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Remembering Chile’s 9/11


“Close to Perfect:” A Different, Bloodier Nine-Eleven


The events of September 11th were horrific, tragic, and criminal on a monumental scale.  Planes flew low over an American nation’s leading city.  Buildings erupted in flames.  There was an official death toll of more than 3,000.  Thousands of innocent people were ruthlessly slaughtered. Their loved ones were placed in horrible suspense, waiting to learn the fate of missing husbands, wives, sisters, cousins, and children. An American country was left in shock, with an uncertain future, as the perpetrators evaded capture and punishment. September 11th was a dark, bloody day of historic proportions.  It was a prelude to regression, repression and heightened bloodshed.


Yes, the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile’s president Salvadore Allende on September 11th, 1973 was a terrible watershed. The low-flying planes belonged to the Chilean Air Force. They came on the orders of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet to bomb La Moneda Presidential Palace, where Allende, a self-declared Marxist, killed himself before he could be assassinated. Hundreds of real and suspected Allende supporters were gunned down in Santiago’s soccer stadium, fashioned into a torture center and concentration camp.  Across the nation, in the streets and military detention centers, Pinochet’s forces murdered 20,000 and tortured 60,000 in the first few months after 9/11/1973. One million Chileans were forced into exile. According to leading international relations analyst William I. Robinson, it was “the bloodiest coup in Latin-American history” (Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony [Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1996], p. 46). 


According to a report from Patrick Ryan, the US Naval Attaché stationed with the United States Military Group in Chile that black September, the coup was “close to perfect.” It was, Ryan told his superiors, a great victory for “free men aspiring to goals which are to the benefit of Chile and not self-serving world Marxism.” (Situation Report, Navy Section, United States Military Group, Valparaiso, Chile, October 1, 1973, available online at http://www.gwu. edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/ch21-01.htm)   


This state-terrorist rampage targeted the left and the mass popular social movements (“Marxist” and otherwise) that brought Allende to power in September 1970. Chilean trade unions and other popular organizations were dismantled.  Clinics serving the poor were closed down.  Twenty-six newspapers and magazines were shuttered.  Chilean state and society, exceptional among Latin American states in the degree or its respect for civic freedoms and bourgeois-democratic political institutions, was militarized at every level.


Next came the restructuring of Chile’s political economy along “free market” lines, meaning state protection for the wealthy and savage market discipline for the poor.  Land, factories, mines, and mills that had been put under public direction for public service were returned to their “rightful” owners, “rescued” for the noble pursuit of egoistic, capitalist profit. This was consistent with the counsel of University of Chicago economic “experts,” who arrived to spread Milton Friedman’s delusional notion that capitalism and democracy are identical phenomena. 


The socioeconomic consequences of the new “freedom” and “democracy” were striking. As the Chilean rich got richer during the first ten years of Pinochet’s rule, the number of Chileans living below the official poverty line rose from 17 to 40 percent.  The related slashing of health expenditures and programs led to an explosion of poverty-related diseases at the bottom of Chile’s increasingly steep pyramid. Those who questioned the policies leading to these aristocratic outcomes did so at the risk of torture and murder by the fascist “free market” state.


 


“In Our Own Best Interests”: Saving Chile from the “Irresponsibility” of Its Own People


It was all carried out to the applause and with the assistance and political cover of the US power elite.  When the American ambassador to Chile expressed misgivings about Pinochet’s use of torture, he received a sharp rebuke from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who oversaw US covert actions and made sure that the ambassador was kept out of the “black-ops” loop during the early 1970s. For Kissinger and President Richard Nixon, humanitarian concerns were irrelevant.  The higher Cold War goal was to protect global capitalism and American multinational corporate interests from the virus of “Marxism.”  Stated more accurately, the purpose was to crush the contagious notion that national social and economic policy should and could be conducted with collective and egalitarian purposes and national self-determination in mind. Kissinger seems to have been most concerned with the demonstration effect successful Chilean left-democratic governance might have on Italy, where left parties were in a position to make gains within the existing parliamentary political system.


Upon learning of Allende’s election in 1970, Nixon informed Kissinger and CIA Director Richard Helms that the newly elected government of Chile was “unacceptable.”  He instructed his dark foreign policy stars to devise a scheme for keeping Allende out of office. “Not concerned risks involved,” read Helms’ notes on Nixon’s instruction. “No involvement of the embassy. $10,000,000 available, more if necessary.  Full-time job – best men we have…Make the economy scream. 48 hours for plan of action.”


Kissinger saw “no reason,” he once remarked, that the US should stand by and let a nation “go Marxist” because “its people are irresponsible.” Consistent with that judgment, Kissinger and the CIA were centrally involved in efforts to de-stabilize and overthrow the Allende regime through various means, including military force.  This pivotal, illegal US intervention in Chile’s internal affairs is now a matter of voluminous documentary and scholarly record, much of which can be perused in a number of sources listed in an Appendix at the end of this article.


One year after the US-instigated coup, President Gerald Ford – in the oval office thanks to some domestic White House “black ops” that garnered unfavorable attention in the imperial homeland (Watergate) – claimed that US actions in installing Pinochet were “in the best interests of the people of Chile and certainly in our own best interests.”  



Historical Connections


Twenty-eight years to the day after Chile’s 9/11, the world witnessed a different, more spectacular form of unimaginable violence, broadcast live on national TV, with different ideological and geo-political parameters.  The culprits were almost certainly based in the extremist Islamic terror networks of the Middle East. 


There are some interesting, dark connections, however, between these two Nine-Elevens. The US policy of deterring democracy and social justice in the perceived interest of US multinational corporations and world capitalism was hardly restricted to Chile and the official Cold War era (1945-1991). In pursuit of the same basic goals that informed the US/Pinochet coup, the US has supported and in some cases conducted anti-democratic coups against excessively (from a US perspective) “left” governments (any state that proposed to encourage development of its sovereign territory in significant autonomy from the US-dominated world capitalist economic system) in Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Iraq (1963), Indonesia (1965), and Greece (1967).  It provided massive economic and military assistance to authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes that suppressed democratic and left opposition and kept their domestic economies open to foreign and especially US corporate penetration and domination.  It armed Israel, waged war and enforced a deadly, decade-long sanctions campaign against Iraq, stationed troops indefinitely in the Islamic Holy Land, and provided cover for Israel’s prolonged, racist annexation of Palestinian territory. The US funded the Arab far-right, supporting arch-reactionary Islamic extremists like Osama bin Laden, valued as weapons in the same Cold War that provided cover for the US campaign to crush national self-determination, democracy, and social justice in places like Iran, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Chile.


By largely eliminating the left, undercutting democracy, and generally subjecting regional developments to imperial fiat both during and after the official Cold War, the US shrunk the available space for “normal” (Western-style/parliamentary) airing of social, political and related international grievances in the Middle East. This, in turn, brought “blowback” (an internal CIA term for the unintended consequences of secret US foreign policies) from America’s imperial periphery to the skies and streets of New York City and Washington DC, where Pinochet’s henchmen (part of a CIA-sponsored team of international assassins code-named “Operation Condor”) killed a former Allende supporter and his American driver (Olando Letelier and Randy Moffit) in 1976. How darkly appropriate, then, that George W. Bush attempted to put Kissinger, a leading perpetrator in the state-terrorist events of 9/11/73, at the head of a federal commission to investigate US security lapses prior to 9/11/2001, which opened the door for new levels of US and US-sponsored state terrorism. 



Worthy and Unworthy 9/11s


Of course, only a tiny percentage of the US population knows about Chile’s 9/11, for reasons that go beyond obvious gaps of time, geography, and language. A relevant explanatory text here is the second chapter, titled “Worthy and Unworthy Victims,” of Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of The Mass Media (New York, NY: Pantheon, 1988), published as the Cold War was nearing its partial conclusion with the collapse of the Soviet deterrent (itself part of the context for 9/11/2001) to American global ambitions. “A propaganda system,” the authors noted, “will consistently portray people abused in enemy states as worthy victims, whereas those treated with equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be unworthy.” Identified with the official US Cold War “enemy” force of socialism or Marxism – really social egalitarianism and national self-determination (still the basic adversaries of US policy in the “post-Cold-War era”) – Pinochet’s victims have only recently attained a small measure of historical worthiness in dominant US corporate-state media. This slight retrospective legitimacy comes far too long after the terrible facts.  It is no match for the worthiness bestowed on the most officially precious victims in US History:  the Americans who died on the only 9/11 that matters in a nation that drifts through history in a dangerous fog of selective, top-down remembrance. 



Paul Street ([email protected]) will speak on “State-Run Media” on Friday, September 26, 2003 at a conference titled “Is Our Media Serving Us?” at Columbia College, Hokin Annex, 623 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL, 12:45 PM.



Appendix: Selected Sources on US Involvement in 9/11/73 and Related Developments in Chile


US Senate, Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1975);  United States Congress, Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, 94th Congress, 1st Session, November 10, 1975 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1975); William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History (London: Zed, 1986),  pp. 232-243; Seymour M. Hersh, “The Price of Power: Kissinger, Nixon, and Chile,” Atlantic Monthly,  250 (1982), no. 6, 21-58; Poul Jensen, The Garotte: The United States and Chile, 1970-73 (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1988); Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (New York, NY: Verso, 2001), pp. 55-76;  “Why Is the U.S. Mum About Pinochet?,” CNN.com (November 25, 1998), available online at http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/europe/9 811/25/pinochet.us/; National Security Archives, The Chile Documentation Project (2000-2001), available online at http://www.gwu.edu/~ nsarchiv/latin_america/chile.htm.

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