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CHILE: Toward Unity

3 minute read

Tense, troubled Chile seemed to be moving toward a break with the Axis. Sumner Welles’s bald statement that both Argentina and Chile were harboring Axis spies (TIME, Oct. 19) had made the nation tenser, more troubled. The outsize staff of the German Embassy in Santiago was obviously doing more than shuffling papers. Last week Chile’s big, greying President Juan Antonio Rios called his Cabinet to the Moneda Palace and presently the Cabinet resigned in a body, “to leave the President absolute liberty of action.”

President Rios picked a new Cabinet. There had been loud demands from the left for the removal of Foreign Minister Ernesto Barros Jarpa, who opposed rupture with the Axis. He was no Nazi sympathizer himself, but he feared Axis attack. Foreign Minister Barros Jarpa was replaced by Chile’s Ambassador to Uruguay Joaquin Fernandez, longtime diplomat and good friend of President Rios.

A break with the Axis was not something that President Rios could lightly undertake. Chilean isolationists feel that Chile has enough trouble at home without risking invasion along 2,800 miles of coast. Chile’s great riches, nitrates and copper, (mostly owned by U.S. companies) return to Chile only wages and taxes. Chile’s agricultural land is sparse and dominated by the landed gentry on their great fundos. The nation’s industrial workers average less than $200 yearly, her agricultural workers less than $100. Santiago’s dank slums and pasty-faced poor are as prominent a feature as Chile’s snow-crusted Andes.

Fighting her profound poverty, Chile has developed the greatest social-security program in Latin America. But it is a constant, obsessing battle to keep help in the running with need. In 1939 Chile had the highest infant mortality rate in the world (250 out of 1,000 live births), a death rate twice that of the U.S.

But in their domestic political struggles Chileans achieved the first Popular Front Government in the hemisphere. Thousands of Chileans know the power of unity. Today they are bound to consider the hemisphere: Chile has lost most of its foreign trade, except that with the U.S. (before the war some 84% of Chile’s exports went elsewhere). Chileans have always been tempted to think of the U.S. chiefly as the destination of the major profits from Chilean nitrate and copper. But Good Neighborliness in Washington now seems to be carrying conviction in Santiago. Countless Chilean voices were urging union with the hemispheric front.

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