For many Latin Americans the former President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was a symbol of hope. Democratically elected in 1970, he was for them the embodiment of a cherished desire for revolution without bloodshed. Under him Chile became the laboratory for a new political experiment that sought to combine radical social change with the rights commonly recognized in a country with a long-standing democratic tradition.

But the experiment was doomed to failure. Whatever one may think of the ideological color of Allende’s revolution, the fact remains that no small nation in the Third World is truly free today to follow its own course and to keep its economy unaffected by international pressures at the same time. Add to this the internal pressures created not only by the political conservatives but also by the extreme leftists, and you will easily understand the great economic chaos that overtook Chile in the months preceding the military blow of September, 1973.

For anyone who had no firsthand acquaintance with the Chilean Situation under Allende’s regime it is difficult to imagine the degree to which society was politicized during that period. Regardless of whether one had a political affiliation or not, he could not avoid siding either with or against the government and being labeled accordingly by everybody else among his neighbors, his fellow workers, and even his relatives. Not only neutrality but even fairness to those across the ideological barrier was nearly an impossibility. Even some evangelical churches were divided over political issues.

At the same time that thousands of citizens opposed to Allende left the country permanently, Chile became the Mecca of leftist activists from all over Latin America, particularly from countries under rightist military dictatorships. It was no coincidence that Santiago was chosen as the headquarters for one of the most significant Conferences ever to be held on the question of Christian political involvement in Latin America—the “Christians for Socialism” Conference (April, 1972), a meeting that according to an observer was a launching platform for the theology of liberation. Nor was it a coincidence that the same city should be used as the basis for the Study Department of “Iglesia y Sociodad en America Latina,” led by Roman Catholic theologian Hugo Assmann. Santiago was undoubtedly becoming the most important center for the preparation of the Marxist revolution and for the spread of its theological justification in this part of the world.

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I will not attempt here to explain the factors that precipitated the military blow led by General Augusto Pinochet and his colleagues (all of them professing Roman Catholics) last year. According to a common opinion, it would have never taken place aside from the encouragement of the U. S. State Department. Be that as it may, Allende’s Marxist experiment came to an end marked by his own suicide and followed by a systematic effort to reverse the revolution that he had initiated.

As soon as the military had taken over, several evangelical leaders expressed their adherence to the new government. That God had directly intervened to deliver the country from Communism was a widespread view among evangelical Christians. And I know of at least one missionary statesman whose interpretations of the military takeover as God’s doing was widely circulated abroad. Nothing was said, however, about the negative aspects of the whole Situation and particularly about the appalling cruelty displayed by the military regime in dealing with its political opponents.

A reason for this silence might have been the lack of Information within Chile concerning the methods used by the military junta to eliminate every possibility of a leftist reaction. As could be expected, the military repression did not receive locally the same press coverage it received internationally. One does wonder, however, whether the acquiescence on the part of so many evangelical Christians was not due less to ignorance of the facts than to political views leading them to overlook crimes that they would not have over-looked under the Marxist government. And one need not be a leftist to see that the cruelty of an anti-Communist government is also an abomination before God!

For several months the Roman Catholic Church, in Chile withheld any official pronouncement on the political Situation, until it apparently ran out of patience in April. As a result, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henriquez handed over to national and international newsmen a declaration representing the position of the large majority of Chilean bishops, severely criticizing the safety measures and financial policies adopted by the government. The declaration stated that the reconciliation needed by the nation could be attained only through “an unlimited respect toward the human rights upheld by the United Nations and Second Vatican Council.” It expressed concern about “the climate of insecurity and fear,” the increase in unemployment, and the ideological discrimination in relation to work opportunities. It pointed out the lack of legal measures to protect people from arbitrary or excessively long imprisonments (“without specific charges being known either by the persons affected or by their relatives”) as well as from restrictions regarding the possibility of legal defense.

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Cardinal Silva Henriquez requested the press not to regard the declaration as “a political document.” “Our judgment,” said he, “is that of pastors who humbly explain their concern to their children and exhort them to work toward reconciliation.” Despite such Claims and the conciliatory attitude toward the authorities displayed by the Cardinal in his public Statements about the ecclesiastical pronouncement, one of the members of the junta, General Gustavo Leigh, referring to the declaration expressed the fear that “the bishops may well be the instruments of international Marxism.”

Some observers may doubt the value of the Roman Catholic declaration. It is interesting, however, that according to a recent press release the military junta has agreed that if any of the members of the “Christians for Socialism” movement is arrested, he will be handed over to the ecclesiastical authorities for them to take Charge of his exile to a foreign country. If, as Camilo Torres stated, the duty of every Christian is to make the revolution, it does seem that at least for now no one can exercise his Christian duty in Chile!

Will Christians ever learn not to try to enlist God under the political banner of their preference?

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