Salvador Allende reader


The Role of the Armed Forces

From press conference with foreign journalists, Santiago, May 5, 1971

Allende explains why the armed forces must be incorporated into the social processes of Chile's reforms and maintain their strength and professionalism. He commends their tradition of loyalty to the constitution and notes their working-class and peasant composition.

We are proud of the professional role of our armed forces. The great characteristic of the armed forces of Chile has been their obedience to the civil authority, their unquestioned regard for the public will as expressed in the ballots, for the laws of Chile and for the Chilean Constitution. It is my firm intention, as it is of Unidad Popular, that the armed forces will maintain their professional attitude.

The armed forces of Chile are the armed forces of the country. They are not at the service of one man, nor of one government. They are of the nation, and this is one of the factors which characterizes Chile and distinguishes it from other countries.

But we believe that the armed forces should not remain on the fringes of what is now taking place and that consequently they should be integrated directly with Chile's process of development. We cannot have powerful armed forces in a country with high rates of mortality and sickness. We cannot afford to have armed forces which are technologically advanced and disproportionately well-equipped in a country whose economic development is inadequate. Either we spend the greater part of our budget on them, as happens in other countries, where up to 70 percent of the budget goes on the armed forces while the people die of hunger (and in fact these armies are basically weak), or quite simply, the armed forces participate — without detriment to their professional status and with no attempt being made to politicize them in the direction of one or another party or group of parties — in the broad policies of the nation.

We have tried to make clear what we mean in such a case, for example, by pointing out that the armed forces should be represented in those organizations where they might be interested for technical reasons.

For example, how could it not be important for the armed forces to participate in the control of the copper industry, since a percentage of the income obtained from copper is destined by law to finance the needs of the armed forces to participate in steel production? Or that they participate in the Commission for Atomic Energy? How is it not important for the armed forces to be involved in the Council for Research and Scientific Development, the nature of which is profoundly universal?

These are brief examples of what I am proposing. But I expect the professional character of the armed forces to remain unquestioned and there will be absolute respect for this character on the part of the government throughout their participation in aspects of economic developments of vital concern to Chile, and which should also concern the armed forces. How could we not be concerned for example if ASMAR, which is a small shipyard, were to become the only shipyard? That lies in the hands of the armed forces. How would it not concern us if the FAMAE munitions factory were not able to reach a level of production to supply its fixed percentage of the army's needs? But the fact is that for this to happen there must be available certain established grades of steel, and so the presence of men from the armed forces in the CAP (the Pacific Steel Company) is important, just as from the economic angle their presence will be important in the copper industry.

How could it not be important for Chile to exploit capacities — which they possess to a high degree — of officers and other leaders in the Chilean armed forces? How could it not be important to exploit them not in their military capacity but in the field of scientific knowledge? That is what we have the Polytechnic Academy for, in order to train leaders to a high standard. Why should we waste these capacities? We are not giving them a political role but adapting them to processes of which no government could disapprove. What government could say that it is a mistake to increase steel production and to produce different grades of steel? What government could say that it was not important, indeed decisive and essential, for Chile not only to produce more copper but to produce it in treated and semi-treated forms?

We fully recognize that the armed forces have by tradition a sense of professional standing and that it is their duty to maintain Chile's integrity and full sovereignty along her frontiers. But they have also at all times had an important social function, especially in the southern areas. The planes of the armed forces have been a unifying factor for the people. They have helped and cooperated on the canals, where great professional and technical skills are needed. They carry merchandise, they transport settlers, establish communications, carry supplies to lighthouses and so on. The army is on the frontiers or near them and the barracks are no doubt an element in equipping the citizen with national awareness — not a chauvinistic or mock-heroic patriotism, but a deep and sober sense of nationhood. We must realize that those who come to the barracks are sons of the land, sons of workers.

Why should we not use to the full this energy, in the fields where the armed forces, and particularly the army, can and wish to cooperate? We have discussed this subject in public because it is a need felt strongly by the country and clearly recognized by the armed forces.

Edición digital del Centro Documental Blest el 07feb02
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