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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 Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester 12:00 am, 28th November 1973

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that this is an exceedingly serious debate. I shall endeavour to give what I regard as the true facts of the situation and I shall also meet the constitutional arguments put forward by the Opposition. I hope my arguments will carry conviction.

I have had the good fortune of visiting Latin America frequently in recent years. There is no doubt that it is a continent where violence is endemic. Coups are almost regular there. I agree entirely with the statement of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of the northern parts of Latin America, that Latin America is almost ungovernable. I remember attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in 1968 in Lima, Peru. The Parliament was in being, at that time, but two weeks later President Belaúnde left in his pyjamas because there was a Left-wing military coup. At that time, as far as I remember, there were no protests whatever in this House and, as has been said, recognition followed swiftly. I can only conclude that in the event of Left-wing military coups everything is satisfactory as far as the Opposition are concerned.

I was in Chile last year. I know the country only slightly, but I know most of the other countries of Latin America rather better. Chile has a magnificent record of parliamentary democracy. There have been only two other periods when the military took over prior to the takeover on 11th September this year. It is a country unique in Latin America in that it has a strong middle class. It also has non-political armed forces, in contradistinction to many other countries in Latin America. I do not criticise those other countries. Bolivar was right. In many circumstances these countries are becoming ungovernable by democratic means and military governments are perfectly satisfactory. There are many operating perfectly satisfactorily today.

Chile has had a strong connection with our country, dating back to the days of San Martine and Admiral Cochrane. There has been tremendous affiliation between the Chilean Navy and the Royal Navy. Chile is a pleasant country. The middle ground around Santiago is in a temperate part of the world. But Chile is also a country of contrast. It is against this background that I pitch my remarks tonight.

There has been a history of penetration by Communists into South America, particularly since the time of the Spanish Civil War. Cuba has had a Marxist Government for several years but it was not until 1970—I agree with the Opposition about this—that President Allende came to power, on a minority vote, but in a perfectly constitutional manner. However, President Allende was asked to give, and gave, certain important constitutional guarantees. This is the heart of my argument. I regard this question of the constitutional aspect of the Government as being absolutely crucial. The constitutional guarantees, although they were given, were not adhered to. Two particular aspects of the guarantees were flouted by President Allende and decisions of Congress were ignored.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton) referred to this, but as it is so important I prefer to go into it in rather more detail. I am now talking about the Constitution. Congress decided on 23rd August, by 81 votes to 47, to pass a very important and very critical resolution. I apologise for giving a long quotation, but it puts the case. It says : The Government of the Republic, since its inception has been engaged in the conquest of total power with the obvious intention of subjecting all persons to the strictest State economic and political control, in order to achieve in this manner the installation of a totalitarian system absolutely opposed to the representative, democratic system established by the Constitution … To accomplish this objective, the Government has not violated the law and the Constitution in isolated instances ; rather, these violations have become permanent policy, to the extent of ignoring and systematically attacking the characteristics of the other branches of the government, and of continually violating the guarantees". At this juncture, there was this decision of Congress by 81 votes to 47 votes and there was no doubt that President Allende was acting totally unconstitutionally.

The President also gave an undertaking of independence to the Judiciary. Things got worse. The head of the Supreme Court wrote to the President on 26th May about A crisis in the legal system about which this tribunal cannot be silent. He went on in a letter of 26th June later made public to say, The country faces a peremptory and imminent breakdown in the legal system. This was a most serious state of affairs. This is the back-cloth to the coup which took place on 11th September. All respecters of the Constitution were getting extremely anxious and it was against this background that they recognised that there was this enormous influx of Marxists from other countries.