SALVADOR ALLENDE

AND THE 1973 CHILEAN COUP

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The United States of America had long interfered in Chilean politics. Successive US administrations had backed conservative governments in Chile that were deemed to be solid Cold War allies and friendly to US business interests. 

 

Nonetheless, leftist presidential candidate Salvador Allende seemed all set to win the 1970 presidential election. The Nixon administration and conservative elements in Chile, including within the Chilean armed forces, plotted ways to undermine Allende's campaign - or, if needed, to prevent him from ever assuming office.

 

Allende narrowly won the election. The US, through its CIA presence in Chile, conspired with conservative forces to prevent the president-elect from assuming office. When these efforts failed, Nixon's White House put in place an economic campaign intended to "make the Chilean economy scream."

 

Allende (left) defeated the conservative candidate Jorge Alessandri (right) in a very tight presidential race in 1970. Allende had previously unsuccessfully run for the presidency in the 1950s and 60s. He was able to win office in 1970 with the support of a coalition of liberals, socialists and communists.


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National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger (left) famously declared that the United States would not let Chile "go communist" just because that was what its people had voted for. Allende was not actually a communist, but he was too leftwing for Nixon (right) who was determined to maintain US dominance in Latin America during the Cold War.


 Allende with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The two men were allies, though they disagreed on many things. Castro warned Allende not to trust the Chilean army.

Allende with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The two men were allies, though they disagreed on many things. Castro warned Allende not to trust the Chilean army.

 

Economic crisis in Chile produced large scale protests. Blockades and strikes (organized by business owners) were intended to bring the left-wing government of Allende to its knees.

 

Yet Allende retained the support of many of the poorest people in the country, as well as being very popular among radical students. Allende, an unlikely working class hero, became a darling of the left around the world - hailed as the first democratically elected Communist. However, though he received support from the Chilean Communist Party, Allende himself was more of a radical than a revolutionary.

 

A medical doctor and former health minister in a centrist government, Allende wanted to pursue what he called "the Chilean Way" - a form of social democracy that combined state ownership of key industries, democratic public planning, modern management techniques, and private enterprise.

 

To the US and to Chile's conservatives, the "Chilean Way" was just a euphemism for communism. Nixon and his top advisor Henry Kissinger were determined not to let Chile slip from the US sphere of influence during the Cold War. 

 

Before Allende took office, Chile had been the number one recipient of US military aid in Latin America, and US corporations had a major stake in the country's economy - especially Chile's rich copper mines.

 

In 1973, Allende was overthrown in a coup led by the newly appointed head of the armed forces, General Augusto Pinochet. The mutinous armed forces stormed the presidential residence on September 11 and, after a brief but valiant fight, Allende retreated inside to deliver a final radio message to the people. 

 

His body was found by soldiers who had stormed the building. He had supposedly committed suicide.

 

Left, the presidential residence under siege during the 1973 coup led by General Augusto Pinochet (right).


Terror reigned in the months that followed the coup. Thousands of left wing activists, trade unionists, and Allende supporters, as well as many others who were simply swept up in the turmoil, were imprisoned, beaten, tortured, disappeared, or murdered.

 

Several high-profile supporters of Allende were assassinated, including one top aide who was blown up in a car bomb on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

Pinochet renewed Chile's close relationship with the United States. The Chilean junta provided the backbone of Operation Condor, a counter-revolutionary campaign that targeted thousands of leftists across Latin America throughout the remainder of the Cold War. Orchestrated by the CIA, the operation resulted in the assassination or disappearance of many people deemed to be "subversive".  

 

Democracy was restored to Chile in the 1990s, and Pinochet was allowed to retire. But the ex-dictator faced several legal battles, including a high-profile extradition bid by Spain, which saw Pinochet detained for months in Britain, where he had been seeking medical treatment.

 

Eventually charged by Chilean authorities with embezzlement, torture and murder, Pinochet died before he could face justice.

 

Attribution for music used in this episode:

Assassinations Podcast Theme Music (Intro, Outro, and Transitions) written and performed by Graeme Ronald

"B Latino" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Spartishinu" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Not Goodbye 2" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Scramble A" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Clair" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Ijexa" by Brown Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble Concert December 05 with Lydia Perez-Nieves and Marcus Santos is in the Public Domain, CC0 / A derivative from the original work

"All Sustains" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Way It Is" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

"All Cargo" by PQ is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work