Allende’s Widow Returns to Chile After 15 Years
The widow of Marxist President Salvador Allende came home Saturday after 15 years in exile, and thousands of Chileans lined the streets to cheer as her horn-honking caravan wound through dusty working-class neighborhoods from Santiago’s airport.
Near a banner proclaiming “Welcome, First Lady,” an honor roll of Chile’s political left embraced Hortensia Bussi de Allende when she emerged from the airport customs hall on her first trip home since her husband died in the coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973.
“I do not come with rancor or in a spirit of vengeance,” Allende said in a voice breaking with emotion. “Our message is not one of fear but of hope, not of hate but of happiness, not of the past but of the future that we will all build together.”
Allende, who has lived in Mexico since the coup, returned to Chile less than two weeks before a plebiscite that will determine whether Pinochet serves as president for eight more years. On Sept. 1, Pinochet lifted a ban on the return to this country from exile of about 500 opposition figures, and more than 50 of them have come back in recent days.
16 Parties in Coalition
Sixteen political parties aligned in a coalition called the No Command, which seeks to defeat Pinochet in the Oct. 5 ballot, have offered a cool welcome to some of the returnees, notably Communist Party members who once served in Allende’s government. A few recent arrivals have made inflammatory statements at odds with the No Command’s effort to present a moderate public image.
Some Chileans have speculated that Pinochet allowed the exiles to come home in hopes of sowing discord in the ranks of the opposition and giving it a visibly leftist image.
Allende, however, stressed the need for reconciliation and for unity in the opposition alliance, which includes parties from both sides of the political center, in its campaign to defeat Pinochet and force multi-party elections late next year.
A petite, gray-haired woman of 74, Allende is a member of Chile’s now-banned Communist Party, while her husband was a leader of the Chilean Socialist Party, a Marxist-Leninist party that is now split into half a dozen factions. Some of these today reject Marxism. Most historians agree that Allende committed suicide during the bloody coup, while his supporters insist that he was slain by police or troops who took part in the coup.
Recall’s Daughter’s Suicide
Standing beside her daughters, Maria Isabel and Carmen, Allende recalled with a quaking voice the suicide of her third daughter, Beatriz, six years ago in Cuba. She also recalled the late president’s last public words, in which “he dreamed of the day in which other men would surmount that sad and bitter day and allow Chileans to march together down the broad avenues of freedom.”
Helped through a crush of supporters at the airport chanting “the people united will never be defeated,” Allende boarded a sedan for a welcome-home caravan. Thousands of spirited residents lined the route for more than 5 miles as the motorcade of hundreds of cars and trucks, overflowing with No Campaign supporters, crawled forward.
Ricardo Lagos, a former Socialist Party leader who now heads the Party for Democracy, a strong element of the No Command, told a reporter that when Allende left Chile just after the coup, “democracy left with her and a dictatorship began that has lasted 15 years. Today, (her) arrival symbolizes the end of the dictatorship and the start of a new era of democracy in Chile,” he said.
Volodia Teitelboim, a former senator and longtime chief of the Politburo of the Chilean Communist Party who returned from exile a few days ago, played no visible role at the airport celebration. He had raised an outcry among Pinochet’s supporters last week by declaring that if the Yes vote wins, the public should rise up in the streets, and that if the No vote wins, a provisional democratic government should be formed immediately.
The largest element in the No Command, the centrist Christian Democrats, who present themselves as a moderate option for the future if the No vote wins, promptly repudiated Teitelboim’s remarks. Genaro Arriagada, executive secretary of the No coalition, said that Teitelboim had introduced “elements of confusion that contribute to fortifying the Yes (campaign).”
Sergio Bitar, who was minister of mining in President Allende’s Cabinet and now, with Lagos, a leader of the Party for Democracy, noted that the Communist Party is not among the 16 parties in the No coalition. The party, however, has urged its followers to vote No, and Bitar said that Allende has endorsed the No Command and its efforts to foster unity in the campaign to restore full democracy.
Lagos said that Maria Frei, the widow of former Christian Democratic President Eduardo Frei, plans to meet Allende this week. That meeting between widows of men who opposed each other during most of their public lives “is going to symbolize the spirit of national reconciliation we have achieved,” Lagos said.