30 Years Since Chile’s Military Coup, Allende Lives

"Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live
the workers!
These are my last words and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in
I am certain that at least it will be a moral example
that will punish the felony, cowardice, and treason."
— Salvador Allende, Sept. 11, 1973

For Latin Americans, Sept. 11 marked a cataclysmic event well before that same date in 2001 was etched in the conscience of the U.S. populace by terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Organization headquarters. On that
date in 1973, Chile awoke to a U.S.-supported military coup against its democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. By 12:15 p.m., Allende lay dead in La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace.

To commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the attack, activists from across the continent gathered in what was more a celebration of the man and his government than a requiem. The International Seminar "At 30 years, Allende lives!" took a close look at the surge of grassroots organizing that grounded Chile’s agrarian reforms, as well as struggles for housing and dignified employment during Allende’s three years as president. Participants stressed the need for similar popular participation to increase democracy in today’s Chile.


U.S. Involvement, End of People’s

"The armed forces have acted with patriotic inspiration to take a
nation out of chaos, a grave chaos that Allende’s Marxist government caused,"
declared a triumphant Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte the night of Sept. 11.
Chile’s military junta (1973-1990) replaced Allende’s democratic socialism
with a tyranny of terror that continues to haunt the nation.

Allende’s government was targeted as a threat to U.S. strategic policy
in Latin America early on. White House tapes reveal that on Sept. 14, 1970,
then-President Richard Nixon ordered measures to force the Chilean economy
into bankruptcy. "The U.S. will not accept a Marxist government just
because of the irresponsibility of the Chilean people," declared Henry
Kissinger, Nixon´s secretary of State. "The CIA had a large role
in the strike against Salvador Allende and the Chilean people," states
U.S. author James Cockroft. "Big corporations like [the] ITT American
telecommunications giant also played a large role in preparing the conditions
for the coup in Chile. Economic blockades, destabilization of the economy,
direct military participation were all part of the imperialist intervention
of the CIA and U.S. military," continues Cockroft.

Four U.S. battle ships approached Chile’s coast Sept.11, supposedly to
participate in regional military practices. They maintained permanent contact
with the coup leaders. Leading up to the coup, in July and August right-wing
terrorists trained by U.S intelligence agencies carried out over 250 sabotage
actions, exploding electric lines, targeting industry belts, and assassinating
key civilians. In October 1972 the Chilean Transport Confederation called
a general strike, financed by the CIA, which paralyzed the nation. Months
before the military coup, the Chilean army began immobilizing worker-controlled
factories by organizing operatives and testing the possible reactions of the
working class to a coup. "Three years of economic war permitted the White
House and internal opposition to win an important sector of the middle class.
It’s here the official rebels found the base of support to develop their plans,"
expresses Patricio Guzmán in his moving film The Battle of Chile.

"Economic methods to destabilize progressive governments were perfected
in 1973," comments Cockroft. Even while confronting attempts at destabilization,
Allende’s approval among public opinion rose. On Sept. 4, 1970 Allende, as
candidate of the Popular Unity Front, was elected with 36.4% of votes. In
March of 1973, Allende’s party won legislative elections with 43. 4%. In response
to employer lock-outs in industry, factories were nationalized and workers
organized themselves to control production. Activists from MIR, the Leftist
Revolutionary Movement, tell of expropriating buses with pistols in hand and
working armed inside factories to guarantee that production and transportation

Workers, peasants, students, and state workers rallied behind Allende in
huge street demonstrations, by organizing community deposit centers where
food was sold at cost, and by opening supermarkets closed during the business
shut-down. On Sept. 4, 1973, in response to the perceived immanence of the
coup attempt and a plebiscite planned for Sept. 11, the largest political
act in Chile’s history was held in Santiago’s center, mobilizing tens of thousands
of people.

Cockcroft notes that as a result of the coup, the Chilean oligarchy and
the U.S. imperialists were able to install a repressive dictatorship and a
neoliberal economic regime that left the majority of the people poorer than
during Allende’s government, when over half the population improved its economic
condition. Pinochet immediately applied U.S.-prescribed measures of privatization
and elimination of restrictions on the circulation of capital. Conditions
favorable to foreign investors, including tax exemptions, and the lowering
of environmental and labor standards sought to lure foreign investors.

But the neoliberal model imposed after Allende’s fall was only possible
through the brutal control of all political dissent, achieved by militarizing
society and implementing a state of terror. "After Sept. 11 all military
resources were used to repress the Popular Unity Front, with North American
compliance and presence," Guzmán narrates. In the ensuing days,
sport stadiums were transformed into concentration camps where thousands passed
through the hands of the dictatorship’s terror and torture; executions and
disappearances became commonplace.

Over the next 17 years, Pinochet’s dictatorship insured a submissive and
dependent economy and a stranglehold on dissent. It is estimated that about
550 enterprises under public-sector control, including most of Chile’s largest
corporations, were privatized between 1974 and 1990. During the same period,
some 3,000 people were officially declared dead or disappeared.


The Past that Lingers

"After 30 years, our history is still an open, bleeding wound,"
states Cesar Quirós, Chilean human rights activist from the Manuel
Rodríguez Movement. He notes that Chile’s transition to democracy has
been full of contradictions. Until the late 80s Pinochet’s regime maintained
strong control. On Sept.11, 1980 Pinochet adopted a new Constitution to stay
in power and announced a plebiscite for 1988. With civil society pressuring
for elections, Pinochet’s regime was rejected in the plebiscite. He remained
in power until his executive term ended in 1990.

Pinochet and his supporters formed a political party, the Alliance for
Chile. The first candidate of the right-wing alliance was Pinochet’s former
Minister of Finance Hernán Büchi Buc, who ran as an independent
supported by the pro-government Independent Democratic Union (UDI, by its
Spanish initials). Center-left forces formed a coalition made up of 17 parties
to defeat the new right and it succeeded with the election of Christian Democrat
Patricio Aylwin, with 55.2% of votes in December 1989. Today, the coalition
includes the Christian Democrats and center-left politicians, among them many
who supported the coup and participated in the Pinochet dictatorship.

Thirteen years have passed since the end of the dictatorship and the much-heralded
"return to democracy," but many of the old systems of repression
remain. Even now, people continue to denounce new cases of disappearances.
Chile has not been able to solve past crimes and current contradictions that
have permanent effects on today’s society: Some 1,200 disappeared remain unaccounted
for; impunity for war criminals continues to be the legal norm; the same military
and police forces control the streets; and ex-military leaders of the dictatorship
are serving as senators for life. Nelson Mery, chief of Chile’s Investigative
Police since 1990, resigned his post on Sept. 26 of this year, more than a
month after being formally accused of torturing prisoners during the 1973-1990
dictatorship of Pinochet.

Quirós maintains that due to pressures from the right-wing and U.S.
political interests, Chile’s return to democracy has brought little fundamental
change. "Chile’s democracy is still a dictatorship, nearly intact. Constitutional
powers are the same, it’s the same Constitution of 1980. When you talk about
Chile’s armed forces, they are the same as under Pinochet. The armed forces
continue to claim that they will not allow another popular government like
Popular Unity. They’ve made sure that popular sectors are not able to embark
on a new attempt to change this unjust society that excludes the majority
and is anti-democratic."

The Chilean Constitution that Pinochet adopted provides the military with
autonomy from civil government, allowing armed forces to act unchecked. Referring
to the Constitution, current President Ricardo Lagos has stated: "The
authoritarian seeds are there intact. Our transition has not been concluded,
we don’t have a Magna Carta that has democratic norms." Nonetheless,
many feel that Lagos’ efforts at political reform have been symbolic, while
at the same time guaranteeing impunity and amnesty for those responsible for
crimes during the dictatorship and dutifully applying neoliberal policies.

"For 30 years, Chile has been a model of imperialism. Now we have
both forms, economic and military control. Economic measures today are the
same neoliberalism that Pinochet implemented in the 1970s, but it’s more ferocious,
sophisticated and complete," Cockcroft asserts. He adds that today these
policies are being imposed by free trade accords, exemplified by the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the north and the U.S.-Chile Free
Trade Agreement in the south.

Although from the same party as Allende, Lagos has been a staunch promoter
of the free trade agreement with the United States. In July, the U.S. Congress
ratified the free trade Agreement with Chile and the Chilean Congress expects
to pass and sign the agreement no later than Oct. 31. The first ratified free
trade agreement of this type in South America will then take effect Jan. 1,
2004. The United States is already Chile’s primary client for exports, with
total sales to the United States at over $2.87 billion. The agreement with
Washington will immediately lift 85% of Chile’s import taxes and will totally
abolish tariffs by 2014. Lagos had already signed a free trade agreement with
the European Union in 2002.


Conflicts Unresolved

Chile has adopted a model for development that only benefits a small sector
of society, led by transnational businesses, and leaving out most workers
and peasants. Nearly 22% of the population is living below the poverty line
and the unemployment rate stands at 9.2%. The economy has been globalized
through privatizations and is dependent on imported capital and foreign investment.
Conditions for macroeconomic policies are set by foreign bodies, especially
the U.S. government and the multilateral financial institutions. Like its
neighbors Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, Chile continues to borrow from financial
institutions to stabilize capital flows, while private debt accumulated under
the dictatorship has been absorbed by public sectors. In 1980, Chile’s debt
was $11.2 billion; by 2002 it had swelled to $40.4 billion.

Agrarian reform carried out under the Allende administration has become
a thing of the past. On the contrary, tendencies toward concentration of land
have grown stronger in recent years, a cause for concern in a nation where
nearly 14% of the labor force works in agriculture. Francisca Ramírez,
indigenous activist from Vía Campesina, sees the impact of the transnationalization
of agriculture on the small farmers she works with every day. "We are
demanding that what we produce and eat not be determined by corporations and
capital forces. This government’s vision is that agriculture has its basis
in the free market, that it’s necessary to produce for those with money."
She reaffirms the need for Chile to be able to sustain its basic needs through
developing agricultural diversity and blocking agri-corporations from further
extending systems of monoculture.

The past two decades have also seen increasing conflict between Chile’s
indigenous peoples–particularly the country’s largest indigenous group, the
Mapuche–and a series of Chilean governments over questions of land rights
and development. These conflicts have resulted in a number of deaths. Most
recently a 17-year-old Mapuche activist, Edmundo Alex Lemun, died on Nov.
12, 2002, five days after being shot in the head during a clash with carabineros
(police) who were trying to forcibly remove a group of Mapuches occupying
ancestral indigenous lands claimed by the Mininco lumber company in Angol
Province. There are dozens of Mapuche activists today being held as political
prisoners in Chile’s jails as part of struggles for land rights.

Washington’s policy proclaims that the proposed free trade agreements will
help usher in "a hemisphere of liberty." Linking free markets to
democracy, U.S. President George W. Bush has declared that "people who
operate in open economies eventually demand more open societies." The
U.S. continues to support governments that adopt favorable conditions to foreign
capital and investments, but today it chooses its tactics more carefully.
Making back-door trade agreements, setting financial conditions, and controlling
the poor through structural adjustment policies of international lending institutions
have replaced financing and supporting military dictatorships.


All-Too-Living Legacy

On Sept. 11, while Lagos attended ceremonies in front of La Moneda to commemorate
those who lost their lives 30 years ago, Pinochet attended a different ceremony.
Twisting history to celebrate himself as a legitimate statesman, Pinochet
commemorated 30 years since the military coup and donated his presidential
sash to the Pinochet Foundation. This foundation’s objective is to honor the
dictatorship. Some 4,000 people attended this ceremony. In a symbolic act,
current head of the Chilean military Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre, made a surprise
visit to Pinochet’s home to chat with the ex-dictator–who was Cheyre’s commander-in-chief
in 1973. Neither made any public declaration of what they talked about in
the meeting. Cheyre also attended ceremonies at the Military School to commemorate
the deaths of anti-Allende forces during and after the military coup. In national
newspaper headlines he was quoted as saying, "I feel secure about our
power to manifest that the Chilean Army has carried out its tradition of military

Jorge Martínez Busch, former military commander-in-chief and current
senator, also publicly defended the military coup. In one of the ceremonies
he stated that the military should "wake up and take action," referring
to the military’s power to guarantee immunity for crimes against humanity.

On Sept. 9, family members of the disappeared and ex-detainees peacefully
occupied the Mexican, Portuguese, and Swiss embassies to demand an end to
impunity for military criminals. "We have organized this action, because
at 30 years since the military coup that ended Salvador Allende’s constitutional
government, the state has not sought justice for crimes against humanity,
or executions perpetrated by the Armed Forces and agencies created to repress
a defenseless population," stated a woman participating in the action.
"In 13 years the government of conciliation has not reached truth and
justice with respect to the atrocities committed by the dictatorship. There
are more than 200 ex-military personnel exempt from judicial process, including
Pinochet. Also exempt from justice are many civilians who investigated, collaborated,
covered-up, or participated directly in repressive acts."

Days after the military coup, songwriter Victor Jara was detained, tortured,
mutilated, and executed inside Chile’s National Stadium. His body–badly beaten,
with 44 bullet wounds and wrists broken by rifle butts–was found days later
in an abandoned field. Thirteen years after Chile’s transition to democracy,
Lagos agreed to officially rename the stadium after Jara on Sept. 12. This
symbolic gesture marks years of struggle by organizations and activists, but
it also marks the contradictions between today’s democracy and a system of
terror still intact. The night of Sept. 11, hundreds participated in a march
to the stadium to realize an act of homage to Victor Jara. As in like cases
of so-called "unauthorized" marches, Chile’s police force was ordered
to repress. Demonstrators were tear-gassed, water-cannoned, and beaten. Four
hundred arrived at the stadium, where thousands of candles were lit to give
homage to those revolutionaries who died. Outside, hundreds more gathered
after marching down the Alameda where they confronted the police.

During what the newspapers called "the night of terror," some
200,000 people in the working class neighborhoods outside of Santiago suffered
a blackout when electricity lines were cut. Neighborhoods themselves cut the
electricity to make it harder for the police to repress demonstrators. The
worst battles between police and demonstrators were fought in these working
class neighborhoods. After it was all over, police chief Alberto Cienfuegos
sent a radio message congratulating the police for their work "with so
much passion and energy." Twelve police officers were wounded in the
actions, one shot in the face. There were some 300 demonstrators detained.

History, memory, and personal experiences have not let the events of Chile’s
past 30 years be erased. Activities and actions commemorating Allende demonstrate
that thousands of Chile’s workers, peasants, and students have not abandoned
what is known as the "Battle of Chile." Chilean organizations and
social movements continue to demand justice for the disappeared, an end to
impunity, and a real democracy.

"I was here during Allende’s government. I learned a lot from the
Chilean people. It’s important for the world to understand who this hero was.
The other lesson to learn is that this president didn’t prepare the people
for such an attack, an attack so voracious. Many in the government knew that
the coup was very probable. It’s hard to say this publicly, but we recognize
that we need to prepare ourselves to defend ourselves. Prepare ourselves against
a military intervention," James Cockroft warned at the 30-year anniversary.



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