Carlos Arredondo, Carlos, Arredondo, Chile, Scotland, music, poetry, culture, Latin America  

Life in Chile during the period 1970 -1973

It was the time of Salvador Allende, the first democratically elected Marxist-Socialist President in the world and an extraordinary period in Chilean history. Politics was at its best, with great debates on the radio, on television, and in newspapers and magazines of all tendencies. There was a great deal of popular participation and a rich and interesting cultural life expressed in film making, theatre, music and mural paintings. Poor children were receiving free milk, and world-class literature began to be accessible at a low cost. It was a unique government, paying great attention to the needs and future of the working class and rural peasants, who had, until then, lived as feudal labourers. This political event caused great admiration and hope around the world as it was possible to choose, by democratic means, a socialist way of life. Monsieur Francois Mitterand with a French socialist delegation visited our country in those days.

However, as soon as Allende was elected president, the powerful centre-right parties and their media became, with the blessing of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and the CIA, criminally hostile towards the new order. The intention was clear: to propagate fear and destabilise the government at all costs. These relentless reactionary actions continued during this period until the coup. Working class people were, however, resilient in their commitment and support for the socialist cause, increasing Allende’s share of the vote in this period.

Where was I in all of this?

From 1967 to 1973 I worked at Tizona, the biggest guitar factory in Chile, and it was here that I learned to play the guitar, which would prove to be so useful for my solidarity work in Scotland.

By 1970 I was already very much aware of the limitations of our democracy. I wanted meaningful changes to our economic system: deep agrarian reform, nationalization of the copper mines, reforms to our judicial system, which was hitherto so clearly on the side of the powerful. As a worker I put all my trust in Allende and the political programme presented to us by Unidad Popular, (UP) the left unity coalition he led. Allende was, in my view, a well-respected socialist parliamentarian, a long-standing defender of workers’ well being and a proven constitutionalist in the tradition of a settled political order, albeit one in need of deep political and social reforms.

At the time, I was involved in the Juventud Obrera Católica (JOC), a catholic workers group closely linked to the socialistic values of progressive Latin American bishops and priests that formed the base, in 1962-1965, for the Second Vatican Council called by John XXIII. The Liberation Theology movement was the result of this famous council which had a big impact among the working class catholic communities of our continent.

The bloody coup

The coup of 11th September 1973 marked the end of this socialist experiment, the end of Chilean democracy and freedom, and the success of fascism and its allies in the US government. Military and police repression, with civilian and international help, came with astonishing speed and force and in a scale never seen in our country before. Six of my friends from JOC were tortured and assassinated. The coup generated international condemnation. Chile became a very dangerous place, so in January 1974 I left for Peru at the kind invitation of the Huapaya-Correa family. I left behind my elderly stepmother, my friends, my work, my story, my barrio and my homeland. It was a very difficult decision to make as my stepmother depended on me for her maintenance.

Peru and Ecuador

I spent six very complicated months in the Peruvian capital. In March, I went to Quito to get my visa renewed and a nasty Peruvian consul gave me three day to cross Peru and “go back to Chile!". I decided instead to remain clandestinely in his country. By then thousands of my compatriots had also arrived in Peru in desperation. To our relief, The United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) came to our aid, opening a special office in Lima. We immediately came under this organization’s protection. They helped us in a variety of ways while we waited for a country to give us asylum. About two weeks after submitting my application to the British embassy in Lima, I was offered the opportunity to go to the UK. On 18th September 1974 I was among many Chileans who left Lima for London on a British Airways plane, paid for by UNHCR. On the plane we were full of contrasting emotions: happy and sad at the same time. We experienced incredible angst leaving our families behind and our country submerged and defenceless in a bloody dictatorship.


In London we were warmly received in a hotel by the Joint Working Group for Refugees from Latin America (JWG). These were people from different parts of the UK, among them Gordon Hutchinson, a very nice Scotsman. About a week after our arrival, the JWG decided that around 35 of us should leave the hotel for Scotland because the rooms had to be vacated to accommodate other Chileans and because there was a committee ready to receive us. Gordon had seen me singing and playing my Tizona guitar and kindly persuaded me to come to Scotland. He said that I was going to be well received:the Scots love musicso you will be happy. The JWG was regularly in touch with us and for a long period of time. It was very reassuring for me.

Glasgow and Edinburgh

Early one morning in October 1974, we left London by coach towards Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the bus there were all kind of people including several married couples and a mother with her daughter. We had mixed feelings leaving London. We arrived on a very rainy night at the home of Mike Gonzalez, his Welsh wife Karen, and their wee children, near the University of Glasgow. A group of about six or seven Chileans continued their journey towards Edinburgh where there were people waiting for them. We were the first group of Chilean refugees in Scotland. Before us a Chilean had come to Glasgow to continue with his academic work thanks to the good offices of Jimmy Reid, the Glasgow University Rector (1971-74).

We were very well received with food and songs by a group of academics, students and workers. Among them was Pat, a worker in the oil rig platform, who invited me and two other Chileans to a football game a few weeks later at Hamden Park. These people offered us accommodation and all the necessary help for the weeks to come. Soon after our arrival we formed the Circulo Chileno Lautaro in Drumchapel, where many Chileans families lived. Our committee asked me to form a Chilean Folk Group and soon we were very much in demand to play at different solidarity and cultural events in Scotland and England. As many of us did not speak English, music helped our community to connect with the different groups involved in the solidarity movement.


In 1978 I moved to Edinburgh. By that point, I had already been given the right to remain in the UK. The campaign for Chile in this city was also very strong with a well organised Chilean community working hard and closely with the Edinburgh Chile Solidarity Committee, the Edinburgh Chile Committee for Human Rights, and the Chile Action Group. The Edinburgh Chile Solidarity Committee, for example, constantly engaged councillors and MPs in their local campaign, including John Mackintosh, Gavin Strang, Ronald King Murray, David Owen, Robin F. Cook, and Ron Brown, of the Labour Party, and Liberal MPs David Steel and Jeremy Thorpe.

Many Chileans took advantage of an academic programme organized by the World University Services (WUS) working in close collaboration with the British Government. At the centre of this programme was the Labour MP Judith Hart. This programme lasted 12 years helping about 1,000 Chileans to continue higher education at British universities. Several Chileans came to Scotland, via Argentina thanks to the WUS, and some of them to Edinburgh, with the full support of the solidarity committee Academics for Chile, headed by Professor Peter Vandome and Professor Martin Pollock from the University of Edinburgh.

I formed another folk group to play at events organised by a variety of organizations in Scotland and England. In 1982 Pope John Paul II came to Bellahouston Park in Glasgow and I was invited by the Scottish Education and Action for Development (SEAD) to give a short speech about the situation in Chile and to sing a song. It was part of an alternative event within the official programme organised by the Catholic Church in Glasgow. It was an extraordinary experience to speak and sing with my wife in front of 300,000 people!

The Chilean Solidarity Campaign and their aims

Philip O’Brien, one of the academics who received us in Glasgow, said that immediately following the coup, a solidarity group, the Glasgow Defence Committee, was formed at the University of Glasgow. Philip was its secretary. The committee made contact with the Glasgow Trades Council and the STUC, where Jimmy Milne was in charge, who had been first class in his assistance and took a very active role in setting up a wider solidarity movement. At a later stage, the Scottish Chile Defence Committee, functioning through the Glasgow Trades Council, was formed.

By the end of October 1973, the Stirlingshire Chilean Action Committee was formed and in June 1976 was replaced by The Stirling and District Chile Solidarity Committee with Rowland Sheret as the chairperson. By January 1975, all the Solidarity committees in Scotland and the rest of the UK were, with the Chilean refugees, working closely for our country. One evening, my Glasgow Chilean Folk Group and some Spanish speaking members of the Glasgow Defence Committee went to the Rolls Royce plant at East Kilbride to sing and thank the workers who had refused to carry out repair work for warplane engines belonging to the Chilean Air Force. Our intention was to give them moral support and validate the importance of their actions. This event was part of a full week of activities organised in Glasgow by our Chilean committee. On the 19th June 1976 we played in Renfrew for a Labour Party event and Michael Foot was one of the guest speakers. On another occasion we met Tony Benn.

Throughout the years the Scottish artistic community were also very keen to take part in events for Chile: John McGrath’s 7:84 Theatre Company, Tom McGrath, The Laggan, The Whistlebinkies, Hamish Imlach, Matt McGinn, Adam McNaughtan, Hamish Henderson, Dick Gaughan, The Boys of The Loch, Dolina MacLennan, Liz Lochhead, and Jim Sutherland, among other artists and poets, all made great contributions.

The aims, as in the rest of the UK, was to provide support for the people of Chile against the Military coup, support the Popular Unity and all forces fighting the fascist Junta. They demanded the liberation of all political prisoners, a rejection of the Junta, a break in diplomatic relations, the boycott of all Chilean goods and trade, and to stop aid and credits. They also campaigned for the sponsorship of political prisoners, to raise awareness and seek accountability for disappeared people, assistance for Chilean refugees to settle in different areas of the UK, writing letters to local newspapers about the situation in Chile, engaging local MPs in the Solidarity Campaign with Chile at Government level, and providing moral and economic support to families whose members had been taken prisoners or disappeared.

Below a campaign newsletter from the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Chile Solidarity, autumn of 1976 showing some solidarity activities.

Prisoner Adoptions. A total of thirteen Chilean political prisoners have been adopted in our area.

The adopting groups are the Carbrain, Kildrum and Seafar ward Labour parties, The Banton and Queenzieburn branch LP, Cumbernauld Concern, The East Dunbartonshire Liberal Association, a local branch of the EIS, and the two Cumbernauld AEU branches. So far five of the prisoners have been released and effective contact has been established with one of the others.

September Events.

To mark the third “anniversary” of the fascist Coup the Scottish Chile Defence Committee have organised the following:

DEMONSTRATION Saturday 11th of September.

Assemble Blythswood Square at 11am. March to Custom house Quay:

Madame Allende, Judith Hart MP, Alex Ferry and Chilean Folk Group

Sunday 12th September

Concert: Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 7pm., Stalls and circle £1.25, balcony 65p

The Laggan, 7:84 theatre group, Phil McColl, Matt McGinn and The Chilean Folk Group are amongst the performers.

CHILEAN PLAY - called Chile 1973 starring Coca Rudolphy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 30-Sept.10th, Crown Theatre, Hill Place, Edinburgh, 5pm.

Who were involved in the Chilean solidarity campaign?

Mostly Chilean refugees (of course!), but also people from other walks of life including academics, workers, members of the Trade Unions, the Churches, Amnesty International, the Quakers, human rights groups and members of political groups such as the International Socialist, the International Marxist Group (IMG), the Communist Party and the Labour Party. I hold particular affection for Norman Buchan and his wife Jenny Buchan both Labour MPs. I knew them well. In Stirling, Labour MPs such as Dennis Canavan, Martin O’Neill and Harry Ewing were great in their commitment. In the words of Dr Douglas Chalmers, from Dundee, “the society of Friends, the Quakers, the Labour Party, the Trades Council were very useful and… Chileans tended to be housed in the worst areas in Whitfield and in Beechwood”.On Saturday 19th September 1981 a big Scottish Conference on Chile and Latin America was organised in Dundee at the Caird Hall. Among the guest speakers were Hortensia Bussi Salvador Allende’s wife, various local leaders like Alec Kitson, Mick McGahey and others.

Interesting to note

The existence of a report in The Guardian of the 11th September 2013 and written by Grace Livingstone suggested that “Intelligence officers were sent to infiltrate the Chile Solidarity Campaign.” The British Government were worried that the Chilean Solidarity Campaign was going to ruin the lucrative business of selling arms to Chile which included submarines and warships.

Final Reflections

Solidarity with Chile in Scotland was widespread and varied and not confined to any particular event, individual or political party. Everyone contributed in some way or another to the struggle against the dictatorship. However, I would like to remember the late Andy McEntee, a Scottish lawyer, and for a while secretary of the London-based Chile Committee for Human Rights. According to "Pinochet in Suburbia", a drama shown on BBC2 in 2006, Andy played a major role in the detention in 1998 of Augusto Pinochet in London with vast consequences for our country and deep international repercussions.

It is unforgivable that new generations of refugees escaping from war zones, poverty and natural disasters are not welcome into the United Kingdom. Asylum-seekers are put in army barracks and horrible detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in England and Dungavel in Scotland. This saddens me profoundly because there is a great contrast between the great solidarity we received and the little solidarity shown now to those refugees desperately seeking a safe place to settle and to make valuable contributions to the UK.

Chileans still living in Scotland are very grateful for the solidarity received from everyone and I am glad to report that our own small community, and their children, have made valuable contributions, in different fields, towards the development of Scottish society.



I was asked to write the above piece for the book

" Ghost of the Early Morning Shift"

An antology of Radical prose from contemporay Scotland

Edited and introduced by Jim Aitken for Culture Matters

  Carlos Arredondo, Carlos, Arredondo, Chile, Scotland, music, poetry, culture, Latin America