The Other September 11th: The 1973 US-Backed Military Coup In Chile

43 years ago today, the US financed and covertly launched one of the most notorious coups in Latin American history.

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Though most people in the US will spend today remembering September 11th, 2001 on its 15th anniversary, other countries have similarly tragic anniversaries of their own this Sunday. 43 years ago, the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet and backed by the US government, overthrew and murdered the democratically-elected socialist leader of Chile, Salvador Allende. Due to the covert intervention of the CIA in the coup and the subsequent dictatorship of Gen. Pinochet, the overthrow is one of the most notorious in all of Latin American history.

The US has a long history of regime change in Latin America, beginning with the 1954 overthrow of the democratic government in Guatemala to protect United Fruit’s interest in artificially low banana prices and more recently with the attempted 2002 overthrow of Chavez by the CIA and the legitimization of the 2009 coup in Honduras, which was openly supported by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s support for illegal coups should come as no surprise as she has described Henry Kissinger as “her friend and mentor.” Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State during Nixon’s presidency and he was largely responsible for the planning and execution of Chile’s 1973 coup as well as various other atrocities around the world, including the blanket bombing of Cambodia.

Kissinger worked behind the scenes with the full approval of Nixon to put a regime in power in Chile that ultimately killed over 40,000 people and led to the disappearances of several thousand more, forever changing the country. Compare that number to the 2,996 people that died on September 11, 2001.

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Henry Kissinger meeting with Dictator Pinochet after the coup

Why did Nixon and Kissinger conspire to remove Allende’s government from power? Allende, a socialist whose policies were tame compared to those recently proposed by Bernie Sanders, had raised concerns among Chilean elites, including Chilean newspaper magnate Agustín Edwards. Edwards then flew to the United States to ask for “help” in destabilizing Allende’s regime. During his trip to the US, he met with Kissinger and then-Director of the CIA Richard Helms. Following the meeting, the US paid over $10 million, $2 million of which went directly to Edwards, for the express purpose of carrying out the coup d’état to destroy what was known as the “Allende experiment” as Allende had managed to combine socialist revolution with real democracy. According to the infamous “Nixon tapes,” Nixon described Allende as “the enemy” and said that he had “decided to give [Allende] the hook” on two separate occasions in 1971 and again in 1972. With CIA covert operations crescendoing over a three-year period, which included a previous yet unsuccessful coup against Allende, the climate had been set for one of the most violent coups in Latin American history.

Salvador Allende making a speech in Patricio Guzmán's THE BATTLE OF CHILE, an Icarus Films Home Video release.

Salvador Allende making a speech in Patricio Guzmán’s THE BATTLE OF CHILE (Icarus Films)

On the morning of September 11, 1973, President Allende was informed just before 7 AM that the Navy had gone rogue and was planning to overtake Valparaiso, one of Chile’s most populous cities and one of its most important ports. When Allende arrived at La Moneda, the Chilean equivalent of the White House, he learned that all three branches of the military, not just the Navy, were actively seeking to remove him from power. Allende attempted to address the public via radio to bolster his support among the citizenry. However, tanks soon surrounded La Moneda as the military took control of the police. The military offered Allende the opportunity to surrender and flee the country. Allende refused, instead vowing to defend his country’s principles with his life. Shortly thereafter, the military began to bomb La Moneda and Allende allegedly committed suicide around 1 pm. In the streets of Chile, chaos reigned as people who identified as communist or socialist as well as intellectuals and celebrities were rounded up, tortured, and executed. Over 20,000 people were herded into the stadium in the days following the coup. In the coming days, the military junta consolidated power and General Pinochet became Chile’s dictator.

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Millions protest against Chile’s privatized pension program, first created by Pinochet decades earlier

Ever since Pinochet lost power in 1990, Chile has failed to recover from the violent political persecution, privatization of a majority of public utilities and services (water, roads, etc), and state protection of corrupt corporations. Though Chile claims to be democratic, much of Pinochet’s legacy remains, not just in place, but protected by the state. Before leaving office, Pinochet created a constitution for Chile, which is still in effect, that prohibited judicial action against those responsible for the coup and the atrocities that occurred during and after.

Pinochet was never charged for his crimes as a result. Subsequent Chilean presidents, liberal and conservative alike, have failed to reverse most of Pinochet’s policies in the last 26 years. Some presidents, such as Sebastián Piñera, have even expanded them, including the very unpopular AFP privatized pension program that has sentenced many of Chile’s elderly to die in poverty. On this September 11th, please take the time to remember the terrorism of Kissinger and Nixon, who robbed an entire country of its democratic hopes, consigning it instead to decades of persecution and corporate exploitation.

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