Letter from the Editor
October - December 2019
Thirty years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall
“What happened in Chile during the 1970s was a harbinger of another great watershed landmark that would come later: the fall of the Berlin Wall,” declared philosopher Juan de Dios Vial (see his column). November 9th is now World Freedom Day, because it is considered the day that the wall fell in 1989, thus signing the death certificate of communism. But the real beginning of the end of communism occurred on August 13, 1961, the day when East German leaders were forced by the tremendous failure of their system to erect an impenetrable wall in order to prevent millions of people from fleeing the immense concentration camp that the Soviet Union had converted Eastern Europe into.
On November 9, 2009, I was invited by Damian von Stauffenberg, president of the Educational Initiative for Central and Eastern Europe (EICEE)—and a member of the family that had tried to free Germany from Hitler—to participate in a conference in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The goal was to reflect upon the meaning and consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years earlier. We sat on a panel with Lech Walesa, to whom I gave a copy of my book Putting a Bell on the Cat in Polish, along with Robin Harris, an advisor to Margaret Thatcher.
At the conference I stressed that history would vindicate the liberation of Chile in 1973 as being a decisive milestone in the collapse of communism. While many believed in the inexorable advance of Marxist socialism, Chile put a stop it and challenged the Soviet Union. I also emphasized that it was providential that the Wall would fall just four months prior to March 11, 1990, when the successful process of “re-democratization from within” culminated as President Pinochet stepped down from power, thus ensuring the success and stability of the Chilean Freedom Revolution.
Of course, the defeat of communism in Chile occurred without the “million dead” predicted by the commander in chief of the Army at the time—as evidenced by this statement by former President Eduardo Frei: “A month before September 11th, General Prats requested an audience with me at the home of Don Sergio Ossa in Santiago. What I said may be summed up by these two sentences: You are in a position to avoid a coup d’état in Chile if you remain firm and demand plain compliance with the Constitution, so that the country will clearly comprehend the consequences that will emerge from the current situation. If you make this clear to the President, you can save Chile. Among other things, I expressed my grave concern because he said there would be a civil war, leaving one million dead” (see “Letter from Eduardo Frei to Bernardo Leighton,” May 22, 1975).
In his historic letter to Mariano Rumor, President of the International Christian Democrats, Frei provided a lucid analysis of the defeat suffered by world communism in Chile: “Why has what happened in Chile produced an impact that is so disproportionate with the importance of the country, its size, location, and strength? Why has the reaction of the Soviet Union been so violent and extreme? Why has world communism launched a campaign to pass judgment on what happened in Chile? The reason is very clear. The Chilean situation dealt a blow to world communism. Linking Cuba with Chile, including its 4,500 kilometers of Pacific Ocean coastline, as well as its intellectual and political influence in Latin America, was a decisive step in taking control of the Western Hemisphere. That reality is why its reaction has been so violent and disproportionate. Chile would have served as a base of operations for both American continents” (see the letter in Economía y Sociedad, no. 99).
The turning point for the world that marked the political defeat of communism in Chile in 1973, culminated in its defeats in both the economic and social fields, [impelled] by the success of the Freedom Revolution that transformed Chile into a First World country. Four experiences initiated in 1979, including seven [key] Chilean modernizations, accelerated the fall of the [Berlin] Wall in 1989 (see Dossier). Perhaps that is why Margaret Thatcher affirmed that, “the Left lost the Cold War in Chile” (see Conservative Party Conference, Blackpool, October 6, 1999).
But there are two major issues still pending with Latin American communism. First, the communist tyranny that has oppressed Cuba for sixty years and now supports Maduro’s dictatorship in Venezuela. As Luis Almagro, General Secretary of the OAS has affirmed, “Castro’s Cuba has been the origin of all political disorder in Latin America” since 1959. Cuban dissident Carlos Alberto Montaner argues that “the Castroists perceive that no possibility of redemption will be found along the path chosen by the Castros. They know they will be poorer and Cubans even unhappier with each passing day. Eventually, Cuban communism will end as the fall of the Berlin Wall. How do we know? Because those who govern have been defeated morally and, with the exception of psychopaths, nobody likes to side with scoundrels” (see Economía y Sociedad, no. 100).
Second, [consider] the Chilean Communist Party, which still supports both Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships and has yet to renounce its totalitarian political project. The weakness of the political ruling class in Chile has allowed the country that first defeated communism politically and economically to become the one wherein the Communist Party enjoys a completely disproportionate influence compared to its electoral base—which does not exceed four percent of the electorate. Indeed, today the three most damaging public policy proposals facing Chile have been spawned by the Communist Party:  the nationalization of private pension funds,  the regressive use of public funds to finance free college, and  the reduction in the hours worked per week from forty-eight to forty that will merely generate unemployment and increase black- or gray-market activity.
The Berlin Wall’s twenty-eight years of existence denoted tragedy for millions of Europeans. However, its existence also vividly demonstrated the horrors of communism and saved many Chileans (see in “Berlín: Fábrica de conversos” the raw testimonies of C. Warnken and F. Izquierdo). Even two Chilean communist writers, Carlos Cerda (“Morir en Berlín”) and Roberto Ampuero (“Detrás del Muro”) had “Damascus road” experiences during their years in communist Germany.
Without a doubt, the world is immensely better without the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. Eastern Europe is now free, and its market economies are increasingly prosperous. However, new conflicts have arisen between the[world’s great nations that have created enormous volatility and economic uncertainty. All such conflict makes it even more important that Chile resume its path of freedom and modernization, given that a solid and prosperous economy is the best way to face the new world that has been built upon the ruins of the Berlin Wall.
On December 18, 1976, an extraordinary exchange took place at Zürich’s airport. Luis Corvalán, Secretary General of the Chilean Communist Party, walked off a Lufthansa jet that had arrived from Santiago. At the same time, Vladimir Bukovsky was getting off a Russian plane, whose struggle for freedom in the U.S.S.R. had garnered him worldwide fame. The Soviet Politburo had locked him up him for twelve years in “psychiatric” clinics, forced labor camps, and Gulag prisons.
After the Army had arrested Corvalán shortly after September 11, 1973, Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Union’s ambassador in Washington, asked Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to let the Chilean government know about their keen interest in freeing him who had in effect been their key man there. Corvalán was so important to the U.S.S.R. that historian Olga Ulianova reported that a commando operation was even planned to rescue him from Dawson Island, 100 kilometers south of Punta Arenas, in the extreme south of Chile, using Russian submarines operating off the Chilean coastline (see Olga Ulianova, “Corvalán for Bukovsky: A Real Exchange of Prisoners During an Imaginary War, the Chilean Dictatorship, the Soviet Union, and U.S. Mediation, 1973–1976” (2014), Cold War History, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 315-336).
After lots of maneuvering, and in the midst of a worldwide campaign to free Bukovsky—which Brezhnev had snubbed for years—President Pinochet appeared on the international scene with a surprising proposal: if the Soviet Union would release Bukovsky, Chile would release Corvalán.
That proposal generated a lively debate within the Politburo, as it was evident that the gesture raised Chile’s image, which had asked nothing for itself, thus humiliating the communist superpower. Finally, Brezhnev yielded and released the iconic Russian defender of human rights. In order to prevent Corvalán from obscuring the celebration of Brezhnev’s 70thbirthday on December 19th, an order was given to sequester him in Minsk temporarily, where he waited until the 23rd, before finally being received in Moscow. Corvalán left the U.S.S.R. and returned to Chile in 1983, withdrew from politics, and died in 2010.
Bukovsky accepted an offer from Cambridge University to continue his education in biology. In 1977, he was received by President Carter at the White House, who highlighted his role in denouncing the cruel practice of hospitalizing Soviet dissidents in psychiatric clinics. As we are both now Senior Fellows at the Cato Institute in Washington, I spent three days with this heavy smoker—which according to him was a vestige of his years spent in prison—at a conference in Santa Barbara, California some years ago. With exhilaration he confessed to me that Pinochet had saved his life.