The Combined Emergence of La Nueva Canción Chilena and Salvador Allende

Mitchell DeMazza

LAMS 4494 W



Problem Statement 

During the 1950-1970's, Chile was overrun with United States' influence in their government and society.  Whether it is the political campaign contributions, widespread propaganda, or the support and financing of the military coup that took down Allende in 1973, the United States infiltrated Chilean society to the core.  Most history books of this era frame Salvador Allende in terms of his destruction.  The books discuss the importance of his election, as it was the first ever democratically elected socialist presidents; however, they then fast-forward to the downfall of his nationalized economy and the military coup of 1973.  What is often overlooked is the way Allende came to power.  Allende did not soar into recognition at the blink of an eye.  Allende ran for president four times, finally being elected the fourth time in 1970.  In 1952, in his first attempt at becoming president, he barely scratched the surface of attention, receiving just over 50,000 votes.  As Salvador Allende's popularity increased, so did the popularity of La Nueva Canción Chilena movement.  La Nueva Canción Chilena movement spanned from the 1950's until 1973, when the new dictatorship banned all materials from the movement.  What is little studied is that the movement was one of the largest influences in the rise of Salvador Allende to power.  In this paper, I will examine two of the leaders of the social movement “La Nueva Canción Chilena”, Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, and the movement as a whole.  They used political organization, art, and song to counteract foreign manipulation of elections by the United States, eventually leading to the successful democratic election of Salvador Allende and paving the way for future similar movements.

“Few cultural movements have had as profound an effect on the social histories of their time as has the New Song movement in Chile.”1  La Nueva Canción Chilena is a movement that started in Chile in the 1950's but did not take a title until the late 1960's.  The movement is based on folkloric traditions that ran throughout Chile.  The songs, poems, pieces of art talked about the current conditions of the everyday Chilean and eventually called out politicians and other influential Chileans.  The goal of the movement was to shed light on the problems in Chile and later on to bring Salvador Allende to power.  Two of the leaders of the movement, Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, developed such popularity throughout the entire country that the public and mass media had no choice but to recognize it.  During the time of the peak years of the late 1960's to 1973, the movement defended Chile's autonomy against foreign abuses by the United States.  The United States government took it upon themselves to support the destruction of the Chilean government in 1973 by backing a Chilean-led military coup.  However, prior to the military takeover, La Nueva Canción Chilena was able to provide support and mass mobilization for the Unidad Popular candidate, Salvador Allende.  Without the support of the movement, Salvador Allende would have been put in a very difficult position to win the 1970 elections.  La Nueva Canción Chilena not only mobilized Chileans for the historic election of Salvador Allende, but it also enabled future movements and groups to rise against the military coup during the 1980's.

Literature Review

Many historical accounts have been written about the 1950's-1980's in Chile, but few discuss the importance of La Nueva Canción Chilena as a movement that led to the election of Salvador Allende.  Some believe that the origins of the movement date back to the 1950's, particularly with the works of Violeta Parra, who passed on her vision to her children, Isabel and Angel Parra.  Unfortunately for Violeta, she was never able to see the movement take its true form, nor was she able to see it receive a title of La Nueva Canción Chilena.  In an article written by Patricia Vilches entitled De Violeta Parra a Víctor Jara y Los Prisioneros: Recuperación de la Memoria Colectiva e Identidad Cultural a través de la Música Comprometida, Vilches discusses Violeta's importance, saying that we are able to situate her “como [la] madre artística de Víctor Jara y Los Prisioneros.”2  The Parras and Victor Jara were the true headliners for the movement, but they certainly had support from groups such as Inti-Illimani and a group that Victor worked closely with – Quilapayún.  

Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún arose from las peñas that sprouted out throughout the country.  Las peñas were sites for folk groups to play and have discussions with the audience.  In his article Nueva Canción, John Schechter discusses the rise of las Peñas and La Peña de los Parra as one that ignited La Nueva Canción Chilena movement and the development of the rest of las peñas throughout Chile.  In Juan Pablo Gonzalez's Inti-Illimani and the Artistic Treatment of Folklore, he quotes the director of Quilapayún by stating that La Nueva Canción Chilena “is equivalent to the creation of a non-elitist cultivated music.”3  Through three separate articles relating to La Nueva Canción Chilena movement, I will connect Violeta Parra and Victor Jara's work to other movements that stemmed from their efforts during La Nueva Canción Chilena, as well as examine the political perspective of La Nueva Canción Chilena during its peak years of the late 1960's-1973.  

Salvador Allende 

The 1970 election of Salvador Allende was one of the most historic presidential elections in Chilean history.  Despite Salvador Allende losing the previous three presidential elections, he continued to run for president.  In 1952 he managed only 51,975 votes, but every year after he increased his popularity, thus resulting in the 1970 victory.  In 1958 he received 356,493 votes; in 1964 - 977,902 votes, and finally in 1970 - 1,075,616.4  It certainly took Allende time to develop his political platform, but it also took the Chilean public time to take notice of his Unidad Popular party.  As Allende was gaining popularity during the 1960's up to his election year, so too was La Nueva Canción Chilena movement.  The movement mainly consisted of University students which correlated to the voter turnout in the 1964 election.  In the 1964 election half of the voters who voted were participating in a presidential election for the first time.5  La Nueva Canción Chilena encouraged many students to vote in the elections which also resulted in a spike of votes received by Allende, accumulating almost 1,000,000 votes (1964) whereas six years earlier, he did not break 360,000 votes (1958).  In Allende's final speech from La Moneda he announced his gratitude for the strong willed efforts brought forth by the youth and those who were a part of La Nueva Canción Chilena.  “Me dirijo a la juventud, a aquellos que cantaron y entregaron su alegría y su espíritu de lucha.”6

Even for a figure of his stature it was difficult to ignore the support that was gathered through La Nueva Canción Chilena that led to his 1970 victory.  In response to the propaganda flooding the Chilean media, artists of La Nueva Canción Chilean movement were asked to be representatives of Allende's Chile as “Cultural Ambassadors” of their country.  These artists included Quilapayún and Isabel Parra who campaigned in an extensive tour in Europe; Inti-Illimani who toured in Ecuador and debunked the rumors that Chileans had fled there after the election of Allende; and Victor Jara who travelled around Latin America.7  It became customary for Victor Jara to perform after la Unidad Popular gatherings.  “As usual, in addition to speeches from the leaders of all the Popular Unity parties, an integral part of the event was a cultural programme with performances from many of the well-known artists and groups that support the campaign.  Victor, of course, was there.”8  La Nueva Canción Chilena members were thus a part of la Unidad Popular campaign and were elated when Salvador Allende was able to use mass mobilization and positive campaigning to beat the United States-backed opponent, Jorge Alessandri.  Even after Allende's victory, he remained humble and grateful of his supporters’ courage to believe in him through adversity.  “People push to get near Allende to congratulate him.  Then it is my turn.  I give him what I feel to be an uninhibited bear-hug, but he says to me, 'Hug me tighter, compañera!  This is no time to be shy!'”9  Salvador Allende campaigned on a political platform by and for the people of Chile, and when he won, he continued his backing for the Chileans.  His support for the Chilean public and La Nueva Canción Chilena movement led to the success of the movement and to eventual counter-movements of the 1970's and 1980's in Chile.


La Nueva Canción Chilena movement's artists similar to Victor Jara and Violeta Parra took actions through las peñas that outraged the wealthy right-wing Chileans.  The ideals of La Nueva Canción movement stemmed from travels done by artists to rural areas and working with the indigenous.  In the constant efforts to deny the indigenous any say in political or societal issues, the upper class found the works of Inti-Illimani hard to endure.   I believe that scholars who have touched upon the importance of Inti-Illimani during the movement have failed to mention key characteristics of the group such as the collaborative nature of La Nueva Canción movement and the indigenous instruments – by extension and identity – that they made popular.  Juan Pablo González comments on one example of the unity of Inti-Illimani as a whole group, in saying, “general agreement on the arrangement of a song, for instance, is always desired by them.”10  Yet, González does not discuss this characteristic in the larger picture of La Nueva Canción Chilena movement.  González discusses how Inti-Illimani spoke collectively and when they spoke independently or in representation of the group, the concepts and opinions stated were highly coincident among them.11  They did not wish to promote themselves individually, but rather as the entire group, as a small entity of the larger picture – La Nueva Canción Chilena movement.  

It is important to point out that the idea of unity and participation within the larger group is a basic concept of La Nueva Canción Chilena movement, because that philosophy permeated las peñas in which artists and students gathered to discuss politics, participate, and forge new ideas where it materialized.  La Nueva Canción Chilena movement was a multi-faceted movement that demanded the work of many artists to establish viable public support.  The works of Victor Jara and Violeta Parra were ones that were unable to be ignored when discussing the movement, but the work in Chile and abroad by groups such as Inti-Illimani carried La Nueva Canción Chilena from the 1960's until 1988 when Inti-Illimani played in a historic concert when they returned to the country.  The lyrical construction of songs produced during this time span, 1960-1973, is almost more important than the actual grass-root organizations done by the Victor and Violeta.  

Violeta Parra

Unbeknownst to Violeta Parra, her work greatly influenced the democratic election of Salvador Allende and his Unidad Popular party.  Since the party was based on the idea of mass mobilization and grass-root campaigns, Violeta Parra's work influenced not only the victory, but the fundamental elements of La Nueva Canción Movement that inspired the party's followers.  Although Parra committed suicide in 1967 and Allende was elected president in 1970, her works carried such weight in the movement that artists continued to look at her as an icon for La Unidad Popular and La Nueva Canción Chilena movement even after her death.  She was dedicated not only to the movement, but to social justice for the working class.  “Su condición de mujer de origen campesino es una dimensión fundamental para comprender su cometido artístico y su engranaje en la sociedad chilena.”12  She grew up in a small rural town in the south of Chile and later moved to Santiago where she began to sing in local bars.13  Violeta formed a group with her sister, but after six years she decided to leave the duet in order to do research in the folklore field.14  This has been considered one of her most important moments as an artist, as she dedicated herself to investigation, interpretation, and creation from that point forward.15

Parra's work began in the 1950's when her brother Nicanor Parra convinced Violeta to return to the countryside and to read popular cultural texts.16  During this era of United States and European attempts to influence cultural and political values in Latin America, artists such as Violeta Parra and her brother explored other paths for shaping values within their own culture.  

“La defensa de la tradición folklórica, muchas veces más declarativa que real, exuda en principio un rechazo implícito a la influencia de los modelos y formas culturales provenientes de Europa y Estados Unidos, que se asocian indiscriminadamente a la ideología de los sectores dominantes de cada país latinoamericano.”17

While Violeta strived for a rediscovery of Chilean culture, La Unidad Popular was developing a party ideology based on the nationalization of its economy.  They attempted to bring together Chilean society and banish foreign influence not only in the economy but in media outlets and cultural aspects of the society.  Violeta Parra's works were thus very useful to la Unidad Popular campaigns that Salvador Allende ran from 1952 until his election in 1970.  Both la Unidad Popular and La Nueva Canción Chilena movement took time to develop themselves because of the way they were run.  The ideas behind both the party and the movement were nationalization and Chilean cultural identity.  However, with the foreign influences controlling most of the media outlets, it was difficult initially to distinguish themselves from others.  

Violeta Parra was able to do something most artists prior to her were unable to do, and that is fully embrace popular Chilean culture.  “Garantizar la autenticidad del material objeto de estudio: es insertarse vivencialmente en el proceso cultural, participando de / y activando el circuito humano en que se exprea ese folklore.”18  Her cultural center in La Reina, “Se orientaba a la creación de una especie de 'universidad' de la cultura popular que incluiría idealmente cursos de folklore, de composición musical, artesanía, danza, muestras de la cocina autóctona, presentación de artistas populares, etc.”19  Patricia Vilches explores the impact of Violeta Parra for Victor Jara, La Nueva Canción Chilena, and future movements.  However, Vilches disregards the importance of Violeta's opening of the cultural center, an aspect that Jon Schechter mentions in his article.  Violeta played a crucial role not only for Victor and her followers, but for her children as well.  Violeta opened the culture center where she invited local musicians for political discussion and performances.20  Schechter combines the opening of the cultural center and in particular the creation of the Peña de los Parra – a coffeehouse focusing on folklore created by Isabel and Angel, her two oldest children – as two of the key factors to the development of La Nueva Canción Chilena movement.21  Violeta wanted to bring her understanding of the folkloric tradition to the city of Santiago and to other artists that joined with her in the movement.  “El folklore, para ella [Violeta] (entendiendo como folklore también la artesanía, la cerámica, las leyendas e historias populares, la cultura culinaria, etc.) era parte de la cultura viva, actual, de un pueblo.”22  El pueblo was the most important aspect of Violeta's work and of la Unidad Popular party, as they both were attempting to shine light on the working class and on poverty which were kept out of mainstream media partly due to the United States' influence.  In her constant efforts to deny the Americanized music industry, she wrote songs about el pueblo and the Chilean culture.  “Las canciones políticas de Parra son testimonio latente de las vicisitudes sociales de los chilenos, especialmente por las violaciones a los derechos humanos de los desposeídos.”23  Not only did Violeta influence the movement and the party with the opening of the cultural center, but her songs were a powerful outlet to express her discontent with the corruption in Chilean society and the ignorance towards poverty. 

Violeta's song “Porque los pobres no tienen” tries to draw attention to the campesinos in Chile.  In the song she discusses the idea of religion and how it is played out in the lives of the less fortunate.  She takes an interesting approach by raising the question that “en la yuztaposición entre la concepción que tienen los desposeídos de la religión como escapismo y la desubjetivación de la pobreza; de este modo, la burguesía transforma las creencias religiosas en herramientas útiles para pacificar las masas.”24  Violeta continues her disapproval of the Chilean society in the song and how the rich and more fortunate seem to control most aspects of the everyday citizen.  She states “para seguir la mentira, lo llama su confesor, le dice que dios no quiere ninguna revolución, ni pliegos ni sindicatos, que ofende su corazón.”  By bringing up the idea of a revolution, Violeta already demonstrates that she believes that there is a need for one.  1952 was the first year that women were allowed to vote in any presidential election, but this was not enough for Violeta as she searched for social justice in her songs.  During this time period, the music industry was so flooded with foreign influence that artists were changing their names to make them more Europeanized.  Violeta and her followers considered this folk music to be “un folklore plástico y acartonado que no celebraba las raíces del pueblo, pero que más bien simbolizaba la idea del roto y de la china, símbolos que eran elogiados a la vez que despreciados por la sociedad chilena.”25  The idea of roto and china shows that the “plastic folk” in Chile stood for the broken and the foreign aspect of Chilean society.  Violeta furthers her concern with religion by stating that the poor “se amparan en la otra vida como una justa balanza.”  She is inferring that there is nothing left for them in Chile; however, she is saying this through the eyes of the church and the higher classes of the Chilean society.  Violeta's lyrics carried tremendous weight to the listeners of her songs.  “Mantenemos que el escuchar una canción de Parra no es en sí un acto pasivo, sino que una inmersión activa en la subjetividad chilena de los sesenta.”26  Violeta influenced the movement in its entirety and the individual artists who followed up on her work, a reason why some consider her “como madre artística de Víctor Jara.”27

Violeta not only influenced the artists of La Nueva Canción Movement and the victory of la Unidad Popular in 1970, but she was a very important role model to her two children Angel and Isabel.  Isabel said after her mother's death, “Angel y yo teníamos una mamá que salía a hacer canciones al campo.  A veces – cuenta – no sabíamos nada de ella durante veinte o más días.  La Violeta llegaba con la cinta magnética y nosotros, quisiéramos o no, escuchábamos.  Así, involuntariamente, fui aprendiendo el folklore chileno.”28  Without realizing it, Violeta was paving the way for her children to be major contributors to La Nueva Canción movement.  Whether it was sharing her wealth of knowledge with them or taking them on tours with her, she was teaching them the fundamentals of La Nueva Canción.  

Because of such a famous name as “Parra”, la peña became popular very quickly.  The creation of las peñas is one of the main catalysts to La Nueva Canción Chilena movement.  I believe that not only was the creation of las peñas important to the movement, but the dispersement and popularity of las peñas contributed even more to the strength of the movement.  “Since opening in 1965, the Peña de los Parra in Carmen 340 had established itself not only as an original and important centre for a new sort of song movement but also as a natural meeting place for people with left-wing opinions.”29  This example of public organization in las peñas spread like wildfire.  “By 1967 there were peñas all over the place.”30  Las peñas allowed for university students, workers, and left-wing politicians to organize and debate in a peaceful atmosphere.  Artists who supported and followed Violeta soon became supporters of her children.  Violeta and her children traveled throughout Europe, as they grew as artists together.  In 1964, Angel Parra returned to Chile from Europe specifically to take part in the presidential campaign.  Angel also took this time to renew her friendship with Victor Jara by singing songs for Allende.31  Together with their mother, Angel and Isabel had been earning a living in Europe as Chilean folksingers but when they returned to their own country they realized that they were too authentic to be accepted on the radio.32  The songs that they had been able to freely perform in Europe about the problems in Chile were denied by Chilean radio stations.  However, after the disappointing defeat in the 1964 election, the artists of the soon to be Nueva Canción Chilena movement took advantage of the connections that were made and opened up “La Peña de los Parra”.  Neither of the two children imagined the importance it would hold for La Nueva Canción movement, but it immediately became evident that it was the answer to a real need of another space outside conventional radio.33

Thirteen years after the release of Violeta's “Porque los pobres no tienen nada”, the opening of “La Peña de los Parra” in 1965 was a crucial aspect to La Nueva Canción Chilena.  “Allí actuaron no sólo quienes se convertirían en las figuras protagónicas de la nueva canción chilena (Patricio Manns, Rolando Alarcón, Víctor Jara, Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, etc.) sino que atrajo grupos y cantantes jóvenes de países donde se articularían movimientos similares...”34  La Peña de los Parra was an informal atmosphere, without the usual censorship and commercial trapping that the everyday Chilean saw in their society.  Chilean artists wore their normal clothes and had open discussions without fear of strong criticism.35    Victor Jara was one of the more influential artists of La Nueva Canción Chilena movement and was a frequent participant in la Peña de los Parra.  Even before la Peña de los Parra, Victor had developed himself into a well-known artist through hard-work, travels, and performances.

Victor Jara

Similar to most folk artists, Victor Jara's background influenced his work tremendously.  Through spouse Joan Jara's An Unfinished Song ; the life of Victor Jara, we see Victor's life developments, contributions, successes, and failures.  Victor grew up in the countryside of Chile and witnessed the arts at a very young age.  Foreshadowing his involvement in La Nueva Canción Chilena movement and working alongside the lower and middle classes of Chile, Victor would go with his mother to other villages every time a baby died, where they would sing for the baby.36

People believed that the dead baby had been converted into a little angel who would await his/her parents in heaven, perhaps putting in a good word for them with God in the meanwhile.  By tradition, the baby's body was propped up in a sitting position, made-up, dressed in white paper and surrounded by home-made paper flowers.37

Working, praying, and maintaining relationships with other communities allowed for Victor to have an appreciation for his fellow citizens which formed the foundation for him commitment to La Nueva Canción Chilena movement's ideals.  At the age of only 22, he quit his job and travelled up North with one of his friends to collect information and investigate folk music, where he rediscovered the musical heritage of Chile.38  He visited El Carmen, Ñuble with a fellow troubadour and popular poet, José 'Rat'.  Victor helped José 'Rat' not only with his work as a poet, but also to work in order to eat and drink, which was a rich basis for folk and sociological investigation.39  Victor's friend, Nelson, who he had originally set out with, noticed changes in Victors’ character between his return visits.  “He had consciously chosen to become friends only with the farm workers of the region – he wanted nothing to do with landowners – and he really did merge himself with them, seeming to change both physically and psychologically.”    Victor was very active in the arts as he joined dance groups, sang in choirs, and later incorporated his guitar playing in his more prominent public leadership role.  Victor's rural background undoubtedly affected who and what he associated himself with.  Victor benefited not only from his work with the locals, but also Ñuble was known to be a region with a great tradition of peasant music.40  Victor returned to Ñuble two more times after his visits as he developed strong relationships with the peasants and their way of life.41  His visits to the countryside were the basis of his artistic and political works.

Upon his arrival back to Santiago, Victor met Violeta Parra for the first time in 1957.  Victor frequently visited a café in Santiago which became a meeting place for artists and intellectuals.42  Victor admired Violeta's work as a pioneer, tramping throughout the country collecting folklore.43  As Victor had done, Violeta developed a very strong relationship with the peasants of the countryside.  “She lived with the peasants or performed in the poor, ramshackle circuses that toured around during the summer months.”44  Due to their related backgrounds, Victor and Violeta became good friends, sharing their experiences and ideas with one another.  Victor used Violeta as encouragement to become more involved with the folkloric movement as he joined a folk group “Cuncumén”.  Cuncumén was a collective group of artists that joined together to perform folklore.

We were part of a massive movement of people who used to go out into the country surrounding Santiago at weekends or on holidays to look for and collect typical shapes and forms [of folkloric production] – not only in dance and music, it could be a clay pot or a lamp from colonial times, or maybe a saying, a turn of phrase, a manner of speaking or a way of life.45

Cuncumén, with the support of many Chileans and other artists, performed at demonstrations, May Day celebrations, and at Pablo Neruda's home on his birthday.46  With the success of the group, Victor was able to travel around the world, which greatly influenced him politically.

In countries such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, Victor was exposed to socialist governments.  During his time in the Soviet Union in the mid 1960's he sent letters to Joan Jara, his wife, expressing his liking of the Soviet Union.  “It seems to me that inside each person [in the Soviet Union] is a message of peace and friendship.”47  Victor's time away from Chile with Cuncumén was an opportunity of reflection, which brought many realizations.  Upon his arrival back to Chile, Victor again wrote to Joan from the Soviet Union, “it is too much to say that I intellectualize about communism, because I don't even consider myself to be one.  But something has reached the inside of me and is beginning to take root.”48  Although Victor did not admit to being exactly a communist, he recognized that he was changing as an individual and that he was developing his own thoughts on issues.   

In 1964, Victor was finally able to meet the socialist Salvador Allende in Uruguay for the International Theatre Festival.49  The 1964 Chilean presidential election was right around the corner, so it was an important time for Allende and Victor to be introduced to one another.  In his speech at the reception after the performances, Allende made a special mention of Victor as a gifted representative of a new generation.50  During this time Allende found himself under fire from strong propaganda ads designed by the CIA.  The CIA produced propaganda going as far as “if he [Allende] were elected, Chilean children would be snatched from their parents and sent to Cuba to be indoctrinated, while Chile would become part of the Soviet 'empire'.”51  Due to Victor's recent travels, he had gained a certain respect for the Soviets and found the propaganda to be outrageous in its criticism of the two socialist countries of Cuba and the Soviet Union.  This inspired him to not only write political songs, but also songs about the struggles within society.

After suffering through his sister’s death from a car accident and witnessing his friends struggles, Victor expanded his repertoire further and wrote songs on “the dire consequences of poverty on human relationships, its capacity to destroy even the fundamental love of parents for their children, and the necessity of ending, once and for all, 'this dark and bitter sea'.”52  Victor had become witness to such struggles and to foreign influences from Europe and the United States.  “This dark and bitter sea” was the international sea, the sea of the unknown, the foreign to Chilean society which had plagued the country.  Victor sympathized with the Marxist movement, Allende, and La Unidad Popular party as he toured around the country and saw rough hand-painted signs for Allende.53  By the late 1960's Victor wrote about individuals that faced problems around Latin America, dedicating 'El aparecido' in 1967 to Ernesto 'Che' Guevara whom he had met on his trip to Cuba.  Victor had finally reached the point of being a member of La Unidad Popular through his evolution in thought in his song writing.

Foreign influences in Chile were growing stronger and stronger in the late 1960's.  The Chilean media was filling society with the 'American Way of Life' which displayed American comics, American pop music, American soap operas, and Hollywood movies.54  In response Victor produced a song “Quién mató a Carmencita?” in 1969 about a young girl who lived in his neighborhood and died of a drug overdose.55  Lyrics such as “she didn't realize that her mind was being poisoned by false dreams, that didn't belong to her, that world of marijuana and private swimming pools,” personified the American life style that Victor and the other Nueva Canción movement artists grew to despise. 

The lyrics of the songs from La Nueva Canción Chilena movement are some of the most vital aspects of the entire movement.  In John Schechter's Nueva Canción article he states that “Nueva Canción is a song movement that stands up for one's own culture, for one's own people, in the face of oppression by a totalitarian government or in the face of cultural imperialism from abroad, notably the United States and Europe.”56  However, I believe John Schechter's Nueva Canción fails to acknowledge the importance of the lyrics for the songs in mobilizing a people.  Victor wrote “Preguntas Por Puerto Montt” in response to the government attack on March 9th, 1969, in which the Minister of the Interior, Edmundo Pérez Zúcovic, ordered two hundred and fifty police to attack a group of ninety-one peasant families who occupied a wasteland roughly two miles outside Puerto Montt.57  These peasant families were all homeless and occupied this land in the hopes that the authorities would take notice and search for some sort of change.  At a time of an already unstable political situation, violent riots spread through the streets of Santiago in response to what happened in Puerto Montt.58  In part of a large protest only four days after the massacre, Victor sang “Preguntas Por Puerto Montt” for the first time in public.59  Victor was now placing himself even further into the political sphere as many people began to ask him to sing the song wherever he went.  This came a year prior to the 1970 presidential election, giving La Unidad Popular party momentum against their opponents through mass mobilization.    Victor sings: 

Usted debe responder señor Pérez Zujovic: ¿por qué al pueblo indefenso contestaron con fusil?”

“Hay que ser mas infeliz el que mando disparar

This public and direct command to Pérez Zujovic, the then-Minister of the Interior, to respond to Victor's question led to severe threats and reactions which were monumental for La Nueva Canción Chilena.  Victor then continued on to say that the person who ordered the shooting should be very upset/unhappy.  As a peaceful revolutionary, Victor attempted to fill Pérez Zujovic with guilt for what he did to the peasants.  Schechter took a broad approach to the song by stating that it was a “monologue decrying a March 6, 1969, government sanctioned attack on unarmed peasant families in this Chilean port city.”60  The strength of the song did not lie within the referral to the unfortunate events that took place in the port city, but the extreme steps of publicly accusing a government official.

During the mid-1960's Victor began singing for Chileans and writing songs that discussed poverty and human relationships.61  Songs such as “El Aprecido”, “Preguntas Por Puerto Montt”, and “Movil Oil Special” became important to La Nueva Canción Movement as they characterized the movement and gave it impetus, particularly after the First Festival of New Chilean Song.  Following the success of the First Festival of New Chilean Song in July, 1969, the Chilean media could not ignore the movement and began to play Victor's songs on the radio for all of Chile to listen to.  

Towards the turn of the decade, the movement gathered momentum against the foreign influences and rallied the masses to support La Unidad Popular party.  Victor wrote in 1969: 

The cultural invasion is like a leafy tree which prevents us from seeing our own sun, sky, and stars.  Therefore in order to be able to see the sky above our heads, our task is to cut this tree off at the roots.  US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music persists in filling our young with all sorts of commercial tripe...the creation of 'idols' of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of consumer music industry...'protest song' is no longer valid...I prefer the term 'revolutionary song'62

The idea of the earth used by Victor to describe the cultural situation within Chile is one that stems from his background and his work done around the country.  Throughout his career Victor worked with local farmers, doing manual labor with crops, and working with the earth; therefore, he referred to the cultural invasion as an invasive species that he and the rest of the 'local farmers' (Chileans) must remove by the roots to witness their own culture.  Victor took “protest song” to a whole new level when he called for a revolutionary song, a song that would produce a radical change in society.

“Venceremos” came in the Second Festival of New Chilean Song in August 1970, just a few weeks prior to the elections.  The first festival did not have the same political atmosphere that the second one had.  By then La Unidad Popular had its distinct sound with indigenous instruments and the folk songs that shined light on the peasant struggles.  “Venceremos” came from the poet, Sergio Ortega, as Victor put music to the words and eventually created the 'hymn' of La Unidad Popular.63  The song encouraged all the soldiers, peasants, farm workers, students, and miners to join together and they will overcome.  

            Venceremos, venceremos, mil cadenas habrá que romper.

            Venceremos, venceremos, la miseria sabremos vencer.

Similar to Violeta Parra's idea of the upper classes holding back the lower classes in her song “Porque los pobres no tienen”, “Venceremos” says that thousands of chains will be broken by the election of La Unidad Popular.  Because the lower classes have already endured the struggles, “Venceremos” claims that they will know how to overcome the misery.  

The Second Festival of New Chilean Song in August 1970 showed how far La Nueva Canción Chilena movement had come in support of the Salvador Allende campaign because any artist known to support a candidate other than Allende was whistled off the stage.64  La Nueva Canción Chilena movement was thus identified with the successful election of Salvador Allende.  La Unidad Popular used many artists such as Victor and created Comités de la Unidad Popular to carry out grass-root mobilization throughout the country.65  Not only did la Unidad Popular and La Nueva Canción Chilena have to deal with opposition from within Chile, but with the constant threat and propaganda of the United States.

Victor Jara's work could only take La Unidad Popular so far before the United States and opposing forces were able to take control in 1973 with the military coup.  Years before the September 11th takeover, the United States had already placed millions of dollars in Chile against La Unidad Popular and its supporters.  La Nueva Canción Movement led to the election of Salvador Allende, but could not prevent a military takeover by the CIA and Augusto Pinochet.

United States' Infiltration of Chile

A main idea behind the movement was to incorporate and rescue the indigenous roots in music and art that had been lost in part through the imperialistic influences of the United States on Chilean culture.  The Chilean indigenous culture had been stolen during the European colonization of Latin America during the 19th century.  The United States was now attempting to impede Chilean culture from growing.  Trying to ruin Victor Jara's image after one of his performances, El Mercurio ran an article claiming Victor took part in homosexual parties with little boys.66  The United States, prior to the 1973 military coup, had already begun their infiltration of Chilean society whether it was through the media outlets, politics, or workers strikes.

With United States' support, a military coup in Chile almost seemed inevitable.  However, it seemed more inevitable than the common United States citizen knows.  From 1962 to 1970, Chile received more than 1.2 billion dollars in economic grants and loans from the U.S.67  Between 1962 and 1964, “the CIA funneled some $4 million into Chile to help get Frei elected, including $2.6 million in direct funds to underwrite more than half of his campaign budget.”68  Because of Salvador Allende's ties with the Communist Party, the United States supported Eduardo Frei, the Christian Democratic Party candidate, in the 1964 presidential election.  Prior to the 1964 election, a CIA propaganda group distributed 3,000 anticommunist political posters and produced twenty-four radio news spots a day, as well as twenty-six weekly news commentaries – all directed at turning Chilean voters away from Allende and toward Eduardo Frei.69    On August 14th, 1964, Secretary of State Dean Rusk reported in a memorandum for President Lyndon Johnson:
“We are making a major covert effort to reduce chances of Chile being the first American country to elect an avowed Marxist president.  Our well-concealed program embraces special economic assistance to assure stability, aid to the armed forces and police to maintain order, and political action and propaganda tied closely to Frei's campaign.”70

The United States were physically and mentally preparing for a potential rise to power of Allende.  This memorandum was only three weeks before the 1964 elections.  In those elections, Frei won an almost unimaginable 57 percent majority victory, a margin unheard of in a three-way presidential races.71  The United States clearly affected the outcome of the 1964 elections through multiple facets.  

Through military and police forces the United States secretly implemented their power and influence in the presidential elections.  Throughout the 1960's the United States' military assistance increased in Chile.  Despite Chile having no internal or external threats, the United States poured in $91 million in military funding between 1962 and 1970 – in an effort to establish closer ties to the Chilean generals.72  It has become known that this military assistance was not purely for military and security motives.  “A Congressional survey of security assistance programs in Latin America determined that security assistance to Chile was 'political and economic in nature, rather than simply military.'”73  The United States realized that strong relationships with the generals were important if they were to have a successful military coup.  

Political and economic aspects were also important to dismantling La Unidad Popular and diminishing the possibilities of their elections.  From 1965 to1970 the CIA spent $2 million on twenty projects to enhance the Christian Democrats and undermine Allende and his Unidad Popular supporters.74  The United States not only took strong actions during the presidential elections, but also the Congressional elections were a time of infiltration as well.  For the March 1965 Congressional elections the CIA authorized to spend $175,000 on direct funding of specific candidates, nine CIA-backed candidates were elected, and thirteen of the candidates they targeted for defeat lost.75  Then again for the 1969 Congressional elections $350,000 was approved and ten of the twelve CIA-backed candidates won.76

La Nueva Canción Chilena movement faced much criticism from the propaganda-influenced Chilean media.  El Mercurio, one of the leading newspapers in Chile, became one of the most American influenced newspapers.  After a performance by Victor Jara at a school, a parents association of the school “reacted with declarations which made front-page headlines in El Mercurio, protesting about 'incidents provoked by Marxist infiltration' at the school”.77  El Mercurio was used as a vehicle for propaganda by the United States to infiltrate the media outlets of Chile.  

El Mercurio received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CIA to maintain its propaganda campaign against Allende's government.78  In time of need for mass mobilization, Allende's supporters found it difficult to keep their hopes up with elections around the corner.  El Mercurio was attempting to put a sour taste in the mouths of the Chileans who were sympathetic towards Allende's Unidad Popular party.  Paul Cantor, an economics professor at Norwalk Community College, was a freelance writer during the time of the 1970 election time in Santiago, Chile where he witnessed the extreme propaganda of El Mercurio.  “In El Mercurio, there were articles saying that if people voted for Allende that their children would be like those from Cuba.”79  The CIA during the 1960's leading up to the 1970 presidential election made it very difficult for Allende to gather support; however, throughout the latter years of the 1960's the United States was realizing that the election of Allende was around the corner.  

Just prior to the 1970 elections, United States government officials were preparing for a military takeover.  On August 5th, 1970, a month before the election, Assistant Secretary of State John Crimmins sent Ambassador Korry a secret cable regarding contingency options in the event of Allende's election:

We would like to have your views on

A. Prospects of Chilean military and police who would take action to overthrow Allende...

B. Which elements of the military and police might try and overthrow.

C.  Prospects for success of military and police who try and overthrow Allende or prevent his inauguration

D.  The importance of U.S. Attitude to initiate or success of such an operation80

The United States was desperate to find a solution to prevent Allende from coming to power and ruling the country once elected.  Ambassador Korry proposed to bribe the Chilean Congress as “Phase II” of “spoiling operation” against Allende.81  The CIA then went as far as:

Called for Frei to order the resignation of his cabinet; formation of a new cabinet composed entirely of military figures; appointment of an actiong president; and Frei's departure from Chile, leaving the country under effective military control.  'The success of such a coup would ultimately depend on Frei's total commitment to follow through'82

The United States was trying to push for a military coup but without the public knowing their direct involvement because they knew that a “successful U.S. involvement with a Chilean military coup would almost certainly permanently relieve us (the United States) of the possibility of an Allende government in Chile.”83

As early as October, 1970, President Nixon was beginning to implement policies to destabilize the Chilean economy.  In attempts to place a burden on Chilean government and society, Nixon attempted to isolate Allende's party through negative statements, anti-Allende rallies, and hostile media.84  The hostile media aspect of Nixon's attempt to harm the Allende-led government was one which La Nueva Canción Chilena was able to combat because of las peñas that had been a main source of political discussion during the late 1960's and early 1970's.  The majority of the Allende supporters knew of the corruption within the Chilean media, resulting in the popularization of las peñas throughout Chile.  Las peñas allowed Allende supporters to discuss the issues that were being corrupted through the United States' controlled Chilean media outlets.  This shows the vital importance of La Nueva Canción Chilena as it led to the spreading of las peñas and allowed Allende to not be worried as much about the United States-backed propaganda being run throughout the country.

Future Movement 

With the military take over on September 11th, 1973, La Nueva Canción Chilena found no place in the Chilean society.  

The Chilean Song Movement had become so identified with Popular Unity, it had been such a  strong factor, emotional, cohesive, inspiring, that the military authorities found it necessary to   declare 'subversive' even the indigenous instruments, whose beautiful sound had become so full of meaning and inspiration.  Together with prohibiting even the mention of Victor's name,  they banned all his music, and the music of all the artists of the new Chilean Song Movement.85

Chileans found life very difficult with the military takeover in 1973 after such a culturally rich 1960's decade.  Due to the extreme military presence in Chile, what remained of La Nueva Canción Chilena was forced to go underground or in exile.  Inti-Illimani, one of the leaders of La Nueva Canción Chilena, was fortunately touring in Europe when the coup took place and was forced to stay in exile until 1988.  The internationalizing of La Nueva Canción Chilena became one of the more ironic accomplishments of the military government.86  While the artists in exile found it easier to express their opinions, artists who remained under the military in Chile were forced to use coded language when writing political songs.87

In 1976, a new movement took form and its practitioners called themselves “Canto Nuevo”, a name that was easy to remember and that invoked the memories of La Nueva Canción movement.88  The military government had taken away the instruments that were used during La Nueva Canción movement; therefore, El Canto Nuevo was forced to use new electronic music while criticizing the government through well thought-out metaphors.89  Stemming from “Canto Nuevo”, Los Prisioneros emerged as the artistic group of the 1980's.  Although Los Prisioneros attempted to move away from the past and focus on the future, the way they were able to mobilize a youth group that had been silenced ever since the military dictatorship resembled La Nueva Canción Chilena's determination of mass mobilization.  Their song “La Voz de los 80” became a young person's anthem, alluding to big changes coming, and the call to leave behind the 1970's.90  Los Prisioneros took a different approach by singing about what is wrong with Chile, whereas the artists of La Nueva Canción Chilena focused on the lives of the everyday worker and Chilean.  By contributing rhythm and lyrics to the “No” movement which was the movement of the referendum of 1988 to eliminate Pinochet from power, Los Prisioneros provided a contemporary “Venceremos” for the young people to rally around.91


History books have overshadowed the importance of this time period by emphasizing the destruction of Allende's socialist government in 1973.  The United States was able to manufacture and support a military coup that destroyed not only the socialist government, but Chilean society.  However, La Nueva Canción Chilena was able to bring esperanza to the Chilean society when times were bleak prior to 1973.  The United States, in reality, were victims to the momentum that the movement produced beginning in the 1950's with the work of Violeta Parra.  The Parra family worked strongly to gather support for the folkloric movement as the creation of La Peña de Los Parra was the turning point in their efforts.  The United States worked continuously to prevent a socialist-led government to Chile.  Beginning with the Chilean presidential election of 1952, the first election in which Allende ran, the United States was attempting to block socialism from entering Chile.  As described before, La Unidad Popular along with La Nueva Canción Chilena movement worked and gathered support together.  As the votes for La Unidad Popular increased in each presidential election, the influence of La Nueva Canción Chilena strengthened, while the United States realized that their influences were stretching thin, becoming too weak to prevent a socialist from entering presidency.  Although the United States backed the military coup that defeated Allende's government, the real victory was that of the patience and determination of La Nueva Canción Chilena movement and that of its artists.  The artists faced propaganda throughout United States-backed Chilean media, but carried out their goals as artists and Chileans to eventually lead to the election of Salvador Allende.

Modern-day Chile continues to support what La Nueva Canción Chilena did for their country during a time of United States imperialism.  Demonstrations are still carried out in the streets in Chile to protest against generals and military officers who participated in the military coup and have not faced justice.  Media-run investigations have searched throughout Chile and the United States to determine the killer of Victor Jara.  As recent as 2012, newspapers continue to cover the story on Victor Jara's death, from the New York Times to BBC World News.  A report from Chilevisión on a program called “En la Mira” was produced on May 16, 2012 in a search for the murderer of Victor Jara.  The reporter, Macarena Pizarro, traveled throughout Chile and went to Miami, Florida, interviewing suspects and witnesses who were detained with Victor during his final days in El Estadio Chile.  Prior to this investigation, on May 25th, 2006, supporters of La Nueva Canción Chilena Movement and of Victor Jara entered in Edwin Ditmer's office.  Edwin Ditmer is one of the prime suspects of the assassination of Victor Jara, but still works for the Department of Work in Chile.  The supporters entered into his office with a pillowcase with the intent of bringing him to the streets and bringing him to justice.

This continued support of the artists and the movement is crucial to the understanding of just how much of an impact La Nueva Canción Chilena Movement had during the 1950's-1970's, but also how much of an impact it still has in Chilean society.  Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, as the two leaders of the movement have become national icons in Chile.  The United States was able to silence Victor Jara and the movement with the 1973 military coup, but the legend of the movement and the momentum that it carried throughout Allende's rise to power still affects Chileans today.  





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