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Saturday, 24 August 2013 00:00

Introduction To Chile: A Cartoon History

by Michal Boncza

Introduction To Chile: A Cartoon History

by Chris Welch

(Chile40yearsOn, £8)

In 1976 Chris Welch was commissioned to produce a graphic history of Chile up to and including the US-instigated coup d'etat in 1973.

It was initiated with the treachery of the slow-witted general Augusto Pinochet - a useful stooge for foreign interest and the servile local elites.

"I don't see why we need to stand and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people," was the cynical comment at the time of US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

He oversaw the brutal intervention of Chile's military that brought down the popularly elected government of the socialist Salvador Allende.

A month or so later Kissinger would acquire the Nobel Peace Prize for his duplicitous peace agreements ending the war in Vietnam earlier in 1973. His opposite number in the negotiations Le Duc Tho flatly refused the dubious honour.

This reprint of Introduction To Chile gives a younger generation of British progressives a chance to revisit a defining historic event which - like the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo or the overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia - signposted US imperial interventionism that continues relentlessly to this very date.

Welch is a wise educator. He packs the narrative with delightful asides in which the natives time and time again demonstrate their moral and philosophical superiority.

An example is the nickname Che, used widely in neighbouring Argentina, which comes from the name of the southern Mapuche nation - mapu meaning land and che, man.

Another is the pre-Columbian status quo, destroyed in 1540 by the invading hordes of barbaric Spaniards led by Pedro de Valdivia.

He met an appropriately unpleasant end when the natives took his thirst for gold literally and poured it, liquid-hot, down his throat.

In the following 120 years 42,000 Spaniards were dispatched to kingdom come, roughly one for every day of that first century of ruthless repression.

But the easy-to-grasp presentation of Allende's government policies are of course the highlight of the book - the nationalisation of natural resources, agrarian reform, healthcare and housing provision, education, women's and children's rights and cultural advances - and make irresistible reading, not least because they're the forerunner of the changes presently taking place over much of the continent.

Welch draws with a swagger rare among comic strip practitioners and his "line" is delightfully expressive as are his mise-en-scenes.

There is a gusto and unrivalled graphic clarity to the narrative, gesticulation and facial expressions.

Last but not least is Welch's considerable sense of humour that allows many a truth to be told in jest.

The text was - in line with the best Mapuche tradition - generated collectively under the leadership of Larry Wright.

Highly recommended.

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