Freedom and the Revolution

LHD-7 Santiago, Chile September 5, 1966

The Christian Democrats, Party of the “Revolution in Liberty,” laid siege to the land with a spectacular display of political infighting last month. The harangues would have benumbed lesser folk, but the Chileans emerged with their appetite for such battle unimpaired.

If political freedom Chile-style was vindicated at the four-day Party congress here, freedom of the press was being put to a sterner test in the south. The issue was government intervention, and the outlook was not as salutary. But more on that later. First an introduction to the political scene and a look at the Party congress:

The Spectrum

Chileans will play politics till the llamas come home. The activity is vigorous and pervasive. Confrontations of parties in the national parliament are acted out all down the chain of institutions -- in labor unions, university faculties, student organizations, mothers clubs, families, newspapers, bookstores. There are even restaurants known for serving Christian Democratic or Radical lunches.

Yet for all this activity, the parties are poor, their memberships small, and the number of nonparticipating citizens depressingly large. This non-participation is a symptom of the ill that brought forth the Revolution in Liberty: Chile traditionally has been a free and comfortable place for those who could afford it, but the economy failed to change with the times and close to half of the now 8.5 million People were excluded by poverty. President Eduardo Frei has devoted the Revolution to helping that lower-half lift itself up -- without deprivation of any citizen’s basic freedoms.

As for the parties’ poverty, Chileans resemble democrats the world over in that they like the game of politics but don’t like to pay the price of admission. Except at election time there are few dues-paying members even among the wealthy. Still, there are enough activists to offer a full spectrum of effervescent political parties, most of them replete with youth wing, student wing, and cheering section wearing the colors.

Splinters rise and fall at the fringes but the principal strains at the moment are, from the right:

National Party -- This is the product of the unlikely merger earlier this year of the Conservative and Liberal Parties. When recently an overwhelming majority of the electorate began to opt for rapid change, these traditional parties were reduced to rump factions in parliament. The National Party is an attempt to collect the factions into a viable conservative force. So far its unity seems negative, based on agreement that the Christian Democrats and all left of them should be opposed. The Conservative Party historically represented close alignment with the Catholic Church. The desire to break away from this tie was one of the reasons why Frei and other leaders of the present government led-away the Conservatives’ left wing 30 years ago and formed what became the Christian Democratic Party. The Liberals were not a church party but represented business and professional interests.

Radical Party -- The Liberals’ left wing years ago broke off to become the Radical Party, which was the power center of the national scene for years until the recent mass leftward shift disarmed it. The Party’s younger members and probably its majority want to join the leftward swing. They would, in effect, become the nation’s non-Marxist socialists, and they have sought membership in the International. This would amount to a doctrine of advocating about the same reforms that the Christian Democrats do, and the old guard is firmly opposed. There is also divergence on whether the Party should selectively make common cause with the Marxists or the Christian Democrats, and the resultant conflicts have hold the proud old Party up to ridicule.

Christian Democrats -- They fall into the spectrum here, but more on them later.

Communist and Socialist Parties -- The two must be considered jointly, for they with a fragment or two make up the Frente de Accion Popular, the Marxist Popular Action Front or the FRAP. The Communist is the traditional Party of the far left, with roots in the beginnings of the labor movement here nearly half a century ago. Its pragmatism, repudiation of violence, and general conformity to the country’s parliamentary ways have given the Party something of a maiden aunt image here and abroad. The Socialists in turn have pre-empted the far left. They are more likely to advocate violence but as unlikely to practice it. Occasionally students from the university wing of one party or the other will toss some ink at the U.S. Consulate or demonstrate in the lobby of the conservative Mercurio newspaper’s building. At one of these happenings not long ago a Communist woman deputy in the lower house went along. They waited for the green light before crossing the street for their rendezvous with notoriety. Last month the Communists, youth were collecting blood for North Vietnam when they were set upon by the Spartacists, a pro-Peking faction that finds the FRAP too tame. They said the collection was a farce, that the blood would never see Hanoi. In the resultant melee, not only the bottled blood but some of the participants’ was spilled. As usual, the U.S. Consulate was the butt. To show their militancy, the young Communists raced the Spartacists over to the building, which they pelted with stones.

Despite doubts about the sincerity of the FRAP parties in championing the workers’ cause, most of the limited amount of’ organized labor is under their control. This includes the important copper workers. The FRAP is making a strong bid to beat the Christian Democrats in the race to organize form labor.
The Socialist’s and Communists often seem uneasy in coalition, but it has endured. The FRAP offered the only sizable opposition in the presidential election of 1964 and it is the only conceivable alternative at present. It holds the sympathy of many thoughtful young professors and professionals who profess to feel that the old order cannot be reformed but must be dislodged completely. Lately the FRAP seems to have passed up some excellent opportunities to follow obstructionist policy. For instance, when a contract opened at an Anaconda copper mine, a now one was written and approved without a minute’s time lost. This may reflect internal doctrinal problems between the Socialists and Communists, quiet for now.

These FRAP difficulties can be illustrated with an example that also demonstrates the tempo with which the whole political stew boils here. Usually the issues are domestic. Occasionally an international one will do. The curious case in point was the various parties’ handling of the Fidel Castro issue, which nearly everyone would have preferred to leave alone, had not the Cuban premier been so insistent.

President Frei had maintained a benign silence toward Havana, refusing to renew diplomatic relations severed by his predecessor but refusing also to join the chorus of hemispheric Castro baiters, Chilean Marxists were of course frequent visitors to Cuba, and in February of this year ton parliamentarians of all stripes accepted a Castro invitation. While they were touring the city, Castro published a letter to the United Nations in which he defended the violent affirmations of the earlier Havana Tri-Continental Conference. He denounced all the hemispheric governments as tools of U.S. imperialism. Seven offended Chilean lawmakers left immediately. In Santiago, the parties and press of the left and right reacted predictably, but the Christian Democrats were embarrassed to find that two of their representation along with the one Socialist had chosen to remain in Cuba for the full visit. Furthermore, a third Christian Democrat telegraphed his solidarity with the two, his cable arriving at about the same time as the Party’s summons home.

Frei then invoked Party discipline to expel the far-left telegram sender. The returning delegates reported to their peers according to their politics. For instance, Radical Deputy Ines Enriquez, told assembled Party stalwarts, juridical-minded all, of the Cuban official who counseled that “we just ignore parts of our agrarian reform law that we don’t like.” And she mentioned to the matronly Party women that in Cuba the ladies were expected to work, to drive buses (a man’s Job in Chile, where some of the buses are older than the drivers) and even to cut cane.

Inez Enriquez didn’t have too much to say about her dinner encounter with Fidel, but the Communist press here did. It published a picture of her on Castro’s arm and said: “There, motherly; here, a patriot offended.”

Whatever further disciplining was needed for the Christian Democrats I unity was provided by Castro on the numerous subsequent occasions in which he has denounced Frei in the crudest terms. The Socialists have championed this sort of treatment, but the Communists have been more circumspect. One of Castro’s points was that Communist countries should not deal with Chile since it consorts with the United States. But the Russians have sent technical teams here who have found much to praise in the Frei program. The Soviet Union is on the point of providing economic aid to Chile itself, and it is known to have apologized to Frei for the intemperance of Castro’s remarks. The Chilean Communists -- which when it serves them can be as nationalistic as the next party -- are being forced to take what must be an uncomfortably nationalist tack against Castro as A result of their ties to Moscow.

Few nuances of this sort are loot on the various party goads. They have capitalized, if that is the word, on the Tri-Continental’s exclusion of the Israeli Communist Party from attendance, for example. That act to please the Arabs fell with a thud in Santiago, where there are several Jews among leaders of the Marxist parties.

Each stage in this six-month bombast has provoked great overlapping waves of indignation in the newspapers of both sides. Another result has been the end of Frei’s silence toward the Cuban revolution and the beginning of measured criticism.

It is also notable that while the whole encounter became something of a domestic soccer ball, the only restrictions on the game. More internal ones placed by the parties; the Frei Revolution allowed the liberty it promises. If the Radicals’ reaction to Cuba was predictable, it came after they saw for themselves, and there was no thought of preventing them from going.

This toleration of diversity has characterized the Chilean Political scene. But diversity has also meant disunity. The massive Christian Democratic election victories inevitably narrowed diversity as they broadened unity. Both the country and the ruling Party are having to get accustomed to a majority government. This was part of the challenge at the Party congress just concluded.

The Christian Democrats hold an unprecedented 82 of the 145 seats in the lower house, which was renewed completely in March 1965 for four years. Senate terms are for eight years, renewed in halves. The newly ascendant Christian Democrats control just 13 of the 45 seats. It is only here, thin, that the other parties make themselves felt. The rightist senators are powerful now but in the main do not represent their constituents’ current alignment. If the Christian Democratic Party’s popularity should continue unabated through the senatorial elections of 1969, the Nationals and Radicals could virtually disappear from the national scene. The spectrum would then be polarized between the Christian Democrats and the FRAP. A combination of the success of the former and division of the latter could even result in a one-party state. This would be an unwonted occurrence in this country, which under proportional representation has always known a multitude of parties. To judge from the past, the more likely event, before such a state of affairs came to be, is a split within the Christian Democrats. This possibility was always an implicit criterion by which observers judged the Party gathering.

The Party Congress

President Frei is the Party, say the critics of both. They believe or hope that the organization will not survive Frei’s six-year term. Indeed, the Party does seem inexperienced sometimes, even inept. But most of its growth and strength have come only in the last eight years. It has much to learn and its leaders acknowledge that. There are indications that the lessons are being learned. This group that introduced modern campaigning methods to Chile continues to show a knack for image making.

Take the Party headquarters, for instance. You can have it for the cost of carting it off. It loans there on the main-street Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins, waiting for an earthquake. This is old-time Santiago, the Spanish style around a courtyard with frills of wrought iron on the three-layer balconies, and ornamental glass in casements. But the iron has rusted away and the glass is broken. The garden’s one survivor is a great disdainful palm, skirted with posters. Through the hole where a stairway was, the visitor watches a youngster crank the Party mimeograph. In the secretary-general’s office a portrait of Frei is falling off the wall.

“Poor building, poor party,” says the secretary-general. And at the level of the rank-and-file it is poor. But this carries a dividend. With its young image the Party also has a clean image. Every Sunday, half of Santiago climbs the downtown landmark, the 400-ft. Santa Lucia Hill, and gazes upon the crumbling Christian Democratic headquarters there at the foot, reassured that their leadership is poor and thus with the people.

In somewhat the same spirit, perhaps, the President has toured this car-starved land in a 20-year old Cadillac -- with no radio. But these things, too, must change. Mr. Frei is breaking in a new Lincoln, and some of the wealthier Christian Democrats are putting up a glassy office building to catch the cadres when the present headquarters collapses.

With the now building, perhaps a new image. The Party his been in power nearly two years, after all, and must institutionalize. But the Party’s organizational structure is a bit chaotic still. The national congress held August 24-28 was the first since 1959, although the bylaws call for one every three years. It is supposed to be an opportunity for 2000 delegates from up and down the nation to set the Party’s course. The format is for committees to take up preset topics, hear proposed position papers, argue them out, and eventually vote out the Party s position on, say, “Structures and Functions of the Party as a Revolutionary Party.” All this was done with fervor and devotion. But in reality the congress served as the culmination of a months-long campaign among three Party factions to capture the permanent chairmanship.

The congress, then, was a showdown among three divergent tendencies. The pre-congress oratory seemed at times to turn on the definition and ideological content of one baffling word, “communitarianism.” The feelings were so strong that the decision was made not to allow the public to attend the arty of Liberty’s congress sessions. This resulted in the spectacle of a closed meeting of 2500 people, just about any one of which was anxious to give his version of events Inside to the press waiting outside. The measure may have boon well taken. Tempers were reported to have risen in an un-image-like way on occasion and one advocate was restrained from throwing a bottle. While the billing called for 2000 delegates, and while that many may actually have left home for the congress, the authoritative count those who actually made it to the floor came to just under 1500. That was enough.

The Issues

True understanding of political parties’ internal issues is a gift never bestowed on the outsider, regardless of whether it in given the insider. But some generalizations may, with trepidation, be offered:

1. Though there were three factions seeking the Party chairmanship, the division essentially was between pragmatists and ideologists. The former are concentrated in the cabinet and in the leadership generally of Frei’s government. Whatever their philosophical bent, they have seen the massive practical problems confronting them in trying to set aright the economy and society. This turns then toward such practicalities as retention of private enterprise support, even where public ownership might be preferred, until public funds can be earned. The ideologists’ leaders sit mainly In the Senate, divided, but in general reasoning thusly: Ours must be more than just a pragmatically leftwing party. The Communist and Socialist are that. We must show that our means are aimed at worthy ends. We must stress the ideology that so far has been subordinated, or we will lose public confidence. If our ideology is muddy at the moment, let us begin now to clear it, agree upon it, unite behind it.

2. A fundamental issue is the relationship of the Party and t1he government, or as the congress programmers put it, “the role of the Party and the role of the government in the Revolution in Liberty.” The Christian Democrats did not participate in previous governments, and no previous government was formed from one party. The Party has turned up some surprising stands as it has felt its way in the task of sorting out roles. A few members feel that the Party should stand in complete independence of the government it formed. More generally, the ideologists feel that the government is moving the Revolution too slowly and that the Party ought to accelerate it. The congress seemed to show that though this viewpoint carries considerable support, the majority accepts the present relationship wherein the President is the initiator. Nevertheless, the accepted congress position paper said that “the Party should assume its responsibility of formulating, seeing accomplished and controlling the revolutionary program, whose executor is the government.”

On a more routine plane, there does seem room for definition of what the government and the Party should attempt. In a recent speech the Finance Minister was defending the financial polities of the government -- “We know what the majority of the people want, even if it does not yet have the organization for expressing its true desires,” he said. This had echoes from the past that caused some discomfort amid those observers who already are unhappy with what they see as syndicalist organizational tendencies among the Christian Democrats. Whether or not to answer these criticisms, the Minister later changed his emphasis to may that the most organized pressure groups often are not representative of the interests of the Chilean majority.

3. Taken in a more narrow focus, the Party is trying to determine just who shall lead it. President Frei does not officially head the Party. The chairman, chosen in the end by the Party’s upper council, is the nominal leader. The norm has boon that the national President is of all the people and should stand aloof of Party considerations. Thus Frei has not visited Party headquarters and to do so would be considered partisan. But Frei does in fact lead the Party. He does it by the power of his Position and his authority and by his influence among the other members. The present Party chairman, Senator Patricio Aylwin, is in complete accord with the President on basic issues. The two senators who challenged Aylwin for the job are not in accord on all points with Frei. They represented members that feel the Party must stand close by the President in his successes but independent of him should he fail. This attitude can only be taken as a criticism of Frei’s leadership, and it finds sympathy despite Indication by polls that the President’s national popularity has risen since the elections while the Party’s has fallen.

The fact that the President had to come before the congress with a strong speech is evidence of the challenge to his leadership; the fact that his viewpoint prevailed in the crucial votes is evidence that he remains firmly in control. The actual chairmanship selection will come in a few days, but it assuredly will be Aylwin or someone else completely acceptable to Frei.

4. As for “communitarianism” all Christian Democrats give at least lip service to the objective of establishing a communitary state. But the ideologists are certainly correct in saying that the concept is not yet clearly defined. In his pre-presidential years Frei was a chief ideologist. He wrote eight books that dealt mostly with Christian social philosophy and he introduced through some of them the thought, including communitarianism, of his mentor, French philosopher Jacques Maritain.

But since he has come to power, the President’s speeches have dealt with housing starts and rates of growth, debt and inflation, obligations to produce and propensities to save, copper exports and food imports. He has, in short, become a most pragmatic president; as anyone might who was confronted with Chile’s inflation blues, low productivity, under-employment and over-entanglement.

The ideologists, on the other hand, insist that the time has come to fill out the ideological basis of the Party and to begin its implementation. Their persistent spokesman is Senator Rafael Gumucio, who was one of the challengers for the Party chairmanship. The following approximates his concept of the communitarian society: The means of production would be hold by the community in which the plants were located, the community directing through management responsible to it. Where more appropriate the plant might by the property of its workers, a cooperative in which all involved would have at least an indirect voice in management. By such arrangements, communitarianism would destroy capitalism so repugnant here as narrow-interest ownership, and at the same time it would avoid the excessive concentration of power in the state that socialism sometimes characterizes. Many Chilean revolutionaries oppose state socialism on the grounds that it would lead to more of the troubles introduced here by the highly centralized nature of the government historically. The state would play a broad management role under communitarianism, but this would be transitory, in order to launch the worker-cooperatives and community management and to act for them until they are capable of assuming control efficiently.

Gumucio agrees freely with his critics that all this is very theoretical, hollow, perhaps even too idealistic to function. He pretends no knowledge of what form it will take in the end. Some projections come out looking like a widely held U.S. corporation with liberal profit sharing. Gumucio does insist that the one way to find out where communitarianism will go is to begin, and he acknowledges that*before even a beginning can be made there must be much sharpening of concepts through the grinding wheels of enlightened public debate. It was this that Gumucio and others hoped to provoke. Or rather they hoped to raise the debate from the parlors of the militants -- where it is already a favored part-time -- to the national leadership level.

The ideologists at least succeeded in getting a paragraph into the congress’ final document saying that “communitarianism is the basis of the (Revolution in Liberty’s) doctrinal inspiration.” Whether or not they ever got the word’s definition down to dictionary size, the ideologists will have prodded some worthy thought in the Party if it seriously takes up the question of property ownership. It speaks with many voices now. Frei talks of a state-directed economy complemented by a strong private enterprise sector. He has made many efforts to improve the poor showing of the Revolution-shy entrepreneurial class. At the same time he should be included in what is probably the large majority of the Party members who are committed to a democratic socialist state. There are wide varieties in the degree of dedication. The ideologists are on the left of the issue while simultaneously they try to crystallize, or inject, a uniquely Chilean interpretation of socialism. The business community seems to be most frightened by this group, which it looks upon as unstable. Some in the Party even like to look to Yugoslavia for inspiration, and the stock market seems to recede every time one of them speaks at lunch.

Gumucio says that he sympathizes with the investors, who need a basis for planning. His answer would be to assure national and foreign capital that while a communitarian state is the goal, it can only come in long years or perhaps decades -- the debate should help fix the interval -- and in the interim the state is prepared to enter mutually beneficial compacts with enlightened investors. He would specify the states conditions. He cites as a model for these arrangements the copper compacts, which Chile is in the process of signing with U.S. companies. In this case Chile will begin to buy into the companies, which will be given assurances that seen to suit then nicely.

The government’s agrarian reform proposal in looked upon by some as containing communitarian ideas, since the expropriated holding is not to be redistributed to individuals immediately but to what could be thought of as community groups. These would be state-assisted, to spread technical skills, until the workers were proficient. Then they could choose between private ownership or perhaps a co-op alternative.

In any case, the pragmatists are more likely to go along with practical applications of communitarianism then with debate about its efficacy as ideology. Frei probably represents this attitude best in his book appropriately titled Thought and Action. “We cannot live indefinitely on words,” he said. “Our attempt to do so is precisely why every day the gulf between the two social groups in our country grows wider and wider.” He wrote that in 1958. Since his election in September of.1964, he argues, the gap has been closing. In his congress speech he deliberately reviewed the concrete accomplishments to date of his government -- the schools built, teachers hired, students enrolled, houses constructed, industries expanded -- in order to emphasize that his is a government of acts not words, and that if the words superseded action the social gap again would spread.

Frei did not point out, though he might have, that much of the sluggishness in getting the Revolution underway is attributed to failure to muster votes in the Senate. The culpability he might have put in part in the Christian Democratic senators’ hands. They in turn would argue that the presidential dynamism has been wanting.

The Results

Apparently there was little danger of a definitive split in the Party despite the tempests of the sessions -- which ran as long as from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (through the midday siesta which Frei has decreed away but which many Party members still find time to invest in). Senator Gumucio quit as candidate for the chairmanship but indications are that he will be there in the ranks when time comes for another disconcerting stand. The votes were close on the important issues, and in some cases many members left the hall. But the case with which Frei called the dissidents together and kept enough of them together would seem to preclude fragmentation now. At the same time, the vigorous roles of the challengers should discomfit the critics holding the view that the Party would be leaderless without Frei.
Among the more notable stands taken by the congress:

Labor organization. This was the issue on which Gumucio withdrew. It also brought in another droll word, “parallelism.” The vote went with Labor Minister William Thayer (pronounced Tie er) on the crucial but none-too-popular Party issue of how to confront the Communist-Socialist control of organized labor. Little over 10 per cent of labor is organized but that which in usually comes under the FRAP-dominated Workers Central Confederation. The archaic labor code theoretically disallows all but the narrowest confederation. All agree that it ought to be revised but there is no consensus on how. Minister Thayer called for “labor liberty” under a formula whereby 30 percent of the workers in a plant could obtain recognition even if another unit already were qualified as the bargaining unit. This is parallelism in the eyes of Thayer’s opponents, who rightly foresee plant unions sympathetic to the Christian Democrats forming to compete with those of the FRAP-dominated confederation. Gumucio said he had always favored “labor unity,” feeling that influences such as parallel units that divide the workers were contrary to their interests. He would opt for the Christian Democrats attempting to wrest control from the FRAP of the present Confederation, a goal sometimes pursued by the Party without much conviction in the past. Gumucio said that if elected chairman he would not be able to support the Thayer-favored policy and therefore he chose to withdraw. Some thought he saw that he didn’t have the votes anyway. In any event, the emphasis on labor was an innovation for the Party that is based on middleclass foundations and has shown its inexperience in the factory.

• ORIT blackball. Chile has largely been spared the endless fusillades between the two groups competing for power in labor organization hemisphere-wide. They are the AFL-CIO entry, the Inter-American Workers’ Organization (ORIT from the Spanish initials), and the Latin American Christian Workers Confederation (CLASC). Though CLASC is headquartered in Santiago it has had little local influence. Neither has ORIT and it is less likely to now. CLASC provided the congress with some of the abundant evidence that ORIT and affiliates, under the leadership of Jay Lovestone, were carrying out in sometimes sub-rosa ways the objectives of U.S. foreign policy. Thereupon the congress declared that Party members could not affiliate with organizations associated with ORIT. The president of one of the few Christian Democrat-led unions, who is also an ORIT official, promptly quit the Party and carried some members with him. A curious question on Party discipline is why the action was necessary in the congress, since the Christian Democrats’ Trade Union Bureau had already ordered members to quit ORIT two years ago.

• Foreign policy. The congress called for seating of Communist China in the United Nations and a peace conference on Vietnam. It congratulated the Foreign Ministry on the “dignity with which diplomatic relations and ties with the United States have been carried out,” and it applauded Froi18 efforts for Latin American economic integration – at the recent Bogotá presidents meeting and in general.

The congress wound down with blithe abandon. One middle chieftain who invited the whole mass to lunch was left holding 3000 soggy empanadas when the bhoys decided to work straight through. Nothing started when expected, and if some things ended as expected there was no one to say they had to. The distinction used here of Party members In the government following the pro-Frei pragmatist line was by no means all-inclusive; some job-holders stood firm on the losing sides. Afterwards a couple of resignations were offered without much danger of their acceptance. The sessions may have been closed, but the atmosphere was not so. In fact, with the debate in the Party so forthcoming and free, and the oppositions’ carping in the Press so unrestrained, the affair’s existence seemed to carry its own value -- whether or not the future is to be altered by decisions taken. It was a refreshing exercise of political freedom on a continent whose nations have rarely produced that raw material, and have often sold it cheap when they did.

Yet in Chile that freedom, and the debate and compromise it implies, has become an ordinary thing. The Chileans enjoy it, practice it, and see nothing surprising in it. They are surprised when a foreigner does.

Everett Dirksen told the American Legion in Washington the other day that, “Frankly, I’ve gotten in a frame of mind where I think this is the only free country on earth...” Chileans could argue that the Senator from Illinois, like the Premier from Cuba, does their country an injustice.

The Press

A disconcerting dram in the elixir of political freedom last month was the involvement of government money in an attempt to purchase an independent newspaper chain. For months Christian Democratic Party militants had been paying high prices for shares of five newspapers in the south grouped under the conservative house of Sociedad Periodistica del Sur (Sopesur). When charges were made that representatives of the official Bank of State were putting up some of the money, the story broke in the Senate, the press and the various Journalist-publisher groupings.

It looked like a threat to a basic freedom, and it came in a sector where the price of liberty may prove to be higher than just vigilance. The press of Chile in most cases can be bought, is, and will be unless some economic conditions and some attitudes change. Ironically, one of its chief difficulties is that it is highly politicized, and this is partially an outgrowth of the active exercise of political freedom.

The Sopesur case had repercussions elsewhere in the hemisphere’s press, which from experience is fearful of government intervention; On his way home from Bogota, Frei stopped in Lima and was asked about the comments that had appeared in the Peruvian press concerning a threat to press freedom.

“I believe that in order to know if there is press freedom in a country, you have to go to that country,” said Frei. “In Chile, Whoever wants can publish a paper. There are dailies that are Communist. Pekingist, rightist, etc. Now, if a group of persons buys a newspaper, is that contrary to press freedom? Do you want to say then, that only those who have money should be able to have newspapers?” The last remarks as reported by Agence France Presses seemed to be a justification for the role of the official bank. In order to understand Chile’s press freedom, it is necessary to look at the products.

At first glance down the colorful and bold offerings clothes-pinned to any Santiago kiosk, the reader gets the impression of a varied and rigorous press. It occasionally is, and to be sure it is measured against different standards than North American newspapers might be. But many Chileans agree that the performance here is less than desirable.

Here are the offerings of importance hawked from every corner:

Morning Dailies

Mercurio -- The one paper with nationwide readership and a reputation that extends beyond Chile. It has been owned for decades by the Edwards family, which by now also owns the major paper in virtually every city. It has a midday and afternoon tabloid here (as well as radio, banking, land and brewing interests). By any economic standards, the Edwards are a near monopoly. Mercurio has most of the ads, occupying 75 percent and more of its columns, and virtually all of the home delivery circulation. It has color pictures; the only serious coverage of foreign news, and it carries the texts of most important and/or official speeches. Editorially it is pro-Frei while criticizing him selectively from what is in fact a far more conservative position than his. Longtime readers say Mercurio has always supported the group in power. It conceives its roles as the conscience of the capital and it runs endless editorials on the virtues of conservative economic policy. It opposes agrarian reform and champions’ private enterprise relentlessly, giving its supporters more than their share of news space. It pays the best wages in town, yet a competent reporter earns less than the equivalent of $200 per month. It charges for published quasi-news pictures. It is geared to make money and it does, on a circulation of 120,000 that could be higher if it paid to print more. Its makeup is attractive. Reporting of events is uniquely objective, but the decisions on what to reports and to what extent, are less so. It was thorough and firm in its coverage of the Sopesur case.

La Nacion -- Government-owned, and has been through several administrations, but operated under a format apparently designed to obscure that fact. Not many people could be fooled. It is dull and ugly and known as the paper road only by those who have to. It said the Sopesur share buying was nothing more than a business deal and it ran “news” stories quoting Christian Democrats who said the same thing.

Illustrado – Voice of the “mummies, it as the rightwing is known by the left-wing. It looks at Chile from the viewpoint of the National Party and the manufacturers’ association. It formerly carried the paid text of debate in the House of Deputies, as Mercurio does the paid Senate texts. But the House contract went to Nancina under the Frei government. The state can also generate pressure through the considerable advertising bought by its agencies or industries it subsidizes. Illustrado carries little advertising these days. Its politics are similar to Sopesur’s, and it offered support.

El Siglo -- Owned by the Communist Party. Probably its biggest block of readers outside the Party is the U.S. official community, which watches it for bends in the Party line. El Siglo has an air of being angry constantly, and one feels that its followers must never smile. But Santiago is not a somber city. The paper never lets up on attacks against the United States, rarely eases off of Frei either, in editorial or news columns. An example of the latter was in interview with a university researcher who found that children in the city’s wealthy suburbs were taller than those in its slums. In the midst of the interview El Siglo gratuitously commented that “the government now tends to increase these differences. It wants the children of workers ... to be smaller, shorter.” El Siglo was in a dilemma on Sopeaur, and showed it. Anxious to condemn the government for intervention, it was reluctant to support conservative interests.
Clarin -- A popular tabloid, sensational, and said to have leaned to FRAP until recently. Now it seems mildly pro-Frei. It, too, had some ownership changes recently. It was scornful of the Sopesur group’s calling foul.

The Afternoons

Ultima Hora -- Said by non-Socialists to be the mouthpiece of that party, an allegation denied by the more virulent Socialists. It is as strongly anti-Frei and anti-U.S. as El Siglo, but it is tightly edited and easy to read. It is enterprising and sometimes irresponsible, and it dominates afternoon street sales. It once took a Radical Party stance, reflecting the politics of the family that owned it. The family is the same but apparently the reins are looser. Ultima Hora followed the Soresur story aggressively.

The Rest – Afternoons are all tabloids, selling for 4 cents (mornings for 6). Aside from Ultima Hora the offerings are slim, including: the two Mercurio -owned entries; a Christian Democrat mouthpiece, which, however, seems to be owned by a Party member rather than the Party; a paper with roughly the same relation to the Radicals.

Weekly magazines reflect the same tendencies. There is a sometimes delightful political satire sheet called Topaze. During Frei’s first months some Party members tried to put out a rival with the same appearance and even the same name, but with the Party line. The clumsy interference was shouted down but the goal was achieved more recently by a change in ownership of the legitimate Topaze. Frei still appears long of nose, but he is always benign. The better humorists have quit or are planning to. There is a conservative journal of opinion with scant circulation and the rest of the magazine trade is dominated by a book publishing monopoly. It puts out a different magazine for each day of the week. In the main they run to girls or gore, but the Wednesday offer, Ercilla carries the most thoughtful national news coverage available. Here again, readers can now detect a less critical analysis of the government’s policies; Christian Democrat interests have bought into the Publishing house.

The stands also carry a smittering of foreign publications, Time, a German-language paper from the south, short-lived attempts at new journals of varied leanings, extremist publications. There used to be an English-language weekly owned by a U.S. citizen but it folded early this year. Radio is important, some say more widely influential than the press. The political manipulation pattern is similar. The two television stations, operated by the national and Catholic universities, are not of great influence yet.

Few other cities of 2 million can offer such quantity of blatant opinion. To try to form a balanced conclusion of what happened at a political rally, say, one would have to read all the papers. Some Chileans seem to prefer to, but a survey indicates that only 6 percent of the capital readers buy more than one daily.

As with most of Chile’s problems, the press facility his economic determinant. Wages for newsmen are so low that nearly all have at least one side job, often as press agent for a politician or for the government itself. Venality is distressingly common. No daily regularly sends reporters afield -- they go when invited and when the way is paid, often by industries owned or subsidized by the government. Understandably, the preparation and dedication of reporters often is spotty. A professional organization trying to improve standards is seeking national legislation that would require a journalism school degree for practicing Journalists. The better newsmen agree that this is rather exclusive, and they say that the journalism schools are not very good. “But we have to begin somewhere.” they add.

One place to begin would seem to be for the papers to pay better. Unions are almost non-existent. But most papers live on the sufferance of party or government subsidy. Probably only three would survive if put on a profit-to-publish standard. And the parties feel better served by running their own near-newspapers than by trusting in the emergence of a disinterested press. Mercurio’s halting attempt at news column objectivity would be recognized as sincere only by the National Party and occasionally the Christian Democrats.

And yet many politicians -- in the opposition -- do draw the line on government intervention. They try to extend it to restrict the one party forming the government, and there distinctions get cloudy. Asked to justify what looks like an attempt at control, Christian Democrats say these practices may not be laudable but they are necessary. The Party itself is not acting, they say, but if members want to buy papers, the Party will hardly object. They argue that for years they were victim of conservative-controlled press. The only way to get their views before the public in an undistorted form, they say, is to do as Chileans do -- control the outlet.

Of course, publishers’ leanings affect the press in other lands as well. But this in combination with the mix-up of editorials and news plus the highly polemical presentation here seems to reinforce the threat to understanding. Chile’s committed press is rarely a cerebral or reasoned advocate.

Emergence of a mass Christian Democratic Party may complicate matters further. It could jeopardize the ideal Frei spoke of, the free press of many voices. If the band of parties narrows, this will mean narrowed or weaker voices in the dependent newspapers that comprise the many outlets. This government’s introduction of augmented propaganda efforts already has had some curious effects. Its handouts, when they are not discernibly polemical in content, often appear identically in all the capital’s dailies. And now there is the matter of Sopesur.

The case is before President Frei. The Press Association, representing the nation’s publishers, took the initiative to put the matter directly. The Association’s president said that in the interview Frei told him an investigation would be made and any state functionary involved would be held responsible. Asked if the takeover attempt had been carried out without Frei’s knowledge, the Association chief opined that it had. This is not the general feeling and the President has not at this writing spoken at length on the subject or announced the investigation findings. The Sopesur management says that stock purchases continue. Meanwhile, a chain of papers in the north, just about the only other one, charges a similar takeover try.

Many liberals throughout Latin America have suggested that the press is too powerful a weapon to place in the hands of narrow interests. They have many cases of conservative domination to document their argument. The less abundant examples of leftwing newspaper control are hardly more gratifying. The solution often circumspectly suggested, government ownership of press and news agencies, has rather dubious precedents as well.

Chile may eventually evolve some worthwhile models for press betterment. But as matters stand now, the people’s all-important Revolution in Liberty is dangerously ill reported by a press that in free in only a narrow sense. Depending upon the paper, the Revolution is a scandal about to frill to the pseudo-Christian Bolsheviks of the Frei Party’s leftwing; a sham reform, jointly foisted by the imperialists and their lackeys, that Is being exposed resolutely by the working class; or a historic success, supported by all Chileans and followed in detail abroad.

One rarely encounters written reports or judgments that carry the authority of independence. It is a matter that might engage pragmatists and Ideologists of all parties. A nation that has practiced the art of political compromise in such freedom should be able to read all about it.


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 September 9. 1966.