Chesterfield to the Chilean revolution – a remarkable journey

THE THEMES of love, liberty, struggle and danger are reflected in a remarkable new book by Kate Clark. Called Chile in my  heart, it has been published to mark the 40th anniversary of the bloody 1973 coup d’état in which Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende was deposed by General August Pinochet, Kate’s story relates her experience of being in the thick of the revolution.

Kate, who lives in Stretton, was educated at Chesterfield’s principal grammar school for girls, St Helena School. The daughter of parents who were active in socialist politics, Kate studied Russian at Manchester University and later won a scholarship to further her studies at Moscow University.  It was in Moscow in 1967 that she met Ricardo, “the love of her life”, and later went with him to live in Chile, where they obtained staff posts at the University of Chile; Kate as a lecturer in English and Phonetics.  They both worked to support the election of Salvador Allende and felt the great sense of promise that his party and government might bring to the Chilean people. Kate writes touchingly of the events, difficulties and obstacles in the path of change, from the viewpoint of an Englishwoman who shared the hopes of a nation for better lives and human dignity. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and Kate documents the undermining of the socialist government by the ‘old guard’ of the military, the landowners and the traditional oligarchy, secretly funded and supported by the CIA.

Revolution came quickly in a coup d’état staged on September 11, 1973. Allende, barricaded in the Moneda Palace, was killed on the same day. General Pinochet’s forces moved swiftly to impose an undisguised dictatorship. Many Chileans were arrested, tortured, murdered or just ‘disappeared’. As a known socialist activist, Ricardo was arrested and taken to the notorious prison on Quiriquina Island. Kate describes the intense fear that spread throughout the country and the impact that it had on her own life in the weeks and months after the coup d’état. The account of Ricardo’s release, though factual, could easily be the stuff of asuspense novel. It seems certain that without her courage and persistence, Ricardo might not have survived imprisonment in Quiriquina. It would be wrong to reveal the plot and its outcome, but it makes a gripping read, the more so because of our later knowledge of the brutality of the Pinochet regime. After her teaching in Chile, Kate taught at the Universities of Westminsterand Greenwich, and has worked as a translator, interpreter; and for many years as a professional journalist, writing for national titles and regularly for the Morning Star, the Scotsman, BBC television and World Service. In a foreword to the book, the Right Hon Tony Benn, MP for Chesterfield, 1984-2001, writes: “A powerful, moving, perceptive and personal account … Kate Clark brings the places, people and politics to life and makes them real for the reader…”