EspañolWhat happens when two former Chilean exiles, both ex-communist militants, get together for a cup of coffee and have a long and honest conversation? Answer: the birth of a book, Diálogo de Conversos (A Converts’ Dialogue).
Writer Mauricio Rojas holds a PhD in economic history and is a former Swedish congressman. Roberto Ampuero is also a writer and the former Chilean Culture Minister during the Sebastian Piñera administration (2010-2014).
They share a similar past. Both went from being active members of the communist revolution in Chile to becoming ambassadors for liberalism.
The PanAm Post spoke with both men during their brief visit to Buenos Aires on November 2, three days before the official launch of their book. They discussed their long and difficult path to that moment of enlightenment, and how it turned them into two of the strongest defenders of liberalism in Latin America today.
What inspired you to write this book?
Rojas: We inspired each other. Our stories parallel one another. Ampuero was a member of the Communist Youth group, and I was a member of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), which was pro-Che Guevara and pro-Fidel Castro.
I went into exile in Sweden and Roberto (Ampuero) went to West Germany and, later, Cuba. We both evolved toward liberalism, towards liberal ideals, but we haven’t been on this journey together for long — only since last October. We knew each other, but had never sat down to talk. When we finally did in December, the idea [of writing a book] started to materialize.
This book is the result of a long conversation.
Ampuero: We recorded that conversation.
What pushed you to get in touch with each other?
Ampuero: Both us had read each other’s work, be it opinion columns or books. But it was the Foundation for Progress in Chile that brought us together. We met there.
Rojas: Just before we met, Roberto sent me a letter inviting me to get together.
Ampuero: It’s a really long story. When we were both young in the 1970s, Mauricio aligned himself with the Marxist cause, and I was part of an organization on the left as well (the Communist Youth). But we were adversaries. His group (MIR) was more aligned with the Guevara movement, and we were in line with the Soviets.
But then the Augusto Pinochet military regime arrived and exile followed. Mauricio went to Sweden, and I first left for what was then West Germany. Later, I went to Cuba.
It was in exile where we separately broke off from our communist movements, and where a feeling of disappointment took over. We talk about this very difficult period in the book.
What was the reason for the split from communism? Was it a matter of theory or practice?
Rojas: Both. In Roberto’s case, I think the split was much more from the practical side of things, living in a pure communist state.
Ampuero: I saw the world of pure communism with my own eyes. One couldn’t read much but could experience the awful reality [of communism].
Rojas: In my case, I was in a country with more freedoms (Sweden) where one can read and think. Consequently, I came at it from more of a theoretical perspective. But, in both cases, it was a long and tough process: from the actual split from communism to the feeling of betrayal you have for those you love, to falling in and out of love with the revolutionary idea. We evolved and ended up in the next stage: the ideals of liberty.
In Argentina, Sweden is always lauded as a country with high taxes and efficient management…
Rojas: It’s true that Sweden is a country that functions very well, but it has nothing to do with paying 50 percent of your salary to the Argentinean government (in your case) or to the Swedish government.
Additionally, Sweden is a country that has largely internalized free markets and freedom of choice. The schools in Sweden can be private or public and “for-profit.” Every parent receives a voucher so they can go to their school of choice. The government has collaborated very well with the business sector through free markets and by empowering its people.
These things don’t happen here. In Argentina, you have an antagonizing government or you have the private sector; and the state gives people predetermined things.
Sweden’s welfare state would surprise many here who view it as the progressive standard.
The demand is what creates the welfare state. If nobody wants public education, then public schools will shut down. The Swedish government has no problem with that; they allow their citizens to decide. It’s been like that for 20 years. When I arrived in Sweden, there were public monopolies. They told you which schools and hospitals to go to, and I didn’t like that at all.
There was a trend towards authoritarianism, to impose things on you. In the case of Ampuero, he experienced direct imposition.
Ampuero: Absolutely. In West Germany or in Cuba, there was not a private alternative. The government ruled everything. What made me reflect, and what started to give me doubts, was crossing the Berlin Wall. That’s when I started to question myself. To think that the utopia I supported and wanted to build in Chile needed a wall, a border of death, watchdogs, minefields, etc. in order to exist.
I realized as well that embracing this type of Marxist causes is very similar to religious faith. You try to continue justifying and believing it. You try to deny [the facts].
Are converts the most fanatic activists?
Ampuero: When you convert to liberalism, you hold tight to tolerance, diversity, and the acceptance of differences. What does happen is that you are more alert, and you want to comment on things you hear because you’ve actually lived them.
When the youth continues to admire the Castro brothers, who have been in power for 56 years, you don’t remain indifferent to that situation because you lived it. I lived the drama, the death; it was a system based on the violation of human rights.