A West Coast Outpost

September 25, 2007

In the winter of 1969-70, five staff members moved to the San Francisco Bay area and established a second NACLA office in Berkeley. Fred Goff, who had lived in California and was anxious to move back, had gone out earlier to investigate the possibilities of establishing a West Coast office, and found a large West Coast constituency—mostly academics—that could potentially be very supportive of NACLA’s work. “After the move, recalls Goff, “the two offices had very little day-to-day contact; they met just once a year. It was before the fax, before e-mail, and long distance phone calls were expensive. And so we had these annual meetings—annual beatings we called them, because it took us three days to work out all the things that had built up which if we had been in closer contact we could have worked out more naturally.”

Other organizational changes were underway at the same time: NACLA West, largely through the efforts of Michael Klare, took the lead in professionalizing the publishing operation. Due to Klare’s work back east, the production values of the Newsletter had already begun to improve when the move took place. It was now bound instead of stapled, offset instead of mimeo. Klare designed a logo and a more readable, attractive interior layout and by 1971 it was generally agreed that the magazine needed a name other than Newsletter so that it would no longer look like an in-house bulletin. In November 1971, in a change reflecting both the professional development of the magazine and the more explicit anti-imperialist identity of NACLA’s politics, the NACLA Newsletter became NACLA’s Latin America and Empire Report.

Klare had an art background and designed the magazine for several years. “I wanted it to attract a larger audience,” he says, “but I also wanted it to retain the footnotes and documentation that gave it a credibility that nothing else like it had at the time.” The result was a step towards a broader, multilayered professionalism within the organization as a whole. “NACLA became an appealing career choice for people,” says Klare. “You could move from NACLA into mainstream journalism or academia,” though as Steven Volk remembers, it was a professionalism with a “movement” difference. In the early 1970s, remembers Volk, now a history professor at Oberlin College, NACLA was “self-consciously and self-righteously a collective, so there were no job titles, no determination of who would do what.... To the extent that everyone did write, did research, licked labels, it definitely was a collective. We didn’t sign our articles. You weren’t supposed to have a personal attachment to [your writing]. You worked very long hours. Everyone got more or less the same salary: $60 a week.”

Klare had already begun the research on the arms industry for which he would later become well known; he and Susanne Jonas became NACLA’s two most prolific researchers. Jonas, a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley—today a Central America and migration specialist teaching at U.C. Santa Cruz—had met with the NACLA crew when they came to California in late 1969; she joined the West Coast staff in the summer of 1971. She would become the co-editor (with David Tobis) and principal author of one of NACLA’s best-known publications, a book called Guatemala, published in 1974. She was also the principal author and editor of the Yanqui Dollar project, a series of primers on the role of U.S. corporations in the Americas.

Meanwhile, developments in Latin America had reached an historic juncture with the September, 1970 election of Salvador Allende’s socialist government in Chile. If events in the Dominican Republic defined NACLA’s mission in the 1960s, it was the political drama in Chile that captured NACLA’s—and the world’s—attention throughout the first half of the 1970s. “There was a kind of urgency,” recalls Volk, who began working at NACLA in 1973 after spending 18 months in Chile, “that came out of the revolutionary movements of Latin America and was spurred by Allende’s election...in the sense that you needed to act. You couldn’t stay on the sidelines.” The urgency escalated as the U.S.-backed destabilization of the Allende regime was put in place, and eventually differences within the Chilean left about how to respond would be reflected within NACLA.

U.S. vs. Chile’s Socialist Experiment

Fred Rosen

Steven Volk notes that Salvador Allende “promised to lead Chile through a peaceful transition to socialism, using the legal system of Chile to establish a new economic and political order.” After taking office, Allende quickly began a program of nationalizing Chile’s copper mines and incorporating many industries into the “social sector.” A doctor, he instituted a free milk program for malnourished children. He called for a policy of international independence. And the popular support for his Popular Unity (UP) government continued to grow as measured by strong electoral results in interim municipal and congressional elections.

Washington’s attitude was encapsulated in Henry Kissinger’s famous remark just before Allende was elected in 1970: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.” In August 1971 Washington denied Chile Export-Import Bank credits. A year later a Washington-backed truck owners strike paralyzed the country. A military coup failed in June 1973, provoking worker occupation of many factories. On September 11, 1973, the Pinochet coup—heartily welcomed and supported by the United States—finally destroyed Chile’s experiment in socialist democracy.

Tags: NACLA, leftist politics, newsletter, West Coast

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