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The First Year

Toma de terrenos cerca de Temuco.jpg



          The first difficulty of a film about Chile is to fit Chile into the film. You have to go to the west coast of South America to find that country that begins and ends in deserts, backs up against the Andes mountain range, extends for a length equal to the distance between Morocco and Iceland, its width is never greater at the distance Paris-Strasbourg and its population is less than that of Portugal in a territory seven times larger. “Geographically crazy strip of land” says Régis Debray, “but historically reasonable”.


The history of Chile begins like that of the entire continent, with the Spanish conquest. The Indians, the first colonized in the modern world, also pay with slavery for the privilege of owning gold mines on their land. However, there is one exception: in the South, the Mapuche Indians form an island of unparalleled resistance. They stop the conquerors. They defend their territory for three centuries.

          As in other countries, after the Spanish empire comes an ambiguous independence supported by other European powers that covet the inheritance. That's where the waltz of imperialism begins. First English, then German, which end up being replaced by the same throughout Latin America: US imperialism. But in this classic scheme, Chile has an original profile. The foreign seizure of national resources such as copper and saltpeter has more rapid consequences in Chile: proletarianization on the one hand, nationalist reactions on the other. A conquering liberal bourgeoisie and a powerful labor movement develop together and reach a level of awareness and organization that has not been seen in other countries. Thus we see the coexistence of a formal democracy tinged with Anglo-Saxon legalism and the emergence of popular struggles anchored in class positions. Contrary to what was said, this double precocity does not prevent confrontations, setbacks or repression.

          But while its neighboring countries live such a violent history, Chile has sudden political advances: a Popular Front in 38 and even, in 32, a socialist republic that will last 13 days. Founded in 1922 by Recabarren, the Communist Party knows repression and secrecy, however it becomes the most powerful opposition party. In 1933 an unusual socialist party was formed: firmly Marxist, firmly on the fringes of European social democracy and at the same time opposed to a certain model of international obedience. One of its founders is a doctor who has become a deputy and then a senator: Salvador Allende Gossen.

          The solidity of bourgeois democracy does not protect Chile from the waves that hit Latin America after World War II, be it populism in Argentina or Bolivia or the revolutionary struggles whose symbol is Cuba. Later  from the traditionalist and authoritarian right embodied by President Alessandri comes the reformism of the Christian Democracy led by Eduardo Frei.

          But in Chile as in other countries, reformism will not overcome its fundamental contradiction. There are doors that no one opens. A limited agrarian reform, limited nationalizations can turn into the opposite.

          Chuquicamata, the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, has become the symbol of the plundering of Chile whose first national resource, copper, will yield 600 million dollars in profits to North American companies that invest in six years of false reform. during that period in Australia.

          With this balance, the Christian Democracy presents itself to the presidential elections of 1970.  And for the first time, faced with problems that it cannot handle, the bourgeoisie throws itself into combat in a dispersed manner. The conservative right unites and supports Alessandri, in favor of resorting to authoritarian methods again. The Christian Democracy, faced with a more demanding popular movement, is committed to making more profound reforms. The left is grouped in the Popular Unity, which includes socialists, communists, radicals, social democrats and also a fringe of the left split from the Christian Democracy. Outside the Popular Unity, but supporting it, the MIR, a vanguard movement, is in favor of a more direct action with the aim of promoting "a prolonged and irregular revolutionary war." It remains to choose the candidate. The Communist Party proposes the poet Pablo Neruda, the Socialist Party Salvador Allende. By withdrawing his candidacy, Neruda allows Allende to obtain unanimity. While the big North American companies resort to all forms of pressure to stop Allende, the extreme right is beginning to worry.

          The united left is the winner, by a few votes: 36% for Allende, 35% for Alessandri. 28% for the Christian Democracy. As the absolute majority is not obtained, Congress has 50 days to ratify or annul the election. And the film you are going to see begins on the morning of September 5, several hours after the victory of Salvador Allende, the socialist doctor who keeps works by Che Guevara on his desk with this dedication: “To Salvador Allende, who tries to achieve the same thing with other means. Che”.


Translation of

Nelson Calderon

Photo of “El Primer Año”
Photo of “El Primer Año”

Fotogramas de “El Primer Año”. Arriba, un obrero de Yarur sobre la estatua

de Jorge Yarur en 1971.  Abajo, Allende saliendo de la parada militar

en calle Dieciocho el mismo año.

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