"The History They Didn't Teach You in School"--An occasional series. The "first" 9-11, the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile

On September 11 1973, military units in Chile attacked key government installations and overthrow the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende Gossens. This coup, which brought the repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet to power, was in large part the product of pressure and planning by American corporate and political leaders.

Allende was elected in 1970 as the candidate of the Popular Unity Party with the support of the Socialist and Communist Parties. He was thus freely elected AND a man of the Left, which for U.S. leaders was their worst-case scenario.
Henry Kissinger, the National Security advisor to President Richard Nixon at the time, immediately put together an operations group to oversee American policy in Chile with representatives of the , Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, State Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pentagon, and he made the infamous observation that the Americans would not let Chile turn Socialist due to the "irresponsibility" of its own citizens who had voted for Allende.

Kissinger's concern was not motivated by any concern that the Allende government might threaten the U.S.––in fact the CIA admitted "no vital national interestss within Chile." American businesses, however, feared that the new government might consider nationalizing key industries and International Telephone and Telegraph [ITT] and the Anaconda and Kennecot Copper companies had sizable holdings in Chile, while U.S. corporations in total had over $1 billion in investments within the country.

In 1971, the Allende government began to nationalize the country's mineral wealth, thus invoking the wrath of the copper companies and ITT especially. ITT in fact had long been aware of Allende and had given contributions to his opponent in the 1964 election. In 1970, the former CIA director and ITT board member John McCone met with then CIA head Richard Helms to discuss ways to prevent Allende from coming to power, and ITT was prepared to spend $1 million to see the plan to completion.
Accordingly, the Nixon Administration was committed to eliminating Allende from the start of his presidency. In late 1970, a national security memorandum outlined American policy. The U.S. would cut off economic assistance to Allende––about $70 million in Alliance for Progress money; oppose international loans to Chile; discourage private investment; and look for ways to disrupt the world copper market.

Covertly, the CIA gave nearly $2 million to opposition parties in 1971 and 1972; financed anti-Allende media; and encouraged and bankrolled labor strikes against the government. In addition, the Chilean embassy in Washington D.C. and the residences of Chilean diplomatic officials in New York were broken into, in some cases by the same men who were responsible for the Watergate break in. And in early 1973 legislative elections, the US poured in nearly $1.5 million to candidates opposing Allende's party.

At the same time, the US was making overtures to the Chilean army and those forces, under the direction of Pinochet, were moving into open opposition to the government. Then, on 11 September, the military staged its coup and Allende was found later that day dead, a victim of suicide according to the coup plotters.

After the coup, a brutal crackdown on Allende supporters and others considered subversive took place. Thousands were killed, "disappeared" or imprisoned (including the well-known folk singer Victor Jara), and the army shut down labor unions and took over the once autonomous universities.

For the next quarter-century, Chileans lived under the repressive Pinochet regime, which continued to be supported by American government and corporate institutions. Finally, Chile returned to democracy and Pinochet, while in Britain, was detained and charged with crimes against humanity. The British government finally allowed Pinochet to leave that country and return to Chile, where victims of his repression continue to seek legal remedy for the evils he committed during his reign of terror, which began, with US underwriting, on September 11th 1973.

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Recommended:
Peter Kornbluh, editor, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (A National Security Archive Book)
Isabel Allende, My Invented Country
Jacobo Timmerman, Chile: Death in the South
"Missing"--starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek
 

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