Interview with Salvador Allende and Fidel Castro
By journalist Augusto Olivares Becerra, November 1971
Allende's first major foreign policy action was to reestablish relations with Cuba. Fidel Castro visited Chile in the fall of 1971 and was greeted by cheering crowds and scattered acts of violence. In a rare historical moment, the two revolutionary leaders sat down to take questions from journalist Augusto Olivares Becerra in the garden of the Cuban Embassy residence of Cuban Ambassador Mario García Incháustegui. The interview was conducted for a film entitled "The Dialogue of America." The text reproduced here is taken from that film's sound track (the film never received wide distribution in Chile), journalist Olivares Becerra died during the battle for Chile's presidential palace La Moneda on September 11,1973, a few hours before Allende himself perished. Garcia Inchdustegui survived the machine-gunning of the Cuban Embassy residence that same day. The exchanges between Allende and Castro here reflect much about the situation in Latin America and the world in 1971; the differences — yet similarities — affecting the revolutionary processes in Chile and Cuba; and the nature of fascist reaction in Chile, of great concern to both leaders.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: For a long time now the men of the world have wished to have the opportunity to see the prime minister of Cuba, Commander Fidel Castro and the President of Chile, Salvador Allende, meet face to face. It is interesting that it is Latin America that has produced this phenomenon which today attracts the attention of the whole world. Since Commander Castro arrived in Chile, many journalists have been looking for ways to witness a conversation between these two figures of world politics. And this is the moment and this is the opportunity of having them close and face to face, in an open dialogue about topics that concern all of humanity.
President Allende: the expression "Chilean path" is mentioned not only in Chile but all over the world. How would you define this political process that has come to be called the Chilean path?
Salvador Allende: The people who fight for their emancipation logically have to adapt to their own reality the tactics and strategies that will lead them to transformations. Chile, because of its characteristics, because of its history, is a country where the bourgeois institutions have functioned in plenitude and within this bourgeois legality, the people, with sacrifices, have advanced and achieved gains, increased awareness, and has come to understand that it is not within capitalist regimes nor through reformism that Chile can reach the dimension of a country with economic independence, capable of reaching superior levels of life and existence
Augusto Olivares Becerra: Commander Castro, in relation to what President Allende has stated: there is a permanent interest in an in-depth view into the way the working class is incorporated and how the working class becomes the protagonist in the Cuban revolutionary process.
Fidel Castro: We have defined that problem in this way: the armed guerrilla struggle that was started by a small number of men, was something like a small motor that then started the great motor of history, that being the masses. During the last governments, both the corrupt government of Pergiu as well as the tyrannical government of Batista, the working class movement in Cuba was controlled by official leaders that had taken the trade unions by assault, killing communist leaders and honest working class leaders. In this situation, when the revolution triumphs, there was one special circumstance: there was no official working class leadership but there was total and absolute support from the working class for the revolutionary movement, a movement that was born with workers and peasants. Our guerrilla soldiers were peasants, workers and some intellectuals, that could be called intellectuals because of their origins or because of the fact that they had studied in a university and that was us, some of us, not all.
Augusto Oliveras Becerra: President: the working class, according to your answers, has become the protagonist element within the process. There is another element: the state. Could you speak to us about the Chilean tradition, the tradition of struggle and the style of the country?
Salvador Allende: Well, to answer Augusto Olivares' question I want to tell you, Fidel, that, logically, because of the very characteristics of its regime, Chile had the possibility of the working class organising itself. The working class was born in zones that were controlled by imperialism.
This is why it's always had an anti-imperialist conscience. From the nitrate mines, with Luis Emilio Recabarren as the organiser, the guide, the leader of the working class and the struggles of the Chilean proletariat in the trade union movement led many times, as it did in the majority of other countries as well, to violent repression. However, this was overcome and in 1939 it was able to unite into the CUT [Unitary Workers Central]. But before this, the peasants and the workers had formed their own class parties. Thus we have the Communist Party which is the oldest in Latin America, one of the oldest in the world and certainly, in relation to the population, one of the most powerful. Similarly, the Socialist Party, a class-based party, a Marxist party that, despite at times having points of discrepancy on international issues with the Communist Party, has not only kept a dialogue but also an understanding, in order to confront together the essential problems of Chile.
Since 1951, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party began to develop a class process with the aim of enabling a vast and broad movement that would allow the structural changes in Chilean life. That's why today we can say that, aside from small-minded objections, on the basis of the unity of the working class and trade unions and on the pillars of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, we have succeeded in incorporating sections of the small and middle bourgeoisie, such as the Radical Party, the Unitarian Popular Movement of MAPU, the Christian Left, who have also shaped this process, which logically constitutes a determinant factor in the process of change within Chilean reality. This is more or less a synopsis of what has occurred in Chile and of the combatant organised presence of the workers in the political field and in the trade union movement.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: The motivation of peoples in the struggle to make history is extremely diverse. How would you, Commander, define the motivation for the struggle of the Cuban people?
Fidel Castro: Let's say, at least, according to our concepts, that the great motor of history has been the struggle of the oppressed masses against the oppressors. And this has been thoroughly studied and has been known since the existence of classes in human society. In our country, a double motivation existed: that of a country which was subjugated and humiliated by imperialism and, moreover, within this situation, a great mass of peasants without land, a great mass of working class that was being exploited, appallingly miserable conditions, total lack of medical assistance for the poorer layers of the population, a deficient education system, very high percentage of illiterates, lack of future perspectives for youth, hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. There was a situation of social desperation. We could say that the great motivation for our people was the struggle for life.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: President Allende: The Chilean political experience is followed attentively throughout the world. It's an experience with obstacles. How would you define those obstacles?
Salvador Allende: Do you hear that, Fidel? Three minutes to define the obstacles of a revolution within a bourgeois democracy and its legal channels. Nevertheless, you know perfectly well that we have advanced. Obstacles? From whom? First of all, from an oligarchy with much experience, intelligence, one which defends its interests very well and has the backing of imperialism, within a constitutional framework in which Congress has weight and attributions, and where the government does not have a majority. This means that there are serious difficulties and that the Chilean revolutionary process faces new obstacles every day in its task of implementing the program of the Popular Unity government. You understand Augusto Olivares, that the difficulties we face are related to what? With a freedom of press that is much more than freedom, more like licentiousness. They deform, they lie, they libel, and they distort. They have control over most of the media, which is very powerful. There are journalists linked to foreign interests and the large national financial groups. No. Not only do they not recognize our initiatives but also they deform them. All this, with us having to respect the gains that our people have achieved, and that are now logically being used and misused by the opposition to the Popular Government. This is why, and you have said it yourself, the difficulties that we are faced with are fairly logical.
Fidel Castro: The difficulties are wonderful, I tell you.
Salvador Allende: You can see that.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: President, despite those obstacles it is possible to carry out the process.
Salvador Allende: And we are advancing. I have already said it. The copper is ours, the iron is ours, the nitrate and the steel are ours. In other words, we have conquered the natural riches for our people.
Fidel Castro: I have the impression that that resistance is a result of well-developed classic procedures which we refer to as fascist. They try to increase their following, using demagoguery, among the most backward sectors of the poor as well as the middle strata. Now there is one thing to be demonstrated: if those interests will basically resign themselves to the structural changes that the Popular Unity and the Chilean people wish to put into place. And it is to be expected that, if we are going to do a theoretical analysis, they will resist with violence. This is a factor that cannot be discounted in the current Chilean situation. This is my judgment, which is that of a visitor who comes from a country in different conditions, who might as well be from a different world.
Salvador Allende: You have said it and I believe that it is accurate: revolutionaries have never generated violence. It has been those sectors from the groups overthrown by the revolution that have generated violence in the counterrevolution.
Fidel Castro: They maintained the system through violence and they defend it through violence.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: Commander, you and President Allende have both referred to the obstacles facing the Chilean revolutionary process. Could you speak about the obstacles faced by the Cuban revolutionary process?
Fidel Castro: Look, our struggle began in the midst of a tyrannical and bloody regime that maintained power via a brutal repression, and with political circumstances different from the situation in Chile.
Salvador Allende: Totally different.
Fidel Castro: So a revolutionary war develops, and the people win government through a victorious war. There was struggle of course. There was resistance. But our principal obstacle was a foreign one. Because we immediately clashed with the interests of imperialism, so it was imperialism that became our fundamental opposition. A formidable opposition to our country and which used internal factors: the upper class, the landowners, and the most reactionary elements. It immediately began to organize them for a struggle that, at one stage, was ideological but later became, and remained for many years, violent.
Salvador Allende: Did the imperialists also control the land?
Fidel Castro: The imperialists did control the land. Our copper is sugar cane. And cane is cultivated in the best lands and the best lands belonged to United Fruit Company and to other numerous companies from the United States. So our agrarian reforms immediately meant a clash with imperialist interests.
Salvador Allende: I asked that question because here it's different. Here they controlled the mines. There they controlled the land.
Fidel Castro: Exactly. The difference was that we didn't have these obstacles that the president talked about. Indisputably what we did have was a direct war from imperialism that has lasted these 13 years.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: President, coinciding with the visit of Prime Minister Fidel Castro, there has been a rise of adverse sectors towards your government. What judgment...?
Salvador Allende: Look at the subtle way of calling them "adverse sectors." Do you realize, Fidel? This is the press that you were talking about.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: I have to be objective in asking a question...
Fidel Castro: Do you think it's objective to use such subtle terms to refer to the antithesis of this process?
Augusto Olivares Becerra: That's why I wanted to put forward this question. What do you think would happen in Chile, President, if the counterrevolution were to rise up?
Salvador Allende: In the first place I believe it's useful to highlight, as you have said, Augusto Olivares, that the process has intensified with the presence of Fidel. This is logical.
Fidel Castro: So it's my fault?
Salvador Allende: No. But they know what it means to have the presence of Cuba and the presence of Fidel Castro in Chile. They are aware that it revitalizes the Latin American revolutionary process. They have evidence that the unity of our people is an undeniable factor that strengthens the will and the decision of the peoples to break with dependence. And furthermore, it indisputably contributes to the end of the deliberate isolation of Cuba. That's why it has intensified. And more so Fidel, also because your success hurts them deeply. The fact that miners, peasants, workers, soldiers and priests have had talks with you. The great mass rallies... of course, they have obviously been about fondness and affection for you and the Cuban Revolution. But also, deep down they have been about support for the government, because it is the government of the people that has made your presence here possible, right?
Fidel Castro: It's true, but I'll tell you something. The hand of imperialism is behind all this. Without any doubt. We have enough experience about how it acts. And about a certain acceleration of its attitudes and certain tactics and the way in which these have unfolded, especially during this visit. And how a great part of the world has its eyes fixed on the results of this dialogue between us and the encounter of our peoples and our process. So, they have tried to divert attention towards particular types of problems. I don't have any doubt, not even the slightest doubt, that the hands of imperialism are behind this.
Salvador Allende: The people are in government. If they were to achieve, and they never will, the overthrow of this government, there would be a fall into chaos, into violence, into fratricidal struggle and into fascism. Imperialism, which is and has been behind all the processes to stop the revolution and to criticize the changes and its own defeat, will not be able to disembark in Chile. It will not intervene materially in Chile but it looks for another way. What way? To encourage reactionary groups and to incubate fascist groups that utilize demagogy to mobilize groups with little social conscience. But I have confidence and absolute certainty that the response from the people will be hard and implacable. Personally, I am fulfilling a duty. I am not here to satisfy personal vanity nor honor. I have been a fighter all my life. I have dedicated all my efforts and capacity to making possible the road to socialism. I will fulfill the mandate that the people have given me. I will carry it out relentlessly. I will carry out the program that we have promised to the political conscience of Chile. And those who have always unleashed social violence, who unleash political violence, if the fascists intend to use the same means they have always used to wipe out those who wanted to carry out a revolution, they will meet with our response and my uncompromising decision: I will finish as the president of the republic when I serve out my mandate.
They will have to riddle me with bullets, as I said yesterday, in order for me to stop.
I am not defending something personal, I defend the people of Chile in their just yearning to make the transformations that will allow them to live in dignity, with a different national sense, and to make Chile an independent country, master of its own destiny. I think this is a clear position.
Fidel Castro: I really admire this pronouncement of yours very much. I congratulate you. I am sure this will be an emblem for the people, because where there are leaders who are willing to die, there is a people willing to die, and willing to do whatever is necessary. And that has been an essential factor in all political-emotional processes.
Augusto Olivares Becerra: Commander: both President Allende and yourself have repeatedly referred to imperialism as the main enemy of the revolutionary processes in both countries. The survival of the Cuban process, being 90 miles from the Unites States, is almost inexplicable. How can you define the characteristics of this process?
Fidel Castro: They have used political arms, military arms and economic arms. But we have been able to develop a very united people where there are no divisive factors, there isn't an element of division: we have created a great equality, a great unity: our people, men and women are willing to fight. In our country, men and women are willing to fight until the last drop of blood. And imperialism knows this. And that's why they respect us. And I don't believe they have a remote possibility of crushing the revolution. In any case they would have to crush the country. And in relation to this, we have a saying from Antonio Maceo, who was one of the most courageous combatants of our independence: "He who tries to take over Cuba will see the dust of its soil drenched in blood, if he doesn't perish in the attempt."
Augusto Olivares Becerra: President Allende and Commander Castro: You have met in Cuba many times, but this is the first time that Chile is the stage of this encounter between the two of you as heads of government. The attention of the entire world has been focused on your conversations with Commander Castro and especially Latin America which is still pending. President, what do you think about this encounter of both of you as leaders of peoples who are in the midst of a revolutionary process, in the context of a Latin America suffering exploitation?
Salvador Allende: The truth is that we need to consider that Cuba and Chile constitute the vanguard of a process that all Latin American countries will reach. And I would say more: the rest of the exploited peoples of the world. But Latin America cannot continue to only be the continent of hope. We have to analyze this gap, the distance that separates our countries which are economically dependent and are politically subjugated, from the industrial capitalist countries, from the socialist countries. In Latin America, the brutal differences between a wealthy and powerful minority and the great masses, alienated, deprived of culture, health, housing, nutrition, recreation and leisure, can no longer exist. We have said this many times, and one statistic is sufficient: In Latin America there are more than 20 million human beings who don't have an awareness of currency as a means of exchange. In Latin America there are 140 million semi-illiterates and illiterates. In Latin America there is a need for 19 million homes. 53 percent of Latin Americans are malnourished. In Latin America there are 17 million unemployed. And furthermore, there are more than 60 million people who only have casual work. Therefore, the capitalist regime has proved to be inefficient; its characteristic exploitation of man by man has reached a crisis. Latin America has the opportunity to be present at a time when the world is cracking. Cracks in the economy. Cracks in morality. Cracks in politics. It follows then that the reserves of this continent will have to be remeasured when the people are able to intervene; when the people can govern; when they do away with the old oligarchy, the accomplices of imperialism. And when there is, indisputably, one voice of Latin America, of one continent, as the heroes of our independence wars once dreamt, in every path, in accordance with the characteristics of each country. This vision begins to emerge and is ever present, undeniably, not only in this continent but also other continents. We have said it many times: those who have fallen and fall in Vietnam do so not only for their country. They also fall for the exploited of the world.
Those who fell in Cuba showed a path of effort and sacrifice in order to make the Cuba of today possible. Those who fell years ago in Chile constitute the foundation of this revolutionary process. The exploited peoples of the world are conscious of their right to life. And this is why the confrontation goes beyond our own frontiers and acquires a universal meaning. Latin America will one day be free from subjugation, and have its rightful voice, the voice of a free continent.
Fidel Castro: We believe that this continent has a child in its womb and its name is revolution; it's on its way and it has to be born, inexorably, in accordance with biological law, social law, the laws of history. And it shall be born one way or the other. The birth shall be institutional, in a hospital, or it will be in a house; it will either be illustrious doctors or the midwife who will deliver the child. Whatever the case, there will be a birth.