In Atomic Tunes, we closely analyze one of the classic Cold War songs, “Russians” by Sting, from his first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985). Another Sting song that deserves close attention for its relevance to the Cold War is “They Dance Alone” from his second, and best-selling, solo album ...Nothing Like the Sun (1987). It is about the “mothers of the disappeared” in Central and South America who protested against right-wing authoritarian regimes that tortured, disappeared, and murdered their family members during the proxy wars.
“Disappearing” people became a systematic method the Chilean, Salvadoran, and other Latin American authoritarian governments used to suppress dissent during the Cold War. “Enforced disappearance of persons” is the … arrest, detention or abduction of persons by … a State or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that depravation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time. Often this implies murder. Right-wing Latin American governments used extreme measures such as this to prevent Marxists with links to the Soviet Union from arising in the Western Hemisphere.
A brief overview of the Cold War “proxy wars” is helpful in providing the context for this song. After World War II, as developing countries in Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, and the Middle East were emerging from under colonial occupation, the two superpowers sought to steer them into either the capitalistic or communistic camps, foisting a new brand of colonialism upon them. In some cases, developing countries sought the aid of a superpower to bolster their political revolutions. Robert J. McMahon states that “… the Third World emerged as early as 1950 as the Cold War’s principal battlefield. Conflicts with local roots … became exponentially more costly because the superpower conflict became superimposed upon them.” The major wars in Korea and Vietnam, and smaller ones such as the Angolan Civil War, the Nicaraguan Civil War, the Salvadoran Civil War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Soviet War in Afghanistan were enmeshed in Cold War politics. Historians often refer to these wars as “proxy wars,” in that they were fought with the aid of, or under the auspices of, the United States or the Soviet Union. They were the result of the fear that nuclear weapons might be used if the superpowers engaged directly in war. If one country used a nuclear weapon, it was inevitable that the other would in turn, and the war could escalate to global proportions rendering the Earth uninhabitable. This doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) prompted the two superpowers to gain ground for their ideologies by engaging smaller countries in localized, conventional warfare. Sting’s song is concerned with how the superpower conflict became superimposed on Chilean politics.
Sting first became aware of mothers of the disappeared during the Police’s tour for Ghost in the Machine, where the band played two concerts in Chile on February 19-20, 1982 at the 23rd Viña del Mar International Song Festival. Of the mothers’ dance, Sting said, “This was something that I saw when I went to Chile with the Police. The mothers and wives of ‘the disappeared’ do this amazing thing; they pin photographs of their loved ones to their clothes and go out in groups and do this folk dance with invisible partners in front of the police station. It’s this incredible gesture of grief and protest. But it’s a feminine way of combating oppression. The masculine way is to burn cars or to throw rocks. Yet this feminine way is so much more powerful because what can the police do? These women are simply dancing.”
Sting met with some of the women face-to-face during Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope Tour in 1986, inspiring him to write “They Dance Alone.” As Sting asks in the first line of the song, why were these Chilean women compelled to dance, to protest in such a fashion in the first place? A close look at U.S-Chilean relations reveals the injustices suffered by the women and their lost ones, and enhances the significance of the song.
The story begins with copper. Copper was and still is the most valuable natural resource of the country, often referred to as “Chile’s salary.” By World War II, most of Chile’s copper mines were owned by U.S. corporations such as Anaconda and Kennecott. For decades, Chileans wanted to reap the benefits of their own natural resources and industries, instead of feeding U.S. industrial behemoths. This desire played a large factor in the election of Salvador Allende in 1970, who became the first Marxist ever to be elected to a national presidency in a democratic election. In 1970, someone like Allende was an anomaly; Marxists were not democratically elected. They seized power through revolution and, like Lenin, Mao, and Castro, were ruthless dictators. Allende admired what Castro had done to free Cuba from U.S. imperialism, but he rejected violent revolution as a means to free Chile. The U.S. government viewed any Marxist government in the Western Hemisphere as evidence of Soviet encroachment and a threat to national security. Allende’s socialism, his friendship with Castro, and his nationalization of the copper industry made him a political and economic enemy of the U.S. government. On top of that, the difficult task of making Chile more self-sufficient produced labor strikes, losses in foreign trade, and general economic turmoil. This and other factors doomed Allende’s presidency and caused the Chilean government and military to turn on him and support Augusto Pinochet, then the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army. On September 11, 1973, Pinochet ordered the Chilean Air Force to bomb La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago where Allende resided. During the bombing, Allende broadcasted a final speech to the people of Chile and then committed suicide. While the CIA did not have direct involvement in the bombing, it staged numerous covert operations to weaken Allende’s presidency and paved the way for Pinochet to take control of the country.
When Pinochet assumed office, he exercised his authority as a right-wing military dictator. He shut down the Chilean parliament, banned all political parties, banished labor unions, restricted free speech, and established curfews. His reforms reinvigorated Chile’s economy (called “the Miracle of Chile”) and turned the country into a capitalist powerhouse but increased the gap between the rich and the poor. Pinochet was in power for almost seventeen years. Maintaining such a strict regime for so long made him one of the worst human rights violators of the 20th century. Over 3,100 Chileans were murdered or disappeared and tens of thousands more were tortured. The most recent study (from 2011) by the Chilean government of the atrocities during Pinochet’s regime places the total number of people murdered, disappeared, or tortured at over 40,000. The Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations periodically chastised Pinochet for the atrocities but continued to support him simply because he was an anti-communist.
The shift of power from Allende to Pinochet was indicative of many Latin American countries in the 20th century. A socialistic regime would arise in an attempt to free a country from colonialism, which often resulted in economic chaos, paving the way for a right-wing military takeover secretly supported by the United States. Operation Condor, which the CIA covertly supported, was a multinational intelligence program designed to eradicate any socialist influences from South American countries, even if they had democratic governments. The CIA covertly supported Operation Condor and several oppressive regimes in Latin America because it felt that right-wing dictators would be better than left-wing dictators. The U.S. government did not want another Cuba in the Western Hemisphere. One Castro was enough. The Cuban Missile Crisis proved how dangerous that could be, with Soviet nuclear missiles in America’s backyard. Thus, in this arena of the proxy wars, tens of thousands of Latin Americans from the 1960s to the 1980s were tortured or murdered by their own governments in an attempt to squash any socialist uprisings. Several indigenous guerilla armies sought to overthrow the authoritarian regimes, and committed numerous atrocities themselves, but they were no match for death squads armed with U.S. weapons and trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas.
Some Latin Americans found nonviolent ways to protest. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo marched for the victims of the Dirty War carried out by Jorge Rafael Videla’s dictatorship. In El Salvador, the COMADRES marched for the victims of the Salvadorian military government under the rule of José Napoleón Duarte. In Santiago, the Chilean women danced with photographs of those who disappeared under Pinochet’s dictatorship. Sting’s song is about these women who used nonviolent protest and took Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as their models. They danced silently because if they chanted or protested in any vociferous way, they were likely to end up on the torture table, as their loved ones did. Chilean folk singer, poet, and theater director Victor Jara was murdered for supporting Allende and singing protest songs against Pinochet's regime. For more on Jara, read THIS article. The dance was effective in gaining national attention because of the raw, gut-wrenching, public grief the women expressed. Of the political effectiveness of the Argentinian mothers’ protest, Alison Brysk writes, “The Mothers of the Disappeared chose as their stage the Plaza de Mayo, the most central and political public place in the country. … The message, which began as a personal plea for human dignity, ended as a campaign for universal human rights.” Though other factor played a part, what Sting said about the Chilean mothers in 1987 proved to be accurate, “That’s what will bring Pinochet down, the mothers’ sense of injustice.”
The women who danced in Santiago performed the cueca, the national dance of Chile. It is a courting dance in a lively, polyrhythmic 6/8 meter for a man and a woman waving handkerchiefs. Since the protesting women were dancing alone, it came to be known as the cueca sola. The photographs that the women pinned to their garments magnified the absence of their partners, whether they were husbands, sons, fathers, or other relatives. The cueca sola is jarring to watch because the brisk dance and lively music are merged with public grief. As Sting writes in his liner notes on his album …Nothing Like the Sun, the dance is, “a symbolic gesture of protest and grief in a country where democracy doesn’t need to be ‘defended’ so much as exercised.”
The YouTube clip below shows Chilean women holding up photographs of their disappeared loved ones. They also have the photos pinned to their dresses. One woman performs the cueca sola while the rest sing and play guitars. The names of the disappeared scroll on the JumboTron. This took place on May 12, 1990, at the celebration of Patricio Aylwin, who was elected to succeed Pinochet. The event was held at the National Stadium in Santiago, where thousands were held as prisoners in the months after Pinochet's coup.
“They Dance Alone” begins with military snare drums along with a melancholy theme on soprano saxophone (played by Branford Marsalis) and Andean pan flute. The timbral contrast between these instruments highlights the brutality of Pinochet’s military regime (drums) and the mourning of the women (saxophone and pan flute). In the first verse, the lyrics also focus on this contrast, questioning why the soldiers and the women are occupying the same space. The second verse explains the situation, saying the women are protesting in the only way that will not result in their death, by dancing alone and silently. The lyrics in the bridge, accompanied by a more prominent beat, express the hope that someday the women will dance on the graves of those who have disappeared their loved ones. After another bridge section where the lines of the chorus are recited in Spanish by Panamanian singer Rubén Blades, the third verse is directed at Pinochet himself and the support he receives from the U.S. government: “It’s foreign money that supports you / One day the money’s going to stop.” Sting then challenges Pinochet to imagine his own mother dancing with a photo of him pinned to her garment, to think of himself as a disappeared person. After the bridge is heard once again, the song ends triumphantly by transforming into a samba with Branford Marsalis soloing and Sting singing repeatedly “and we’ll dance.” The dance of grief will turn into a dance of joy when Pinochet and his oppressors are overthrown. Christopher Gable points out that in the coda, the “beat gets doubled exactly, but the chord changes do not speed up, and so the transition is smooth and magical.” Sting does not explicitly mention the culpability of the U.S. government in Pinochet’s atrocities and focuses more on the grief of the women. Yet the implicit critique is there with the mention of Pinochet’s regime relying on “foreign money,” that is, U.S. money.
Click HERE to listen to the studio version of the song from 1987. Click HERE for the lyrics, on Sting's official website. Some of the lines are chilling.
Sting performed “They Dance Alone” with both the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo from Argentina and the women from Chile. In September-October 1988, Amnesty International sponsored the Human Rights Now! tour which visited twenty cities around the world to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and bring attention to those who were suffering political persecution. The concerts featured Sting, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N'Dour and musicians from the countries where the concerts were held. Sting wanted the tour to go to Chile, but of course, Pinochet did not allow it. Nevertheless, there were concerts in neighboring Argentina. On October 14-15 in Mendoza and Buenos Aires, Sting had the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Chilean mothers onstage during his performance of “They Dance Alone.” He sang a Spanish version of “They Dance Alone,” “Ellas Danzan Solas (Cueca Solo)” which he recorded for his Spanish/Portuguese EP …Nada Como el Sol (1988). Peter Gabriel joined him on the song and it was dedicated to the disappeared relatives of both the Argentinean women and the Chilean women. Watch the performance below.
A year and a half later on March 11, 1990, the election of Patricio Aylwin ended Pinochet’s reign in Chile. Amnesty International organized two benefit concerts called “Desde Chile... un abrazo a la esperanza” (“From Chile…A Hug and a Hope”) to celebrate the beginning of a new democratic era in Chile. The concerts were also known as “An Embrace of Hope.” The concerts were held on October 12-13, 1990 at the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, the site Pinochet used as a prison camp following his 1973 coup. The place where thousands were tortured became a place where thousands celebrated the end of the tortures. Sting again sang the song in Spanish and more than 20 Chilean women joined him onstage. Incidentally, U2 also had both the Argentinian and Chilean women onstage with them during their PopMart tour in 1998. U2's "Mothers of the Disappeared" is the last song on their 1987 album The Joshua Tree.
The video below is a compilation of Sting's interviews about his work with Amnesty International. At four minutes in, he talks about the mothers of the disappeared in Chile.
The Argentinean Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the El Salvadoran COMADRES, the Chilean women, and other female protest movements brought exposure to human rights violations, showing that the U.S. government's quest to spread democracy and capitalism in Latin America had a dark side. As Jane S. Jaquette writes, “housewives who had never been politically active stepped onto the political stage …, had an unprecedented impact, and came to symbolize the moral outrage of civilian society against bureaucratic authoritarian regimes for the region as a whole.” These women, and Sting’s song, increased awareness of the suffering that Latin Americans had to endure, situated in the crosshairs of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Amnesty International, El Salvador: “Death Squads”: A Government Strategy (London: Amnesty International, 1988).
 From Article 7(2)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, quoted in Walter Kälin and Jörg Künzli’s The Law of International Human Rights Protection (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 339.
 Leslie Alan Horvitz and Christopher Catherwood, Encyclopedia of War Crimes and Genocide
(New York: Facts on File, 2006), 124.
 Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War in the Third World, ed. Robert J. McMahon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9.
 Sting, from an interview with Chris Salewicz in Time Out (October 1, 1987). http://www.sting.com/news/article/15
 For more on the U.S. copper industry in Chile, see Angela Vergara, Copper Workers, International Business, and Domestic Politics in Cold War Chile (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008); Stephen D. Krasner, Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978).
 Salvador Allende Reader: Chile’s Voice of Democracy. Edited with an introduction by James D. Cockcroft; assisted by Jane Carolina Canning; with translations by Moisés Espinoza and Nancy Nuñez (Melbourne, Vic., Australia; New York: Ocean Press, 2000), .
 Howard J. Wiarda and Mark Falcoff, The Communist Challenge in the Caribbean and Central
America (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research,
 For more on U.S./Chile relations during Allende’s presidency, see Tanya Harmer, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011; Lubna Z. Qureshi, Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: U.S. Involvement in the 1973 Coup in Chile (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009); Jonathan Haslam, The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende’s Chile: A Case of Assisted Suicide (London; New York: Verso, 2005).
 Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (New York: The New Press, 2003), 154.
 Eva Vergara, “Chile Recognizes 9,800 More Pinochet Victims,” San Diego Union-Tribune
(August 18, 2011). http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-chile-recognizes-9800-more-pinochet-victims-2011aug18-story.html
 For more on U.S./Chile relations during Pinochet’s reign, see Morris Morley and Chris McGillion, Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle over U.S. Policy toward Chile (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Mark Ensalaco, Chile under Pinochet: Recovering the Truth (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000); Paul E. Sigmund, The United States and Democracy in Chile (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).
 See Stephen G. Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); State Violence and Genocide in Latin America: The Cold War Years, ed. Marcia Esparza, Henry R. Huttenbach, and Daniel Feierstein (New York: Routledge, 2010); Michael Grow, U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions: Pursuing Regime Change in the Cold War (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008); David F. Schmitz, The United States and Right-wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Michael T. Klare and Cynthia Arnson with Delia Miller and Daniel Volman. Supplying Repression: U.S. Support for Authoritarian Regimes Abroad (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies, 1981).
 The U.S. Army School of the Americas, which was founded in Panama in 1946 and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984, trained and equipped several Latin American dictators, military leaders, and soldiers who committed acts of mass murder, assassination, and torture. See Lesley Gill’s The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).
 The dancing women were a subset of a larger Chilean protest organization against Pinochet’s regime called Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees).
 Alison Brysk, The Politics of Human Rights in Argentina: Protest, Change, and Democratization (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994), 12-13.
 Sting, from an interview with Chris Salewicz in Time Out (October 1, 1987). http://www.sting.com/news/article/15
 The dance is mistakenly referred to as the gueca solo on Sting’s …Nothing Like the Sun album.
 Liner notes from back cover of Sting’s …Nothing like the Sun. A&M Records SP-6402, 1987, LP.
 The Andean pan flute is most likely a synthesizer patch played by Kenny Kirkland replicating the sound of the instrument.
 Christopher Gable, The Words and Music of Sting (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2009), 47.
 Created by the United Nations in 1948, this was the first document by a multinational body to express a universal view of basic human rights.
 Released!: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998. Shout! Factory, Amnesty International 82666313562, 2013, 6 DVD set, “Human Rights Now!” concert, 1:41:10-1:51:48. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEBXq5uhtng
 Although he was voted out of office, Pinochet still wielded considerable power as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. His self-appointed status of “senator-for-life” granted him immunity and he was never convicted in court for his human rights violations.
 Released!: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998, “An Embrace of Hope” concert, 58:06-1:09:06. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oaDCbNRkAs
 At U2’s concert in Buenos Aires on February 5, 1998, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo joined the band onstage for “One” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.” At the end, one of the mothers gave Bono her white scarf to wear. During the February 11, 1998 concert in Santiago, Chile, at the National Stadium, the Chilean women joined the band onstage for the same two songs. In this live broadcast, Bono addressed Pinochet (who was still Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army) about disclosing the whereabouts of the disappeared. The women recited the names of their missing loved ones into the microphone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxw8o1xzjQE
 Jane S. Jaquette, The Women’s Movement in Latin America: Feminism and the Transition to Democracy, ed. Jane S. Jaquette (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 4.
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