On This Day — The Chilean Coup (September 11 1973)

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

Henry Kissinger — Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under Richard Nixon

“It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to Oct. 24 but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden…”

CIA cable — October 16 1970

“With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we’re proud of.”

General Colin Powell — US Secretary of State (2003)

Salvador Allende gives his inaugural address as president of Chile in 1970. (No Photoshop back then…)

Before the coup, Chile had been hailed as a beacon of democracy and political stability for decades; whilst the rest of South America had been plagued by military juntas and Caudillismo. The collapse of Chilean democracy ended a streak of democratic governments in Chile, which had held democratic elections since 1932. Historian Peter Winn characterised the 1973 coup as one of the most violent events in the history of Chile. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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Having lost the presidential elections of 1952, 1958 and 1964, Salvador Allende had reached the conclusion that his epitaph should be: “Here lies the next President of Chile.”

But, on Sept. 4, 1970, he won 36.29 percent of the votes, ahead of Jorge Alesandri, who scored 35.76 percent, and Radomiro Tomic with 27.95 percent. Although Allende had failed to obtain a majority of the popular vote, he had finally won the presidency according to a constitutional rule and a congressional custom.

The Chilean constitution in force at the time states that when no candidate obtains the majority, the Congress chooses the new president among the two most successful candidates.

The situation had occurred three times in the past and the Chilean Congress had always chosen the candidate with the highest number of votes. Alesandri had himself become president with 31.6 percent of the vote in 1958.

The election of Allende was not welcomed by Washington.

“Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty,” promised Edward M. Korry, the U.S. Ambassador to Chile after hearing the results of the election.

His socialist program included, among other things, reforms of the health care program, the educational system, and distribution of free milk for children. Moreover, he intended to nationalize the copper industry.

On Sept. 15, 1970, Richard Nixon ordered Richard Helms, the CIA director, to “make the economy scream [in Chile to] prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.”

During the Frei Presidency, from 1964 to 1970, U.S. aid to Chile amounted to about US$1 billion. Economic assistance came to abrupt halt on the day Allende was elected. U.S. military “aid,” on the other hand, rose from $800,000 in 1970 to about $11 million two years later.

On Oct. 16, CIA headquarters sent a communique to their base in Chile.

“It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.

It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to Oct. 24 but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date.

We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource.

It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden…”

In order to get rid of Allende, CIA pursued two simultaneously two plans, known as Track 1 and Track 2, respectively a legal and a military coup.

The Track 1 plan consisted in getting the Congress to vote for Jorge Alessandri. This would have required the help of Frei in order to persuade Chilean Lawmakers.

However, this plan had to be abandoned when it appears that Frei, in spite of being an opponent of Allende, would not cooperate with the CIA because of his respect for Chile democratic traditions.

Track 2 was more straightforward. The CIA intended to recruit the top military officers and put a junta in power.

However, General Rene Schneider, the Army Chief of Staff had equally great respect for his country constitutional values and would not go along with a military coup.

The CIA turned to General Roberto Viaux who organized the assassination of General Schneider. On Oct. 22, he was shot.

Then, on Sept. 11, 1973, having survived a previous coup a few months before, the Presidential Palace was besieged by rebels. Refusing to surrender, Allende gave his final speech and died just after in circumstances not entirely clear to this day.

As most documents concerning the Coup remain classified, many questions concerning the operation are still unanswered. Yet, one thing seems certain. Salvador Allende and Henry Kissinger certainly had a different view of what constitute a democracy.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves,” said Henry Kissinger.

Obviously, Salvador Allende had a different view of democracy.

“Chilean democracy is a conquest by all of the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of the exploiting classes, and it will be defended by those who, with sacrifices accumulated over generations, have imposed it with a tranquil conscience.

I sustain that never before has Chile had a more democratic government than that over which I have the honor to preside…

I solemnly reiterate my decision to develop democracy and a state of law to their ultimate consequences.”

During a 2003 television interview for the U.S. Black Entertainment Television Network, Collin Powell, then Secretary of State, was asked how the U.S. Government could justify some moral authority in the light of events such the 1973 Chilean Coup.

“With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we’re proud of.”

Never before had a high-ranked U.S. official come so close to conceding the role of the CIA in the assassination of the democratically elected state leader.

On Sept. 10, 2001, relatives of General Schneider filed a law suit against Mr. Kissinger accusing him of having planned his assassination.

PS: The following discussion was recorded on Sept. 16, 1973 in the White House.

Nixon: Nothing new of any importance or is there?

Kissinger: Nothing of very great consequence. The Chilean thing is getting consolidated and of course the newspapers are bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown.

Nixon: Isn’t that something. Isn’t that something.

Kissinger: I mean instead of celebrating — in the Eisenhower period we would be heroes.

Nixon: Well we didn’t — as you know — our hand doesn’t show on this one though.

Kissinger: We didn’t do it. I mean we helped them. [We] created the conditions as great as possible.

Nixon: That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played.

War on Democracy – US backed 1973 coup in Chile

People made prisoners in Chile when Pinochet took power talk about what happened, and how they were tortured.

REFERENCES

1973 Chilean coup d’état — Wikipedia

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On This Day — The Chilean Coup (September 11 1973)

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