SANTIAGO, Chile – 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 try it.”
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 single day.
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 11.