Remembering September 11, 1973

The U.S.-Backed Coup In Chile

Revolutionary Worker #1214, October 5, 2003, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

15 September 2003. A World to Win News Service.For many people around the world September 11 has been a day of mourning for 30 years. On that other September 11 in 1973, the U.S. backed a coup that overthrew the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. On that day of infamy and in the months and years that followed, thousands of Chileans and other nationals were herded into sports stadiums, onto islands and into desert concentration camps to be tortured and executed.

No one can say for sure how many people were murdered. At the time, Chilean revolutionaries spoke of tens of thousands of victims. Today's Chilean government says 3,000, but the armed forces that committed that crime still have the last word over political events that displease them and they are not interested in counting. Some estimates say that 400,000 people were tortured. A whole generation of intellectuals and others who could escape was driven into exile.

The dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet ruled with impunity for 17 years. Under laws he made before stepping down, he and other murdering officers still enjoy impunity.

They are not the only ones. President Nixon is dead, but his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who played a central role in the coup has never been called to account. Top Bush officials have explained that one reason why the U.S. refuses to recognise the World Court in the Hague is the possibility that Kissinger would be indicated for crimes that are, after all, a matter of public record. In 1973, Nixon's UN Ambassador George Bush senior stood before the UN and blatantly lied that the U.S. had no role in the overthrow of Allende. Margaret Thatcher considered Pinochet a close friend and harbored him in England. All of these people have much blood on their hands.

In fact, all of today's powers would like to pretend that these things never happened. A few months ago the Chilean Navy almost succeeded in sending the Esmeralda on a tour of the UK and Europe to promote a pretty picture of Chilean-European military cooperation. This sailing ship was once used to train sailors and, in the days after September 11, 1973, as a floating torture chamber. No government raised its voice against this travesty until the ship was turned away from European ports by activists determined not to let its ugly history be forgotten.

The events in Chile 30 years ago took place in the context of worldwide upheaval and challenge to the world order. The Vietnam War inspired revolt everywhere and spread the message that the U.S. could be defeated. China, under the leadership of Mao, was blazing a trail to socialism and was a beacon light to revolutionary youth around the world. Revolutionary movements were growing in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This is the period in which Allende won the presidential elections in Chile in 1970. His Popular Unity government (a coalition of several left parties) was not revolutionary. It aimed for what they called a "peaceful transition to socialism." It implemented some progressive measures to nationalize major Chilean industries under the thumb of the U.S. (like copper mining, the backbone of Chile's economy, and the telephone system). Workers, peasants and landless peasants living in the shantytowns that ringed the capital city, Santiago, took this as a time to lift their heads and demand thorough social change. Strikes and demonstrations occurred constantly. Under cover of night, landless peasants would organize themselves, pick up existing fences and move them right up to the door of the landowner's house. Revolutionary-minded youth and intellectuals went to the countryside to join the peasants. People from around the world were drawn to the ferment going on in Chile and went there to learn and help.

But the U.S. government could not allow Allende to carry out measures that might interfere with U.S. control of Chile's riches. They didn't like Allende's moderate reforms, but they feared even more the unleashed aspirations and expectations of the Chilean people. They were also worried that if a coalition government with a pro-Soviet party in it were allowed to stand, the USSR, the main rival to U.S. imperialism, might stick its snout into what America arrogantly considers its own "backyard" where it can do whatever it wants.

The U.S. opposed the USSR under the banner of "democracy," but that was just a cover for naked greed. Kissinger said, "We can't let Chile go Marxist-Leninist just because its people are irresponsible." At the time it was clear that the dark hand of the U.S. government was deeply involved in those bloody events in Chile. This was later confirmed in 1998, when many American top- secret documents were declassified. As early as October 1970, right after Allende's election, one CIA document said, "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup... It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden."

With U.S. backing high-level Chilean industrialists in cahoots with rightwing elements created artificial food shortages. The U.S. government obstructed credit to the Chilean government from the World Bank and the InterAmerican Bank, while at the same time it funded and bribed many rightwing politicians and took initiatives to create a pro-coup military. Those generals seen as obstacles were killed, like Rene Schneider (before the coup) and Carlos Pratt (after the coup while in exile in Argentina). General Pratt had prevented an earlier coup attempt in June of 1973. Weeks after the September 11 coup, the U.S. ambassador to Chile Harry Schlaudeman (who a decade earlier had participated in the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic) sent a memo to Kissinger noting that "the military government of Chile requires adviser assistance of a person qualified in establishing a detention centre for the detainees... adviser must have knowledge in the establishment and operation of a detention center." Among other things, Chile seems to have been a learning experience for today's U.S.-run concentration camp in Guantánamo. Right after the coup, a U.S. intelligence officer directly involved wrote glowingly to his superior, "Chile's coup d'état was almost perfect." For the next decades, U.S. officials tried to deflect international criticism of Pinochet's regime, while professors at the University of Chicago ran Chile's economy as if it were their private plaything. Tanks and torture chambers made Chile a great place for American investments.

The terror in Chile endured long after the coup. Even some Chileans who found asylum in other countries were hunted down, kidnapped, killed or returned to Chile's detention centres. Killings were carried out under Operation Condor, a joint operation of the secret police of at least six Latin American dictatorships acting with the oversight of the CIA. DINA (the Chilean secret police) played an active role in Operation Condor. One such murder was that of ex-Chilean minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, killed by a car bomb while living in Washington, D.C. in 1976. Chilean and Argentine units of Operation Condor helped the death squads in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras commit their dirty deeds.

The families of Chile's dead and missing and others thirst for a day of reckoning. Over the years, hunger strikes, militant demonstrations and pitched battles with the police have occurred, with people demanding to learn what has happened to their loved ones. Lawsuits against Pinochet are in the courts, trying to expose his role as boss to DINA, and DINA chief Manuel Contreras, who was on the payroll of the CIA. Many families continue to refuse to accept money as a bribe for their silence and insist on justice. Some Chileans are afraid to remember those days, for fear that they will return, but many others will never forget. It is said that that most families have blood debts to settle. Especially in the shantytowns, slogans on the walls demand that Chile's ruling businessmen and politicians pay for their crimes past and present.

In a recent interview, a 58-year-old Chilean exile said, "When I look back on what happened, I am shaken with sadness and pain... We were so naïve--we weren't even armed."

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