a Peace Newsletter interview with Eduardo Jofre

Eduardo Jofre was 12 years old when General Pinochet came to power in Chile. On September 11, 1973 Agusto Pinochet and the Chilean military, with US support, overthrew the elected presidency of socialist Salvador Allende.

At the time Chile had strong unions, socialized medicine and free education through college. Soon after the coup the unions were rendered useless, and medicine and education were privatized. Pinochet, many of whose key lieutenants were trained at the School of the Americas, ushered in a right-wing reign of terror that lasted for years.

Eduardo's father, Ernesto Jofre (1937-2001), a labor organizer, was captured, tortured, and remained in prison for three years. In 1976, Ernesto was released as part of a deal brokered by Ted Kennedy, permitting 200 Chilean families and 200,000 Vietnamese into the US. Eduardo was 15 years old when he and his parents landed in New York City.

Ernesto was unable to return to Chile until 1989. In the US he resumed his labor organizing and became a human rights advocate and a leader of New York's Chilean community.

Eduardo, immensely proud of his father, is also a labor organizer. He works for UNITE, the Union of Needle Trades, Industries, & Textile Employees. Eduardo lives in Liverpool with his mother and three children.

Our interview took place in Syracuse on the six-month anniversary of the second "September 11." The following are excerpts:

—Ed Kinane

Eduardo: On September 11, 1973 [in Chile] there were bombers in the sky and people were being killed in the streets. I was really scared.

Last year on September 11 I was on my way to work when I heard that the planes had hit the World Trade Center. I was devastated. I grew up in New York City. Anybody who has lived there probably knew some of the people killed.

I didn't like that innocent people were being killed. But for years I had expected something like this to happen because of what the US government has done to so many countries—to Chile, to El Salvador, to Viet Nam, and now to Colombia and Afghanistan....

Our tax money has been used to overthrow democratic governments. In Chile, Allende was elected democratically. We were the longest-standing democratic government in Latin America. The people who tortured my father were trained in the US—maybe at the SOA.

Thousands have died because of US terrorism. People in the US don't realize the damage done to other countries. We Latin Americans don't hate the US people. It's the US government we don't like.

The Pinochet coup was about protecting US corporations. Like Anaconda. Allende had nationalized the copper companies.Under Allende land was given back to the indigenous people. We were getting along well with our neighbors. Chile had ten million people, but between September 11, 1973 and 1980 one million of us were forced into exile.

Since 9/11 I've driven back into New York City. The worst thing is seeing armed soldiers everywhere. Do we need armed men in the streets of New York City? It reminds me of Chile. What happened there was that the men with guns were forced to kill their fellow citizens. If they didn't, they could be killed themselves.

I think we're going to lose more and more of our freedoms, the freedoms that our founding fathers had in mind.

PNL: You mentioned Colombia. What about the US role there?

Eduardo: People here don't realize what's going on in Colombia. It'll be another Viet Nam. There are US advisors in Colombia already. We have to stop our intervention there. We can't get involved. It's their country. Would US citizens want other people to tell us how to run our country? But that's what the US does to other countries.

It's not just about drugs. We're not there to stop drugs. That's an excuse. We could have stopped the drugs a long time ago. Most of the Chilean military came to the US for training, but with Colombia the US trainers are going there. The war in Colombia has gotten much worse since the US advisors came there.

PNL: What can we do about the situation?

Eduardo: I'm a US citizen. I'm thankful our family could come here and get my father out of prison in '76. But we should be speaking up, sending letters to Congress. We should tell them our taxes should be used here. Good housekeeping begins at home. We're the richest country in the world. Why are there so many poor and homeless here? I grew up in a country where medical care was free, where children brought milk home from school free.

Now, after 20 years of dictatorship and eight years of extreme right-wing rule, Chile is deeply in debt. But still the new government under President Ricardo Lagos is making good health care reforms. He's been in office two years and older people are now able to get free medical care. Canada has socialized medicine. Why can't the US?

PNL: You and UNITE are involved in the Living Wage campaign here, aren't you?

Eduardo: Right, but we shouldn't have to be struggling for a living wage. The government should make sure every worker receives a living wage.

The living wage will help a lot of people. The $8.96 an hour [the proposed living wage rate for Syracuse] is based on a family of four. But many families are larger than that.

The government doesn't want a living wage because their poverty is a way to control the workers, to keep them from self-sufficiency. In Chile the minimum wage isn't enough, but Chile is now a very poor country. There's no excuse for Syracuse not having a living wage.

I have a question for Syracuse City Council members: could you raise your families on the minimum wage?

With a living wage, single parents wouldn't have to work two jobs. They could be home more with their children. If we don't do a better job of taking care of our children, what's going to happen to our country in the future?