The United States’ role in the 1973 coup in Chile is a significant chapter in the history of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. The coup, which resulted in the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, and the installation of General Augusto Pinochet as the country’s leader, has long been a subject of controversy and debate.

Background: Chile, in the early 1970s, had a thriving democracy with President Salvador Allende at its helm. Allende, a socialist, was elected in 1970 in a free and fair election. His government initiated a series of socialist reforms, including the nationalisation of key industries and land redistribution. While Allende’s government had its supporters, it also faced opposition from various sectors, including conservative politicians, business leaders, and the U.S. government.

U.S. Involvement: The United States, under President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, was concerned about the rise of socialism in Latin America during the Cold War. They viewed Allende’s government as a threat to U.S. interests in the region, particularly because of its nationalisation of American-owned copper mines.

Several actions taken by the U.S. government played a role in destabilising Chile and contributing to the 1973 coup:

  1. Economic Pressure: The U.S. government applied economic pressure by cutting off economic aid and loans to Chile. American companies were also encouraged to stop doing business with Chile.
  2. Covert Operations: The CIA conducted covert operations in Chile to undermine Allende’s government. This included funding opposition groups and media outlets that were critical of the government.
  3. Military Support: The U.S. provided support and training to elements within the Chilean military that were opposed to Allende’s government. The U.S. sought to create a favourable environment for a coup.
  4. Propaganda Campaign: The U.S. government engaged in a propaganda campaign to paint Allende’s government as a threat to democracy and a Soviet ally, using this narrative to justify their involvement.

The Coup: On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military, led by General Augusto Pinochet, launched a coup against Allende’s government. The coup resulted in Allende’s death and the establishment of a military junta led by Pinochet. The United States quickly recognized the new government.

Aftermath: Pinochet’s regime was marked by widespread human rights abuses, including torture and the killing of political opponents. The United States continued to support Pinochet’s government throughout his rule, providing military aid and diplomatic backing.

The U.S. involvement in the Chilean coup remains a controversial and contentious issue. Many argue that U.S. actions contributed to the overthrow of a democratically elected government and the subsequent repression in Chile. Others contend that Allende’s government was destabilising and that the U.S. had legitimate concerns about its socialist policies.

In recent years, declassified documents and investigations have shed further light on the extent of U.S. involvement in the coup, fuelling ongoing debate and discussion about this dark period in Chilean and American history.

Pinochet: The USA’s fascist dictator

The regime of General Augusto Pinochet, which ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, is often remembered as one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. Pinochet’s tyranny was marked by widespread human rights abuses, political repression, and economic policies that disproportionately favoured the wealthy elite. This article explores the key aspects of Pinochet’s tyranny and its enduring impact on Chilean society.

The 1973 Coup: Pinochet’s rise to power began on September 11, 1973, when he led a military coup against Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. The coup was supported by the United States and resulted in Allende’s death. Pinochet seized control of the country and established a military junta.

Human Rights Abuses: One of the most notorious aspects of Pinochet’s regime was its systematic violation of human rights. Thousands of Chileans were subjected to torture, imprisonment, and execution for their political beliefs. The regime’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), played a central role in these abuses.

Torture centres, such as the infamous Villa Grimaldi and the National Stadium, became symbols of the brutality of the regime. Many who were detained or disappeared during this period were never found, leaving their families in a state of perpetual uncertainty and anguish.

Political Repression: Pinochet’s regime silenced opposition voices through censorship, arrests, and intimidation. Political parties were banned, and the media was heavily controlled. Academics, journalists, and activists were targetted and often forced into exile to escape persecution. Chilean society lived in fear, with dissent effectively suppressed.

Economic Policies: While Pinochet’s regime implemented neoliberal economic policies that led to economic growth, the benefits were disproportionately skewed towards the wealthy elite. The “Chicago Boys,” a group of Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago, advised the regime on economic reforms. Privatisation, deregulation, and reductions in social spending resulted in increased inequality and poverty.

Legacy and Reckoning: Pinochet’s rule officially ended in 1990 when Chile transitioned back to democracy, with Patricio Aylwin becoming the country’s first democratically elected president since the coup. The transition was marked by efforts to hold individuals accountable for human rights abuses, but amnesty laws and legal obstacles shielded many perpetrators from prosecution.

Chile continues to grapple with the legacy of Pinochet’s tyranny. Truth and reconciliation commissions have sought to shed light on past atrocities, and efforts to bring those responsible to justice persist. The scars of the Pinochet era are still visible in Chilean society, as many survivors and their families seek closure and justice.

Pinochet and Thatcher: A relationship made in hell

The relationship between General Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s is a subject of controversy and debate.

Thatcher’s Support for Pinochet: Margaret Thatcher, known for her uncompromising stance on anti-communism, although as we now know the term ‘communism was entirely for propaganda purposes, played a significant role in the international politics of the Cold War era. She viewed Pinochet’s regime as a staunch ally against the spread of ‘communism’ in Latin America. Thatcher’s support for Pinochet’s government was based on ideological and strategic considerations.

  1. Anti-Communism: Thatcher considered Pinochet a bulwark against ‘communism’ in South America. She viewed his regime as a counterbalance to leftist movements in the region, especially given Chile’s proximity to Marxist-led governments in Cuba and Nicaragua.
  2. Economic Reforms: Pinochet’s implementation of neoliberal economic policies in Chile aligned with Thatcher’s own economic agenda. She praised Chile’s economic transformation under Pinochet as an example of free-market success.
  3. Falklands War: During the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982, Pinochet provided critical support to Britain. Chilean intelligence shared vital information with British forces, which contributed to the eventual British victory in the conflict. Thatcher’s gratitude for this support deepened her relationship with Pinochet.

Human Rights Concerns: While Thatcher publicly supported Pinochet’s government, this alliance came at a significant ethical cost. Pinochet’s regime was marked by egregious human rights abuses, including torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. These abuses were widely documented and condemned by human rights organisations.

Thatcher’s support for Pinochet drew criticism both domestically and internationally. Many argued that her alliance with a dictator who oversaw such atrocities undermined her commitment to democratic values and human rights.

The Arrest of Pinochet in the UK: One of the most dramatic moments in the relationship between Thatcher and Pinochet occurred in 1998. Pinochet, who was visiting the United Kingdom for medical treatment, was arrested on charges of human rights abuses committed during his rule. This arrest sparked an international legal and diplomatic crisis.

Thatcher vigorously defended Pinochet, arguing that he should enjoy immunity due to his status as a former head of state. She lobbied for his release, even visiting him during his house arrest in the UK.

The death of a dictator

General Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, passed away on December 10, 2006, at the age of 91. His death marked the end of a highly controversial and turbulent chapter in Chilean history and brought mixed reactions from various quarters.

Health Issues: In the years leading up to his death, Pinochet faced numerous health problems. In 2004, he suffered a heart attack and was subsequently diagnosed with congestive heart failure and diabetes. His deteriorating health led to frequent hospitalisations.

Legal Battles: Despite his declining health, Pinochet remained a figure of legal controversy until the end. He faced various legal challenges both in Chile and abroad, related to human rights abuses committed during his rule. International human rights organisations and Chilean activists pushed for his prosecution, seeking justice for the victims of his regime.

In 1998, while visiting the United Kingdom for medical treatment, Pinochet was arrested on charges of human rights abuses committed during his time in power. His arrest and subsequent legal battles marked a significant moment in the global pursuit of accountability for human rights violators, as it established the principle that former heads of state could be held accountable for such crimes.

House Arrest and Legal Immunity: After being detained in the UK for 16 months, Pinochet was ultimately released on medical grounds and allowed to return to Chile in March 2000. He faced charges of human rights abuses in Chile, but his health conditions led to the suspension of his trials on several occasions.

Pinochet’s legal immunity was a subject of contention in Chilean politics. At various points, he lost and regained immunity, and he was never tried for his crimes due to his health and legal manoeuvres.

Reactions to His Death: The news of Pinochet’s death elicited a wide range of reactions in Chile and around the world.

  • Supporters: Some in Chile, particularly those who viewed Pinochet as a protector of the country against ‘communism’ and praised his economic policies, mourned his passing. They saw him as a patriot who had saved Chile from political instability.
  • Critics: Many Chileans, especially those who had suffered under Pinochet’s regime or had lost loved ones to human rights abuses, did not mourn his death. For them, his passing represented the closure of a dark and painful chapter in their nation’s history.
  • International Community: Pinochet’s death brought no closure to the international community’s demands for justice and accountability for human rights abuses. The debate over his legacy continued, with some seeing it as a reminder of the need for international mechanisms to hold leaders accountable for such crimes.

In the years following Pinochet’s death, Chile continued to grapple with the legacy of his dictatorship, including efforts to bring those responsible for human rights abuses to justice and to address the enduring socio-political scars left by his rule.

The true hero of Chile

Salvador Allende, a prominent figure in 20th-century Latin American politics, is celebrated for his dedication to socialist ideals and his role as Chile’s first democratically elected Marxist president. His presidency, which lasted from 1970 until his tragic death in the 1973 coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, is a testament to his commitment to social justice, democracy, and economic reform.

Early Life and Political Beginnings: Born on June 26, 1908, in Valparaíso, Chile, Salvador Allende came from a middle-class family. He pursued a medical degree and graduated as a physician in 1933. During his early years, he became politically active, joining leftist and socialist movements that sought to address the socio-economic inequalities plaguing Chile.

The Road to the Presidency: Allende’s political journey was marked by perseverance and a deep commitment to socialist principles. He served in various political roles, including as a senator, and made several unsuccessful runs for the presidency. Finally, in 1970, after forming a broad coalition known as the “Popular Unity” (Unidad Popular), he won the presidential election, becoming Chile’s first Marxist president.

Reforms and the Pursuit of Social Justice: Allende’s presidency was characterised by a bold and ambitious reform agenda aimed at addressing Chile’s profound socio-economic disparities. His government implemented a range of policies, including:

  1. Nationalisation: One of the most notable aspects of Allende’s presidency was the nationalisation of key industries, including copper, Chile’s most vital export. This move aimed to regain national control over critical resources and redistribute wealth.
  2. Land Reform: Allende initiated land reforms to break up large estates and distribute land to peasants and rural communities. This policy aimed to empower agricultural workers and reduce land inequality.
  3. Social Programs: His government implemented various social programs, including free milk for children, increased access to healthcare, and education reform, with a focus on improving the quality of life for the poor.

Challenges and Controversies: Allende’s presidency faced numerous challenges, including opposition from conservative forces, economic instability, and pressure from the United States, which was concerned about the spread of socialism during the Cold War. Economic hardships and political polarisation contributed to social unrest.

The 1973 Coup and Tragic End: On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military, with the support of the United States, launched a coup against Allende’s government. Allende chose to remain in the presidential palace, La Moneda, during the coup, where he made a final radio broadcast to the nation, expressing his commitment to his vision for a more just Chile. He died in the palace that day, officially by suicide, although the circumstances surrounding his death remain a subject of debate.

Legacy: Salvador Allende’s legacy continues to resonate in Chile and around the world. He is remembered as a champion of social justice, democracy, and progressive change. His presidency, although brief, left an enduring impact on Chilean politics, inspiring subsequent generations of left-leaning leaders and activists.

The moral of the story is that if we do the right thing even in death, our name will live on for the right reasons.

What is Chile like today?

The mark of Allende outweighs that of Pinochet

Economic Stability: Chile has historically been one of the more economically stable and prosperous countries in Latin America. It has a diverse economy with strong sectors in mining (particularly copper), agriculture, manufacturing, and services.

Political Landscape: Chile transitioned to democracy in the early 1990s following the end of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. For many years, Chile had a stable two-party system, with the centre-left coalition (Nueva Mayoría) and the center-right coalition (Chile Vamos) alternating in power. However, this landscape has evolved in recent years with the rise of new political movements and increasing demands for constitutional reform.

Constitutional Reform: In response to widespread protests in 2019 over issues such as inequality and education reform, Chile initiated a process to draft a new constitution. This marked a significant shift in the political landscape, as the current constitution, which was enacted during Pinochet’s rule, has long been a subject of contention. A constitutional convention was elected in May 2021, with the goal of drafting a new constitution that reflects the country’s social and political changes.

Social Issues: Chile has made significant progress in reducing poverty and improving living standards over the years. However, income inequality has remained a persistent issue, leading to social unrest and protests. The 2019 protests, among the largest in Chilean history, called for greater economic and social equality, improved healthcare and education, and more accessible public services.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Like many countries, Chile has been dealing with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has implemented various measures to control the spread of the virus and has launched a vaccination campaign to inoculate its population.

Environmental Concerns: Chile faces environmental challenges, including issues related to air pollution in Santiago, water scarcity in certain regions, and concerns about the impact of mining activities on the environment.

Tourism and Natural Beauty: Chile is known for its stunning natural landscapes, including the Andes Mountains, Atacama Desert, Patagonia, and numerous national parks. It has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists interested in outdoor activities and nature.

What would Chile look like without the USA’s fascist coup?

We will, of course, never know. As with multiple other countries, they have been contaminated, but thankfully, Pinochet and his followers were largely removed and have died off. What we do know is that the USA is a force for ideological fascism and it imposes itself to make its elite even wealthier. Therein lies the ultimate challenge for decent people. Repeat the dark side of history over and over, or face it up and unite for something greater.

Jason Cridland

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