By Raheel Bashir
September the 11th, 2018 marks forty five years of one the most gruesome acts of terrorism in modern times. On this day in 1973, the Chilean Military backed by the United States initiated a coup d’état that deposed the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende, leading to his eventual death and established a brutal military junta under Augusto Pinochet. The events of Chile’s 9/11 were equally horrific as the much publicized United States’ 9/11, if not more. The date continues to live in ‘infamy’ at least in the minds of people of Chile.
Allende contested the 1970 presidential election on a socialist platform. Upon assuming power and after winning a closely fought election, he began the implementation of popular programs like nationalization of large scale industries, agrarian reforms, healthcare, literacy campaign and so on. (Allende termed it as the “Chilean path to Socialism”). Chile’s agrarian reform and broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants carried a strong appeal to the populations of entire hemisphere where similar conditions prevailed. A successful course of national development taken by Chile in “United States’ own backyard” could prove to be a “rot, which might spoil the entire barrel”(Dean Acheson).The rot of successful social and economic development.
In 1972, at the UN General Assembly annual speech, Allende delivered a scathing attack on US foreign policy and the monopolies which it served. Denouncing US interference, Allende accused it of “attempting to bring about a civil war in Chile.” The declassified documents of the US intelligence committee reveal the explicit support of President Nixon to the coup and the ensuing military dictatorship. His adviser Henry Kissinger expounded on regime change in Chile on the premise that “the example of a successful elected Marxist government in Chile would surely have an impact on the other parts of the world, especially in Italy; the imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would , in turn , significantly affect the world balance and our own position in it.”
The revanchist campaign of the US began with clandestine CIA operations of creating civil strife in Chile and culminated in a coup d’état. After overthrowing the democratically elected president, the military junta under Augusto Pinochet suspended all political activities. The United States was quick to recognize the military government and helped it further in consolidating power. In the first months after the coup, leftist dissidents and suspected sympathizers of the Allende were killed with savage cruelty. Some were thrown out of helicopters into the oceans and others were taken by death squads into the national soccer stadium where they were executed by firing squads (called “Caravan of Death”). The most notable among the people executed was folk singer Victor Jara. The dictatorship was characterized by repression, torture and forced disappearances.
According to a report put forth by Rettig Commission  in 1991, the number of victims of human rights violations in Chile during the period of dictatorship accounts for thirty thousand people; twenty seven thousand tortured and three thousand executed. In addition, around two hundred thousand people suffered exile. The famous Chilean author Isabel Allende recounts the horror when she had to flee the country to neighboring Venezuela, writing in her memoirs she describes the fateful the day when “the most solid democracy in the continent became a dictatorship in a matter of hours. The people who were targeted were of course the political leaders, artists, writers, union leaders and journalists.”
Withal the crackdown on civil liberties, the Pinochet dictatorship launched a vicious economic assault on the Chilean population. The economy was handed over to ‘Chicago Boys’, the disciples of a right wing economist, Milton Friedman. The welfare state measures achieved during Allende’s term were destroyed and economic regime of free-market fundamentalism was instituted. The implementation of what is often called “shock therapy” caused mass unemployment, purchasing power losses, extreme inequalities and severe socio-economic damage. There was a marked increase in poverty, decline in wages and severe cuts to housing, healthcare and education spending.
The period of so- called ‘monetarist experiment’ which lasted from 1975 to 1982 was a period of considerable economic catastrophe which led to the serious banking crisis. Renowned economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has argued that the experience of Chile during this experiment reflects the failure of the economic liberalism posited by the likes of Milton Friedman, claiming that there was very little growth during this period. After the crisis of 1982, the state controlled more of the economy than it had under the previous socialist regime. The sustained growth came only after the government cooled down its ‘ideological fever’ and maintained the control of its copper company in public hands. These harsh and widely unpopular economic measures have had a lasting impact on Chile and the country ranks very high among the most unequal societies in OECD countries.
While the people of Chile met with great suffering during the course of the dictatorship, the enablers of the economic dogmatism and their mentors were collecting prizes and greeted with tremendous applause in the western intellectual circles. Having lost the 1988 referendum, where majority of voters rejected the extension of Pinochet’s term, the dictatorship eventually ended in 1990. Despite relinquishing power, Pinochet escaped justice and died in 2006 without being convicted for his crimes. The events leading to the US backed military coup and the aftermath have been conveniently pushed down the Orwellian ‘Memory Hole’. This horrible atrocity unfortunately validates to a larger extent the dictum of Athenians as narrated by Thucydides in the history of Peloponnesian War: “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
: Rettig Commission (1991) designated by then-Presidentof Chile encompasses human rights abuses that occurred during Pinochet Dictatorship.
: Sen Amartya, Hunger and Public Action.
The author is an engineering graduate from NIT, Srinagar. He can be reached at: email@example.com