LHD- 12 Washington, D.C. March 31, 1967

Latin Americans talk a great deal about revolution. Sometimes the word is used to describe the meanest palace coup. Military leaders whose sole purpose in seizing power is to maintain the old order nevertheless find it politic to call themselves revolutionaries.

But the prevailing concept seems to be that revolution is a rapid, probably violent, and basic restructuring of a society. It is a popular ideal, since most Latin American societies have run too long between changes. Yet there are few examples of revolution, despite all the talk and the pocket revolts. Only Mexico, Bolivia and Cuba are generally agreed to have undergone revolution.

It was to this broad popular desire for a new order that President Eduardo Frei appealed with his call for “Revolution in Liberty” in Chile. Liberty is also a popular concept in Latin America, perhaps less precisely defined.

In the Mexican, Bolivian and Cuban revolutions, the class that held or controlled most of the power and property had them forcefully removed. Frei offered the hope that these structural changes could be made without violence. He contended that when an economy was dynamic, it could also become more egalitarian -- that the class controlling the wealth could be persuaded to give up its privileges when confronted with the will of the majority. As I detailed in my previous article, Chile does not yet seem to have achieved change worthy of the word revolution. Frei’s subsequent embarrassment at the hands of the extremes bf the left and fight -- who combined to prevent his visit to the United States --illustrates the difficulties he is encountering. It also shows that political liberty is still very alive.

If the Revolution is not consummated in Chile, it is still a viable idea there, still something that many Chileans believe in and are working to achieve. The question of at last hemispheric importance is what relevance the other countries see in the Chilean experiment.

Do Brazilians or Peruvians really feel that the Frei way might be used to fulfill their own desire for change? If the Chileans do build a more ample society, will the Argentines and Venezuelans have been watching closely enough to be able to follow the example? Will they want to?

If attitude survey research has not been too badly damaged by the affair Camelot and the CIA revelations, it might profitably be employed to measure public opinion around the continent toward the Chilean experiment. But short of that, some characterization can be made of attitudes among public officials, politicians, educators and journalists in various Latin American countries.


Chile forms with Argentina and Uruguay the European group of South America. The immigrants who formed the three countries were affected by their new environment but not by any indigenous culture. The pattern of growth divides sharply at the Andes. Whereas Chile’s weak economic and uneven social development qualify it as under-developed, Uruguay and Argentina seem relatively sophisticated in these respects, under-developed only in relation to the world’s most forward countries.

Argentina’s backwardness is rather in its political development, the very area in which Chile sometimes seems almost over-developed. Although Argentina’s national sense of frustration probably stems in part from an overestimate of its potential wealth, the prospects of its wheat fields alone should make its economic difficulties seem minor -- if only some political consensus could be achieved.

The present military government’s attempt to solve the political malaise by eliminating political parties is clear evidence that at present the Argentines see no relevance in the Chilean libertarian experiment. Since Frei’s proposed revolution is essentially social and economic, it can be of only limited worth -- is a pattern for a country where the problem is political organization. One has the feeling in Argentina that there is no great lower class that has been systematically excluded from national life, but rather that blocs of labor and business and military do not trust each other sufficiently to unite behind anything even so fundamental as a realistic budget.

In any case, Argentines tend to think of Chile as a long yapping dog on their western flank and hardly worthy of emulation.

Uruguay, too, seems to require less a social revolution than a reform of present welfare-state institutions that have shaky underpinnings. It needs to face up to old economic challenges rather than to develop a new economy. For all the glittering dedication to economic integration that flows from international meetings in Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay itself has never prepared its economy for the competition that such proposals would bring. Uruguayans seem to feel that whether or not because of Frei, Chile seems to take all of that talk a bit too seriously.

Another factor sets Chile apart from the other self-consciously un-Indian states of the southern cone: its birth rate. While Chile’s population grows at an effervescent 2.5 per cent rate per year, Uruguay and Argentina are distinctive in Latin America in their low; U.S.-style grows of around 1 per cent. The reasons for this disparity might also make a worthy study.


In Brazil is the great test for any pretender to a leadership role in the hemisphere. Ten blooming Chiles would barely offset one lagging Brazil. And that country is lagging.

Around Rio de Janeiro one hears the argument that Brazil requires measures too unpopular to be made by a representative government. Therefore it has a government that is responsible to the people in only a limited sense.

But while there have been unpopular measures, some of the most notorious ones have had little to do with social and economic necessities -- for example, the misbegotten press law. Those who know Brazil are rather amused by the idea of its taking any cue from Chile. In contrast with the fairly sophisticated political system centered in Santiago, Brazil has a sort of non-system that one of its most attentive observers described thusly:

“Brazil is a string of cities along the seacoast that communicate by jungle drum. The political drums are in Rio and the financial drums are in Sao Paulo. First one speaks and then the other until they reach a consensus. Then the consensus spreads out from those two centers.”

Transplantation of the capital from Rio to Brasilia does ‘ not seem to have altered that pattern. Laws passed in defiance of that consensus are recorded in all their ponderous length, but never observed. Politicians, who feel they can out shout these drums, as did President Joao Goulart, eventually fall victim to the beat.

Quite apart from the current military-dominated government’s reluctance to carry out basic reforms, then, there is the question of whether any experience elsewhere really is applicable in Brazil. Land reform might be, since according to a recent survey, 80 families own 2.3 per cent of the country’s immense terrain. Educational reform is needed. Before long Brazil will have twice as many people as France, but there is virtually no public education system. And so it goes, through all the statistical measures of a country’s development. Brazil is either backward or uneven. And while efforts are made to improve the situation, there is none of the urgency that is felt even in the relatively far better off Chile. Though the military calls it’s coming to power in April of 1964 a revolution, there has been no such thing.

Cynics say that the only component Chile and Brazil share in their development is inflation. Actually, the importance of public investment is comparable. Chile’s government provides about 75 per cent of total investment. According to Roberto Campos, who was planning minister in the otherwise stolid cabinet under Humberto Castello Branco, direct and indirect public investment in Brazil is running close to 60 per cent of the total. Another 10 to 12 per cent, he said, is foreign investment.

Campos offered several comparisons to Chile in his fight against inflation, attempting to show that the Brazilian performance was actually superior. But the fact that as brilliant an economist as Campos -- working with the short-term advantage of relative political immunity under an authoritarian government -- could not bring more order to the economy is a telling indicator of Brazil’s refusal yet to take hard decisions. And these are decisions initially involving only economic reforms. The more provocative problems of income distribution and social structure remain almost unconsidered.

Whereas Chile’s experience might be relevant to Brazil, it has not made much impact and there is no indication that it is likely to, even should Chile’s success become obvious.


One does find similar attitudes and commitments in Venezuelan and Chilean public figures. The big difference, of course, is the formers’ oil. It has financed Venezuela’s modernization far more lavishly than has copper done for Chile.

Now that copper is selling high, Chile might well be able to profit from Venezuela’s experience, rather than the reverse. The only true measure of Venezuela’s performance in sensibly investing its oil profits would be in the countryside. I did not have time to visit outside Caracas. In the capital, anyway, there is the feeling that the rate of progress is acceptable, that no revolution is necessary. The Castro-style violent revolutionaries have received little support in the city.

In the Copei, Venezuela has a Christian social party analogous to Frei’s Christian Democrats. Copei is running hard for office, though not on a revolutionary platform. Elections are not until December of next year, yet the Copei candidate, Rafael Caldera, is already busy. I was in Caracas not long after the Chilean Senate’s surprise cancellation of Frei’s Washington visit. Caldera obviously was shocked at this setback for his old friend. But he clearly disassociated himself from any dependence on the fortunes of Frei.

Caldera even suggested that one reason for Frei’s good showing in 1964 might have been Copei’s example in running a strong second to the Democratic Action of President Raul Leoni in 1963.

Leoni runs a moderately leftist government, and Copei’s differences with it are tactical rather than ideological. Caldera is Campaigning as a cleaner tooth, and is given some chance of winning. his platform is befittingly unspectacular in a country that apparently is satisfied with its progress. There is no equivalent proposal for foreign-owned oil to Frei’s Chileanization of copper. Such ideas have been discussed, said Caldera, but they could not even suggested as campaign issues.

Copei’s present leadership does not propose drastic changes in the amount of government participation in the economy. It would be a dominant role now, but for the oil company investments. When in 12 years or so the oil begins to run out, the government expects to have supplanted the oil investment.

Venezuela, with a population about the same as Chile’s 9 million, claims to have resettled 125,000 families over the last six years of its agrarian reform program. This compares with Chile’s Foal of settling 100,000 families in the coming five years of its still seminating plan. According to Venezuelan officials, half of the distributed land was state-owned, half of it expropriated. The feeling among active reformists seems to be that after a fine running start, the program has lost its momentum.

In any case, the agrarian reform has not fulfilled the hope that it would stem the flux from country to city. The galloping growth of Caracas is just one symptom of the country’s most startling characteristic -- its 3.6 per cent birth rate.

The population grows not only fast but turbulently; an estimated third of the births are illegitimate. Some perceptive observers of life there suggest that the dissolution of rural family traditions so rapidly and thoroughly is a prime cause of the terrorism that has dogged the country. By this account, the Armed Forces for National Liberation recruits more from social misfits than from ideologically committed revolutionaries.

Whatever its roots, the revolutionary movement has lost the Communist Party’s allegiance. Its efforts to disassociate from the terrorism have brought it close to the stand of the Party in Chile, and have incurred the scorn of Fidel Castro.

None of the Venezuelan ‘parties is said to have responded adequately to the demands of the youthful voting majority, however, which is pictured as far to the left of present leadership in the case of each grouping. To some extent, the youth-left group of Copei is thought to reflect these interests, but it is presently subordinated to the Party’s older leaders. Caldera and company are of the same generation as Romulo Betancourt, the Democratic Action leader who pumped Venezuela up by its oil into the present century following the 1955 overthrow of dictator Perez Jimenez.

It can be argued that the changes in the following nine years have themselves constituted a revolution. The current problems include coping with the dynamic of a fast growing and often disoriented, bloc of the very young; and management of the oil bonanza in its remaining years so that alternative sources of income and employment will be available when the wells run dry. Neither task requires a revolution. Rather than look to Chile for a way out, Venezuela more likely will try to work with Chile in the more humdrum fields of regional economic planning. It is almost as though Chile’s long democratic tradition was too narrowly based to hold together when confronted with modern problems, while Venezuela’s dictator tradition fell away so completely when the new era arrived that the fresh start was also a flexible one.

For varying reasons, the Chile experiment does not really seem relevant for Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil or Venezuela. The two countries that have not known revolution and that might find the Revolution in Liberty more applicable are Peru and Colombia. My very short stays in Peru plus conversations with those who know it well suggest that its problems are similar to Chile’s and that it is very much in need of a work-able pattern for structural change. It even has a Christian Democratic Party. However the power and orientation of the group are said to be weaker and more conservative than Frei’s party. I was not able to visit Colombia, or Ecuador.

The one southern-continent country to have endured a revolution, Bolivia, is a live precaution that violent change does not necessarily solve fundamental national problems. It is not enough to distribute income more equitably if it is too low. Equal opportunity for education is just theoretical nicety until there are enough schools.

In the streets of La Paz one has the impression that for most Bolivians life is brighter now than before the 1952 destruction of the oligarchy. But though the Indian has raised his downcast eyes, he still has little to gaze upon. At this point it is not presumptuous to wonder if a new oligarchy might form before the Altiplano Indians -are effectively integrated into society. In this the reports of guerrilla activity in the mountains are disconcerting. If the society is still asunder, the ‘52 revolution has lost its justification, and Frei’s peaceful change may yet become an alternative where violent change has failed.


Mexico, the one big Latin country to have consummated a revolution, seems in many ways to be consolidating it still, and in a serious way. Yet even Mexicans endure some of the maladies, which are cited elsewhere as just causes of revolution.

For instance, Mexicans apparently spend as many lost hours of standing in wait as do Brazilians and Uruguayans, and more than Chileans (but less than Cubans). The one true revolution will come to Latin America in the anteroom of some bureaucrat, when the numb citizenry queued up there for a century or so finally succumbs to rage and batters down his door.

On that fey day behind barricades of letter files and tin cabinets, the cipher clerks’ foreheads will be branded with their official seals.

The sociology of the waiting game has been investigated to an extent, and well it might be. One of the most arresting impressions for a visitor to Latin American countries is the time the people -- including finally the visitor also -- consume in waiting. It has been said that the middle class assures its domination over the lower classes by making them stand in line forever. If this is true, it is a somber comment on the transitory nature of the 1910 Mexican revolution. The Indian faces of modern Mexico wrinkle just as relentlessly outside government offices as do those of pensioners in the halls of Buenos Aires.

I hove watched chubby Mexican girls in civil service smocks measure out their days imprinting round blue stamps on every sheet of paper in five-foot stacks of ten-pound sheaths. They knew not what paper or stamp signified, and sometimes they would tire of the game and stamp only the first twenty or so of each bundle.

It does seem that Latin Americans have exaggerated the gamier aspects of popular government while missing out on some of its more salutary attributes. The form filers there are tight knit and they exert strong pressures for their well-being and increase. Those who must fill out the forms are more desperate and more easily ignored. Thus the people for whom the government is supposed to function often tend to become its bitter victim. Or one would suppose that there would be bitterness. In fact, it is seldom exhibited.

In Mexico the concept of revolution is constantly evoked, even in the curious name of the one main party -- the Institutional Revolutionary Party. While the consolidation has proceeded to the point that the Chileans have little to say to the Mexicans, almost 60 years after their revolution the country is still trying to integrate the low levels of the population that were ill-prepared to benefit from the upper levels’ disintegration.

(After my fellowship year ended in Mexico City enroute home, I visited in Cuba for three weeks at the Washington Post’s behest.)

Attitudes in Cuba toward Chile’s Revolution in Liberty were monotonously the same -- repetitions of Premier Castro’s attacks on Frei as a tool of imperialists and the privileged class. Accurate information is as scarce as might be imagined, given the lack of interchange between the countries and the absolute refusal of the Cuban press to print much news at all or any objective news.

Communist Party members are more amply informed if no better. I was visiting a provincial Party headquarters when the periodic packet of books were being distributed to members. Among otherwise predictable Marxist tracts was a thin volume called Historia del Imperialism en Chile, by Hernan Ramirez Nocochea. The Chilean’s book is a rather dry, heavily documented treatise on English, German and only a little bit on North American imperialism. The study ends at World War I, and it must offer more promise than fulfillment to the Party members. Typical arguments from, Party workers showed no such grounding. One, in Matanzas, said with all confidence that Frei was a Neo-Nazi dictator.

Whether or not any personal conviction goes into such postures, it seems plausible that Castro’s position is sincere -- that he believes non-violent revolutions are a fraud. In an interview, old-line Communist Carlos Rafael Rodriguez put it this way: “We are not necessarily against peaceful revolution if it is a true revolution. .But I don’t see how violence can be avoided in Latin America, since the oligarchy will not give up power without a fight.” Furthermore, he said, the United States would enter violently against the revolutionaries, as it did at Bay of Pigs.

Cubans ‘ rive the impression that they sincerely believe Latin America is on the point of breaking out in many popular revolutions much on the Cuban mold. The evidence suggests that they are misinformed. But there is as much misinformation, perhaps more, resulting from the lack of contacts between the rest of Latin America and Cuba.

Chile is probably better off than most on this point, since some uncommitted politicians, scholars and journalists have visited the island. Frei obviously prefers not to argue in print with Castro and he probably would support first steps to renewal of relations if this were not so adamantly opposed by the United States, other Latin countries, and Castro.

One of the values of more ample exchanges between Chile and Cuba would be the opportunity to compare methods and results. Two comparisons seemed alienate to me:

• Cuba has succeeded in enlisting the enthusiasm of the people in their own betterment to a far greater extent than has Chile. There is considerable enthusiasm in Chile, but it is concentrated in the class of young idealists in the Christian Democratic Party (and some outside of it) who believe Chile’s society is capable of greater things. The typical civil servant or hand laborer does not exude the determination to produce that I found among the Cubans. There are Cubans who dissent from this attitude, but they appear to be a small, bypassed minority.

• Efforts to direct economic growth in Chile are far more sophisticated and may well prove more effective than in Cuba. Both have their problems. Chile has no more integrated the planning function of government into the traditional political process than have most nations. And inertia is forbidding. But short-term planning seems effective enough that few long-term disasters are likely. An observer cannot be so confident in Cuba. There, politics is distilled in the personality of Castro, and while he shows a formidable intuition regarding the desires of the people, he looks fallible in selecting economic priorities.

One of Castro’s many accomplishments is his near capture of the concept of revolution for the Marxists. Or perhaps it is that in condemning Castro the United States seemed to be condemning all revolution. Since Castro’s turn to the Communist bloc, a guiding U.S. policy has been prevention of the spread of communism in the hemisphere. This policy is not very different from an anti-revolutionary one, as its in the Dominican Republic illustrated. But the United States does encourage rapid change of the sort that Frei has called the Revolution in Liberty.

While much that Frei is doing in Chile offers hope for that country, it is not clear that he will accomplish the fundamental changes in its social order that he and others have recognized as necessary. It is even less clear that this formula will be relevant to other countries, which in many cases also require such changes.

The chances are good that one or more of these countries might suffer violent revolution. Given the frustrations of economic and social development in Latin America, it is even possible that a country like Bolivia, which has already endured a turbulent revolution, might revert to it again. Revolution could itself become a sort of political system until flexible, efficient governments evolve. Certainly the coup de etat has become so. In any case, the pressures, which have caused revolution in the past, exist unabated by Chile’s important experiment as yet -- or alleviated by the similarly motivated Alliance for Progress either, really.

To question the Marxists’ claim to revolutions that might occur in the future, it is worth recalling the pattern of the past ones. Of the three generally acknowledged -- the Mexican in 1910, the Bolivian in 1952 and the Cuban in 1959 -- two clearly were not Marxist and it can be argued that the third was not either. It became Communist-dominated, but sober men say that it did not do so inevitably.

All three revolutions carried a strong impetus of nationalism, more so than does Chile’s experiment today. Two of the countries, Mexico and Cuba, apparently were nationalistic in part in a negative way -- anti-American as much as pro-homeland. Nationalism was stronger in Cuba than in any other country I visited and perhaps it explains the success Castro has had in igniting a will to produce. It may be, too, that revolution in Latin America is so closely tied to nationalism that this factor alone will frustrate attempts to export revolution -- of either the Frei or the Castro type. An import just won’t boil.

Nationalism seems so much of the last century somehow, as if it ought to be replaced by reason and international solidarity -- as if violent revolution should be pushed aside by economic and then political integration. But the governments of Latin America do not now seem prepared for such a leap forward. Whether or not it be peaceful, revolution is likely to recur in the restless hemisphere. Frei’s word probably will not be the last on that subject so crucial to Latin America’s future.


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

Received in New York April 6, 1967