Quips and Quotes: Chile After Pinochet

Author: Sarah Cahalan '14

Editor's Note: As soon as I graduated from Notre Dame, I realized that I never took proper advantage of one of the biggest perks of being at a university: all those lectures. You may not be able to pop by DeBart 101 every week to listen to experts opine about cell biology or geopolitics, but, in this new series, we're bringing the lecture hall to you. Our editors will scour the campus for one presentation per week to attend and share with our readers, reporting back with a quote and a few highlights from the latest event in the life of the mind. 

"Our enemy is not really Pinochet. Our enemy is fear." — Ignacio Walker

Though uttered by Walker, a Hewlett Fellow in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the origin story of this quotation offers a telling example of the star power at work at Kellogg's September 27 panel, "Commemoration of the Victory of the 'NO' Campaign in Opposition to Pinochet."


In this instance, Walker — a Chilean senator and the country's former foreign minister — was paraphrasing his fellow panelist Eugenio Tironi. Tironi, he explained, coined this idea in 1987, when he was the head of public relations for the campaign that would sweep the military dictator Augusto Pinochet out of the presidential office in a historic plebiscite in 1988. Walker and Tironi, along with Senator Andrés Allamand, convened at Notre Dame in honor of the 30th anniversary of that vote. The three men spoke of the impact of the transition of power that they each played a critical role in bringing about, and theorized about how Chile would be different today had the "NO" campaign not succeeded.


I chose to attend this panel because I had just returned from a vacation to Chile a few days before. Had the plebiscite three decades ago gone differently, I probably would never have taken that trip at all. Because of the "NO" vote, the panelists explained, Chile benefited from a peaceful ouster Pinochet and a reform-based — rather than revolution-based — transition to democracy. Had the "YES" campaign won, Pinochet would have stayed in power (by his own law) well into the 1990s, at least delaying change and leaving the country victim to the Chavista-style revolutions that rocked much of the rest of Latin America in recent decades.


Chile today has one of the fastest-growing economies on Earth and is among the most prosperous nations in South America, making it prime territory for tourists like me. If the 1988 plebiscite had gone in a different way, all of that would be different — so, in a way, I was at this panel precisely because of the panelists’ actions a hemisphere away four years before I was born.


To see the illustrious speakers for yourself, check out a recording of the panel here.


Sarah Cahalan is an associate editor of this magazine.