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heraldo munozChilean discusses his attempts to oust Pinochet, Mexico's role in the resistance to the dictator and efforts to reduce inequality today in Mexico, Chile and elsewhere

By David Gaddis Smith

Chilean U.N. assistant secretary general Heraldo Muñoz said in San Diego last week that Chileans who were granted asylum in Mexico after Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup in Chile "are the biggest lobbyists for Mexico that you can find in Chile."

He added, "They are heavy lobbyists for Mexican culture and food etc."

He noted that Hortensia Bussi, the widow of overthrown Socialist President Salvador Allende, "ended up living all her exile in Mexico" after a brief stop in Cuba. Allende died during Pinochet's Sept. 11, 1973 coup.

Muñoz also noted that when he was head of Chile's socialists in the United States, his chief was in Mexico.

munoz book coverMuñoz gave two talks Friday at the Institute of Americas in San Diego. One talk was about "The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet." The second talk was about inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean. Muñoz is United Nations assistant secretary-general and U.N. Development Program Regional Director for Latin American and the Caribbean.

One gripping story Muñoz told involved a Chilean who later lived in exile in Mexico.

Muñoz, who was a leftist political activist, was in the family home with his U.S. wife in 1973 and saw the military stopped outside with two friends of his handcuffed in a jeep. Muñoz knew they were coming for him ands waited. After a while, however, the military left, inexplicably. Later, the next-door neighbor knocked on his door and told him the military had knocked on her door seeking him. She did not tell the forces that Muñoz lived next door, only that she had two daughters and a young son. They turned her house upside down but found nothing. *

Eight year laters, in Mexico, Muñoz met up with one of friends who had been handcuffed. The man had been taken to the national stadium and tortured and told Muñoz that "the only happy moment (was) when we saw these fools go to the wrong door and come out without you."

Muñoz said Mexican Foreign Minister Emilio Rabasa promised a trade agreement with Pinochet if he released all the people that had taken refuge in the Mexican Embassy and released some people in jail. Muñoz said Pinochet agreed and released two people the Mexicans were interested in.

But then, Muñoz said, Rabasa said, "No deal, because we are not going to deal with a dictator."

Muñoz said, "Of course, after that Mexicans were not very endeared to the Pinochet government," and ties wound up being cut between the two governments.

Podcasts of Muñoz's talks

In his talk about inequalities in the Americas, Muñoz said the Oportunidades antipoverty program in Mexico "has had a very positive effect" in increasing school attendance and on improving nutrition and health, although not unemployment.

"Latin America is not the poorest region in the world. It is just the most unequal," he said. A statistic used to measure inequality, the Gini coefficient, is 65% worse than that of high-income countries, and even 18% higher than for sub-Saharan Africa.

"If you don't put inequality as the key priority of the political process in Latin America, it will not be enough."

Ariel Dorfman writes in the L.A. Times on March 20, 2011 about the specter of Pinochet and President Barack Obama's visit to Chile.

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* - personal note. When I was getting a master's degree in international journalism at the University of Southern California in 1988, Muñoz was a guest lecturer and spoke to a class I was taking with political scientist Abe Lowenthal. Muñoz told a story about later selling the same house that the Chilean military missed, at a time when inflation was very high in Chile. From the time the contract was signed, and the time the money actually changed hands actually going through bureaucratic procedures, Muñoz and his family received only a fraction of the value of the house they thought they had sold it for. Also at USC, Muñoz outlined some of the problems political activists faced in organizing what later turned out to be a successful 1988 plebiscite to remove Pinochet from power.