As its contribution to the near-hysterical doings over the Statue of Liberty, the House declined to rap a tyranny, claiming, paradoxically, that doing so would be bad for democracy.
At issue was the presence of the Esmeralda, Chile's graceful sailing vessel, which will glide into New York Harbor with tall ships from other nations as part of the Independence Day gala around the refurbished Liberty.
The House resoundingly rejected a resolution offered by Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), which declared that it was unseemly to include a ship on which Chileans were tortured in the days following the 1973 coup by Gen. Augusto Pinochet -- still in power and abusing citizens as much as he dares without endangering the loans from international banks that the United States unfailingly endorses.
Barnes quoted a Chilean exile, who had been a victim of torture on the Esmeralda, as saying it was comparable to having a "floating concentration camp" at the freedom party.
But the House wasn't having any. House conservatives, led by Toby Roth (R-Wis.) and Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Calif.), organized a vote-getting drive and sank the resolution by 221 to 193, with 75 Democrats in accord.
What made it so surprising was that just the week before, the House had reared back and voted severe sanctions against South Africa, which is violating human rights at a rate that should sew up this year's title.
Amazingly, the staid Senate voted on June 13 to disinvite the Esmeralda. It did so on the initiative of Sen. Edward M. Kennnedy (D-Mass.), with Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.). Despite the presence of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), big brother to right-wing repressers, the bill passed by unanimous consent.
Roth argued that the cause of democracy would be greatly aided by letting the Esmeralda come because its young cadet crew would be able to "see what democracy is all about."
What "the 18-year-old kids" may get this year, too, is an unparalleled look at crass commercialism. The merchants have done everything but put a T-shirt on the Lady. In any case, Chileans need little instruction in democracy, having had one for a century, or until we barged in, via the CIA, and left them with a reign of terror that goes on. Pinochet, in 1985, presided over 5,314 political detentions and sent his army, with painted faces, into 38 shantytowns to discourage any political grumbling.
"I am saying we should promote democracy," Roth said, meaning apparently, if we're not nice to Pinochet he will be so miffed he will renege on elections in 1989.
Later, Roth said that he is "sick of having us beat up on right-wing dictatorships all the time and leaving the left-wing dictatorships alone."
Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.), seeing things not visible to other observers, who have watched Pinochet's contempt for dissenters gathered now in a "Democratic Accord," declared: "At least we know that there is progress in Chile in moving toward reestablishing democratic government."
The Esmeralda was invited by Operation Sail, a private group operating in partnership with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc., which is chaired by Lee A. Iacocca. Fifty-nine House members signed a letter to the chairman urging him to order the Esmeralda to reverse course. Iacocca never answered the letter.
In view of our violent interference in Nicaragua, a subject that was to be passionately debated once the Esmeralda resolution was sunk, the objection offered by Rep. Eldon Rudd (R-Ariz.) was hilarious. To reject the Esmeralda would be, he said "a direct intervention into the affairs of a sovereign nation," as if this thought had never crossed our minds.
"What we are attempting to do, it seems to me, is to inspire revolution against the government," he said, neglecting to mention that this is precisely our goal in Nicaragua, "knowing full well that the choice would be not for a democratic government but for another communist takeover."
The right thought that was the only choice in the Philippines, too.
The House may have had what Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) calls "a moral indignation overload."
Whatever the cause, it has encouraged President Reagan in his "constructive engagement" policy in Chile, where it works as well as in South Africa. For Pinochet, it is, according to Isabel Letelier, a "triumph." She is the widow of Orlando Letelier, the distinguished exile who was murdered by Pinochet's thugs in the heart of Washington -- a "direct intervention" in our affairs that the House would rather forget. The Fourth of July comes first.