Last year in France, Kennecott Copper brought legal suit against the government of Chile in relation to the nationalization of their El Teniente copper mine. In a summation before the French Court, Kennecott lawyers acknowledged that their actions were an exercise in “teaching Chile the political realities of life.” On 11 September 1973, the world watched as Chile learned its lessons well.
On that morning the Chilean Navy seized control of the important port city of Valparaiso and broadcast a demand “that the President of the republic must proceed immediately to hand over his high office to the Chilean armed forces and police.” President Salvador Allende Gossens quickly left for the presidential palace, La Moneda, to repel the second military attempt at coup d’état in four months. From the beginning this one looked more serious. He told his wife over the phone that “there’s an uprising of the navy and many riots in Santiago. I don’t know whether we can resist or not. These are very difficult moments. Let’s hope we come out all right.” As the crisis deepened, Allende increased his determination to see it through to the end. In his public statement, made by radio as two airforce jets screamed over La Moneda, Allende said: “I will not resign. I will not do it. I am ready to resist with whatever means, even at the cost of my life in that this serves as a lesson in the ignominious history of those who have strength, but not reason.”
Pope Francis on June 5 met Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, while outside in St. Peter’s Square anti-abortion protesters drew attention to one of the most controversial topics up for discussion between the two leaders.
The meeting centered around “issues of common interest” such as education and “social peace,” as a Vatican statement put it. But the most contentious topic in play was “the protection of human life,” a nod to the traditionally Catholic country’s strict abortion law, which Bachelet is trying to modify.
Earlier this year, the Chilean leader proposed changes to allow abortions in cases of rape or if a woman’s life was in danger.
Is access to clean water for public use a human right? According to Luis Infanti, the Roman Catholic bishop of Aysen in Chile, the answer is yes. This week marks the opening of Chile’s “First Cabildo for Water,” a meeting organized by the Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life, comprising civil society and religious groups.
People from all over Chile are attending and bringing water samples taken from lakes, streams, and rivers in their communities to be blessed by Bishop Infanti. “Water has often been captured, kidnapped and commodified,” said Infanti, according to Agenzia Fides, “but we know that it must give life and reach all our brothers and sisters, flow in abundance and not be anyone’s privilege.”
To sing or to die: now I will begin. There’s no force that can silence me. —Pablo Neruda, “Epic Song”
In a world so torn by poverty and war, perhaps music can seem like a secondary concern. But as Christians know so well, music feeds the spirit, comforts the downtrodden, strengthens the weary, and can give words a power they do not possess on paper. Imagine life without your favorite hymn or the song that safely channeled your teenage rebellion, or the anthem of peace or protest that still stirs you. Imagine life without Bach or Handel, or Neil Young, or Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” (dismissed in its day by Time magazine as “a prime piece of musical propaganda”).
Imagine if someone literally took away your song. Wouldn’t you hunger for it like bread?
When a government or powerful religious or ethnic group tries to turn off the music, the stakes are high. Music is another way to hear the news and a means to find common passion between very different peoples. In this way silence, or a restricted diet of state-approved tunes, can diminish us. But the more immediate and sometimes tragic cost is borne by the artists around the globe who have faced intimidation, loss of livelihood, imprisonment, torture, and even death for recording, performing, or distributing their music:
- South Africa revoked singer Miriam Makeba’s citizenship and right of return after her 1963 testimony about apartheid before the United Nations.
- Populist Chilean folk/political singer and songwriter Victor Jara was one of several musicians who supported the successful 1970 campaign of Salvador Allende to become president of Chile. When a 1973 military coup overturned the Allende government, Jara was among the thousands of citizens subsequently tortured and executed. His torturers reportedly broke his hands so that he couldn’t play his guitar; his final lyrics, written on scraps of paper during the few days before he was killed, were smuggled out by survivors.