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Academics for Chile

Academics for Chile (AFC) developed from a series of conversations between academics in various universities within the UK who were deeply concerned with the plight of academics and students in Chile following the military coup of 1973. A group of people met in London and decided to organise a campaign to try to help those academics and students already in detention or in danger and bring them to continue their studies or research in the UK. They were also concerned with the plight of those Chileans studying in the UK who lost their grants following the coup and, in many cases, were denounced by the military government, becoming unable to return to their country.

This was not an isolated initiative. There was an overwhelming support for the Chilean cause from a variety of groups – students, academics, trade unions, labour party branches, church groups, and from many other people - horrified at what was happening in Chile. Amnesty was quick to start the campaign for human rights in that country. Since the Chilean cause had widespread support, the challenge was to organise that support in the most effective way.

Three separate organisations – Chile Solidary Campaign, Chile Committee for Human Rights and AFC – were created as a spontaneous response which, nevertheless, became an effective structure for all aspects of mobilising support for Chile. Coordination came from the Joint Working Group for Refugees from Chile (JWG), which brought these and other groups together.

What was the role of Academics for Chile?

After a formal meeting held at LSE in October 1973 with about a hundred people present, AFC was founded on a more organised basis with Cristian Anglade from the University of Essex, as President, and with Alan Angell, from St Antony’s College, Oxford as Secretary, and a committee largely, but not entirely, composed of social scientists.

AFC sought support from those who valued academic freedom but were, by no means, necessarily supporters of the Popular Unity regime. It secured a list of sponsors who, deliberately, were mostly establishment figures, in order to show that AFC was appealing on the grounds of academic freedom in general, and not because the organisation sympathised with the aims of Salvador Allende's government (even if many did symphatised). AFC had support from the highly respected and long established Society for the Protection of Science and Learning in the UK.

If there was intense activity at the central level, there was equally intensive activity at the level of individual universities with both student unions and university senates raising money, waiving fees and offering places. Universities all over the country, from Aberdeen to Exeter, participated in the campaign. Local organisations of WUS played an important part in mobilising and organising this support at the level of the campus.

AFC was greatly assisted by those Chileans already studying in the UK, who played a key role in advising the group, organising campus support, and helping their fellow citizens when they arrived in the UK. Those who came early played an important role in helping AFC to bring over others. Their individual stories of suffering aroused great sympathy and reinforced determination to try to help those still in Chile. Countries all over the world organised programmes to help refugees from Chile. But all of these organisations depended on Chileans who were prepared to run grave risks to themselves to help others. The Catholic Church as well as other Churches in Chile, initially through the Comité Pro Paz, and then through the Vicaría de la Solidaridad, played a major role in defending human rights in Chile and in assisting AFC in its effort to bring over those academics and students in danger.

AFC also depended on institutions such as FLACSO in Chile and CLACSO in Buenos Aires to provide it with the details of those Chileans in need of assistance and able to benefit from a university course. Universities in the UK were sympathetic, but required that those who came were suitably qualified to study. In this regard, AFC was helped by the high educational standards of Chilean universities.

However, since the amount of work was huge, Angell decided to turn to WUS as early as October 1973. Once WUS took over, AFC contributed through many of the members of its various committees to organise the process. Angell, secretary of AFC, represented OXFAM on an umbrella organisation of CAFOD and CA, which had a grant from the UK government to develop programmes in Chile. 

Support from many agencies worldwide and from many countries - Holland was particularly generous - allowed Chileans to create research institutes that provided a relatively safe haven where they could work on policies for a future democratic Chile. When return to Chile became easier after 1983, WUS grant holders returned to take up prominent positions in several of these agencies and later to occupy senior posts in the democratic governments after 1990. But not all Chileans returned, and those who remained in the UK played an important role in campaigns for human rights, and not just in Chile or Latin America. Several former refugees went on to occupy senior posts in a number of universities in the UK.

Based on Alan Angell's testimony

Co-Founder of Academics for Chile

Read the complete version here