The Original 9/11: How the CIA Orchestrated Chile's Violent Coup

48 years after the events, many people seem to forget the date in which Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, rose to power on account of a CIA-backed coup.

  • Chile
    Pinochet's rule was marked by brutality and human rights violations. 

In general, the date of September 11 is remembered for being the date in which the World Trade Center crumbled after being hit by two planes hijacked by terrorists 20 years ago.

But a country in South America remembers this date vividly for a different reason: 48 years ago on that day, Chile suffered the coup d’état that would forever alter its political course for the worse.

And behind it all lied the CIA and its allies, funding, and training instruments of destabilization and chaos to assure the USA’s geopolitical gains.

Here is the tragic story of the Chilean dream and its assassination.

Here is the story of president Salvador Allende.

A president for the people, by the people

Salvador Allende was Chile’s first socialist president, voted into office in 1970. Prior to his win, he had run in three elections and lost.

Allende’s political pathway started as early as 1938 when he was in charge of the leftist coalition Popular Front’s electoral campaign. Along with 76 other Congress members in that same year, he sent Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler a telegram denouncing the persecution of the German Jewish populace after the Night of the Broken Glass.

In the 1950s, Allende introduced a legislation that created the Chilean National Health Service, the first program ensuring universal health care in the Americas.

When running for presidency in 1964, Salvador Allende was the socialist FRAP’s (Popular Action Front) candidate and chiefly faced right-wing Christian Democrat Eduardo Freit, who eventually won.

Later on, declassified CIA documents revealed that the agency spent $2.6 million between 1962 and 1964 to finance Freit’s campaign, and an additional $3 million in propaganda aiming at tarnishing Allende and his coalition. The Agency loathed FRAP’s proposed reforms which could reduce the US’ role in Chile.

In 1966, he became president of the Chilean Senate and six years later, in 1970, when Allende ran for the fourth time, he was finally elected president after winning the vote by a small margin - 36.2% to 34.9% - which led to the Senate unanimously voting him in.

  • Allende's popularity in Chile was unmatched at the time
    Allende's popularity in Chile was unmatched at the time: During his inaugural speech in 1970. 

A socio-economic fiesta

With his UP (Popular Unity) government coalition, Allende immediately started stirring the nation into "the Chilean Path to Socialism," the name of his program, all while respecting civil liberties and democratic due process. He nationalized multiple sectors, notably banking, education, health care, and copper mining. The latter was a subject of contention and debate between him and the US government, which ended up in Allende expropriating US-owned copper companies in Chile.

He worked on funding both popular and serious arts, raising the minimum wage, supporting women’s rights. The inflation rate went from 36.1% in 1970 to 22.1% in 1971 mostly as a result of his reforms.

The UP was a fiesta because it encouraged citizens to participate in government decisions. When people speak of the UP, they’re talking about one thousand days of democratic, peaceful, pluralist socialist government in Chile, with decisions and achievements that represented real changes.

- Tomás Moulian

A bloody CIA coup

As mentioned, the CIA was already obstructing Salvador Allende’s arrival to the presidency, but when his rule became a reality and his nationalization a defeat to liberal economic policies, the Agency upped its game.

As is already known, during the cold war era, the US was leading an international campaign to counter communism and all attempts to nationalize assets the US benefitted from. By then, it had already been directly involved in Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, and Brazil amongst others.

  • Allende's relationship with Castro and Cuba sounded alarm bells in the US administration (1971)
    Allende's relationship with Castro and Cuba sounded alarm bells in the US administration (1971)

One American company, the ITT, which owned approximately 70% of the CTC (The Chilean Telecommunication Services), feared that Allende’s progressive policies could spell doom on its profit-making business model. The moment Allende seemed to be a favorable candidate, it requested the CIA’s assistance via John McCone, a former CIA director and a member of their board of directors, who set up 40 meetings with Agency officials.

Furthermore, ITT and the CIA could not stand still as nationalization was going underway, thus they began funding right-wing newspaper El Mercurio to paint a radically negative picture of Allende’s rule and policies.

The attempt to foment a coup became clear and angered state officials, notably the progressive president.

“Well, we were negotiating to nationalize and compensate ITT, but now that we see that they’re a completely criminal enterprise intervening with the CIA in our internal state of affairs, we’re going to expropriate their holdings in Chile.”

 

- Salvador Allende

But, ITT’s efforts coincided with the decisions of the top of the US brass as well: Only days after Allende won the presidency in September of 1970, Richard Nixon officially requested from his agents to make “the Chilean economy scream,” assigning none other than Henry Kissinger on the task, his National Security Adviser.

  • Classic US propaganda: Allende, a Marxist Threat in the Americas (1970)
    Classic US propaganda: Allende, a Marxist Threat in the Americas (1970)

Well aware of the threat the US poses, the UP sent a delegation to negotiate with Washington but diplomacy doors remained shut in their face: The US only desired a coup.

By then, the US had two legs needed to implement its plan: The propaganda through El Mercurio, and the economy through its influence as Nixon halted most exports to the South American nation, creating a shortage in food, fuel, and products which in turn caused hyperinflation.

Though one last leg was needed now to execute the perfect plan: The military one.

The Chilean military had been de-politicized since the 1920s, obstructing army commanders and generals from assuming political roles with the aim of avoiding overlapping objectives. Yet, with the rise of military coups around Chile in countries such as Bolivia (1969), Argentina (1966), and Brazil (1964), the military was encouraged by a prospect of expanding its political control and economic wealth. This desire, coupled with their cooperative training with the School of the Americas – a US army training center designed to fortify the skills of Latin American armies who could possibly serve US policies – engendered strong anti-communist feelings.

  • Memo revealing CIA involvement in Chile
    Memo revealing CIA involvement in Chile's coup

On the 23rd of August 1973, Augusto Pinochet was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army after his predecessor, Carlos Prats resigned due to political pressure: Prats was a commander who vehemently believed and practiced the Schneider Doctrine which believed in the neutrality of the army in internal political crises. Pinochet did not abide by that doctrine as he harbored both political ambitions and anti-communist feelings.

In parallel, the CIA was pouring heavy amounts of cash into El Mercurio and influential political figures to create a sense of paranoia regarding Allende’s “upcoming plans to seize power from the military” and create a military communist dictatorship. CIA-backed right-wing coalitions in the Senate ran with this idea and began attacking the UP and Allende’s policies in an attempt to hinder them.

With ongoing strikes, diplomatic blockade, economic embargo, political deadlock, hyperinflation, and the threat of a military coup, Allende’s hands became tied.

Finally, on the tragic day of September 11, 1973, Augusto Pinochet executed his coup by rounding up his military forces and besieging La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, with tanks and bombing continuously.

  • La Moneda attacked by Pinochet's army
    La Moneda suffering from the US' imperialist ambitions (1973)

Allende gave one last speech over the radio in which he said:

History is ours, and people make history.... Foreign capital, imperialism, together with the reaction, created the climate in which the Armed Forces broke their tradition.

When the army took over La Moneda, they declared Allende dead by suicide, a story many dispute to this day.

  • The remains of Allende's glasses after he was found dead on September 11, 1973
    The remains of Allende's glasses after he was found dead on September 11, 1973. 

A reign of terror

The disruption of Allende’s rule proved to be catastrophic for Chile, as a military junta took over the country and was composed of several military commanders until Pinochet declared himself “President of the Republic” by 1974.

  • Pinochet and his troops in the presidential palace
    Pinochet began what is considered the darkest chapter of modern Chilean history

His actions proved him to be a dictator of the highest order, as his 17 years rule formed a reign of terror for the Chileans: Backtracking on most of Allende’s progressive policies, social inequality expanded under his economic liberalization measures. More than 3,000 Chileans were killed along with hundreds of thousands who were tortured, kidnapped, and detained by Pinochet’s regime.

With countless human rights violations, assassinations, tax evasions, and regressive policies, Pinochet became a household name amongst dictators and imperialist nations; his closest international ally is naturally the US as it offered his regime all the support it needed to preserve its presence.

  • The violence of Pinochet's regime shocked the Chilean society to its core
    The violence of Pinochet's regime shocked the Chilean society to its core

Recently, declassified documents have unveiled the Australian Intelligence’s deep involvement in the coup as well as per the CIA’s request.

The repercussions of Pinochet’s US-backed power grab have left Chile scarred for decades despite his tenure coming to an official end in 1990.

The Chilean populace still longs for a time in which Allende gave equal rights to all, yearly marching on September 11 from his grave to La Moneda to remind the nation of his values.

The Chilean populace longs for a time in which all sectors were nationalized and not corporatized. 

The Chilean populace longs for a time... preceding a bloody CIA-orchestrated coup.