Revolution and Evolution

A Miami Film Fest documentary about Chile's Salvador Allende carries a contemporary message

Yet rather than crack down on these would-be revolutionaries, Allende treated them as errant children. Which in fact many of them were: Allende's own nephew was a prominent MIR leader, while his two daughters, as well as all three of his mistress's daughters, were MIR members, busy renting safe houses and hiding arms caches even as Allende himself was trying to assure panicked middle-class families that his government's forced nationalizations and land seizures wouldn't affect them.

"The MIR," argues Haslam, "though too small to make a revolution, was just large enough and sufficiently well-placed, socially as well as politically, to provoke counterrevolution." On that point even the Russians agreed, with Soviet ambassador to Chile Yuri Pavlov stating, "It was well understood in Moscow that although the CIA had a lot to do with the coup d'etat, it was not the main reason."

But even as reports of military maneuverings openly circulated, Allende refused to declare a state of emergency, to abandon his democratic principles. Among Haslam's archival discoveries is a bitter conversation between Castro and East German agents: Just weeks after Allende's death, Castro wrings his hands over the contingent of combat troops that secretly stood at the ready within Santiago's Cuban embassy. Despite Castro's pleading, Allende had spurned Cuba's offer of protection as inimical to the Via Chilena. That's a conversation Castro has no doubt revisited with Hugo Chavez in the years since.

Allende with Castro: Nixon's fears of a "Santiago-Havana axis" were far from hysterical
Allende with Castro: Nixon's fears of a "Santiago-Havana axis" were far from hysterical

Allende's true legacy is an unorthodox one, and it's here that Guzmán's film, so engulfed in the past, is ultimately frustrating. Allende is gone, but his protégé Ricardo Lagos is Chile's current president. And while Chile's present-day ruling Socialists may have made their peace with both a market economy and the multinational corporations Allende thundered against, in the process they've helped give their country the highest standard of living in Latin America.

Even President George W. Bush has learned to sing the praises of Chile's socialism, citing its private-account social security system as a model for his own proposed reforms. Though the actual merits of Chile's program may be debatable (paying upward of twenty percent in management fees should give immediate pause), the very comparison itself is not only telling, it's evidence of the hard lessons learned by Allende's closest followers. Putting aside their cinematic notions of storming the barricades, trading in their Che Guevara T-shirts for a seat at the boardroom table, may not have been easy. But in eschewing glib slogans and self-indulgent poses, they've created a prosperous, democratic society the rest of Latin America -- left, right, or center -- can still only dream of.

Salvador Allende screens Saturday, February 12, at 4:00 p.m. at South Beach Regal 18, 1100 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. For a full schedule of the Miami International Film Festival see

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