To the European colonialist economic systems and to the leaders of U S A
A lesson on immigration by Pablo Neruda
The usual newspaper columnist The New York Times reflects on the phenomenon of migration, immigration and the example of Neruda. The article was published in the aforementioned source:
"Chile, like many other countries, has been debating whether to welcome migrants, mostly from Haiti, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, or keep them out. Although only half a million immigrants live in this nation of 17.7 million, right-wing politicians have stoked anti-immigrant sentiment, opposed the rise in immigration rates in the last decade, and targeted violence against Haitian immigrants. .
Immigration was an important issue in the elections here in November and December. The winner was Sebastián Piñera, a 68-year-old center-right billionaire who was president from 2010 to 2014 and who will take office in March. Mr. Piñera blamed immigrants for crime, drug trafficking and organized crime. He benefited from the support of José Antonio Kast, a far-right politician who has been campaigning to build physical barriers along the borders with Peru and Bolivia to stop immigrants.
Chileans are not the only ones to witness the growing xenophobia and nativism, but we would do well to remember our own history, which offers a model of how to act when faced with strangers seeking refuge.
On August 4, 1939, Winnipeg left for Chile from the French port of Pauillac with more than 2,000 refugees who had fled their Spanish homeland. A few months earlier, General Francisco Franco - with the help of Mussolini and Hitler - had defeated the democratically elected government of Spain. The fascists unleashed a wave of violence and murder.
Among the hundreds of thousands of desperate supporters of the Spanish Republic who had crossed the Pyrenees to escape this onslaught were the men, women and children who would board the Winnipeg and arrive a month later to the Chilean port of Valparaíso.
The person responsible for his miraculous escape was Pablo Neruda, who, at the age of 34, was already considered the best poet in Chile. His prestige in 1939 was significant enough to persuade the president of Chile, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, that it was imperative for his small country to offer asylum to some of the abused Spanish patriots who could be in French internment camps.
Experience and talent for Chile
Not only would this give a humanitarian example, Neruda said, but it would also provide Chile with the foreign experience and talent necessary for its own development. The president agreed to authorize some visas, but the poet himself would have to find funds for the expensive fares of those emigrants, as well as for food and lodging during his first six months in the country. And Neruda, once in France coordinating the operation, needed to investigate the emigrants to ensure that they possessed the best technical skills and an irreproachable moral character.
It took considerable courage for President Aguirre Cerda to receive the Spanish refugees in Chile. The country was poor, still reeling from the long-term effects of the Depression, with a high unemployment rate, and had just suffered a devastating earthquake in Chillán that had killed 28,000 people and left many more wounded and homeless.
An implacable nativist campaign of right-wing parties and their media, feeling the possibility of attacking the Popular Front government, described potential asylum seekers as "undesirable": rapists, criminals, anti-Christian agitators whose presence, according to an editorial chauvinist in the main conservative document of Chile, would be "incompatible with social tranquility and the best manners."
Neruda realized that it would be cheaper to charter a ship and fill it with refugees than to send them, one family at a time, to Chile. The Winnipeg was available but, as it was a cargo ship, it had to be restored to accommodate some 2,000 passengers with bunk beds, dining rooms, a nurse's office, a nursery for the little ones and, of course, latrines.
While volunteers of the French Communist Party worked day and night to prepare the ship, Neruda was collecting donations from all Latin America, and from friends like Pablo Picasso, to finance an increasingly exorbitant company. The time was short: Europe was preparing for war, and the bureaucrats in Santiago and Paris sabotaged the effort.
In spite of everything, Neruda was fed by his love for Spain and his compassion for the victims of fascism, including one of his best friends, the poet Federico García Lorca, who had been killed by a fascist death squad in 1936.
As consul of Chile during the first years of the Spanish Republic, Neruda had witnessed the bombing of Madrid. The destruction of that city he loved and the assault on culture and freedom should mark him for the rest of his life and drastically change his literary priorities.
After the fall of the Republic, he declared: "I swear to defend until my death what has been murdered in Spain: the right to happiness". No wonder he has proclaimed that the Winnipeg was his "most beautiful poem".
And when that magnificent, huge and floating "poem" of his, after a dangerous journey, finally arrived in Valparaiso, his passengers, despite the protests of right-wing nationalists and Nazi sympathizers, received welcome from worthy heroes.
Waiting for the survivors without money from Franco's legions was the personal representative of President Aguirre Cerda, his Minister of Health, a young doctor named Salvador Allende. Enthusiastic crowds gathered on the pier, singing Spanish songs of resistance, gathered to greet the refugees, some of whom already had jobs.
The refugees who arrived would continue to help create a more prosperous, open and inventive Chile. They included the historian Leopoldo Castedo, the book designer Mauricio Amster, the dramatist and essayist José Ricardo Morales and the painters Roser Bru and José Balmes.
Almost 80 years later, those undesirables pose disturbing questions for us, both in Chile and elsewhere. Where are the presidents who receive indigent refugees with open arms despite the most virulent slander against them? Where are the Nerudas of yesteryear, ready to launch ships as poems to defend the right to happiness?
A beautiful task we must fulfill the Nerudians and stop the fascist expressions of Chile and the world.