Obituary: Clodomiro Almeyda

The Chilean politician Clodo-miro Almeyda was one of those who thought with Salvador Allende that Chile could discover its own "parliamentary road to socialism". Almeyda, who was vice-president during Allende's Popular Unity government from 1970 to 1973, suffered jail and exile for his beliefs. But he lived to see the Chilean Socialist Party he had devoted his life to helping to rebuild an increasingly confident democracy in Chile.

Almeyda was born in the Chilean capital in 1923. He studied law and philosophy, and became a member of the Socialist party. In 1952 he was brought into the Carlos Ibanez government, first as minister of Labour, then minister for Mining. As the Ibanez government became more repressive, he quickly resigned and was elected a parliamentary member for the capital in the mid-1950s. From then until the end of the next decade, he occupied different positions in the party hierarchy, and consistently opposed the Christian Democratic governments and their modest attempts at political and social reform.

By 1970, when the Popular Unity government was formed under the presidency of Salvador Allende, Almeyda had helped make the Socialist Party a committed Marxist grouping, although like Allende, he sought parliamentary rather than revolutionary means of bringing socialism to Chile. Under Allende, Almeyda served as vice-president, and as foreign and defence ministers, proving himself one of the president's most loyal supporters. He was at Allende's side in the presidential palace on 11 September 1973 when it was bombed by the insurgents under General Augusto Pinochet, and was taken prisoner. He was first sent to the internment camp on Dawson Island in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, before being allowed to leave Chile for exile first in East Germany and later in Mexico, where he took up his teaching career again.

As the struggle against General Pinochet's regime intensified in the mid-1980s, Almeyda decided he must return to Chile. As soon as he arrived at Santiago airport, he was arrested and sent into internal exile in the far south of the country. Following widespread protests in Chile and internationally, he was eventually allowed back to the capital, and returned to political activity. Still a Marxist, he headed a faction of the Socialist party which supported the use of violence as a means of getting rid of General Pinochet, but by 1989 accepted the re-unification of the party and its support of a multi-party campaign to defeat Pinochet through a referendum and subsequent elections.

Those elections saw the Christan Democrat Patricio Aylwin coming to office as the first civilian leader in Chile for 20 years. Almeyda was rewarded by being named ambassador to Moscow, just at the moment when the Soviet Union was disintegrating and socialism there was crumbling. Almeyda paid one of his past debts by personally helping the former head of East Germany Erich Honecker leave his country and spend his last days with his daughter in Chile.

Clodomiro Almeyda was typically not dismayed by what he saw in the former Communist countries in Eastern Europe, and on his return to Chile in 1992 set about teaching sociology once more in Universidad de Chile and writing theoretical articles not only on the history but on the futuure of socialism in Chile.

On his death, the Chilean government declared three days of mourning. At his funeral, the Chilean armed forces gave a person they had shot at, imprisoned and forced out of the country, all the military honours due to a vice-president of the Chilean republic.

Nick Caistor

Clodomiro Almeyda, politician: born Santiago, Chile 11 February 1923; married Irma Caceres (one son); died Santiago 25 August 1997.

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