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The other 9/11

6th September 2011

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On September 11th 1973, the democratic socialist President Salvador Allende of Chile was bombed out of his La Moneda Palace and forced to commit suicide. He was replaced by a US-backed military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet, a regime which lasted until 1990. A total of 200,000 Chileans were forced to exile their country with most travelling to Europe. Since the coup, the regime has been condemned by human rights groups worldwide.

General PinochetPinochet's IMF-endorsed regime soon rounded up political opponents, dissident voices, labour organisers, female rights workers, minorities, majorities, whilst torturing and detaining any perceived threat. Tens of thousands of people 'disappeared' after the coup in Pinochet's battle against the forces of public opinion and NGOs. The coup was supported by Richard Nixon, who approved the CIA's Project FUBELT to remove Allende, which aimed to, in his words, 'make the economy scream' to unseat any socialist trends and replace them with a neo-fascist dictator willing to turn Chile into an 'investor's paradise' for US multinational (as The Economist was soon to advise its wealthy readers over a similar 'venture' opportunity in Indonesia, after the genocide in East Timor).

Chile's economic direction consequently took a neoliberal turn, with Chicago School economists (or 'Chicago Boys') entering parts of Pinochet's government waving their copies of Milton Friedman to help remove any trade barriers threatening the 'national interest' of the US. Friedrich Hayek also wasn't deterred by the bloodshed, and even held a meeting of his Mont Pelerin society there during the more violent stages of the regime. The wage levels Allende had worked to increase soon fell, with the banning of trade unions encouraging the Nobel Prize committee to grant the Chicago Boys the prize in economics for their passionate commitment to rugged individualism and the 'religion' (Joseph Stiglitz) that the free market 'in its infinite but mysterious wisdom' (Thomas Cassidy) knows best.

Impressed by Chile's economic 'health,' including the decline of real incomes amongst the poorest Chilean families (which fell by 30% between 1969 and 1978), Thatcher's Trade Minister Cecil Parkinson explained in 1980 that 'the Chilean economic experience is very similar to what we are developing here.' British ministers, writes Mark Curtis in Unpeople, 'continue to evade responsibility for having conferred legitimacy on, and given their backing to, this nasty regime for so long.'

Henry Kissinger, Nixon's Secretary of State, had this to say: '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.'

Since the Chilean labour movements had virtually no connection to Marx, the term 'communist' has to be understood as a euphemism for 'the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hands,' in the words of Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy's special advisor. Thatcher was also pleased with Pinochet's actions, meeting with the exiled dictator in 1999 to thank him for helping Britain during the 1982 Falklands War, and for 'bringing democracy to Chile.' Pinochet thanked the prime minister for her 'kindness.' Thatcher's commitment to peace and justice brings tears to the eyes.

The Wilson government, after their victory in February 1973, 'decided to honour existing contracts to deliver two frigates, two submarines and a consignment of Rolls-Royce engines for the Chileans' Hunter aircraft – thus breaking Labour's pre-election commitment not to supply arms' (Curtis). Pinochet's regime was described by Trade Minister Peter Rees in 1982 as a 'moderate and stabilising force' – moderate because he only killed his own people, not ours. 'The bulk of Chile’s navy', continues Curtis, 'was supplied by Britain, which provided around a dozen warships, including frigates, destroyers and submarines.' 

Today, the west regards Chile as a fine model of the free market, and yet its main export was nationalised in 1976. The Codelco corporation, the largest copper producing company in the world, is by far the country's greatest export, from which the economy gets most of its strength. But there's a difference between Chile and the likes of Venezuela and Cuba: Chile no longer steps on the toes of the US or any other major Western power, and so it escapes being branded 'communist,' 'socialist,' or any other scare-word the public relations industry decides to drain of all meaning.

Allende was killed not because he was a communist but because, as Johann Hari points out, 'he was threatening the interests of US and Chilean mega-corporations by shifting the country's wealth and land from them to its own people.' If the people living in the slums of Santiago, Kabul or Cairo can't find a way to contribute to the prosperity of leading multinationals, that's too bad. Democracy is a fine thing, the sensible man understands, so long as it accords with Western business interests.

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