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CHILE: Communists steal Bachelet’s limelight

Former president Michelle Bachelet waited more than three years to confirm that she would seek to run for the presidency again, despite being the constant source of speculation. When, this week, she finally revealed her intention to seek another term in November, it was totally overshadowed by the president of the Partido Comunista (PCCh), Guillermo Teillier, who for the first time admitted that he had authorised a failed attempt to assassinate General Augusto Pinochet in 1986. Teillier was roundly condemned by Democracia Cristiana (DC), the largest faction in the opposition coalition Concertación. The DC and the PCCh pose a serious challenge for Bachelet. The DC, the least left-wing party in the Concertación, opposes a shared congressional slate with the PCCh, which is favoured by Bachelet.

During a long interview at the weekend with El Semanal, Teillier, leader and military chief of the PCCh in the 1980s, argued that the armed struggle waged by the far-left urban guerrilla movement Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (FPMR), a splinter of the PCCh with which he served as a go-between, was crucial in defeating the Pinochet dictatorship. He condemned violence but insisted that when faced with it “there is no other way to respond”.

Teillier’s remark caused serious ructions. The president of the DC, Ignacio Walker, denounced the PCCh’s strategy in the 1980s as “a profound error” and accused Teillier of having “no sense of self-criticism”. Walker said the armed struggle upheld by the PCCh did no more than “serve as the pretext for the Pinochet dictatorship to carry out greater repressive actions”. He said it was the 1988 plebiscite, “a political, social and electoral mobilisation”, which defeated Pinochet and which the PCCh had opposed “from the beginning to the end”. He also added that it was “incomprehensible that people who lived through the brutal repression of Pinochet did not repudiate with the same force repression from left-wing dictatorships”. A common foreign policy stance between the Concertación and the PCCh over Cuba is a cause of friction.

The PCCh entered the mainstream of Chilean politics when it sealed a selective alliance with the Concertaciόn in the 2009 congressional elections, in which Teillier won a seat. It also competed with the Concertaciόn in last October’s municipals, and won 6.4% of the national vote in councillor elections, slightly more than the Partido Radical Social Demόcrata (PRSD), the smallest party in the coalition, managed to win.

Teillier is due to meet parties within the Concertación, as well as Bachelet, this week. He is expected to confirm the PCCh’s support for Bachelet in exchange for participation in her eventual government. This is a very sensitive issue and Walker has made it clear that Bachelet risks alienating the DC if she strikes any such deal with the PCCh. Bachelet should comfortably defeat the DC candidate, Claudio Orrego, in a primary election within the Concertaciόn in June but winning the party’s allegiance afterwards will be tougher. She has the backing of the Partido Socialista (PS) and the Partido por la Democracia (PPD) but Walker is adamant that the public is opposed to the Concertaciόn lurching leftwards: the DC won more mayoral seats and council seats than the more radical parties in the coalition last October.

Bachelet, however, is not blind to the advantages of forging an alliance with the PCCh, which recently welcomed young and popular former student leaders like Camila Vallejo into its ranks to stand for election. Vallejo shot to prominence by leading student protests against the government of President Sebastián Piñera demanding education reform: Bachelet made clear this week that the first bill she would send to congress would be one to end “for-profit education and increase free education” as part of a drive to reduce inequality. “We cannot continue with small adjustments or reforms,” she said.

The government has leapt gleefully on the Concertaciόn’s travails. “And this is the party with which the Concertación wants to govern?” the government spokesperson Cecilia Pérez asked rhetorically. “A party that defends armed conflict…(and) recognises some dictatorships but not others”.

DC comes under fire

Guillermo Teillier indirectly accused the Democracia Cristiana (DC) of hypocrisy, arguing that many in the Concertaciόn had supported the action of the FPMR while outwardly denying it. He said he could relate conversations from the time, but was constrained by obligations, that “would embarrass many people”. The president of the centre-right Renovación Nacional (RN), Carlos Larraín, directly accused the DC of cynicism, happily harvesting support from the PCCh in last October’s municipal elections and now raising differences between the parties because it did not want to concede space to the PCCh in government. Larraín thanked Teillier sincerely, however, for “making his bloody role explicit”.

Right reacts

“I find it incredible to read in our papers that a party president, a deputy of the Republic, is boasting about having ordered attacks that led to the death of five people (Pinochet’s bodyguards),” the presidential candidate for the right-wing Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI), Laurence Golborne, said in response to the remarks by Guillermo Teillier. “Violence, from wherever it comes, must be condemned”. Golborne was attending the commemoration of the murder of Jaime Guzmán on 1 April 1991. Guzmán, founder of the UDI and the ideologue of the Pinochet dictatorship, was killed by members of the FPMR, which did not lay down its arms with the restoration of elected rule in 1990.

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