Volodia Teitelboim: Politician exiled under Pinochet

Volodia Teitelboim was one of those rare beings to combine an active and influential life in politics with the talents of a discriminating writer and literary critic. He was one of Chile's leading essayists, combining writing with half a century as a member of the Politburo of the Chilean Communist Party. "Writing," he said, "is for me one way of being happy" and added that politics was his wife and literature his mistress. (This lover of women might more accurately have termed literature "one of his mistresses".)

He was born in the southern Chilean city of Chillán in 1916 to a Jewish couple, he from Ukraine, she from Moldavia, who had come to Chile as part of a programme to populate the area, hitherto indigene territory, with Europeans. From his teens Volodia Teitelboim determined to be a writer and activist.

He was 19, and a leader of the law students at the University of Chile, when his first literary work appeared, Antología de Poesía Chilena Nueva (1935), an anthology of new Chilean poetry, which he produced with his friend Eduardo Anguita. It caused a stir in the often stuffy literary circles of Chile by including no work by Gabriela Mistral, the country's leading poetess who was later to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature but whom the compilers dismissed as "conservative and antiquated". In 1943 he published El Amanecer del Capitalismo y la Conquista de America ("The Dawn of Capitalism and the Conquest of America").

In his teens he joined the Chilean Communist Party, a disciplined body which never wavered in its support for Moscow's brand of Marxism-Leninism. In 1945, before he was 30, he had been elected a member of its Politburo. He had proved his loyalty during the presidency of Gabriel González Videla, when the party was outlawed, when he went on the run and, after several arrests, was confined to the prison camp of Pisagua in the Atacama Desert, a jail which was to become infamous during the Pinochet dictatorship.

As a journalist he collaborated in the founding of El Siglo, the party's daily newspaper. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for Valparaiso in 1961 and 1965 and then won two successive terms as senator for Santiago in the upper house. With his receding chin and flat cap, he was a familiar figure to Chileans. He was later to say that his aim was to ensure that "human beings would not be merchandise, but should participate as collective architects of a society of justice and solidarity".

Teitelboim was a major figure in the six-party Popular Unity coalition headed by President Salvador Allende of the Socialist Party which governed from 1970. As such, Teitelboim was in the thick not just of Allende's reform programme but also of the internecine fighting among the parties which so sapped its effectiveness.

The military putsch of September 1973 found him in Moscow, in transit between Rome and Santiago at the end of an official mission to explain government strategy to Europeans. Radio Moscow immediately seized the opportunity to put him on air. Under the protection of Sergei Lapin, the Soviet minister for radio and television, his principal political work thereafter consisted in his twice-weekly broadcast Escucha, Chile ("Listen, Chile") on Radio Moscow, which brought news to a country whose inhabitants were subjected to terror and censorship and which was to run for 17 years.

One of his earliest programmes carried every detail of the burial of Pablo Neruda, the poet who had been a Communist since 1945 and who in 1971 became Chile's second winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature. It told how the coffin of Neruda, who had died of prostate cancer within a few days of the coup, was carried out of a house which had been comprehensively wrecked and its books, papers and photographs burned by Pinochet's soldiery.

The programme was an intense irritation to the dictatorship, drawing as it did on a wide range of informants, including malcontents within the Chilean military. Such was its influence that when it named the régime's torturers, as it often did, some of them would write to him begging him to make clear that they were only acting on orders. Escucha, Chile was one of the principal reasons why Pinochet deprived Teitelboim of his Chilean citizenship.

In exile he continued his literary output, including, notably, a study in 1984 of Neruda (translated into English as Neruda: a personal biography) with whom he was at odds in literary and personal matters.

Teitelboim re-entered Chile clandestinely in 1987 wearing a wig of the sort of red hair he had had when he was a boy. He came back definitively the following year when he was elected secretary-general of the party, a post he retained until 1994. He also continued his literary output, producing studies of Vicente Huidobro, Jorge Luis Borges and even of Mistral.

He received the Chilean National Literature Prize in 2002, an occasion which led his critics to attack him for his failure to criticise crimes committed by Marxist-Leninist governments.

In April 2005 Claudio Teitelboim, a distinguished Chilean scientist whom he had brought up, discovered he was in fact the son of Álvaro Bunster, Salvador Allende's ambassador in London. He immediately dropped the surname and broke with Volodia, only to be reconciled on his foster father's deathbed.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

Valentín Teitelboim Volosky (Volodia Teitelboim), politician and writer: born Chillán, Chile 17 March 1916; commentator, Moscow Radio 1973-87; married; died Santiago 31 January 2008.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil