“We must consider Cuba and Chile as vanguards of a process that must reach the rest of the Latin American people,” Chilean President Salvador Allende told Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro during the latter’s visit. in Chile in 1971. Only a year earlier, in 1970, then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the secretive and ultra-powerful Committee of 40, which oversaw all major CIA decisions: “I don’t see why we have to sit idly by and watch a country turn communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.
It was the era of the Cold War in Latin America, when the global conflict between socialism and capitalism was intertwined with elections, coups, guerrilla warfare and also song.
Cuba and Chile were two countries at the heart of this conflict, fighting nationally and internationally over ideologies and programs. Although Cuba and Chile embarked on different political trajectories to achieve their similar goal of asserting independence from American hegemony, the two countries were inextricably linked. One of these links is the emergence of song movements in Cuba and Chile – the Nueva Trova Cubana and the Nueva Cancion Chilena, both of which featured in the first international meeting of protest song, which took place held at Casa de Las Americas, Cuba in 1967. This year marks 55 years since the event.
At a time when Chile has a new leftist presidency working to dismantle the lingering legacy of the era of dictatorship, and when Cuba is still the target of subversive American actions, a glimpse of history music can elucidate and inspire, both as a way to commemorate the legacy of protest song in Latin America, and perhaps, to seek a revival of these songs of resistance.
On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro’s July 26 Movement overthrew US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Over the next few years, Fidel, as his supporters call him, ushered in a series of reforms in health, education and agriculture that the United States feared would provoke a wave of social change in the region. While the United States preached investment in meeting basic human needs in the 1970s as part of the USAID agenda, its agenda for Latin America was staunchly neoliberal and left-wing movements in Chile and Cuba threatened American hegemony in the region. America’s greatest fear came true when Allende’s Unidad Popular catapulted Chile into socialism with its long tradition of democratic elections. The United States realized that the social revolutionary process did not necessarily need guerrilla movements, but popular mobilization with the potential to reach the people and unify their aspirations with a dedicated leader could have powerful.