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Orders of the Day — Chile

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1973.

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Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark 12:00 am, 28th November 1973

I beg to move, That this House deeply deplores the armed overthrow of democracy in Chile, and condemns the continuing murder, torture and imprisonments carried out by the military junta ; regrets the hasty recognition of the new régime by Her Majesty's Government; and, bearing in mind the strength of feeling in Great Britain, now condemns the refusal of the Government to offer refuge in its Embassy in Santiago to those in danger of their lives, in sharp and deplorable contrast to other Western European embassies, and calls on the Foreign Secretary to issue fresh instructions to our Ambassador, to press for the immediate release of all political prisoners and an end to executions, to prevent any sale of arms from Great Britain to the junta, to ensure that refuge in Great Britain is provided for Chileans who seek it, and to withhold future aid and credits from the present Chilean régime; and to use his influence to ensure that World Bank and IMF assistance is also withheld. It is now 11 weeks since the day of the military coup in Chile, since President Salvador Allende was murdered, since the death of democracy in Chile, since the murders and tortures and imprisonments and terror in Chile began.

I want first to deal with the background facts of the Chilean situation. I know that it is not our normal practice to comment unduly on the internal affairs of another country. But it is impossible to understand the feelings of Opposition Members and, I believe, of many people in the country about the matters which we raise in our motion without a little understanding of the background in Chile.

As we know and regret, Latin America is a very troubled continent of military dictatorships. It is a continent of acute contrasts of wealth and desperate poverty. In a way, one sees the contrasts more clearly in Latin America because development has taken place to a limited extent. These countries are not as poor as those of Asia or Africa. Many of the ordinary people, workers and peasants, in the countries of Latin America could have a reasonable subsistence standard of living if the existing national incomes of those countries were spread more evenly.

Chile is like the rest of Latin America in having these contrasts of wealth and poverty, though it is unlike them in having had traditionally for 140 years the longest established democracy in Latin America which has only briefly been disturbed during the whole of that period. As those of us who know Chile a little are aware, among those traditions are three which were savaged by the coup of 11th September.

The first was the Chilean tradition of non-violence. I remember being told by many friends in Santiago that the rate of violent crime in Santiago was very low, that theirs was not a country of violent people, that there was an attitude towards violence which deeply deplored it, and that they were extremely proud of this but took it for granted. That tradition has been savaged.

The second tradition was that the armed forces in Chile were always correctly neutral and could be relied upon to protect the constitutionally elected Government of the day and to uphold its rule of law. That tradition too has been savaged.

There was a third tradition which was a tradition of very close attachment to Britain and the British people. I believe that the Minister of State knows Chile, but it may seem strange to those who are less familiar with the country that, for all sorts of historical reasons, Chileans feel themselves almost closer to the British people than to any other people in Europe. Naturally they share with Spain a language and the background of Spanish imperialism, but with that exception Britain is the country to which they feel closest. In the past 11 weeks, as a result of the behaviour of the British Government, I am afraid that that tradition of closeness between the people of Chile and the people of Britain has also been savaged.

I should like to consider how that has occurred. The democratic Government which was elected in Chile three years ago was a Socialist Government. One woud not expect right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative side to approve or admire the basis upon which it was moving forward in Chile any more than one would expect them to approve or admire the policies put forward by the Opposition on matters facing our own country.

The Popular Unity Government was quite unique in Socialist terms. It was much more than a mere alliance of parties. It was an integrated movement in which a number of Socialist parties were taking part in government. They included Socialists, Communists and Radicals. I remind the House that the Radical Party of Chile is one of the oldest democratic parties in the country. It has direct and close links with the British Labour Party and, therefore, with the British Labour movement. It is a co-affiliate of ours in the Socialist International, which is the body which brings together the democratic Socialist parties of Europe and of the rest of the world.

Our links with the Radical Party are so close that the Socialist International and some of us from the national executive of the British Labour Party went last February to Chile, where we held a special meeting in Santiago of the Bureau of the Socialist International, and we published statements there to offer very deliberate assistance to Popular Unity during the period of the elections which were just beginning. That is the depth of our links with the Radical Party, which was one of the elements, and, although small, nevertheless an important element, in the Popular Unity Government.

It was a Government in which, oddly enough, the Communists were the moderate realists and the Socialists were, I suppose, the idealists in a hurry. It was a Government with a programme which had very much in common with that of the Christian Democrats : the nationalisation of copper and land reform. All these were matters on which there was a shared view between the Christian Democrats—certainly the Left element of them—and the Popular Unity coalition. The programme included proposals to move towards bringing into national ownership the basic resources on which the country depended for its wealth, and land reform changing the distribution and pattern of ownership of land so that the poor might benefit and the rich become a little less rich. Those are aims which again are shared with most countries and most political parties in Latin America, whether they be Socialist or Conservative.

These are the pragmatic necessities if the Latin American people are to move forward. There was nothing distinctive about those policies of the Popular Unity Government, even though they caused tremendous opposition from outside the country, especially from the United States.

The real crime of Popular Unity in the eyes of the Right was that it planned and carried out a redistribution of income and wealth. That was its crime. That was why there was the polarisation in political terms in Chile over the past two years. That is why there has also been to some extent an equivalent polarisation in Britain in terms of reactions to the coup in Chile. That is why The Times failed to condemn the coup when it first occurred, although it has had second thoughts and now has different things to say. The Washington Post in commenting on the coup expressed itself in terms of such condemnation that it has been called by one of the newspapers of the junta in Santiago "the Washington Pravda". The Times has expressed itself in reaction to the coup in such a way that it could be perfectly truly called "the London Mercurio".

The real crime of Popular Unity was that the poor were becoming less poor and the rich were becoming less rich. It was daring to succeed within a democratic framework in moving forward in this direction. It was building up electoral support, as it did in the elections of last March, much to the surprise of the Right. This was all against a background of the most acute economic problems—I mince no words here—created mainly by the deliberate actions of the United States, by the deliberate actions of American firms, by the actions of the World Bank and to some extent by the actions of other countries, including Britain, as I hope to show presently.

That was the background of a democratically elected Government operating within the constitution against the economic troubles and the strikes by the middle class during the summer, the attempted coup, finally the successful coup on 11 th September, and the consequences of violence, death, arrest and torture.

Let us clearly establish the facts regarding what has happened in Chile according to the best reports we can discover. These are rarely from the British Press but are usually from Le Monde and other foreign papers which have been much fuller than any British newspaper in their reporting of events in Chile. Therefore, let us establish what the situation has been since 11th September, because it is against the background of these facts that we must make our judgment whether the British Government have behaved in a tolerable or an intolerable way.

There are a number of estimates, which vary slightly, of the numbers of people who have been killed or imprisoned. United Nations and other estimates put the figure at 30,000 people killed or imprisoned. A working party of Chilean and foreign lawyers recently estimated that there are now 20,000 people in prison.

In terms of deaths, hon. Members will probably know that Newsweek, which could hardly be said to be a radical revolutionary newspaper, states that in one mortuary in Santiago alone in the first 10 days after the coup its reporters counted 2,776 bodies of people killed by the junta. The junta itself admits that 3,500 people are still in detention in prison. Le Monde reports that last Friday alone 100 more people were arrested.

Amnesty International has had an investigating team in Chile in the last few weeks. I understand that it will be presenting its report before very long. No doubt a copy will go to the British Government, so they will be able to see the current estimate of that respected body. Some estimates were up to 30,000 people murdered and imprisoned and of 20,000 still held in prison.

Amongst those are many individuals who have been brought to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself and of those in this country who are concerned about the position of men and women in Chile. I cannot mention more than a fraction of the numbers of people within our own personal knowledge. There are too many. I will mention just a few.

Claudio Jimieno and Jaimé Banios, a sociologist and an economist, were both captured in the Moneda on the day the coup took place. Nothing has been heard of them since. They were professional advisers to President Allende. One is still a registered student at the London School of Economics according to the Senate of London University. We do not know what has happened to them. They are but two amongst the hundreds and thousands who have simply disappeared and whose wives and relatives do not know what has happened to them.

One man, about whose death we know all too much, was Victor Jara, a folk singer who was very popular in Chile. His wife, who is English, was able to return to this country a few weeks ago. Victor Jara was a known Socialist and many of his songs were Socialist songs. He was captured during the first day or two of the coup and taken to the National Stadium, which was then full of other people, workers and political activists of various kinds. In the National Stadium he sang with his guitar to the other prisoners. First the junta broke his hands, then his back, and then shot him dead. His wife saw his body.

Last week, again according to Le Monde, Calama David Miranda, who was the Secretary-General of the Federation of Mineworkers, was shot in prison, having been sentenced to several years' imprisonment. Apparently a sentence of imprisonment is no protection of one's life in Chile. The soldiers went into the prison and shot him there.

Luis Corvalan on whose behalf the Secretary-General of the Chilean Communist Party, the British Labour Party and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition sent messages when he was in danger of being shot, at the time of our conference, has been in prison ever since and is expected to come before a military tribunal at any time. We do not know what will happen to him.

Ministers in the Allende Government, whom I know, are in refuge in embassies. Nobody knows what will happen to them. The leaders of the Radical Party—our own colleagues and friends—are imprisoned in Dawson Island. Every person who was my friend in Chile is now either dead or imprisoned. That is an indication of the scale of the situation.

I do not want to go into detail about the torture that has taken place. Le Monde carries first-hand accounts and innumerable witnesses can testify to the beatings, the electrical torture and all the horrors that we have ever read about torture. I merely refer hon. Members to Le Monde of 16th October which refers to a team of three—the Secretary-General of the International Movement of Catholic Jurists, the Secretary-General of the International Federation for the Rights of Man and the Secretary of the International Association of Democratic Jurists—which has returned from Chile and said that in its views the practices of torture and executions are so systematic that they approach the United Nations definition of genocide. That is the view of three distinguished lawyers. The evidence is too widespread to go into in any detail.

That is the factual background to the Chilean situation against which we must exercise our judgment of the way the British Government have conducted their affairs in and towards Chile in the last few months.

I turn now to the question of aid and credits, to which we refer in our motion. We ask the Government to withhold future aid and credits from the present Chilean regime and we ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to use his influence to ensure that World Bank and International Monetary Fund assistance is also withheld.

I should like primarily to refer to credits, but first I will say a brief word about aid. We give a little aid to Chile—mainly to Chilean students in Britain. However, we also give a little technical aid in Chile. I hope that through our aid programme we shall continue to support Chilean students in Britain even though the military regime may not want us to do so.

I have two letters, which I will give to the Minister of State at the end of the debate, concerning two Chilean students whose support from Chile has now been withdrawn and who will therefore need to be supported by aid from elsewhere. In my view, aid to them would be a correct use of British aid funds.

The question is essentially one of credit and of our attitude to Chilean debt. Much will be made of the Chilean debt situation. I have no doubt that the Minister has a thick dossier on the problems that Chile has been facing in making interest payments on and paying off the capital debt that has been incurred there. We should clearly understand that in this respect Chile is no different from other Latin American countries. They have all been relying on foreign help—mainly United States and World Bank help—to finance their capital and interest on debt repayments.

They all borrowed very heavily when rates of interest were high during the 'fifties and early 'sixties, and now that the debts have to be paid most Latin American countries are finding that anything between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. of their foreign exchange earnings is needed to deal with their debt position. Chile was no exception. What Chile had to face was that the previous Frei Government had contracted a number of large short-term debts and, as she was unable under Allende to borrow the money, it is by definition a fact that the debt problem was one which President Allende inherited from previous Governments.

What was our rôle in providing credit? Needing, as it desperately did, more credit and financial help, Chile was told in November 1971 that the one meaningful form of credit that Britain offered—Export Credits Guarantee Department medium-term credit—was to be stopped and that there was to be extended credit up to £250,000 only. In May 1972 that was further restricted and the ECGD guarantee was limited to short-term cover. It was part of what has been called in the United States the invisible blockade of the Chilean economy. The United States stopped all development aid in 1970 and there was no help from the World Bank throughout the period of the Popular Unity Government.

Next, there were western attitudes on debt renegotiation. The Paris Club talks that were scheduled for the spring were postponed. It was the case that unless the Paris Club talks were held in the spring and the debt was successfully renegotiated, as it had been the previous year when the Chileans had paid everything that was due from them, 40 per cent. of the foreign exchange earnings of Chile would go in debt servicing. Against that background, the Paris Club talks were postponed and there was no medium-term credit from Britain.

Moreover, the background included ITT, the copper situation as between the United States and Chile, and the continuation of American supplies of arms—not aid—particularly to the Chilean Navy. Joint American-Chilean naval exercises were taking place on the clay of the coup. There is a first-hand account that there were 10 or 12 United States ships at Quito on 10th September, the day before the coup. Admissions have been made—one reads this not in British papers but in Le Monde—before the Committee on Inter-American Affairs of the House of Representatives in Washington by the Director of the CIA and one of his officials. They implicitly admit the participation of their agency in the plan of economic sabotage in Chile under the popular junta, a plan destined to incite the military to intervene directly to put an end to chaos". The CIA has admitted its involvement, so we do not need to speculate any further. The admission has been made before a Committee of the House of Representatives.

The Senate in Washington has adopted a resolution which demands that President Nixon stops all aid to Chile for as lon6/5/2006illion dollars to the new régime.

What are the British Government proposing to do now? An IMF mission arrived in Chile earlier this month. It is assumed that it will give either the red or the green light to the provision of credit. We do not know what the colour will be. The Paris Club talks are to be resumed within a few days, and it is said that a strong delegation is coming to Paris from the military régime in Chile. It is understood that it will seek from the IMF a standby credit of 75 million dollars.

The Government's argument for stopping medium-term credit and World Bank assistance was the deteriorating state of the Chilean economy, but the economic situation there has deteriorated very much more rapidly since the day of the coup. The junta has announced price rises of between 300 per cent. and 1,000 per cent. The price of bread is four times what it was in September. I remember being told in July by a senator in Chile that in a situation of Poplar Unity "the poor understand best", and I think that the poor are having to understand the junta best, because with the increased prices they are in a terrible situation.

If the Government's argument for not providing aid to Popular Unity was that the economy was in a difficult and deteriorating situation, they can hardly argue now, whatever the IMF says, that the economic situation in Chile is improving so rapidly that they are correct to provide credits. Therefore, if the Government now propose to restore credit, following the reports of the IMF and the Paris Club talks, and if they decide to be more generous about rescheduling debts now that they are dealing with a military régime than they were when dealing with Popular Unity, that will clearly be an act of political support for the junta, and nothing else.

We demand that credit be withheld and that Britain ensures that no help is provided from other agencies. We are powerful enough in the World Bank set-up to do that, particularly as we are one of the largest contributors to the IDA and a major subscriber to the bank. Britain should ensure that World Bank and IMF assistance is not resumed.