At noontime the other day in the Chile Alberto knows, businessmen are strawberry ice cream cones on sidewalks so crowded that the impatient walked in the street, dodging taxis.Behind the windows of the downtown restaurants, women in high-heeled shoes tore hard rolls over plates of fresh seafood. The newsboys wailed and from back inside the stereo shops came the hard bass thump of American disco.
In a cluttered storefront, behind the blenders and the care stereo speakers, a blonde girl in a television program was talking on 15 color screens at once, and Chileans pressed up against the glass to examine the imported array: Sony, Hitachi, Molinex, Teac as well as Brazilian bicycles, Spanish washing machines, Swiss shoes, West German hair dryers and tiny Japanese televisions.
"You can feel it in the air," Alberto said. "People want to get ahead, to make something of themselves, to have more. Imagine, in the street you can see a worker walking along with his radio turned up full -- a Japanese radio -- and he is proud of it, and happy."
Julio is another Chilean, who offers a different noontime scene. Julio's Chile is a caramel-skinned woman with loose graying hair who bent under one bare bulb and stirred the noodle soup simmering over the single-burner stove. The walls were wood and cardboard and the floor was packed dirst. A rusty grater, the only visible kitchen tool, hung from a bent nail. A blue plastic cloth covered the wood table and centered on the plastic was a foot-high pile of dry powdered milk.
The milk and the soup would be the daily meal for the 49 children who come to this shack to eat. For many of them it is the only food they get. Once a week there is meat, the kind you can scrape off bones from a butcher.
There are no seconds. "But it ensures them of a plate of food once a day," the woman said. Her name is Maria. In this poblacion, the Chilean word for the vast clusters of tin-roofed shacks that house the urban poor, Maria runs the dining room with staples provided by church and community for children whose families have no food.
"We worked in the textile factories before," Maria said. "But they've all closed, and we find ourselves without work. We have to give strength somehow to our husbands when they hear of an industrial job, and they go out there, and there are blocks and blocks of men waiting."
Maria spooned soup into a white bowl and handed it to a waiting boy who had no shoes on.
"I don't want to say anything about the president," she said quietly. "But under the last president, at least I had work."
No other economy in Latin America has received as much outside attention over the last decade as Gen. Augusto Pinochet's free-market transformation of Chile. After 7 1/2 years of cutting back the state, freeing prices, looping the import tariffs that had propped up Chilean industry, and dismantling the nationalizations of the Socialist president whom Pinochet overthrew, the new Chile has been called an economic "miracle" -- a nation that is turning away from generations-old ideas about the need for state intervention in the economy.
In the context of Chilean history, it is arguably a more fundamental and dramatic change than anything Socialist president Salvador Allende achieved. And it looks very different through different sets of eyes.
Alberto Martin is a dark-haired, brown-eyed government economist, 26 and not long out of the university. When he puts on his suit jacket and walks out into Santiago, this is what he sees: vibrant life in a city that was paralyzed eight years ago. Gleaming, abundantly stocked supermarkets where people used to stand in three-hour lines waiting for bread. Afternoon traffic that snarls to a halt -- because so many people own their own cars.
He sees couples carrying imported appliances home from the shops, blue-uniformed students attending school instead of massing in protest strikes, thriving service and commerce sectors, a healthy 6 to 8 percent annual growth rate, prices that rise at 30 percent a year instead of 1973's 400 percent.
He sees an iron-willed, great-spirited, deeply patriotic president, a man who consults with God before confronting difficult decisions, whose very handshake inspires confidence and strength.
He sees, Martin says, a people who have set aside politics to proceed with the business of making something of themselves.
"Democracy is at its base a government of the majority, for the majority, and by the majority," said Martin. "And the majority says, 'We won't accept the idea of going back to before 1973.' Pinochet has strong support in every sector."
Julio P. is a professional man, also dark-haired, also university trained, precisely Martin's age. He lives outside Santiago, in a city heavy with industry, and he does not wish his real name used because in the Chile Julio knows, people who think the way he does end up banished from their homeland, or exiled to remote towns in the Chilean interior, or dead.
When Julio drives out in the morning into the province he has known since he was a child, this is what he sees: empty factories pushed out of business by competition from foreign imports; men standing idle on sidewalks in towns where the jobs are disappearing; 10-year-old boys out of school because their parents cannot afford either the education fees or the cost of shoes; women who have searched for work until their despair takes them to the government's "minimum employment program" -- eight-hour days, working in offices or state-run factories, for which they are paid $35 a month, less than the minimum wage.
He sees the unemployment rate the new economic policy has generated -- officially 15 percent during the deep recession of 1976, and 13 percent last year. And those numbers greatly underreport the real unemployment, Julio believes, both because they include workers in the $35-a-month jobs, and because Julio, like most of the Chilean opposition, distrusts government statistics.
He sees a growth rate that is now healthy only because it reflects recovery from the worst Chilean recession in 50 years. He sees what he believes is a massive transfer of wealth to the Chilean middle and upper clases, so that Chileans he knows -- the factory workers, the lumberyard men, the coal miners -- cannot even dream of buying the lovely imports in the downtown shops.
He sees a government run by ruthless 19th century-style capitalists who understood from the beginning that they could make their policies stick only by destroying the political process and repressing every effective voice of dissent in Chile.
"The government says we've beaten inflation," said Julio, as he drove a visitor slowly past the bleak, sagging row houses of a depressed coal mining town. "But at what cost? At the cost of throwing thousands and thousands of workers out of their jobs? So that thousands of children could go hungry? There is no more social conscience. The inflation was very bad before, but then there was work. And I'll say to you, what do workers want? They want to be able to work. They want to be able to make at least the minimum wage."
It is not that Chilean poverty is a post-Pinochet phenomenon, Julio said. It is simply that the Chile he sees has, as a matter of economic policy, ceased to care.
"If you compare these figures to the rest of Latin America, they don't look so bad," he said. "The problem is that in this country we had a time when we all ate, when health was paid for by the state, when the poor could go to the university. Came the coup and things are much worse than they ever were."
He has never met Alberto Martin. The name does not mean anything to him. But he remembers those boys, the ones like Martin, who used to hurl corn at the Army barracks during Allende's last year, shouting, for a coup, taunting the soldiers to stop acting like chickens.
"Those people have never understood what politics was about," Julio said.
"They were the one who played rugby instead of soccer. They never took the bus to the university. They all had their own cars." His voice was soft and ardent, and it sounded, just then, very much like Martin's.
"All we have done is to apply natural economic law," said Martin. The chartered government car had stopped, and he walked his visitor now past the thriving boutiques of one of Santiago's most elegant shopping areas.
"If you leave it to private forces, with the state intervening as little as possible, and then only in a subsidiary role to help the poorest against the most powerful, I am convinced that the country will surge ahead and that poverty will be eradicated."
Unemployment? Look at the improvement, said Martin.
"This is something in the Chilean's blood. You go into a poblacion and say, 'Are you unemployed or working?' The fellow will say, 'unemployed.' But he's got some kind of work. Maybe a business hires a painter for three weeks. Sure, it isn't steady work. But he's got it."
It is wrong, said Martin, to accuse the Chilean government of political repression.
"Political parties are in recess," he said. "In Chile everybody can write what they want. The only censorship that exists is against new publications. All the authorized magazines write without censorship of any kind."
And why, under the current government timetable, is the political "recess" to last at least 16 years?
"We're trying to introduce a change of mentality in Chile," said Martin. "To break the idea that the state can do everything. The country is still politically immature. It fell into Marxism once before. This is a time of transition. We're trying to convince Chileans that this free-market system will work, and will change their lives. We can't allow and kind of Marxism or totalitarianism, because those people use tools that are hidden, tools that cheat the people."
He climbed into the back of the Peugeot and it headed out into the evening traffic. At a stoplight a young boy poked his head into the window and thurst a bouquet of roses at Martin. Martin shook his head.
"Please," said the boy.
Martin shook his head again.
"Please buy my flowers," the boy said, but the carmoved away.
Martin's face was impassive. He was asked about the child.
"He comes from an unemployed family, probably," said Martin.
Why was he out on the street?
"Because the country is going through a critical period where it doesn't hide poverty under make work," Martin said. "But there is hope. Five years ago you would have seen a hundred boys on the street. Now there are 50. In five years there will be many fewer. You must be inflexible in your economic means -- for all the children of Chile."