Former Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan is best known in today's Russia for a silly limerick about his swap for the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, in which the latter is referred to as a "hooligan."
Older generations may also remember the noisy solidarity demonstrations in the U.S.S.R. and other countries that followed Corvalan's arrest by General Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s. Soviet authorities eventually managed to secure his release from prison in exchange for Bukovsky.
The prisoner swap seems bizarre to many now, almost thirty-five years later, as Corvalan and Bukovsky seem to have had very little in common besides being political prisoners. Oddly enough, upon his release, the Chilean went to the U.S.S.R., where he had been offered political asylum, while Bukovsky went to the United States, rather than Chile, and later settled down in the United Kingdom.
The swap was obviously orchestrated by Washington, not Santiago. For all its power, Pinochet's military junta was essentially at the behest of the U.S. government.
This historical fact sheds light on the September 11, 1973 military coup led by Pinochet, in which Salvador Allende's Popular Unity government was overthrown and Corvalan was imprisoned.
Pinochet's coup was not a routine affair in the history of Chile, which, like most other Latin American nations, is no stranger to putsches, juntas, and dictatorships. It was one of the bloodiest and "hottest" episodes of the Cold War.
For decades, the Americans and the Soviets fought each other in proxy wars around the war. The Americans lost the Vietnam War and had to withdraw from Indochina in 1973. But they battled back in Chile that same year, throwing their weight behind General Pinochet's anti-Socialist conspiracy. The years of dictatorship that followed that U.S.-orchestrated coup claimed the lives of thousands of Chilean civilians.
By 1973, Corvalan had already become a senator and was a prominent figure in Chile's political establishment. Communists held all the key posts in Allende's government. Washington vehemently opposed this political alignment, for reasons that were more geopolitical than ideological. The Americans simply could not tolerate Moscow's growing influence in this strategically important region of the Western hemisphere.
After the military junta took power, Corvalan quickly realized that his life was in danger. General Pinochet declared the Communist Party his government's No. 1 enemy. He urged his allies to destroy the party before it regrouped and launched a counter-offensive. So the Soviet-backed initiative to have Corvalan swapped for Bukovsky literally saved the Chilean communist leader's life.
Amazingly, Corvalan continued his struggle against the Chilean junta even after he was released from a concentration camp on the island of Dawson and moved to Moscow. In 1983, he underwent plastic surgery and returned to his home country incognito. For Corvalan, this was a matter of principle - a personal mission he was all the more committed to after his only son was tortured to death in Pinochet's prison.
Corvalan spent six years in hiding in Chile, and narrowly escaped arrest. In an interview later in life, he recount the event, and not without a sense of humor:
"We were at a meeting in the neighborhood of La Florida when we heard that the police were about to search all the houses in the area... in pursuit of some criminals. As soon as we heard the police were coming, we cleared all our papers off the table and covered it with bottles, glasses and food instead ... then I went to the bathroom and left the door open. The woman who owned the house let the police in and offered to show them around the house, giving us more time to hide. I was in the bathroom, and I heard the steps of the police as they entered house, so I stood in front of the toilet with my back to the door and pretended like I was about to go. A policeman who saw my back through the open door just said, 'Sorry, sorry,' and left. The key was leaving the door open. Someone in hiding is not expected to leave doors open."
The story had a happy ending. Pinochet's junta fell in 1989, and Corvalan was able to come out of hiding. Soon after, he resigned as secretary general of the Chilean Communist Party. He spent the next 21 years of his life writing his memoirs, in which he expresses nostalgia for the former Soviet Union, the country that gave him his shelter and freedom. He never rejected his communist views and continued to uphold socialist ideals.
Sincerity is extremely hard to come by in the world of politics, but Corvalan was one of those rare politicians who sincerely believe in the ideals they espouse. You can admire the man even if you don't share his beliefs.
(RIA Novosti political commentator Nikolai Troitsky)
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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