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7th October 2013

My Political Hero: Isabel Allende

Shanda Moorghen explains why Chilean writer Isabel Allende is her political hero…

When you think of the 11th of September, you cannot help but feel a sense of belonging to a period where our world changed. However, when we think of that somber day, most of us remember the World Trade Center crashing down. Few actually know that 40 years ago on the same day, another country lost its freedom. The bombing of La Moneda coupled with the death of President Salvador Allende marked the beginning of nearly two decades of military dictatorship in Chile under the General Augusto Pinochet. Isabel Allende, noted Chilean writer, was one person who was there for both these 11th of Septembers. As she would later say in one of her most critically acclaimed books, The Sum of our Days: “Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me”.
Born in 1942, to a diplomat father and niece to President Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende is often considered a contemporary political hero in Chile.  Her father left when she was very young and her mother remarried. Her stepfather being also a diplomat, she travelled the world and continued to do so after completing school. She worked with the United Nations in Chile, Belgium and all over Europe.

In 1966, Allende went back to Chile. However, things were rapidly deteriorating in Chile. Richard Nixon did not agree with Salvador Allende’s ideology and later encouraged the coup d’état, immediately accepting the legitimacy of Pinochet’s government. It soon became clear to Isabel Allende that life in Chile would never be the same. She was a feminist, with a close relationship to Salvador Allende and leftist affiliations. She was lost all her jobs and made it on to Pinochet’s blacklist. This prompted her to leave Chile to live in exile in Venezuela for 13 years. In 1988 she left her husband and married Willie Gordon, an American citizen. Allende finally found a new home.  She was granted US citizenship in 2003 and she was living in the United States when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

Despite being targeted by Pinochet’s regime during her time in Chile, she kept fighting against the oppression and never gave up hope of seeing Chile free from military dictatorship. Two weeks after the coup d’état, Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda died in his native Chile. Being a counselor to President Allende, suspicions arose around his death. Pinochet refused to acknowledge a national mourning day in his honour. However, Isabel Allende, accompanied by thousands of people, went to give Neruda a final homage despite intense military scrutiny and threats. As a journalist in Venezuela, she often wrote about the sufferings of the Chilean people and the thousands of deaths that had occurred since Pinochet came to power. Moreover, though she is noted in the literary world for her magical realism, a lot of her work is influenced hugely by her love affair with Chile.

Isabel Allende is my political hero irrespective of her writing abilities and acclaim. Despite all that she went through, including the death of her daughter precipitated by medical negligence, she maintained her core beliefs and fought for the rights of the free people of Chile. Though she creates whole new magical worlds in her books, in this world, the real one, she is a hero for a generation of Chileans.

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