1973 Chilean coup d'état

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This article is about the successful coup in September 1973 that brought Army Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet to power. For the failed coup attempt in June of the same year, see Tanquetazo.
Prisoners outside the La Moneda Palace after their surrender during the coup (1973). Most of them were executed a few hours later.

The Chilean coup d'état of 1973 was a watershed event in the history of Chile and the Cold War. Historians and partisans alike have wrangled over its implications ever since. On September 11, 1973, less than three months after the first failed coup attempt, and less than a month after the Chamber of Deputies of Chile, where the Opposition held a majority, condemned Allende's alleged breaches of the constitution and requested his forcible removal, the Chilean military overthrew president Salvador Allende, who died during the coup. General Augusto Pinochet exploited the situation to seize total power and establish an anti-communist military dictatorship which lasted until 1990.


[edit] Situation before the coup

Main article: Chile under Allende

When Salvador Allende came to power as a result of the 1970 Chilean presidential election, Chilean society was already racked by huge economic difficulties. Problems such as slow growth, inflation, unequal income distribution and the concentration of economic power remained stubborn and intractable. The majority of the Chilean population were at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum and had grown weary of perennial problems that were affecting the country.[citation needed] It has been argued[citation needed] that with a mere 36.61% of the vote, Allende did not have a clear "mandate" to embark in the wide reforms put forward on his program. Conversely, it has been argued[citation needed] that because Radomiro Tomic garnered 28.11% of the vote with a similar platform, Allende did have a "mandate". In any event, the legality of the election itself has never been in dispute. President Allende's Socialist political agenda brought opposition from many sectors of Chilean society as well as the United States, which placed diplomatic and economic pressure on the government.

Towards the end of 1971, Cuban leader Fidel Castro toured Chile extensively during a four-week visit. <ref>Castro speech database at the University of Texas: English translations of Castro speeches based upon the records of the (United States) Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). See locations of speeches for November–December 1971. Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref> This gave credence to the belief of those on the right that the Chilean Way to Socialism was an effort to put Chile on the same path as Cuba.

October 1972 saw the first of what were to be a wave of confrontational strikes led by some of the historically well-off sectors of Chilean society. A strike by truck-owners soon joined by the small businesmen, some (mostly professional) unions, and some student groups. Other than the inevitable damage to the economy, the chief effect of the 24-day strike was to bring the head of the army, general Carlos Prats, into the government as Interior Minister.<ref>(Spanish) Comienzan los problemas, part of series "Icarito > Enciclopedia Virtual > Historia > Historia de Chile > Del gobierno militar a la democracia" on LaTercera.cl. Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref>

Despite declining economic indicators, Allende's Popular Unity coalition actually slightly increased its vote to 43 percent in the parliamentary elections of March 1973. However, by this point what had started as an informal alliance between Allende's coalition and the Christian Democrats was long gone. <ref>Development and Breakdown of Democracy, 1830-1973, United States Library of Congress Country Studies: Chile. Undated; according to Preface, "The body of the text reflects information available as of March 31, 1994." Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref> The Christian Democrats now leagued with the right-wing National Party to oppose Allende's government, the two parties forming the Confederación Democrática coalition (CODE). The conflict between the executive and legislature paralyzed initiatives from either side. <ref name="Se desata la crisis">(Spanish) Se desata la crisis, part of series "Icarito > Enciclopedia Virtual > Historia > Historia de Chile > Del gobierno militar a la democracia" on LaTercera.cl. Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref>

[edit] Crisis

Main article: Tanquetazo

On June 29, 1973, a tank regiment under the command of Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the La Moneda presidential palace in a violent but unsuccessful coup attempt.<ref>Second coup attempt: El Tanquetazo (the tank attack), originally on RebelYouth.ca. Unsigned, but with thorough citations. Archived on Internet Archive 13 October 2004.</ref> This failed coup was followed by a general strike at the end of July, joined this time by the copper miners of El Teniente as well.

In August of 1973, a constitutional crisis was clearly in the offing: the Supreme Court publicly complained about the government's inability to enforce the law of the land and on August 22 the Chamber of Deputies (with the Christian Democrats now firmly united with the National Party) accused Allende's government of unconstitutional acts and called on the military ministers to enforce constitutional order. <ref name="Se desata la crisis"/>

Pinochet and Allende in 1973

For some months, the government had been afraid to call upon the national police known as the Carabineros, for fear of their lack of loyalty. On August 9, Allende made General Carlos Prats Minister of Defense. Nonetheless, General Prats was forced to resign not only this position but his role as Army Commander-in-chief on August 24, 1973, embarrassed by the Alejandrina Cox incident and a public protest of the wives of his Generals in front of his home. He was replaced as Commander-in-chief by General Augusto Pinochet that same day. <ref name="Se desata la crisis"/>

[edit] Supreme Court Resolution

On May 26, 1973, Chile’s Supreme Court issued a unanimous resolution denouncing the Allende regime’s "disruption of the legality of the nation" by its failure to uphold judicial decisions, due to the government's constant refusal to allow the police to carry out the judicial resolutions that were opposed to its own measures.<ref>William F. Jasper, Patriot Enchained, The New American, Vol. 15, No. 19, September 13, 1999. Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref>

[edit] Chamber of Deputies' Resolution

On August 22, 1973 the Christian Democrats and the National Party members of the Chamber of Deputies passed, by 81 to 47 votes, a resolution entitled "Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile’s Democracy", which called upon the military to "put an immediate end" to what they described as "breach[es of] the Constitution… with the goal of redirecting government activity toward the path of Law and ensuring the constitutional order of our Nation and the essential underpinnings of democratic coexistence among Chileans."

The resolution declared that the Allende government was seeking "...to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the state... [with] the goal of establishing a totalitarian system," and claimed that it had made "violations of the Constitution" into "a permanent system of conduct." Many of the charges came down to disregarding the separation of powers and arrogating the prerogatives of both the legislature and judiciary within the executive.

Among other particulars, the regime was accused of:

  • ruling by decree, thus thwarting the normal system of adopting legislation
  • refusing to enforce judicial decisions against its own partisans and "not carrying out sentences and judicial resolutions that contravene its objectives"
  • ignoring the decrees of the independent General Comptroller's Office
  • various offenses related to the media, including usurping control of the National Television Network and "applying ... economic pressure against those media organizations that are not unconditional supporters of the government..."
  • allowing its supporters to assemble even when armed, while preventing legal assembly by its opponents
  • "...supporting more than 1,500 illegal 'takings' of farms..."
  • illegal repression of the El Teniente strike
  • illegally limiting emigration

The resolution finally condemned the "creation and development of government-protected armed groups which... are headed towards a confrontation with the Armed Forces." Allende's efforts to re-organize the military and police, which he could not trust in their current forms, were characterized as "notorious attempts to use the Armed and Police Forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks."

Although this call for "redirecting government activity toward the path of Law and ensuring the constitutional order of our Nation and the essential underpinnings of democratic coexistence" was invoked to justify the September 11 coup, in retrospect that was clearly not the agenda of the coup.

[edit] Allende's response

Two days later (August 24, 1973), Allende responded <ref>(Spanish) La respuesta del Presidente Allende, posted on the site of José Piñera. Accessed 22 September 2006. (English) English translation on Wikisource, accessed 22 September 2006.</ref> characterizing Congress's declaration as "destined to damage the country's prestige abroad and create internal confusion," and predicting that "It will facilitate the seditious intention of certain sectors." He pointed out that the declaration (passed 81-47 in the Chamber of Deputies) had not obtained the two-thirds Senate majority constitutionally required to convict the president of abuse of power: essentially, they were "invoking the intervention of the Armed Forces and of Order against a democratically elected government" and "subordinat[ing] political representation of national sovereignty to the armed institutions, which neither can nor ought to assume either politicial functions or the representation of the popular will."

Image:Allende 9 11 73.jpg
Last photograph of Allende alive inside the La Moneda Palace

Allende argued that he had followed constitutional means in bringing members of the military into the cabinet "at the service of civic peace and national security, defending republican institutions against insurrection and terrorism." In contrast, he said that Congress was promoting a coup or a civil war, using a declaration "full of affirmations that had already been refuted beforehand" and which, in substance and process (handing it directly to the various ministers rather than delivering it to the president) violated a dozen articles of the then-current constitution. Further, he argued that the legislature was trying to usurp the executive role.

"Chilean democracy," Allende wrote, "is a conquest by all of the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of the exploiting classes, and it will be defended by those who, with sacrifices accumulated over generations, have imposed it... With a tranquil conscience... I sustain that never before has Chile had a more democratic government than that over which I have the honor to preside... I solemnly reiterate my decision to develop democracy and a state of law to their ultimate consequences... Parliament has made itself a bastion against the transformations... and has done everything it can to perturb the functioning of the finances and of the institutions, sterilizing all creative initiatives."

Allende went on to argue that the parliamentarians used the expression Estado de derecho ("rule of law") to refer to "a situation which presupposes economic and social injustice... which our people have rejected." Strong economic and political means, he said, would be needed to get the country out of its current crisis, and Congress was obstructing these means; having already "paralyzed" the state, they were now seeking to "destroy" it. He concluded by calling upon "the workers, all democrats and patriots" to join him in defense of the constitution and of the "revolutionary process."

[edit] Military Coup d'état

On September 11, 1973, a military coup d'état removed Allende. The intervention was extremely violent from the very beginning. The rebels surrounded the La Moneda Palace with tanks and infantry troops and bombed it with Hawker Hunter fighter jets. The president and some of his aides were besieged in the palace. Allende refused to surrender, and addressed the nation for a last time in a potent farewell speech.

The worst violence occurred in the first few months after the coup, with the number of suspected leftists killed or "disappeared" soon reaching into the thousands. In the days immediately following the coup, the National Stadium was used as a concentration camp holding 40,000 prisoners. Some of the most famous cases of "desaparecidos" are Charles Horman, a U.S. citizen who was tortured and killed during the coup itself; Chilean songwriter Víctor Jara, murdered while held prisoner at the Chile Stadium immediately after the coup, and the October 1973 Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte) where at least 70 persons were killed. Approximately 130,000 individuals were arrested in a three-year period, with the number of dead and "disappeared" reaching into the thousands within the first few months. Most of the people targeted had been supporters of Allende.

La Moneda Presidential Palace being bombed during the coup (1973)

Following Pinochet's defeat in the 1989 plebiscite, the 1991 Rettig Commission, a multipartisan effort from the democratic governments to discover the truth about the allegations, listed a number of torture and detention centers (such as Colonia Dignidad, Esmeralda ship or Víctor Jara Stadium), and found that at least 3,000 people were killed or disappeared by the regime.

A later report, the Valech Report (published in November 2004), confirmed the figure of 3,000 deaths but dramatically reduced the alleged cases of disappearances. It tells of some 28,000 arrests in which the majority of those detained were incarcerated and in a great many cases tortured. Many were exiled and received abroad, in particular in Argentina, as political refugees; however, they were followed in their exile by the DINA secret police, in the frame of Operation Condor which linked South-American dictatorships together against political opponents.

In the book in which he recounts the coup (El Día decisivo), General Pinochet affirms that he was the leading plotter of the coup and used his position as Commander of the Army to coordinate a far-reaching scheme with the other branches of the military. In recent years, however, high military officials from the time have said that Pinochet only reluctantly got involved in the coup a few days before it was scheduled to occur, and then only followed the lead of the Navy and Air Force, as they triggered it.

[edit] Casualties

Contrary to common belief, the real number of casualties directly caused by the military overthrow of the government was small. According to the official reports prepared after the return of the democracy, at the La Moneda Palace only two people died, and both by their own hands: President Allende and the journalist Augusto Olivares. Two more were injured, the GAPs Antonio Aguirre and Osvaldo Ramos, who would later be kidnapped from the hospital and disappeared. On the military side, there were 5 deaths: two sergeants, a corporal, an army private, and a transit policeman. A press photographer also died in the crossfire while attempting to cover the event. In the rest of Santiago, the deaths in battle were also very few: 10 policemen, one MIR and two Socialist fighters, 5 workers and two housewives.

For the rest of the country, the account is very similar: in the city of Vallenar, one miner died; 3 socialist fighters and one policemen died in Talca; and two police officers in Antofagasta were murdered by a subordinate. The total number of people who died that day due to the fighting was of only 33. By the end of the day, the military were in total control of the country.

Most of the deaths that followed were human rights abuses that happened in the following 3 months, after the surrender of the leftist forces. By December 31, 1973, the number of deaths had elevated to 1,823 persons, of which at least 1,522 were killed while in the custody of Pinochet's military.

[edit] Allende's death

Main article: Allende's death

President Allende died in La Moneda Palace during the coup. The junta officially declared that he committed suicide with a machine gun (generally presumed to be the machine gun given to him by Fidel Castro), and an autopsy labelled his death as suicide. At the time few of his supporters accepted the explanation; today it is widely—though still not universally—accepted based on statements given by two doctors from the La Moneda Palace infirmary who say that they witnessed the suicide.<ref>Ronald Hilton, Chile: The Continuing Historical Conflict, World Association of International Studies, 22 December 1997. Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref><ref>Róbinson Rojas, The murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism, originally published by Harper and Row, New York, 1975,1976-Fitzhenry&Whiteside Ltd., Toronto, Canada, 1975. Accessed online 22 September 2006.</ref><ref>September 11, 1973: President overthrown in Chile coup, BBC News "On this Day", undated. Accessed 22 September 2006.</ref>

[edit] Aftermath

General Augusto Pinochet (sitting) as Chairman of the Junta following the coup (1973)

On September 13, the Junta dissolved Congress. At the same time it also outlawed the parties that had been part of the Popular Unity coalition, and all political activity was declared "in recess".

Initially there were four leaders of the junta: in addition to General Augusto Pinochet from the Army, there were General Gustavo Leigh Guzmán of the Air Force, Admiral José Toribio Merino Castro of the Navy, and General César Mendoza Durán of the National Police (Carabineros de Chile). Coup leaders soon decided against a rotating presidency and named General Pinochet permanent head of the junta.

Once the Junta was in power, Pinochet soon consolidated his control, first retaining sole chairmanship of the Junta (originally agreed to be rotated among all members), and then he was proclaimed President.

[edit] Debate

Over the years, both the perpetrators of the coup and their supporters have argued that it was essential for preserving freedom, democracy and prosperity in Chile. They claim that Salvador Allende wanted to establish a Cuban-style dictatorship, which would have destroyed human rights as well as economic prosperity, and therefore the forcible removal of the elected president was a necessary and justified course of action. Supporters also contend that subsequent economic growth in the late 1980s and 1990s was a direct result of Pinochet's economic policy.

Of course, Chile enjoyed none of the freedom and democracy promised by Pinochet. In fact, the coup was an anti-democratic action; Allende had won the presidency in a free and fair election. Among the evidence against the coup being an attempt to safeguard freedom in Chile are the several thousand documented cases of torture as well as "disappearances". Critics also argue that the coup failed in any goal of preserving prosperity for any except a small elite. In the early Pinochet years, unemployment rose, real wages fell, the divide between rich and poor grew, decreasing the economic prosperity of the average Chilean. (See Chile under Pinochet)

A number of people and organizations who supported the coup when it took place were later very critical of Pinochet's regime. They considered the activities of Allende's regime illegal, in a way that justified a coup, but Pinochet did not restore democracy as they had hoped. These people and organisations supported the coup, but not the dictatorship.

[edit] U.S. role in the 1973 coup

While U.S. government hostility to the Allende regime is unquestioned, the U.S. role in the coup itself remains a controversial matter. Documents declassified during the Clinton administration show that the United States government and the CIA had sought the overthrow of Allende in 1970, immediately after he took office ("Project FUBELT"; U.S. efforts to prevent Allende taking office in 1970 are discussed in 1970 Chilean presidential election), but claims of their direct involvement in the actual coup are neither proven nor contradicted by publicly available documentary evidence; many potentially relevant documents still remain classified. Regarding Pinochet's rise to power, the CIA undertook a comprehensive analysis of its records and individual memoirs as well as conducting interviews with former agents, and concluded in a report issued in 2000 that the CIA "did not assist Pinochet to assume the Presidency." <ref>Subject: CIA Activities in Chile, (United States) Central Intelligence Agency, 18 September 2000. Accessed online 22 September 2006.</ref>

A White House press release in November 2000 acknowledged that "actions approved by the U.S. government during this period aggravated political polarization and affected Chile's long tradition of democratic elections..." <ref> White House press statement November 13, 2000 regarding "releasing newly declassified and other documents related to events in Chile from 1968-91". Accessed online 18 November 2006.</ref>

In a 2003 interview on the U.S. Black Entertainment Television network, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked about why the United States saw itself as the "moral superior" in the Iraq conflict, citing the Chilean coup as an example of U.S. intervention that went against the wishes of the local population. Powell responded: "With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of." Chilean newspapers hailed the news as the first time the U.S. government had conceded a role in the affair.

[edit] Quotes

  • "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."Henry Kissinger
  • "Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty."Edward M. Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, upon hearing of Allende's election.
  • "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden..."A communique to the CIA base in Chile, issued on October 16, 1970

  • The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.Harold Pinter, in his 2005 Nobel Speech

[edit] Additional information

[edit] See also

[edit] Media

[edit] External links

[edit] Notes

<references />

[edit] References

  • Simon Collier & William F. Sater (1996). A History of Chile: 1808-1994. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Julio Faundez (1988). Marxism and democracy in Chile: From 1932 to the fall of Allende, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Ignacio González Camus, ed. (1988). El día en que murió Allende (The day that Allende Died), Chilean Institute of Humanistic Studies (ICHEH) / CESOC.
  • Anke Hoogvelt (1997). Globalisation and the postcolonial world, London: Macmillan.
  • Thomas Karamessines (1970). Operating guidance cable on coup plotting in Chile, Washington: National Security Council.
  • Jeane Kirkpatrick (1979). "Dictatorships and Double Standards", Commentary, November, pp 34-45.
  • Henry Kissinger (1970). National Security Decision 93: Policy Towards Chile, Washington: National Security Council.
  • Richard Norton-Taylor (1999). "Truth will out: Unearthing the declassified documents in America which give the lie to Lady Thatcher's outburst", The Guardian, 8 July 1999, London: Guardian Newspapers Ltd.
  • Alec Nove (1986). Socialism, Economics and Development, London: Allen & Unwin.
  • James F. Petras & Morris H. Morley (1974). How Allende fell: A study in U.S.–Chilean relations, Nottingham: Spokesman Books.
  • Sigmund, P.E. (1986). "Development Strategies in Chile, 1964-1983: The Lessons of Failure", Chapter 6 in I.J. Kim (Ed.), Development and Cultural Change: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, New York: Paragon House Publishers, pp. 159-178.
  • Valenzuela, J.S., & Valenzuela, A. (1993). "Modernisation and Dependency: Alternative Perspectives in the Study of Latin-American Underdervelopment", in M.A. Seligson & J.T. Pass-Smith (Eds.), Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Inequality, Boulder: Lynnes Rienner, pp. 203-216.de:Putsch in Chile

es:Golpe de Estado del 11 de septiembre de 1973 fa:کودتای ۱۹۷۳ شیلی fr:Coup d'État du 11 septembre 1973 au Chili it:Golpe cileno del 1973 ja:チリ・クーデター pl:Pucz w Chile 1973 sv:Militärkuppen i Chile 1973 tr:1973 Şili Darbesi

1973 Chilean coup d'état

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