The Guardian 16 March, 2005


Political revival sparked
by example of Gladys Marín

It is not only the left in Chile that has been shocked and saddened by the passing of the President of the Communist Party of Chile (CPC). The internet has been flooded with messages of condolence for the Chilean comrades on the loss of such an inspirational leader at just 63 years of age. Gladys Marín lost her fight with cancer of the brain after having undergone treatment in Sweden and Cuba. She returned to Chile shortly before her death on March 6.

Officials of the CPC estimate that nearly one million people lined the streets and joined the funeral cortège as it wound its way from the building that once housed the national congress to Santiago's General Cemetery. The ceremony, which fittingly coincided with International Women's Day, was also attended by leading political figures from all over the world including Ricardo Alarcón, the President of Cuba's Assembly of the People.

The event was given great official recognition, also. Chilean President Ricardo Lagos declared two days of national mourning for Gladys Marín and the work of the country's parliament was suspended. Political opponents and even the conservative daily El Mercurio were moved to pay homage to the late, courageous leader of the country's communist party.

Gladys Marín was born in the city of Curepto where she lived with her mother, a schoolteacher, and father who was a farmer until the family moved to Talagante. She became a leader in the local Catholic youth organisation and joined the Communist Youth of Chile at age 16. She moved to Santiago in 1958 to continue her studies and was elected president of the Federation of Teachers College Student Unions.

In 1963 Gladys Marín became general secretary of the Communist Youth and shortly after was elected to the national Parliament. Her term in Parliament was ended on September 11, 1973 when a bloody fascist coup crushed the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. After several months working underground, the CPC decided that she should leave the country. She sought asylum in the Dutch Embassy but it was only after eight months of worldwide protest that Pinochet grudgingly permitted her to leave Chile.

Gladys then set about gathering international solidarity for the Chilean people. She returned to Chile in 1978 to rebuild the underground Communist Party and give leadership to the resistance to the dictatorship. She was central to the organisation of the large protests during the 1980s. During these years, she would meet secretly with her sons Álvaro and Rodrigo by crossing secretly into neighbouring Argentina. Her husband Jorge Muñoz, who was a member of the CPC's political commission, was arrested in 1976 and never seen again.

In 1990, with the formal end of the 17-year dictatorship, she launched herself into a campaign to have the human rights abusers of the Pinochet regime brought to justice.

In 1998 she was the first person to file a suit against Pinochet. She was arrested and jailed briefly for describing the former dictator as a "psychopath who gained power using intrigue, treason and crime". She was released two days later after massive protests.

In 1998 she was the first woman to run for the presidency of the country. In 2003, a cancerous tumour was discovered on her brain. Surgeons in Stockholm operated on the tumour and she undertook extended therapy in Cuba. Even in these trying circumstances she maintained her activism. She completed a second volume of her autobiography and contributed regular articles to the CPC's weekly El Siglo. She took part in a debate against the idea of separating the "social" from the "political" aspects of matters considered by participants at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre.

The deep respect for Marín and the huge turnout for her funeral have sparked a renewed interest in left politics. CPC General Secretary Guillermo Teiller told the media that Chile is witnessing "… the greatest political fervour since the fall of the dictatorship". Events have also thrown a number of questions about the political system in Chile into stark relief.

The electoral system works against the representation of the left in the national Parliament. Even though the left coalition Juntos Podemos (Together We Can), which includes the CPC, received solid support in the council and mayoral elections of last October, it is still effectively locked out of the parliament. "We are a bloc that achieved around 10 per cent of the vote at the last elections — we cannot keep being excluded", Teiller said.

At the funeral, Teiller also expressed his sadness that Chile had been robbed of the chance to have Gladys Marín serve once more in the Parliament. He recalled, though, her enthusiasm at the trend in Latin American and Chilean politics:

"Though she was already ill, Gladys knew intuitively and would tell us that new growth in the people's struggles and the forces of the left was very near. The most palpable confirmation of this perception was the surprising result registered in the last mayoral and council elections for Juntos Podemos, which was one of the greatest joys of the last days of her life."

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