With the news media in the United States devoting complete focus to the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, it can be easy to forget the other momentous event that the date marks the anniversary of. Thirty-eight years ago on September 11, 1973, the elected president of Chile Salvador Allende was ousted in a coup that brought about the nearly twenty year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The coup was instigated by the right-wing elements of Chile’s government with the support of the military and was partially financed by the CIA and the Nixon administration on the grounds that the Allende government might turn Chile into a client state of the Soviet Union.
However, the coup and those fears had little to no basis in fact. Allende was a leftist elected in 1970 from the Popular Unity coalition of parties. These parties did include the and Communist Party in Chile, Allende himself was a member of the Socialist Party within the coalition and was dedicated to upholding the Chilean constitution. Allende did institute an economic reform program that included nationalizing the Chilean copper industry and land redistribution, these reforms were rather moderate and were mostly continuations of what his predecessor, Eduardo Frei, had done. The reforms passed through the Chilean Parliament with majority support.
Allende’s reforms had started off well as in 1970 and 1971 Chile’s economy was booming. In those years, Chile’s GDP grew by 8.6 percent and had 12% industrial growth. Both inflation and unemployment decreased dramatically. However, global circumstances and United States intervention would prove to be Allende’s undoing. The price of copper collapsed in the early 1970s and the world fell into a global recession. Chile’s economy tanked. The United States was also involved in sowing discontent with Allende. The CIA spent $8 million funding right wing opposition groups against Allende.
Despite this, the Popular Unity coalition gained votes in the Parliamentary election in 1973, going from 35 percent at the time of Allende’s election to 43 percent in the 1973 legislative elections. But on June 29, there was an attempted coup against Allende. The right wing opposition took advantage of the coup and a strike in July to accuse Allende of circumventing the constitution. The military was called in to restore order and on August 24, 1973, Augusto Pinochet was made commander in chief of the Chilean army. The Supreme Court of Chile and the Chamber of Deputies was by then dominated by the right wing elements as the Christian Democrats abandoned Allende, and called upon the president to resign. Allende replied that the accusations of abuse of power had not gained the two thirds majority in the Senate required by the constitution.
With the armed forces of Chile and much of the government turned against Allende, the coup was launched on September 11, 1973. Chilean armed forces stormed the presidential palace, and before they could reach Allende, he committed suicide. A government junta was established that appointed Augusto Pinochet as president of Chile. Pinochet established an authoritarian regime that lasted until 1990 and suppressed political and civil liberties, killing over 3,000 dissidents in Chile during his 17 year rule. The 1973 coup also marked the beginning of the wave of authoritarian dictatorships that would arise across Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.
And with that, I would like to take a moment to remember the other, oft forgotten 9/11. While it did not have as big an effect on global affairs as the attacks ten years ago, it is still a momentous event in Latin American history. It is a shame that Allende, who was trying to do some good for Chile, had to become a victim of Cold War politics.