On September 11 the world rightly pays homage to the nearly 3000 victims of the horrible 9/11 attack in the USA. However on this day we should in addition also remember the perhaps even higher number of victims of the US-assisted military coup in Chile on September 11 1973 which also resulted in the highly tragic and widely mourned death of one of the most sincere and democratic leaders of Latin America—President Salvador Allende.
Before this coup , Chile had enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a country of strong democratic traditions with regular elections and stability for decades. Democracy had survived here in the middle of several coups in Latin America. This was further strengthened with the election of Allende as President in September 1970 with a socialist pro-people agenda.
Allende was earlier a public health physician who emerged as leader of the Socialist Party. He joined hands with other left oriented groups to form the Popular Unity Government. Determined to use natural resources of the country to help the poorer people, this government nationalized copper mines and went ahead with land reforms.
This agenda was strongly disliked by the Nixon –Kissinger regime in the USA known for its very aggressive foreign policy. Earlier strong efforts had been made by the USA and its local allies to somehow prevent Allende’s election, using legal as well as illegal methods.
Unfortunately these forces refused even to accept the democratic verdict and unleashed a series of actions aimed at subverting the Allende government. An undeclared economic blockade of sorts was declared towards Allende-led Chile. A CIA telegram to its local station uncovered later stated—it is “firm and continuing” policy that Allende must be overthrown while ensuring that “ American hand be hidden.”
Chilean military officers regularly visiting the USA for training proved to be important contact points. Heavy weapons including missiles were arranged to be available to military units likely to join the coup. Several efforts were made to disrupt economy and then channelize the resulting discontent into opposition to the Allende government . Several strikes were instigated and added to the chaos.
In 1971 Fidel Castro made a long, 4 week visit to Chile in the course of which he is believed to have advised a lot of caution . The next year Allende returned the visit by spending time with Castro in Cuba. This and the refusal of Allende to oblige powerful US corporate interests led to more hostility against him and his government.
In June 1973 several rebel tanks advanced towards the Presidential palace but this coup attempt was foiled. The second attempt starting on September 11 was planned more extensively and Allende found himself cornered in the Presidential palace. Still he strongly refused to accept an offer of escaping to exile and decided to fight on till the end.
With US help the rebels had managed to assemble great military strength. This was one of the few coups where even the Air Force was used to bombard the President’s residence.
With both the Presidential Palace and the radio station being bombarded, President Allende made his famous farewell speech. He started by saying that this would be his last address to his people, conveying immediately the seriousness of the situation. He then announced—I am not going to resign! Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for the loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them I am certain that the seeds we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands will not be shriveled.”
He continued, “ They have force and will be able to dominate us,but such processes can be suppressed by neither crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history.”
President Allende was keen in this hour of crisis to warn his people of its roots—“ foreign capital, imperialism, together with the reaction, created the conditions in which the armed forces broke the tradition.”
With bombs and bullets roaring around him, Allende declared—“Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am certain my sacrifice will not be in vain.”
Allende died soon after. Some accounts say he died fighting, while others say that to avoid capture he took his own life in the last stage of the battle.
Given the enormity of the attack including bombing by Air Force, the relatively much smaller force guarding the President fought extremely bravely, but the unequal battle was over before the evening.
This was followed by military rule . Several thousand were killed, ‘disappeared’, and even more were tortured in the most cruel way. In Nazi type tortures, doctors were employed to somehow keep torture victims alive until torture could start all over again. The number of the imprisoned crossed the hundred thousand mark within 2 or 3 years. Those known to have leftist inclinations were most marked for imprisonment, torture or death. Special caravans of death went around the country hunting for targets. Augusto Pinochet who took over Chile after some time ( he was one of the key players in the coup) emerged as one of the most cruel dictators of all times who also threw upon the doors for foreign capital and plunder.
Historian Peter Winn has called this one of the most violent episodes in the history of Chile and pointed to the extensive evidence of US complicity. A US intelligence report in 2000 prepared at the diection of the National Intelligence Council also admitted that the CIA was aware in advance of coup plotting and plotters, had intelligence collection relations them, was involved in an earlier coup effort in 1970 and actively assisted the military junta which took over after the death of Allende.
Hence it was that the pleasant and peaceful land of Chile was transformed soon into a land from where the most frequent reporting was increasingly in the context of disappearances and tortures and death squads.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Protect Earth. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth For Children.
September 11, World Mourning… for Salvador Allende!
Today is the 48th anniversary of the death and overthrow of Salvador Allende. And this is the order in which historical events should be enunciated: first death and then overthrow, because Allende never surrendered his position as legitimate president elected by the people. He would rather die than surrender to the unworthy mercenary mafias that the Latin American armies had become through the work and interference of the U.S. Pentagon.
Convinced that socialism was the necessary and useful way to crystallize the historical demands of Chilean society, Allende had been a candidate for president on four occasions before being elected in 1970. Although in the other elections (in 1952, 1958 and 1964) his luck varied, in the 1970 elections he won the presidency, obtaining the first simple majority -with 36.6% of the vote- as candidate of Unidad Popular, which was a coalition of left-wing parties. Through this triumph, Allende became the first president of Marxist extraction elected in a republican system.
Consistent with his ideology, he tried to realize a “Chilean road to socialism” using the mechanisms and tools of the democratic system to create a Socialist State. This was three decades ahead of the other great democratic-socialist experiment that was the Bolivarian project of Hugo Chávez. However, the international context was different, especially in Latin America, where the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 unleashed a set of U.S. interventionist strategies, within the framework of the National Security Doctrine.
Washington was not willing to allow another socialist experiment to enable a Latin American nation to take the road to development and progress outside the U.S. hegemonic orbit. The president at the time, Republican Richard Nixon, had given express orders to use all resources to prevent the victory of Allende, who was competing with the right-wing Jorge Alessandri, who also received financial support from the CIA and the US transnational ITT (International Telephone & Telegraph).
Invested as president on November 3, 1970, Allende eagerly sought to provide Chile with a sovereign legal and economic framework, nationalizing strategic resources such as copper – Law No. 17,450 passed by Congress – and whose nationalization affected U.S. companies such as the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, owned by the Rockefeller clan, and the Kennecott Copper Corporation.
Before the Popular Unity government, U.S. companies controlled 80 percent of the national copper production, which in 1970 accounted for 80 percent of the foreign exchange earned from exports.
Salvador Allede and his close associates defended the Moneda Palace until it was impossible to contain the artillery fire and the fires that the army set to force the eviction and carry out the coup d’état. Shortly thereafter, Allende took his own life with the same AK 47 rifle he is shown wielding in the photograph.
Allende was also determined to undertake an agrarian reform and a constitutional reform that would make possible the transition from a capitalist economy sustained by a few wealth-concentrating minorities to a State structure that would integrate and benefit all the popular classes.
As is the case today with the Bolivarian governments, the press, a subsidiary of Washington’s interests, declared war on the new popular government, contaminating public opinion with the idea that Chile was approaching a proto-communist dictatorship, when in fact democracy had never before been celebrated in that country with such enthusiasm and institutional legitimacy. Pedro Castillo’s allegories with today’s Peru are dangerously evident.
The newspaper El Mercurio, owned by the Edwards family, historically linked to the oligarchies, owners of resources, land and finances, was the main spokesman of these interests. The newspapers La Tribuna and La Prensa, among many others, were also allied.
Years later, a U.S. Senate investigative committee chaired by U.S. Senator Frank Church, brought to light the intense relations between several U.S. Administrations and the coups d’état, the financing of the press and destabilizing operations in Latin America. The Church Committee or Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (its official name) analyzed the bribes and planning aimed at weakening the Allende government. Even the attempts to prevent him from winning the elections in the previous years.
In one of the sections of the report, entitled: “Scope of Covert Action in Chile – Support for the media” it is stated: “From 1953 to 1970 the CIA in Chile subsidized radio companies, magazines written by intellectual circles, and a weekly right-wing newspaper”. It adds “By far the largest – and probably the most significant – case of support to media organizations was the money provided to El Mercurio (…) A CIA memo concluded that El Mercurio and other media supported by the agency had played an important role in setting in motion the military coup of September 11, 1973 that overthrew Allende.” The so-called Project FUBELT was the code name for the operations that the CIA executed in Chile for the overthrow of the government. It was General Augusto Pinochet, in whom Allende trusted the most, who led a bloody coup.
The profound reforms and redistributive approach of Chile’s socialist period were used as an excuse to justify a growing economic deterioration. This induced economic destabilization -just as it is happening today in Venezuela- was a useful weapon to achieve political results that favored the protests of a middle class lacking strategic vision and manipulated by the media.
It would be impossible in this space to enumerate the political battles that President Allende and the Popular Unity had to go through in their three years of complex administration, where the challenge was to change the bourgeois structures of a country, using the same tools that bourgeois democracy made possible. Anathema that was central and produced tense debates within the Popular Unity formations, integrated by parties with different ideological and methodological extraction. Suffice it to say that his project knew no truce in order to bring it to a definitive and lasting social victory. Various institutional crises -with the Judiciary, with the Armed Forces, and a growing and artificial political violence in the streets propitiated by CIA operations- completed the scenario for the military uprising on September 11, 1973 that would overthrow the greatest democratic revolutionary experiment in Latin America and perhaps the world.
Faithful to the mandate of his people, Allende never surrendered or handed over the government to the emissaries of imperialism. The government house – La Moneda palace – was bombed and set on fire, but Allende resisted with his closest and most faithful officials. Finally, at 2:20 p.m. on that fateful day for Latin America and for Chile, Allende ordered to lay down his arms, although he would never do so, because in the privacy of his office he would shoot himself in the chin with the same AK-47 rifle with which he had defended the constitutionality of his country. Hours before, he had addressed a few words to the Chilean society and among them, he sentenced: “They have the force, they can subjugate us, but social processes are not stopped neither with crime nor with force. History is ours and it is made by the people”.
YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN THE DOCUMENTARY-INTERVIEW WITH SALVADOR ALLENDE IN 1971.
La fuerza y la razón (La forza e la ragione) Italy, 1971, 43 min. Director and screenwriter: Roberto Rossellini.
In May 1971, shortly after the electoral triumph that brought him to the presidency of Chile, Salvador Allende, by then the target of a media smear campaign orchestrated by the CIA and the Chilean aristocracy, unveiled his democratic project. On a visit to South America, Rossellini made this documentary-interview, which portrays an impassioned dialogue about the turbulent politics of the time.