The other 9/11 - Oscar Guardiola-Rivera on the coup against Salvador Allende

Updated: Jan 20, 2014, 10:11 AM IST

Andre Borges

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is a prominent Latin American writer and author of `What if Latin America Ruled the World` and more recently `Story of a Death Foretold`. He is also a columnist for The Guardian and El Espectador, and teaches Law and Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. He was a speaker at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival where he spoke about his book, The Story of a death foretold. Oscar answers some questions about his book, his writing and world issues.

Q. At your session about your novel, `A  Story Of Death Foretold` you mentioned how you wrote the book. What inspired you to write `Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup against Salvador Allende`?

Well, there were two reasons. One, which I referred to during the talk, begins when I was very young. I think I was about 11. When Gabriel García Márquez, a  prolific Colombian writer received the Nobel Prize for Literature, in his acceptance speech, he refers to a Promethean president who died in his burning palace fighting an entire army alone. There, in that wonderful phrase you have an entire story. A story that has a classical bent, a Promethean president. And it has that bent because it is a classical tragedy that takes place in the late 20th century. That convergence between the very far past and the present was very interesting. The second reason happened while I was beginning to do research on the story. I heard about a project which was developed in Chile by a number of scientists and young artists, code-named Project Cybersyn. What it amounted to was the invention of a computer-based social network in 1971; this happened in an almost unknown country. So now, you not only have the past and present but also  the future and that`s what brought me to my story.
Q. The coup and its aftermath was a very dark period in the history of Chile, how  do Latin American`s feel about it? 

Back in the 1970`s, after the terrible event took place, Gabriel García Márquez remarked that although this happened to Chileans, it was an event whose ripples were felt throughout the world. He was absolutely right because as we now know Chile became the first place where Neo- Liberalism was established. After the coup, Chile became a social experiment, an experiment with a model which is not only political and economic but also social. It had a certain effect in Chilean society, the effects which are now  being replicated on a global scale. Today, Chileans and particularly the younger lot, refer back to that period (in Chilean history it is called a  transition from a dictatorship to a democracy). They refer to it not only as a  transition but as a paradoxical transition  because it helps them understand. The end result of the massive violence unleashed to restore  Neo-Liberalism, and used to restore economic order was the effective destruction of the fabric of society. A very concrete  and good example of it is the fact that  many of the young people in Chile who are  now leading the way for transformation  learned about those events not through  their parents but on their own, on the internet. It is because of those fragments are scattered, and young Chileans find a sense of purpose in recovering those fragmented memories and putting it back together. During this process, they decide that it is necessary to refuse the structures of dictatorship present at the time. 
Q. Was the violence that the coup brought  on  necessary?

Of course it wasn`t but it was neither necessary nor inevitable. It was an  imposition from a small block of people  from Chilean society and at the time, their first achievement, if you can call  it that, was to gain the hearts and minds  of middle-class people. Those individuals who unleashed this violence did so with the sole purpose of breaking the links that allowed them to unite the different sectors of Chilean population. 
Q. Do they view the casualties of the coup  as martyrs? 

It is very interesting you use that term,  Salvador Allende in all his speeches  mentions that he did not have the makeup  of a martyr, and did not want the people  to become martyrs as well. He went as far  as he could to stop the sacrifice of the  people. He was consistent in  his rejection of violence as a means of a  Chilean transformation. In fact it is those individuals who designed the coup who are responsible for the sacrifice of hundreds of Chileans who lost their lives.
Q. Considering the recent events do you  think that Latin America was influenced by  the Arab Spring?
I remember the words of a friend of mine  in Libya, also a writer, who told me  how some of the young rebels in Libya and  in Cairo used the general climate of Latin America during the 1970`s and the legacy of the freedom struggle at the time as one of the sources of  inspiration.  At first I found it surprising but I`ve also found what happened  during the Arab Spring and what continues  to happen even today, has an impact on the  Chilean youth. Through email and the  internet, they are in contact with their  friends from across the world and we have an emerging community of rebels trying to create a new level of human equality.
Q. Do you think that the US policy on  "foreign intervention" has changed since  the 9/11 coup?

It is very interesting to see that the  story of what happened in Chile is also  the story of the origins of a form of  foreign policy which was created in  Washington and continues to this day. Henry Kissinger, who was secretary adviser to Richard Nixon and the Nixon administration was very clear that they wanted their fingers everywhere but their fingerprints nowhere. This policy of operations shrouded in secrecy became a definitive form of  operations in the US but also the  functional use of proxy allies in form of  intervention. Once more, Latin America became the first laboratory of sorts, a continental  network of surveillance which was led by the US and its allies, the elite of Latin America, which has now spread to  the rest of the globe and to the spaces of communications. Well, we now know, thanks to people like Bradley Manning,  Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, that these  countries will go to no end to protect their interests which they tend to confuse with national interests. The Nixon administration was also very unpopular at the time, and at the same surveillance tactics were used in the country at the time. What Assange, Snowden and the others did was essentially to use the same tools which are being used by intelligence agencies and powerful governments, against them. That is an interesting development. We now know that the surveillance that they`re doing is not actually for defense or security purposes and all it does is create an unfair economic advantage for themselves which is inconsistent, unfair and counterproductive.

After answering the questions, Oscar relates his experiences here at Zee Jaipur Lit Fest, "This is actually my first time in Jaipur and first time in India." He spoke about his connection with India, whih wnet back to one of the most famous superheroes he read about while growing up, who happened to be Indian. "Khali Man, he had a turban and you know, used his meditative powers to stop crime" He likes Gandhi because he used non-violence as a means of transformation.

Oscar liked the organisation of the Zee JLF, "I`m absolutely impressed with the organisation, the effort taken and the quality of writers. In fact, one of my favourite writers Meghnad Desai is speaking here. What we as writers hope for from a festival, the free expression not only in the abstract sense, but also with the free entry, I think is what makes this a unique experience". 

Oscar`s advice to aspiring authors was: "Read as much as you can, as many books as you can. It is very much a physical experience and not just an intellectual experience. As it happens with any sport, practice makes the master. This advice can best be summed up by a brilliant quote by Samuel Beckett, `Fail again. Fail better.`"
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