’s count, 58 per cent of Chile’s nearly 8.5 million people are under 25 years old. The nation’s intensely political parties have all acted on the vote getting imperative implicit in the statistic, with the Christian Democrats easily the most successful so far. Much of the motive power behind the present party and government comes from men now barely 30.

Whether the Christian Democrats can also capture the imagination of coming waves of youth is a question basic to the future of this country, which many Latin American and world leaders see as potentially a pacesetter in rapid economic and social development.

International pulse takers pass through frequently for checks on Frei’s “Revolution in Liberty.” They often remark that in scarcely any other Latin American country does one find such a pool of rigorous young leaders in the pivotal jobs that too often: go to the tired as political payoffs.

With the more sought-after government jobs now largely filled, it is perhaps more than just providential that the present crop of university students has turned some of its energies to social action. In these first weeks of March, their summer vacation is ending and many return from a month of Peace Corps-type proselyting for progress in Chile’s less-developed south.

By all accounts this largely student-organized effort is apolitical, but the university life to which they return is partisan in many respects. Elections in the powerful Student Federation at the University of Chile are fought from national party ramparts. While the Christian Democrats continued to dominate the big student grouping, the followers of the Communist-Socialist Popular Front increased their representation last year at the expense of the young Christian Democrats.

Since Frei’s drive to power, culminating in his sweeping victory over the Popular Front in the 1964 election, had begun with victories among the students, the possible implications of I the recent relative setback made good copy for the Young Communist Congress.

The Congress site was the Quinta Normal, a large park conspicuously an exception to the city’s general rule of keeping the public lands trim and green.

Audacia, the rather inaptly titled Communist Youth periodical here, earlier had predicted a turnout of 10,000, so that the who actually tented down were bound to cloy. From the Romanesque ruin of a band shell, shattered by some unremembered earthquake tinkled the daily entertainment: U.S. pop records over a hum-strung loudspeaker offering “Little White Lies” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

At the turn of the century a proud exposition had the park. The only remembrance now is a wonderfully ugly, onion-top glass hall that has withstood all the earthquakes but is gradually giving in to neglect and little boys’ stones. Off another direction is the national School of Agronomy, where the students, turn out Chile’s only worthy brandy, labeled Quinta Normal.

Guests of the Communist Youth’s fifth Congress came from several Latin American countries as well as from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Cuba. But the dignitaries stayed up town and attended cocktail parties, among them one given by the leadership of the Chilean House of Deputies.

This difference in attentions was felt in the field, where one teenaged camper from the south, asked for directions to the Cubans’ tent, replied: “Oh no, they, are staying in a hotel.” And so they were, along with the Soviets and a dash of irony, at the Hotel Emperador (Emperor).

There in the dust during a break in an impromptu soccer game the young Communists described their wants in short phrases -- more jobs, more pay, more soccer fields. A spokesman later encountered up town, said that about 30 per cent of the delegates were students, the rest workers. The age limits are 15 to 25 with some exceptions, he said, later conceding that he was 26.

This is hardly unusual. The Radical Party’s Youth Wing has an age limit of 30, another reflection of the old tendency to disavow the powers of youth until it has begun to fade.

It was no easy task to find a spokesman for the Congress. The course ran from the bootless Quinta Normal encampment to the Communist Party’s tattered headquarters -- which offered practical proof that the young and the old of the party, administratively anyway, are autonomous. The only assistance there was how to get to the Youth Congress headquarters, an old church of all things where an assemblage of three old women and four children around a kitchen table offered directions to another address.

There, in a small union hall on a busy street, the Congress held its closed-session business meetings. There for the first, time: one encountered a sense of the vim of youth, with a surge of militants armed with leaflets who wanted to know where to deliver them. So crowded was the hall that the only place to provide interview -- for the North American press’s sole representative apparently -- was the back of a parked school bus.

With enthusiasm, cordiality, and perhaps some humor as well the young Communists offered their guest a Coca-Cola. They talked mostly about the state of youth under Frei, the shortfall as they saw it, between his promises and performance. And they took up such favorite international themes as Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.

While Santiago’s Communist newspaper El Siglo had been ballyhooing the Congress, the non-Communist papers had splashed the rounds of the embarrassing China-Cuba rice battle. No, said the spokesmen, this matter would not come up at the Congress, as it was an issue between parties. If any China-lining delegates attended, they remained anonymous.

Curiously, the press of the Socialist Party, often the more revolutionary partner in the Popular Front, gave short shrift to the Congress.

The Communists seem to have had difficulty determining what stance they should take against the reformist Christian Democrats. The Youth Congress’ approach was to try to split the ruling party’s youth wing from its elders. In her 36-page address, national Congress Deputy Gladys Marin declared that in his accent on youth, Frei was trying “to replace the conflict between classes, which is’ the motor of history, with the conflict between generations.” She complained of unalleviated problems confronting youth in education and employment and invited the Christian Democratic youth first to opt for change, then to join the Communists in its pursuit.

This, she said elsewhere, could best be achieved through unity of the students with the workers, a concept that seems to have little substance in Chile at present.

Of course, the Christian Democratic Youth rejected the proposal and rebutted with a long list of Frei government accomplishment’s, mostly in education, that purportedly benefit youth.

The Congress wound up on a folklore note, with a song festival in the park. The Communists and the Christian Democrats have been fighting for some time for possession of folk music. In one of her more exclamatory statements, Gladys Marin demanded to know what the government had done “to contribute to the development of the intense folklore movement.”

To an untutored tin Yankee ear in this land of copper it seems that Miss Marin has a point, that Chilean folk music does need some help. But to the criticism of education programs the government: muster more of a rebuttal.

In its first year, the Frei government claims to have increased by one-third the number of schools, to have matriculated 12 per cent more students, to have tripled evening class attendance. It promises a labor university. The grade structure has been revamped and more emphasis placed on technical education. This in a land that already claims a literacy rate of 80 per cent.

But one of Frei’s bright young men, Patricio Rojas, sub secretary of Education at 33, describes more sweeping prospects -- such as use of the education system in step with the still very-much-pending agrarian reform program, to qualify the new land recipients for productivity increases.

Such pragmatic use of Chile’s rather classical education does border on the politically revolutionary, but Rojas contends that most of the parties in opposition agree on the need for such immediate social involvement and that therefore education has not become an inter-party battleground.

The same sort of forces are at play in the universities. While far-left professors have long held chairs here, the attitude toward social involvement of the university has been distinctly conservative. But today among the virtually autonomous faculties, institutes and schools of the University of Chile is the new Department of Social Action. Its-30-year-old director, a medical doctor named Alfredo Avendrano, talks enthusiastically of a mobilization of the university’s resources to attack the nation’s problems of social and economic development. He tilts against a massive ingrained disinclination on the part of academia to get its hands dirty.

However, in his department’s first concerted effort -- planning and direction of a just-ended two-month student volunteer program in the lagging southern province of Chiloe -- Social Action received cooperation, even enthusiasm, from the faculties of medicine and philosophy and education. Some 200 members of the Student Federation taught courses and offered technical aid that had been prescribed after controlled surveys of the Chiloe population to see what aid the citizenry most wanted.

Professors guided research students in studies, for credit, of child illnesses in Chiloe, peasantry living conditions and causes of juvenile delinquency.

The efforts there received much favorable publicity and more extensive efforts are foreseen next year. Perhaps even a year-round center will rise there, a head start toward the goal still far-.off of academic training, under careful control, more immediately related to national needs.

In the two-way flow, Avendano suggests that the students probably benefited more from their experience of helping than .did the apparently most-grateful people of Chiloe in getting the aid.

Chiloe was perhaps the ideal training ground for Social Action. It is an isolated island and, because of cityward migration, the only Chilean province experiencing a decrease in population. But Avendano makes clear that the future of his program lies not in efforts by area, but by problem. Thus he would have all the affected divisions of the university join in a supervised activist-teaching assault on, say, the national maladies of land distribution and use.

Partly through the popularity of earlier fragmentary student efforts in Chiloe, the flux to several sections of the south for work-vacations is now in the thousands. The students build schools and health stations in isolated areas, tour as theater and folklore groups, vaccinate. The parties originate at the schools’ student organization, and the government helps provide the needed supplies and board.

Girls and boys, Communists and Liberals, rich and poor, work apace and in harness. A trio of students from the Catholic University of Valparaiso was interviewed last month, waiting patiently at the presidential palace for more government funds with which to complete their work south of the far-south city of Puerto Montt. They included a 25-year-old philosophy student, who said he would now consider a teaching job away from the city as a result of his experience; a student economist of 22; and the 21-year-old vice president of the school’s student organization.

Part of their group had worked in a town of 1500 backed lip against the Andes so that the only market road for the only product, livestock, led into Argentina.

The way to link such villages with Chile often is to build an airport. This the students were doing, first a strip long enough for a light plane, then the lengthening process until a DC-3 can land with the supplies needed for other construction.

This year hundreds of students who wanted to work in the south were prevented from doing so because their Federation, University, or government could not buy or provide needed materials for the projects.

The ferment in the universities, the summer projects and the accent on youth in the parties and government are the positive aspects of outlets here for the young. There are negative ones: Young entries into the labor market face real prospects of unemployment. In the capital, with its comparatively great Job pool, almost 6 per cent are unemployed, according to a recent study, and another 13 per cent work less than 10 hours per week. Many other available jobs reek of make-work rather than productivity.

By Latin American standards, students here seem relatively disinclined to vent their emotions in mass demonstrations. The Student Federation is more likely, for instance, to take a full-page newspaper ad to extol its support of favored legislation.

But some competent workers among the young report broad discontent with the pace of Chile’s social change; nonmembers of the first families see too much power still concentrated there, complaints are rife that Frei’s promised revolution has failed to fight its way out of the Senate.

Despite an upturn in the prospects of meaningful involvement by youth in the political and social life here, and a seeming youth consensus on the need for rapid change, there are no sure signs of any resultant political realignments. Recently the Radical Party Youth came out in general support of the Christian Democratic agrarian reform bill and thereby drew a sharp rebuke from the long-powerful party’s venerable Sen. Julio Duran. But the Radicals’ leadership, too, is now heavily infused with relative youngsters who claim that Duran, heavy loser in the ‘64 presidential race, is no longer a power in the party. Nevertheless, if the young have taken over, this has not changed the Radical senators’ virtual veto hold on legislation that passes the Christian Democrat-controlled lower house.

And while the Communist Youth in its Congress called for a united front with the Christian Democratic juventude, behind Communist principles, nobody seriously expected such an occurrence. Nor do the Communist youth seem inclined to militate beyond the relatively constrained policies of the parent party led by Sen. Luis Corvalan. A leader of the youth wing conceded that he often is chided for failure to take up the guerrilla role of his cohorts in Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. But he, like his elders, made clear that the parliamentary game here was too fair and the potential return on investment therein too favorable for the party to change its tactic.

He might have added that the game here is for keeps. At this stage of the contest the one sector of the population with a constant circle of attendants is the youth. So far it has opted for rapid but democratic-principled change, with the y0mger militants of the ruling party always tugging to the left, sometimes restlessly.

Youth will be served in Chile, and to a large extent today this seems to mean that youth will serve itself.


Mr. Diuguid is a 1965 Alicia Patterson Fund fellowship award winner on leave from The Washington Post. Permission to publish this article may be sought from the Foreign Editor, The Washington Post.

Received In New York March 10, 1966.