Speech by the President of the Government of Spain at the tribute to Salvador de Allende at the Cervantes Institute


New York


Thank you very much, Ariel. Dear Isabel, dear President, dear Gabriel, dear friends:

I would like to begin this event with a fond memory that I want to share with you, Isabel, and also with all those present.

It happened during our visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, on 28 August 2018 in Santiago. Chile was the first stop on my first tour as President of the Government of Spain in Latin America.

Among the crowd was a woman who insisted on greeting me. Her name was Dolores Rodríguez. Dolores was a Spaniard by birth and an adopted Chilean in her heart. At the age of two, she had crossed the Atlantic in the arms of her father, Pedro Rodríguez, fleeing Franco's dictatorship and a Europe that was on the brink of the Second World War.

Pedro and his daughter Dolores were two of the 2,200 exiles who - on board the Winnipeg, a ship chartered by Pablo Neruda - had arrived in Valparaíso on 3 September 1939 from France, soon to be occupied by the Nazis.

To remain there would have meant almost certain deportation to the Nazi extermination camps for these people.

I keep that hug in my memory. I treasure it, because it was one of the most endearing first moments as President of the Government of Spain, and also for Spanish socialism and for journalism. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have experienced as President of the Government of Spain. I will return later to this episode, and its link with a man whose voice echoed in this UN building just 50 years ago.

In any case, it is impossible not to associate Salvador Allende's words with the message of 11 September 1973 from a besieged Moneda Palace, which I and many others of my generation listened to over and over again on the vinyl records our parents had. It is not easy to resist the attraction of such a dramatic speech, especially one full of hope and prophetic certainty that much sooner rather than later, as Allende would say, "the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society".

And yet his voice is a source of inspiration in many other speeches throughout his long political career that remain, unjustly, in the shadow of that monumental, defiant cry with which freedom and democracy stood up to tyranny in the serene voice of Salvador Allende.

One of those speeches is the one that today, dear President, we are commemorating - in what is also your home, the Instituto Cervantes, and by the way, thank you, Director, for your hospitality - and which was delivered on 4 December 1972, as Isabel recalled.

He said: "I come from Chile" - words that President Boric also said yesterday in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly - a great speech by the way, I was there, listening to you too. "I come", said Salvador Allende, "from Chile, a small country, but where today any citizen is free to express themselves as they prefer, with unrestricted cultural, religious and ideological tolerance, where racial discrimination has no place". This is a memorable start, which seems to challenge the Chile that today, dear President, you are building with so much passion and so much commitment.

Our world is different from the one described in Allende's writings. But not as much as it may seem, as Isabel recalled earlier. That year, for example, saw the Stockholm Earth Summit, the first wake-up call for global awareness of what was then an emerging and presumably abstract threat to our fellow citizens, but now dramatically existential: climate change. And so began a decade in which the world would face social and economic tensions caused by wars and energy crises, with a huge impact on prices. I expect it sounds familiar.

Now, as progressive leaders, we must lead the march towards the future based on the principles of equality, freedom and social justice.

Because, in addition, there is the circumstance, perhaps the parallelism, as Ariel said earlier, that the current context of transformation in so many fields - the technological revolution, the energy transition, digitalisation - coincides with an offensive by reactionary movements on a global scale that live by feeding fear and uncertainty in our societies.

Allende said in his speech: "Ours is a permanent struggle to establish social freedoms and economic democracy, through the full exercise of political freedoms".

Today, dear friends, our collective goal is based on the same ideal: to protect the rights of the weakest against the abuse of the strongest. Spread the burden, and ensure that those who have the most and benefit the most from this situation are engaged and contribute their fair share. It is, as Salvador Allende rightly said, a matter of sovereignty. And a matter, indeed, of survival.

Fifty years later, this premise is even more important than ever.

Nothing is more corrosive for democracy and the coexistence of societies than the suspicion that citizens, when called to the polls, vote for those who govern, but not for those who rule; those who, in the shadows, control the levers of power.

Pointing out this threat does not make us dangerous extremists; it actually strengthens us in our democratic convictions. It is not the left, progressivism, that loses out from disaffection when it becomes clear that certain powers are above good and evil: it is democracy as a whole that is impoverished. Hopefully, the right will come to understand this one day.

The conflicts between macro economic structures, states and communities, remain, as they were half a century ago, an obvious distorting factor. We learned this during the pandemic, and we are enduring it now with the energy crisis. Uncontrolled global organisations continue to control debates and shape a future where markets function inefficiently. We are seeing this in the energy market. Here too, I believe that the progressive agenda must show determination, at a time when, as has been shown, people are turning to the Spanish State to contain so much uncertainty.

Today, the world is facing the consequences of an illegal war - thank you, President Boric, for the words you spoke yesterday in the gallery of the United Nations General Assembly. An illegal war, a war by an autocrat against a country that aspires to be sovereign and free to decide its future, and which subverts the world order and undermines principles essential to peaceful coexistence. In this context, the energy crisis, rising prices or the food crisis that we are discussing during this week's UN Assembly, are the result of a conflict that threatens the majority of people. Protecting the working and middle class majority, who get up every day to provide for their families, is an essential mandate for progressive forces, just as it was in Allende's time.

That president fought for Chile to be able to benefit from its own natural resources.

Our challenge is to ensure that all countries can grow and prosper from that same sovereignty, while doing so with an economic model that has to be climate sustainable.

The ecological transition must be just.

Our societies must perceive it as a great opportunity; as a strong driver of inclusive economic growth, not as a threat. And, to do so, we must opt for people-centred measures that tackle the labour transition and the social consequences of changing a top-down system - such as those that we, the progressive forces, are proposing.

No single country can meet this arguably colossal challenge on its own. Climate action will only be effective if governments, businesses and citizens align their efforts in an honest, coordinated way. It is up to the large multinationals to lead by example, as some are already doing by leading the way in terms of their commitment to society.

Dear friends, we live in a time of historic acceleration, which calls for resoluteness and boldness in all areas. But, more than any other issue, in the fight against the increasingly visible effects of mankind's actions on the planet. In this challenge, progressive forces must lead the advance against the conservative temptation to maintain a status quo in which no change is acceptable, but it is vital.

At the beginning of my speech, I told you the story of Dolores who, at the age of two, disembarked from the Winnipeg in Valparaiso on 3 September 1939 in her father's arms. On the dock, alongside the welcoming party, dear Isabel, was a young Minister for Health of the Chilean government, in charge of coordinating the administration of vaccines to that hungry and sick crowd of Spaniards, who were arriving in your country, full of hope.

That young minister, a doctor by profession, was called Salvador Allende.

Thank you.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Original speech in Spanish

Non official translation