LATIN AMERICA

Allende’s granddaughter elected mayor of Santiago borough

Socialist politician carries on the late president's legacy in Chile

Amaya Fernández Allende celebrates her victory last month as new mayor of Ñuñoa.
Amaya Fernández Allende celebrates her victory last month as new mayor of Ñuñoa.Felipe Trueba (EFE)

A series of black and white photographs adorn the living room wall in a modest home in Ñuñoa, a middle class-borough in the Chilean capital Santiago. The photos show a little girl with curly hair playing ball with her grandfather, who hugs and kisses her.

The grandfather is Salvador Allende, the late president of Chile who, instead of surrendering to his rebellious military, committed suicide during the bloody coup of September 11, 1973.

The little girl is Amaya Fernández Allende, now 41 years old and recently elected mayor of Ñuñoa. The photographs were taken shortly before the coup.

“I wasn't even two years old when the coup took place,” says Fernandez, who doesn't remember her grandfather, but holds him in her memory. “I admire him and I am proud to be his granddaughter; it is a great responsibility. But I am a different person -- I am Maya.”

On October 28, Maya, as she calls herself, won the mayoral race in Ñuñoa. She is the only one of Allende's grandchildren who chose to go into politics. In one of the biggest surprises in that race, she defeated by just 18 votes the incumbent Pedro Sabat, a member of the conservative coalition who had governed the borough for more than a decade.

The Socialist mayor-elect believes the country is again moving toward the left. “The students have taught us a big lesson,” she says, referring to the scores of protests against the current government of President Sebastián Piñeda over his education reform. “Chile was falling asleep while certain vital issues were not being resolved.”.

Maya Fernandez is the daughter of Beatriz “Tati” Allende, the second of the late president’s three daughters. Her father was a former Cuban intelligence agent, Luis Fernández Oña. Tati was the image of her father -- a physician like him, she also shared his revolutionary ideas. When Allende was elected in 1970, Tati became one of his closest advisors. She was with him on the day of the coup until he ordered her to leave the La Moneda presidential palace for her own safety. Seven months pregnant with her second child, Tati fiercely objected to her father’s orders, but eventually left.

While the rest of the Allendes went into exile in Mexico, Tati and her family fled to Cuba. She gave birth to a son, Salvador Allende Fernandez. Switching the order of his last names was the suggestion of Fidel Castro, who was a close friend of her father's. In 1977, suffering from severe depression, Tati took her own life, leaving behind six-year-old Maya and her three-year-old son. She was 34.

“Those who knew her remember her with much admiration,” says Maya. “She had a lot of energy, she was very loyal and demanding when it came to the political cause. Thinking about her always pains me because I wish she could be here today. But my painful memories have helped me believe in life.”

Maya has two children; the eldest is 11 years old and the youngest is two, and named Beatriz in honor of Tati. She looks exactly like the little girl in that black and white photograph hanging in Maya's living room. In fact, she is now the same age as Maya was during the 1973 coup.

Maya and her brother Alejandro grew up in Havana. “I was more the neighborhood kid. I never thought it was anything big being the granddaughter of Salvador Allende,” she says with a slight Cuban accent.

Allende's widow, Hortensia "Tencha" Bussi would often fly in from Mexico to visit her grandchildren. During these visits, Fidel Castro would welcome the grandmother and the rest of the family, but Maya insists that she didn’t have a day-to-day relationship with the former Cuban leader.

She believes that Cuba now needs change. “It is good for democracy in any part of the world to keep a person from being permanently re-elected. There are well-prepared people on the island who can become great leaders.”

In 1992, she and her brother moved to Chile to reunite with the family that had returned from exile. Alejandro changed his last names back to the correct order and studied journalism. Publicly acknowledging his homosexuality, he moved to Australia with his boyfriend.

Maya went on to study biology and veterinary medicine. She became a member of the Socialist Party, but kept her membership secret. In 2008, she ran for office for the first time and was elected councilor in Ñuñoa, and two years later she became a member of the party's central committee. Unlike her aunt, the novelist Isabel Allende, Maya is virtually unknown in Chile.

Next year Chileans will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the bloody coup. Maya believes the wounds will never heal. “My grandfather died the way he wanted to, giving his life for his people, his ideas. We know where he is buried and we can still take him flowers and letters. But there are a lot of families in Chile who don't know the whereabouts of their loved ones.”

Still, she believes her grandfather would have preferred to look to the future than remain in the past; “Most importantly to overcome the tremendous inequality that still exists in Chile today.”

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