Dr. King Influenced Chilean Protests?

For my tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I’d like to tell the story of how his example of peaceful protests influenced social movements in Chile. As we know, Dr. King developed methods of non-violent resistance learned from Gandhi’s work. What is not as widely recognized in the United States is how deeply the philosophies of the US Civil Rights leader influenced Chilean resistance against the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s as well as that of the past few years.

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point.

–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A Chilean author who’s spent much of his life working as a professor in the United States, Ariel Dorfman, has written eloquently on the subject. In 1968 when he lived in Chile, he was saddened that he heard Dr. King’s message at the same moment he heard of his tragic passing. Dorfman stresses the importance of King’s ideals in action in Chile after the 1973 coup in subsequent protests against Pinochet. Marchers were water-hosed, killed, imprisoned and disappeared:

“the daily spectacle of peaceful men and women being repressed by the agents of terror targeted the national and international forces whose support Pinochet…needed in order to survive. The tactic worked, of course, because we understood, as Martin Luther King and Gandhi had before us, that our adversaries could be influenced and shamed by public opinion, could eventually be compelled to relinquish power. That is how segregation was defeated in the South of the United States; that is how the Chilean people beat Pinochet in a plebiscite in 1988 that led to democracy in 1990…” The enormous protests in 2019 to the present have brought Chile to the point of framing a new constitution!

Puerto Montt 2019 Protests Photo: Natalia Reyes Escobar

I would agree that the power of non-violence is that it can effect long term peaceful change. Chile’s progress in the last two years toward a new constitution has been tremendous.

In another Tom Dispatch article, Dorfman talks about what he believes we can hear in the I Have a Dream speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. though it is more than five decades after his passing:

“compatriots will once again listen to his fierce yet gentle voice calling on them from beyond death and beyond fear, calling on all of us, here and abroad, to stand together for freedom and justice in our time.”

I admire the bravery of those who march peacefully for Civil Rights and Democracy, at home and abroad. The examples of Chile and of Dr. King are important to the United States right now.

What do you think? I like how readers leave interesting, respectful, thought provoking comments.Gracias ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act Photo: Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office
Rebecca Cuningham

9 thoughts on “Dr. King Influenced Chilean Protests?

  1. I had no idea that MLK not only influenced his birth nation, but also Chile! Goes to show just how incredible a visionary he is, with the charisma to inspire those outside of the US. I appreciate you sharing this bit of history, especially when it seldom gets discussed in history classes at school. Thank you!


  2. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. … Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course everyone knows something about Martin Luther King, and he still often gets cited during campaigns and protests. But it’s good to know that he’s – almost actively – supporting democratic resistance in Chile even these days. What a legacy.

    Liked by 2 people

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