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Panel discusses implications of Chilean “No” campaign

| Friday, September 28, 2018

On Thursday, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies hosted a panel discussion commemorating the victory of the “No” campaign that brought down the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. The panel was organized in honor of the 30 years of the victory, which will be next week, on Oct. 5th.

The panel brought together Andres Allamand, co-founder of the Renovacion Nacional political party and a critical figure in the process of transition in the democratization after the “No” vote; Ignacio Walker, currently a fellow at Notre Dame and former Chilean senator; Eugenio Tironi, who directed the “No” campaign; and Samuel Valenzuela, professor of sociology at Notre Dame. The panel was moderated by Fr. Timothy Scully, a professor at Notre Dame and former vice-rector of Saint George’s College in Chile during the dictatorship.

The discussion started with Scully introducing the panelists and their backgrounds, sharing that Allamand, Walker and Tironi were all students at Saint George’s while he was there. Then the “Franja,” the propaganda that was presented on TV for the “No” campaign, was projected, including the famous lead song of the campaign, “Chile, la alegria ya viene” (Chile, joy is coming now).

According to The Telegraph, Augusto Pinochet, the dictator, announced a referendum that would allow the public to vote whether to keep him in power. He allowed members of the “No” campaign to run ads on television for 15 minutes each night. Ultimately, according to the article, the “No” campaign won and Pinochet was ousted.

Valenzuela introduced the context in which the plebiscite was made and the constitutional changes that preceded it.

Valenzuela explained that both sides of the campaign “said the same thing, they said modernity requires democracy.”

However, they disagreed on whether this was to be done through continuing to have Pinochet remain in office by popular vote. After some more historical context, Valenzuela asked the open question, what would’ve happened “if the yes had won?”

Next, Allamand shared his views on what happened. He began with some context, explaining that, after being dissolved shortly after the coup, “the regrouping of the democratic center-right started ten years after the coup,” about seven years before the plebiscite.

After discussing the efforts of the opposition before the plebiscite and talking about his initial reactions to the plebiscite, he said he believed Pinochet would be voted out.

“I for example had absolutely the convincement [sic] that Pinochet would be defeated,” he said.

However, questions about the future after the vote, remained, Allamand said.

“What would happen after the no vote?” he said.

The implications of the vote would impact the politics of the country, Allamand said.

“The important thing that must be said is that the no vote opened a very interesting political process: the bargaining between the rules [for the transition],” he said.

Allamand said they had agreed that the constitution would guide the changes in the country, following the dictatorship. However, he said, the constitution was created by the dictator, which caused some controversy.

“The path for democracy would be a part of reform and not a path of revolution,” he said.

Allamand concluded by saying the vote ultimately led to a peaceful resolution.

“The main effect of the no vote was to open a political process, a bargaining process, and finally lead with this amendment of the constitution to a transition that was very peaceful and very successful,” he said.

Next, Tironi shared what he thought would’ve happened if the “Yes” had won.

Tironi said he believed that at first the results would have been questioned internationally and opposition in the country would have likely protested.

“The forces of the ‘No’ [would have gone] to a mobilization to denounce the fraud,” he said.

Tironi hypothesized that “No” movement would have likely been replaced by leaders from the left.

“Probably the Socialist Party would be separated from the Christian Democrats and would ally with the communist party in [a] so-called left unity,” he said.

Yet, Tironi also said he believes the communists would not have achieved power in this situation because Pinochet would have been more strict.

Tironi also said he believes a ‘Yes’ vote would have thoroughly altered the future of Chile.

”If the ‘Yes’ had won I think we would have a completely different Chile as the Chile we have today … probably a whole decade or perhaps more would have been consumed in [fight between] increasingly powerful [political] poles,” he said.

Walker was the next to talk, and said that Pinochet was taken down after decades of effort “ended that with this yes-no plebiscite in 1988.”

Walker said all of the opposition agreed that Pinochet’s constitution was “illegitimate in its origins and anti-democratic in its content.” Despite knowing that recognizing the plebiscite was recognizing the constitution to some extent they agreed to participate because “we thought we could turn it over and against Pinochet.”

Walker said they decided to run with “no candidate no position, just a no to Pinochet” because they believed the “best scenario for us in the opposition was all against Pinochet, and that was the no vote.”

However, Valenzuela intervened and questioned this stance.

“If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently? … What would you have thought differently?” he said.

Allamand said he still asks himself, to this day, why so many people voted yes. After all, they had to take both positions as they transitioned into democracy.

Tironi said he thought the “No” movement was too hard on the communists.

“They fought for the ideas, they paid [with] human sacrifice, a lot of people killed for an illusion, for an idea, a utopian idea” he said. “They had moral problems … to enter in a negotiation with the regime and we [didn’t understand] them.”

Walker said he was surprised at the country’s progress considering the difficulties it faced.

“Looking in retrospect, thirty years after the plebiscite, I never though that would have gone so far in terms of what we have achieved as a country,” he said.

Valenzuela concluded by reminding the audience that Chile’s process of democratization was successful in many ways because it was ultimately a process of “re-democratization.”

Editor’s note: A previous edition of this story misspelled the names of two panelists. Andres Allamand and Eugenio Tironi spoke at the panel. The Observer regrets this error.

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