Tags: chile | salvador allende | 911 | augusto pinochet | cuba | coup | nixon administration

Was It Right to Overthrow Chile's Allende in '73?

John Gizzi By Monday, 11 September 2023 08:44 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Sept. 11 is edged in despair in the memories of just about anyone who was around for the tragic events of that day in 2001.

But for citizens of Chile and many around the world who watched events there 50 years ago, Sept. 11, 1973 is a powerful, unforgettable, and still heatedly debated memory: the violent overthrow and resulting suicide of the world's first democratically elected Marxist president, Dr. Salvador Allende. This led to the suspension of Chile's 40-year-old democracy and to 17 years of military rule by strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

On Sept. 11, socialist and social democrat political parties will hold ceremonies honoring Allende. Streets in numerous countries are name for him and a statue of Allende is on government grounds in Chile's capital of Santiago. Henry Kissinger, still making appearances at age 100, is frequently hounded by mobs of left-wing protestors seeking his arrest for his alleged role in a U.S. hand in Allende's downfall.

Last year, Chilean voters resoundingly elected Allende-style leftist Gabriel Boric as president.  His defense minister is Maya Fernandez Allende, granddaughter of — you guessed it! — Salvador Allende.

One can say that the Marxist president of Chile is enjoying revival and a degree of vindication 50 years after taking his own life. But several Chileans and experts on Latin America who spoke to Newsmax agree it was a blessing for their country in the long run to have its march to Castro-style communism thwarted — even if it meant a tragic ending for Allende and authoritarian rule under Pinochet.

Several Chileans who spoke to us, in fact, voiced regret the U.S. did not play a strong covert hand in the critical election of 1970. On his fourth successive bid for the Moneda (Chile's White House), Allende — an upper middle-class physician, former senator, and Marxist-Leninist — topped a 3-candidate field and stunned the world as the first-ever Marxist to win a popular presidential election anywhere.

With Allende's traditional socialist backers joining forces with younger and more militant Communist, he eked out a 37.3% to 35.8% win over Jorge Alessandri, engineer and stalwart conservative. According to the late Princeton scholar Paul Sigmund's account of the race (The Overthrow of Allende and The Politics of Chile, 1964-76), a reluctant Alessandri finally gave in to pleas from conservatives to run ("Do what you will with me!") and at age 74, suffered when, following a rough airplane trip, he appeared on the popular TV program Eleccion '70 on the eve of the balloting and the camera focused on his hands shaking.

Chilean law at the time required the Congress to choose a presidential winner between the 2 top vote-getters if neither won a majority. In his memoirs, Richard Nixon recalled that "knowing nearly two-thirds of Chile's voters had rejected Allende, I directed the CIA to provide support … in order to prevent his election by the Chilean Congress." But when both Alessandri and outgoing President Eduardo Frei made clear they supported electing the candidate with the most votes, Nixon "instructed the CIA to abandon the operation" and Allende was inaugurated on Nov. 3.

Almost from the day he donned the presidential sash, Allende was moving toward making Chile a teammate of Cuba as a Soviet satellite in the Western Hemisphere. Fidel Castro spent a month in Santiago and, according to Aldo Cassinelli, Chilean author of the prize-winning A Political System For the Chile That's Coming .... , "9 days after assuming the presidency, Allende restored diplomatic relations with the island, despite the fact that the OAS [Organization of American States] had suspended them since 1964. In this line, all actions aimed at grouping countries that were first against the United States and secondly tended to base their political system on socialism were expanded. Ideological affinity was significant in international relations, and in 1971, relations were established with China, the German Democratic Republic, and in 1972 with North Korea and North Vietnam."

"Allende had signed an agreement not to impose dictatorship and soon he was breaking it," Lt. Gen. John Griffiths-Spielman, onetime general chief of staff of the Chilean Army and now head of Security and Defense Studies at the Santiago-based Athena Lab Foundation, told us, "Allende was trying to impose a Castro-style revolution on Chile."

Unable to get an agenda through a Congress in which opponents outnumbered allies, Allende attempted to governor by decree.

In December 1971, Allende's restrictions on wage increases and strict price controls led to high inflation and severe shortages of food.  Middle and upper-class women took to the streets and banged "cacerolazos" (empty pots) to illustrate the lack of food. Pro-Allende militants violently attacked the "March of the Empty Pots" and the government declared a state of siege.

The long-anticipated coup that came on Sept. 11, 1973, began as troops under Gen. Pinochet's command surrounded the Moneda. A defiant Allende declared on radio he would not back down and he declined the military's offer of safe conduct to Cuba. After bidding farewell to his staff, the president shouted "Allende never surrenders!" and shot himself with an AK-47 that was a gift from Castro.

Top secret documents since declassified showed that the Nixon administration was well aware of the movements of Pinochet and the coup plotters.  

"Fortunately, we went for a coup and not a civil war," Santiago attorney Arturo Alessandri, grand-nephew of Allende's opponent, told Newsmax.

The younger Alessandri worked as general counsel to the Social Development Agency where, in his words, "I was fortunate to work with the Chicago boys [economists who studied at the University of Chicago] who helped guide us to a free market economy."

The dark side of  Pinochet's 17-year authoritarian rule that followed must be addressed. Aldo Cassinelli said "[a]ll governments have their strengths and weaknesses, and if we consider the weaknesses of Pinochet's government, human rights violations will always be its Achilles' heel." An estimated 3,025 Chileans disappeared or were killed — a figure smaller than under military regimes in Argentina and Brazil during the 1970's.  Chile, somehow, is remembered more for its human rights abuses.

Cassinelli added that Pinochet left Chile as "an economic and social model that has private property as its main pillar, the market as an allocator of resources, and individual initiative as its founding element. Politically, the significant aspect is that it established an institutional framework that provides stability and governability to the system, creating the necessary checks and balances for forces to negotiate continuously.

"Undoubtedly, the system installed by Pinochet's dictatorship set Chile on a path of development, opened the country to investment, allowed young people to study at private universities, and expanded the middle class," he said.Earlier this year, the left-wing elements urged on by the Boric government fully supported a move to change the Pinochet-sculpted constitution with a document more socialist and collectivist. No less than 64 percent of the voters rejected the concept of dismantling the current political and economic system for one that is more, say, Allende-like.

When it comes to the events of Sept. 11, 1973 — the other 9/11 — it seems fair to say history has already begun its vindication.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.​

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Sept. 11 is edged in despair in the memories of just about anyone who was around for the tragic events of that day in 2001.
chile, salvador allende, 911, augusto pinochet, cuba, coup, nixon administration, gabriel boric
Monday, 11 September 2023 08:44 AM
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