In 1970, South America had its own September 11 when Salvador Allende
was overthrown in a US-inspired coup by Augusto Pinochet. This set the stage
for the transcontinental Operation Condor, a Latino war "of" terror
that eliminated thousands of people who were or might have become political
You don't need an Osama bin Laden to pull a September 11. Forget Boeings-turned-into-missiles
crashing into twin towers. Switch for a moment to four military planes bombing
a presidential palace - and replay a different September 11 movie starring Dick
and Henry. "Dick", of course, is the late US president Richard Nixon.
"Henry" was his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Foreign
policy-wise, it's quite an enlightening plot.
Scene 1: Washington, the Oval Office, September 1970. Dr Salvador Allende,
a man of culture, grand bourgeois and charismatic founder of the Socialist Party,
has just won the presidential election in Chile fair and square, with 36.22%
of the votes. Nixon and Kissinger receive Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
director Richard Helms. Nixon tells Helms, according to Kissinger, that he wants
"a major effort to see what could be done to prevent Allende's accession
to power. If there were one chance in 10 of getting rid of Allende, we should
Scene 2: Santiago, La Moneda Palace, September 11 of the year 1973, 8am. Allende,
the democratically elected president of Chile, is worried about a general called
Augusto Pinochet. Radio stations are mute. The navy has taken over Valparaiso
- where the president was born. But he worries about his new army commander,
chosen less than three weeks ago: "Poor Pinochet, he must have been arrested
General Pinochet is far from arrested: he is conducting a coup. Troops march
over Santiago. At 8.30am a solemn military declaration makes treason official.
Tanks roll into the city center. At noon, four Stuka planes destroy Allende's
private residence on Tomas Moro Street and bomb La Moneda Palace. The president
chooses resistance, fighting the troops surrounding the palace and spurning
offers of a plane for himself and his family to leave the country. When his
capture is imminent, Allende presses his chin against the AK-47 that Cuban leader
Fidel Castro gave him, and fires. At 2pm, the military junta takes power. Systematic
arrests, torture and executions start almost immediately.
Between these two scenes is the story of a coup that unfolded in slow motion
for virtually three years. The United States was still embroiled in Vietnam.
Nixon's policy for the whole of Latin America was one word short of "war
on terror": "to prevent another Cuba". Nixon simply could not
tolerate "that bastard Allende" (in his own words). Chile had the
largest copper reserves in the world. Allende was about to nationalize Chilean
copper - thus sabotaging the monstrous US corporate profits of Anaconda Copper
Mining Co and Kennecott Copper Co, which had been bleeding the country for decades.
The Chilean-destabilization strategy, presided over in detail by Kissinger,
developed into a series of operations called Track 1 and Track 2. The CIA tried
to stage a coup even before Allende's inauguration on November 1970, giving
US$50,000 to a crypto-Nazi gang to kill chief of staff General Rene Schneider
on October 22, and bribing generals and admirals. It didn't work.
Allende wanted to develop "a peaceful Chilean way towards socialism".
He was elected by workers, peasants and the marginalized, urban lower classes.
Educated urban youth celebrated the "socialism of red wine and empanadas"
(stuffed pastry). But Washington would prevent any turn to the left by devastating
the Chilean economy, deploying mass bribery, spying and blackmail.
Allende in fact was a moderate compared with Chilean popular movements further
to the left that occupied factories, lands or just property (1,278 occupations
in 1971 alone). Then strikes started to spread (3,200 in 1972). Industrialists
sabotaged production. No one could explain how Chilean credit was suddenly cut
off in international markets. Loans were suspended.
The CIA, apart from non-stop sabotage, financed strategic strikes - doctors,
bank clerks, a very long truck drivers' strike. Conservative newspapers conducted
a non-stop vicious disinformation campaign. There were coup rehearsals. And
political chaos compounded economic chaos: the Christian Democrats - the centrists
- ended up joining the right and the extreme right against Allende.
Nixon got exactly what he wanted. On September 11, US Navy ships monitored
all Chilean military bases to warn the plotters about who might be supporting
Allende. Pinochet took over and entered history as the definitive, sinister
Latin American dictator from central casting.
Dictatorship in Chile coincided with the ascension of neo-liberalism (which
in the 1990s would be remixed as "globalization"). Chileans with scholarships
had been a fixture of the University of Chicago for years. The charter of neo-liberalism
- and Pinochet's Holy Economic Grail - was written by two of them, Sergio de
Castro and Arturo Fontaine. Afterward, it was classic division of labor: the
armed forces killed while the "Chicago boys" applied neo-liberal economic
policies. Military repression assured economic "freedom".
Some other dictators were in place before Pinochet, more were to follow. By
the mid-1970s, six US-backed South American dictatorships - Chile, Argentina,
Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay - were united in deep secret under the
infamous, transnational Operation Condor, a Latino war "of" terror
eliminating everyone who was or might become a political adversary.
Condor had two key players: Pinochet in Chile (who kept Condor's centralized
computers) and Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay (he died this year in Brazil).
The Pinochet regime kept a small lab for the fabrication of botulism soup and
nerve gas - which were and remain certified weapons of mass destruction; the
chemist responsible later escaped to Uruguay and was assassinated. Orlando Letelier,
Chile's ambassador to Washington under Allende in 1970-72, was assassinated
under Condor. Who cared? Military fascism was Washington's daily special, every
Pinochet and Condor, in Chile, were responsible for as many victims as September
11: about 3,000, including 1,198 "disappeared". In Argentina, there
were officially at least 10,000 dead: for human-rights organizations there were
more than 30,000 dead and "disappeared". In Paraguay, there were at
least 2,000 dead; in Bolivia at least 350 dead and "disappeared",
in Brazil almost 300, in Uruguay almost 200. Families of the "disappeared"
are convinced Kissinger knew about everything. He will take his secrets to the
grave, as will model dictator Pinochet - who still refuses to die.
Behind the rebuilt La Moneda palace in central Santiago, facing the Ministry
of Justice building, there is a statue of Allende. Underneath, the words: "I
have faith in Chile and its destiny." These were his last words before
he committed suicide, instead of becoming a hostage on South America's September
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