Saul Landau’s Interview with Former President Salvador Allende

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Filmed by Haskell Wexler in February 1971

Previously Unpublished Interview Details Allende’s Socialist Plans For Chile

(Ed. Note: Chilean newspaper La Nación released an interview last Saturday with former President Salvador Allende which had remained in the hands of the U.S. documentary-maker Saul Landau, unpublished for over 30 years. Landau was fortunate to obtain an audience with Allende, who usually refused interviews to British or U.S. journalists.

Allende begins the interview explaining the origins of his political career.)

Salvador Allende: As you know, I am a doctor who came from the provinces to study in Santiago. Students from the provinces lived very modestly and, of course, we were interested in more than just studying for our courses. We wanted to look a little beyond the university into the reality of our country, at the social problems that doctors and medical students face directly. We learned very quickly the perennial axiom that the sick are more likely to be poor and the poor are more likely to be sick. This problem brought us together at night to discuss philosophical ideas. We read the theories of Marxism, we observed what was happening in the world; we saw the struggles of peoples and countries in the process of development. All the time, we were thinking that man should have another dimension, that the values of capitalism should be replaced by others. That was why I studied, read and in 1937 became the founder of the Socialist Party.

Question: How old were you then?

SA: I must have been about 28 when I, together with some others, founded the Socialist Party. Since then I have been State Minister, Deputy, Senator and President of the Republic.

Q: You have been involved in politics for some time…

SA: Yes, since I was very young. I was a minister in the Frente Popular (Popular Front) government, one of the three in Chile during the Pedro Aguirre Cerda years, and I was as much a Socialist then as I am today. The Front was made up of radicals, socialists, communists and supporters of democracy.

Q: Was that the origin of the Popular Unity Party (UP)?

SA: No, those parties later separated, but it was a very important antecedent, because it made Chile one of the three countries that had a Popular Front. The others were Spain, where it ended in civil war, and France with the Popular Front, directed by León Blum, which has not left an important mark. In Chile, we developed the working class most of all, through the Central Workers’ Movement, to create awareness of the organization and to make people conscious of their rights. A little later we set up the Corporación de Fomento based in Chile’s heavyweight industries of steel, oil and electricity. It was constructive. People spoke about the Popular Front in the same way they now speak about the UP. Our critics were sure that we would repress liberty, that there would be absolute chaos, that we would take advantage of the people. But that never happened. On the contrary, the largest religious demonstrations in our history took place during the Popular Front years. The first cardinal of the Chilean Church was also appointed at the express request of the President of the Front, don Pedro Aguirre Cerda, who was President of the Republic at the time.

Q: Are you still a utopian?

SA: No! What do you mean, utopian? I still believe in what I believed in for 20 years as a Socialist in Parliament, and being a Socialist is not the same as being a utopian.

Q: But you have a vision of a different society in the future…

SA: Yes, but it won’t come about overnight. Only an organized and conscious people can bring about a different kind of society. I have often said that it doesn’t matter to me if a student tells me he is a leader of the left, unless he is a good student. We need good students. First fulfill your academic obligations and then you will have the right to call yourself a leader of the left. I have also always said to workers that they have to work hard, to produce more and better. In Chile, we need to achieve an average annual income of US$2,000, and to do that we need to increase production. People can progress only by working and producing more. Coal workers are producing 3,800 tons per day, but they need to produce 4,700 tons. So they need to work more, because if they don’t, the business will collapse. In the steel industry we are producing 700,000 tons, but within two years we need to increase this to two million tons. We produce around 750,000 tons of copper, but again this needs to increase to two million.

Q: Do you think these objectives have gone down well with the people?

SA: Well, I’m more popular now than ever, because we are fulfilling our promises and, what’s more, we are explaining ourselves and talking to the people. I’m not stuck in my office at La Moneda (presidential palace). I go out and talk to people in the countryside: to coal miners, to copper workers, to students, to homeowners. I am out in the community. People greet me in the street when I go out in my car. In Valparaíso, every day there are between four and five hundred people waiting for me at the door of the government offices. Sometimes they wait for two hours to wave to me, and now in the summer there are also tourists from other countries. They are always surprised to see a president who will take your hand and talk to you, because I don’t go around surrounded by policemen or by tanks. People can come and see me, and I have the pleasure of being able to talk to them. Of course, I can’t spend my whole day talking to people.

Q: How do you maintain the UP coalition in today’s climate?

SA: Well, we have a program today which unites us, and which is different to the one we proposed 30 years ago.

Q: What are the conflicts within the coalition and how are they resolved?

SA: There are no serious conflicts, only disagreements over practice, because we haven’t completed the UP program down to the final detail. There has been some dispute between parliamentary radicals and a functionary from one of the provinces who has a different point of view regarding agrarian reform. It has also been said that in certain parts of Chile, groups which are not part of the UP coalition have been dividing agricultural estates into smaller holdings than the law allows. The law is there to protect the rights of owners who work their own land, and you must understand that these groups are not the norm. We, and I personally, have established the agricultural reforms within the terms of the law, and we will not allow them to proceed in an arbitrary way like this.

Q: Are you talking about independent leftist groups?

SA: There are two points to be considered here. First, there can be leftist groups that have not matured politically. Or, in the case of Cautín, there are Mapuches whose land was stolen many years ago and who are living off half a hectare. People think of them as an alien race; they are physically and morally degraded. There is a series of events that has influenced them. You can understand that for them, when they see a possibility and they are hungry, it can be very difficult to act rationally. Especially because they come from a culture that doesn’t have a tradition of political arbitration, and they, their fathers, their grandfathers, have been made promises that are always empty. Clearly, these people are compelled by a brutal reality, by the need to eat every day to survive. But that is not to say that the current climate will lead to chaos. We have authority, not only the authority of the law but also moral authority, the influence that comes with popular support. I have personal authority myself. You’ve seen it in the way the public reacts to me. Q: How are they going to maintain their own culture?

SA: We don’t think that the problems facing Mapuches can be solved simply with agricultural reforms. This is a problem of cultural anthropology, of race. We have sent them doctors, pediatricians, anthropologists and sociologists as well as the Agricultural Minister. But it is not a short-term problem; this is something that will be with us for years. In the eyes of the law, the Mapuche are considered children without rights, so the situation is not going to change overnight. We need a lot of time to erase the memory of what has been done to them over the past century and more.

Q: Are they different from Chileans?

SA: Of course. They see themselves as a distinct group, but you can’t say the problem is a burden for Chile. It is an important problem, but it is not weighing us down.

Q: Do you foresee difficulties for Chile on the road to socialism?

SA: Of course, there are many obstacles in our way, because we are doing this within the Constitution and the law. Here we have a Congress and we accept what they decide regarding new legislation. It’s much harder to bring about socialism through legal means, because there are so many possibilities for opposition. We are responsible for our actions before Congress, where we don’t have a majority, and there is an independent judiciary that can rule against us. This can make the task of popular government very difficult. Still, we are working within the existing possibilities and we expect to arrive at a socialist society, although not overnight. It will not be brought about by decree. For that reason, the UP is working in three areas: the public economy, industries which mix state and private capital, and private industry. As the government, we have to direct the public realm of the state’s economy, because it contains the basic and essential elements of our economic development – copper, iron, saltpeter. This country already has some important industries, like electricity and the National Petroleum Company (ENAP). What’s more, coal and steel have been nationalized … We have also expropriated some industries, particularly textiles, which were breaking the law, not paying their workers, shutting down up to 80 percent of their capacity. They were creating a serious social problem. We are going to form an agreement with foreign investors. They know that it is convenient for them to reach an agreement with us, because they were importing machinery that they said was first-class and it turned out it was second-class. As such, they committed customs fraud. No country can accept this situation. If the U.S. is going to defend itself, why shouldn’t we do the same? We only want to be treated equally, nothing more.

Q: You have talked about agriculture reform, and many people have said that this is the most important issue facing the UP. Do you agree?

SA: No. Agriculture reform is just a part, though an important part, of our plan for the economic and social development of Chile. This country has enough land to grow not just to 10 million, but to 20 or 25 million people. But right now, Chile imports US$140 million each year in meat, lard, butter and oil, and still 47 percent of the population is undernourished. I am a doctor, as you know, and I have said and written many times that today there are 600,000 mentally retarded children in Chile because they did not eat enough in the first eight months of their life. They didn’t get the necessary proteins. So we started the half-liter of milk policy. It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s a start; it’s something positive. Going back to agricultural reform, it is part of a process that has as its aim the utilization of Chile’s natural riches for Chileans themselves. We are not trying to usurp the owners of the (foreign) copper companies, we’re just saying to them, “Gentlemen, how much have you invested in these companies and how much profit have you received from them?” In 42 years, these companies have taken US$3.8 billion from Chile, with an initial investment of approximately US$10 million. By a conservative estimate, in the past 60 years US$9.8 billion has been taken out of the country, which is to say the total value of Chile’s social capital for 400 years! An entire country has been removed across our own borders. That’s why we are asserting our right to nationalize Chile’s natural resources. Of course, a large quantity of primary materials has also been exported, and you know what happens in the international market. Today, in order to buy the same quantity of imports as we did ten years ago, we have to export far more primary materials. Chile is a country that sells cheap and buys expensive, because we have to pay for manufactured goods from countries at much higher levels of development. What we want to do is provide the Chilean economy with the resources to develop and avoid these problems. I was Minister of Health in Pedro Aguirre Cerda’s government in 1940, when the first housing study was conducted in this country. Technicians, engineers and architects conducted the study and found that Chile was lacking 320,000 houses necessary for the health of the population. Thirty-one years later, this figure has increased to 440,000. The same has happened in education, in heath, in employment, and the government has never had the resources to solve these fundamental problems. It’s the same throughout Latin American countries, democratic as well as dictatorial. I believe that every president wants to give everyone work but they can’t; they want everyone to eat but they can’t make it happen. The same happens with education. So we have to ask ourselves, “Why can’t we do anything?”

Q: What are you referring to when you speak of imperialism?

SA: Our fight is not against the people of the U.S. but against a certain sector of their society; remember when Kennedy stopped the rising price of steel, the influence that oil companies had on the country. The American people are a different issue.

Q: North American copper companies have taken large quantities of the mineral out of the country. Do you plan to stop this by expropriating them?

SA: When the relevant law is passed, we will apply the Senate’s decision. We will nationalize along their guidelines and we will pay indemnity on a case by case basis. We will also set up a court before which the companies can appeal, and the nation’s comptroller, or even Chile’s highest judicial bodies, will rule on the indemnity payments.

Q: Have you been under any pressure from the U.S. government?

SA: No, never. We have listened to Mr. Nixon’s opinion, but it only his opinion. We understand that our policy is not going to be very agreeable to him, but we firmly believe that the people should have the government they want. We reject intervention and we are committed to self-determination. As we have seen, this is a very important international issue, which is obviously causing considerable anger in the U.S., where they are publishing completely unfounded accusations against Chile.

Q: For example? SA: For example, that there is no freedom of the press in Chile. What about you? You have been here for four months and you have seen that there is the fullest and most unrestricted journalistic freedom. You have seen how the papers attack our government, how they report the news, and not just political affairs but also our everyday activities, including our personal lives. El Mercurio is the most powerful newspaper among the oligarch class, and there are other papers like La Tercera and La Segunda which use much franker language, while at the same time clouding the issues somewhat. You have seen the relations between the Christian Democrats and the press recently. In the provinces, 80 percent of the newspapers are in the hands of rightists and still they are published without any problems. How many magazines are there in Chile? And none of them come from the left. Mr. Germán Picó, president of the National Press Association and owner of La Tercera, says that there is no pressure, no threat to the press. So does it matter what the men from the CIA say? Mr. Agustín Edwards should be in Chile to face questions about the actions of his bank. We look at the books of El Mercurio – they do the same in the U.S., right? – to see if they are complying with tax laws, and it turns out that they owe the Provincial Treasury of Santiago 5.4 billion pesos. We are going to give them the opportunity to pay, as we would with anyone else, and if they don’t then we will apply the law. El Mercurio represents the interests of banks and of monopolies, and it is the principal supporter of Edwards Bank. That bank has compromised Chile’s credit rating. It’s also the guarantor of businesses on the margins of the law, and it has twice the capital of the Central Bank. But we haven’t persecuted Edwards Bank, we have been forced to demand that it complies with the law. If they obey the law, nothing is going to happen. Neither the UP nor I have done anything illegal.

Q: I would like to know about your meetings with Fidel Castro.

SA: Fidel Castro is a man with a great sense of self-criticism and respect for his political friends. He is not going to give me instructions, and I am not the type of man who would take them. That’s not to say that I don’t approve of what is happening in Cuba, but he would never send me a letter telling me what to do or not to do. Every country has its own reality and its own leaders, and the leaders act in accordance with their reality. I have been to Cuba many times; I have spoken many times to Fidel Castro; I know Commander Ernesto Guevara fairly well. I know the leaders of Cuba and I understand their fight, I know how difficult it has been for them to overcome the blockade. But the reality in Cuba is very different from that in Chile. Cuba’s government is a dictatorship. I became president after 25 years as a Senator. I have experience that I am putting at the service of Chile and its problems. We always need experience that originates in this country, experience in accordance with our reality. We are the cultural colony of no one.

SOURCE: LA NACIÓN Translated by Rob Foulkes (


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