In 1972, when, having already taken the decision to overthrow the government, North American pressure against the Chilean Popular Unity administration began to intensify – president Allende was faced with the decision to hand over a group of Argentinean guerrillas.
Before analysing the situation with his collaborators, the president made the decision; getting to his feet and slamming his fist on the table he said clearly and determinedly, “Here is how things are going to be, this is a socialist government damn it, we are not handing over a single comrade…tonight they’re leaving for Cuba”.
Below, Chilean comrade Roberto Ávila relates the details, in light of the recent series of events faced by President Chavez’s government:
In the midst of a sea of conspiracies – which ended up causing the death of General René Schneider, Head of the Chilean army – Salvador Allende took office in Chile on the 4th of November 1970. North America had set out to achieve his overthrow as a state mission. One of the possibilities to attack Chile was to use Argentina, at that time a military dictatorship. Unresolved border disagreements were many, and we all know that Argentina is bigger than Chile.
President Allende met with General Agustin Lanusse and they came to the agreement that the U.S. would wear down this bilateral relationship as a destabilisation campaign against the Chilean government.
On the 15th of August 1972 the 114 political prisoners of the Almirante Zar naval base in Patagonia, Argentina – almost all of them guerrillas – staged a prison break. Due to miscommunications, only some managed to reach Trelew airport, where they got hold of a passenger flight and set off towards Puerto Montt, in Chilean territory.
Amongst the fugitives on the plane: Roberto Santucho, leader of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), Fernando Vaca Narvaja and Roberto Quieto from the National Leadership of Guerillas; Marcos Osatinsky from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Victor Fernandez Palmeiro, a legendry Argentinean guerrilla, Enrique Gorriarán Merlo and others of the same political importance.
From Puerto Montt they arrived in Santiago; the legal reality was that they had unlawfully entered the country – they arrived armed and on a stolen plane. That was their formal legal situation; their real one was that of combatants fighting for the freedom of their country.
They laid down their arms and went as prisoners to the central barracks of the Chilean Civil Police, luckily for the imposed guests. The request for their extradition was announced immediately by the Argentinean government, a request that a revolution like ours, with so many enemies and fighting alone, could not ignore. Argentina had even given us a loan to buy wheat.
The Chilean rightwing immediately sounded the bells of scandal: “Chile! Sanctuary for Latin American Extremists”, “Relationship with Argentina Damaged”, “Rule of Law Violated”.
A huge popular demonstration took place on the hillside in Cerro Santa Lucia, in manifestion of Chilean revolutionary solidarity with their Argentinean brothers.
On the 22nd of August, 16 of the political prisoners that were unable to escape were gunned down in Trelew, a despicable execution.
President Allende met with the lawyers of the young Argentineans in the La Moneda Palace and sought the opinion of his Minister of Foreign Relations. What the minister said was devastating: the whole rightwing was in opposition, national and international.
Only Eduardo Novoa Monreal, president of the State Defence Board, argued against handing the guerrillas over. Each new advisor put forward a series of legal and political arguments in favour of extradition.
The fugitive’s lawyers were seeing the worst case scenario come true. Out of the blue the president of the Republic of Chile stood up and, slamming his fist on the table, said clearly and determinedly, “Here is how things are going to be, this is a socialist government damn it, we are not handing over a single comrade…tonight they’re leaving for Cuba”.
That night a Cuban aircraft left for Havana with its libertarian cargo. We were alone in the world, with only the loyal friendship of the descendents of Martí, even the USSR had denied us help, surrounded by a thousand dangers, but the verb ‘to betray’ was never conjugated.
Revolutionaries, that was Salvador Allende. That was the conduct of the Chilean revolution. Mistakes are part of life, but they have to be corrected.
Originaly published in the People’s Tribune. Translated by Rachael Boothroyd. Very slightly edited for Open Revolt.