The 40th anniversary of the "other September 11" was not a big deal in the US media, except for the more open-minded news outlets like Democracy Now. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US 12 years ago certainly changed the world, perhaps more than the attackers themselves even imagined they would. But it was not so directly from their own killing and destruction. Rather it was due to the pretext that they served up to a more violent organisation of jihadists known as the US government, which then launched two wars that have killed more than a million people, and contributed to ongoing instability and violence that has no end in sight. These 9/11 attacks also served as an excuse for an assault on civil liberties at home, and as we now know, unprecedented levels of surveillance.
The US government was one of the main organisers and perpetrators of the September 11, 1973 military coup in Chile, and these perpetrators also changed the world — of course much for the worse. The coup snuffed out an experiment in Latin American social democracy, established a military dictatorship that killed, tortured, and disappeared tens of thousands of people, and for a quarter-century mostly prevented Latin Americans from improving their living standards and leadership through the ballot box.
President Richard Nixon was clear, at least in private conversations, about why he wanted the coup that destroyed one the hemisphere’s longest-running democracies, from his point of view:
"The main concern in Chile is that [President Salvador Allende] can consolidate himself, and the picture projected to the world will be his success … If we let the potential leaders in South America think they can move like Chile and have it both ways, we will be in trouble."
The ironic thing, and one that the world can now celebrate 40 years on, is that Nixon later turned out to be right about his "domino theory" of Latin America. When the US tried but failed to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela in 2002, it ended up losing control over most of the region, especially South America. Allende died in the coup, but his dream lived on and much of it has been fulfilled.
The region is now independent of the United States in its foreign policy. Of the 37 nations that have signed on to President Obama's statement on Syria, not one is from South America. On Syria, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) , put out a statement this week calling for a "negotiated political solution" and noting that any action on Syria must be approved by the UN Security Council.
Unlike in 1973, most people in Latin America and the Caribbean now have the right to elect governments of the left, without these governments being overthrown by an alliance of traditional elites with Washington. And they have been doing so continuously since 1998: in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti. Unfortunately, some of the weaker countries, and especially those who are "too far from God and too close to the United States" are still not free: Washington was able to get rid of democratically elected left governments in Honduras with a military coup (2009), Paraguay (where it helped the "parliamentary coup" last year), and Haiti (whose elected government was overthrown by Washington and its allies in broad daylight in 2004).
But Allende’s dream of an independent Latin America has been mostly realised. And the electoral road to social democracy (which he, like the current leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, for example, called socialism) is now possible.
This is a huge advance not only for the region but the world, as Allende knew it would be. The new democratic left leaders have taken many steps to ensure that these changes will be permanent, creating new regional organisations such as UNASUR, and CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations). The latter contains every nation in the hemisphere except the United States and Canada, and hopefully will increasingly displace the Organisation of American States. The OAS is much corrupted by Washington, which hijacked it for example, in overthrowing the Haitian government and overturning election results there, and manipulated it in support of coup governments of Honduras and Paraguay.
Allende’s dream of social democracy that benefits working and poor people has also made major advances in the era of Latin America’s "second independence," which opened up more policy space. Since Argentina became liberated from the IMF, poverty and extreme poverty have fallen by more than 70 percent, real social spending has nearly tripled, and the country achieved record levels of employment. Brazil, notwithstanding its recent slowdown, has had its best and most inclusive growth in decades, reducing poverty by 45 percent and hitting record low levels of unemployment during the past decade of Workers’ Party government. Venezuela has reduced poverty by about half and extreme poverty by more than 70 percent since the government got control over its oil industry ten years ago. Ecuador has also achieved record low levels of unemployment , regulated and taxed the financial sector, and greatly expanded access to housing and health care. Other left governments have had similar achievements.
Salvador Allende and the movement that supported him in 1973 showed great courage and integrity, but the United States government was still too powerful to allow for democratic choices in South America. But forty years later, the world has changed, and his dreams are becoming reality more and more each day.
Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.