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A Tale of Two Septembers

September 11th also marks the anniversary, in this case the thirtieth, of the aerial attack by terrorists that led to the murder of more than 3,000 people and profoundly changed Chilean society.
General Augusto Pinochet (left) and President Salvador Allende, August 1973
General Augusto Pinochet (left) and President Salvador Allende, August 1973
A Tale of Two Septembers

By David Morris, AlterNet
September 9, 2003

September 11th marks the second anniversary of the aerial attack by terrorists that killed 2,700 people and profoundly changed American society.

September 11th also marks the anniversary, in this case the thirtieth, of the aerial attack by terrorists that led to the murder of more than 3,000 people and profoundly changed Chilean society.

American commentators probably won't mention the 1973 attacks on Chile and their aftermath. They should, because in those attacks it was the U.S. government that played the role of Al Qaeda - recruiting, training, arming, financing and coordinating the terrorists.

Our involvement in this unsavory affair is now widely recognized. As Secretary of State Colin Powell himself recently acknowledged, "It is not a part of our country's history that we are proud of."

Powell's comment implies a feeling of contrition that I doubt his colleagues in this Administration share. For the ties are remarkably intimate between those who planned the attacks on Chile's White House and those in charge of responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld worked in the Nixon cabinet. And in a most telling demonstration of continuity, President Bush appointed Henry Kissinger, the central player in the overthrow of the Chilean government, to chair the Committee investigating the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (Kissinger withdrew in the face of ferocious worldwide criticism.)

On September 4, 1970 Salvador Allende, founder of the Socialist Party and four time presidential candidate, was elected President of Chile. That Allende was duly and uncontrovertibly elected in a country with a long and rich democratic tradition, a country whose voting turnout is double that of the United States, was irrelevant to President Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people," Kissinger declared.

"Nixon was beside himself," Kissinger later wrote. CIA Director Richard Helms remembers Nixon "wanted something done and he didn't much care how."

Initially the U.S. tried to forestall Allende's taking office by financing the kidnapping of the head of the Armed Forces, General Rene Schneider. Schneider resisted and was shot on October 22, 1970 and died three days later. The CIA reportedly paid $35,000 to the assassins.

Having failed with Plan A, Nixon and Kissinger moved to Plan B. This was, according to Nixon's CIA Director Richard Helms to "make the (Chilean) economy scream".

Plan B was successful economically. By cutting off public and private aid, encouraging U.S. corporations to stop sending replacement parts to Chilean factories and fomenting strikes and sabotage in Chile, the U.S. undermined its economy.

But Plan B failed politically. Even in the face of growing economic instability Chile maintained its democratic traditions. And the percentage voting for Allende's Popular Unity coalition continued to increase, from 36 percent in September 1970 to 44 percent in April 1972.

In June 1973 parts of the Chilean Navy attempted a coup and failed. A million people marched to the President's office and demanded arms to be able to defend the government. President Allende stood on the balcony and firmly rejected their request. To the end he was a Constitutionalist.

As were several of the leaders of the Chilean military. These were arrested in the early morning of September 11th. About 8:30AM rogue military units began bombing the Chilean White House. Allende died in his office. General Augusto Pinochet, an admirer of Adolf Hitler, seized power.

Pinochet's military dictatorship killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands and drove more than a million Chileans into exile. A society with a 150 year tradition of democracy and participation suffered under totalitarian rule.

No elections were held at any level for 15 years. Women were arrested for organizing soccer clubs. As Tina Rosenberg observed in the New York Times, "Meetings of any kind were considered subversive - in the first year after the coup, even Miss Chile was appointed."

The United States rewarded Chile by dramatically increasing both grants and loans. On June 8, 1976, at the height of Pinochet's repression, Kissinger met in private with the dictator and told him, "We are sympathetic to what you are trying to do here".

Having thwarted the possibility that Chile would become a model of democratic socialism, the United States made Chile a model of dictatorial capitalism. Under the hands-on guidance of University of Chicago economists, the Chilean economy was restructured. Unions were outlawed. Real wages plunged. Social spending was slashed. Of 507 public enterprises in l973 only l5 remained in government hands by l980. Chile privatized its social security system.

The experiment failed. Unemployment soared. Malnutrition soared. In l973 Chile had the second highest income in Latin America, next to oil rich Venezuela. By 1988, when the military relinquished the reigns of government, Chile's income had fallen behind that of many countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

As a result of widespread protests, none of which were financed by the United States, Pinochet agreed to step down. In 1989 a new government took office and to some extent has undone the damage wrought by the Pinochet years.

Today Chilean society remains scarred by the events of 9/11/73. The military pushed through a Constitutional provision that allowed it sufficient representation in Congress to block reforms. In l99l General Pinochet declared that if Chile were to try to undertake the kinds of economic initiatives embraced by Allende, "In such circumstances it will be impossible to prevent" the military from intervening once again. Although elections now take place in Chile and political activity has revived, its dimension and vitality, once so rich, is circumscribed.

The United States also felt the effects of 9/11/73. Policymakers were shocked at the revelations of our involvement. And at the same time they learned of Nixon's increasing willingness to wield the powers of government against perceived domestic as well as foreign enemies.

Nixon resigned in August 1974. Congressional investigations of our the use of government here and abroad by the Nixon administration led it to reinforce and strengthen the prohibition on domestic surveillance by the CIA. It banned the use of assassination as a tool of foreign policy. CIA director Richard Helms was indicted and convicted of lying to Congress about US involvement in Chile.

Today the connections between the two September lls remain. While we are pursuing Saddam Hussein in order to try him for war crimes, prosecutors in four countries are pursuing Henry Kissinger to get him to testify about his role in the Chilean coup.

In the aftermath of 9/11/01 the Bush White House has reinstated many of the practices of the Nixon White House and has adopted a similar approach regarding those who oppose its policies. Nixon had an enemies list. Vice President Cheney declares, "You're either for us or against us." The policy of covert interventions in foreign countries has been revived. The CIA now is intimately involved in domestic surveillance. The White House has formally re-established the practice of political assassination.

This September 11th we should remember two anniversaries and reflect on the links between the two.

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Detainee Remembers Chile September 1973 11.Sep.2003 00:39

Mike Gatehouse

Friday, 23 October, 1998, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK

Testimony: Detainee remembers Chile 1973

I lived in a small flat in Eyzaguirre Street, very close to the centre of the city. Trapped at work by the military curfew on the day of the coup, I was rescued by the cleaners who hid me in their home in a nearby shanty town while troops fired machine-guns at random from helicopters hovering overhead.
Colleagues at my workplace, the Chilean Forestry Institute, including its Director, Federico Quilodrán, were arrested and taken to the National Stadium. Some of them were badly beaten, and some I met up with later in Finland, where they had been admitted as refugees.

Of my two Chilean flat-mates I knew nothing for some days. Wolfgang had been arrested along with Victor Jara and several hundred students and academics at the State Technical University and taken to the Chile Stadium, a small indoor sports arena in downtown Santiago.

Protest singer Victor Jara

Victor Jara was tortured there and killed. Wolfgang, however, managed to escape the military guards, and later we were able to bring him to Britain as a refugee. Juan and his Russian wife reached the Swedish Embassy where they joined hundreds of other asylum seekers. My girl-friend's ex-husband was summarily executed by the police when they discovered a sporting shotgun in his house.

Friends had warned me not to return to my flat, but I was anxious to rescue clothes and belongings. I found the place in total chaos, following several raids.

I was there less than an hour, but as I was leaving I met armed police coming up the stairs. Right-wing neighbours, who resented my work for a local community group, had denounced me, claiming that we had an arsenal of weapons in the flat.

I was taken to the local police station where, improbably for an Englishman with fair hair and blue eyes, I was accused of being a Cuban.

Later that afternoon I and a handful of other prisoners were taken out at gunpoint and forced to lie face-down on the floor of a bus, police with sub-machine guns standing astride us.

We were taken to the National Stadium, Chile's equivalent of Wembley, a large football stadium with other sports facilities clustered around it. We were herded into a mustering area which was full of newly arrived prisoners in white coats, doctors and orderlies from several Santiago hospitals which had been raided that day, victims of a savage proscription by the far-right dominated Chilean Medical Association, which accused them of having failed to go on strike against the legal government.

The 'cells' into which we were herded were the team changing rooms. There were 130 prisoners in ours, and at night we were so tightly packed that we could sleep only by lining up in rows and lying down 'by numbers', dovetailing heads and feet.

We were guarded by soldiers and there were sand-bagged machine-gun emplacements at intervals around the walk-way that formed a circuit under the angle of the stadium stands.

Men and women were segregated. At one point I was held in an open area opposite the women's cell and witnessed their extraordinary courage as they sang songs to keep up their (and our) spirits, and begged cigarettes from the guards, which they would throw to us across the passage-way.

A memorial naming 2,500 people who died during Pinochet's rule.

The majority of us, prisoners of all ages, professions and nationalities, were there for more or less random reasons -because we worked for public institutions or the government, because we were foreigners, because we were factory workers, nurses, teachers, university lecturers, lived in a shanty town or any of the other ordinary occupations and groupings that suddenly became proscribed or suspect under the new military dispensation.

I was lucky: the British Embassy discovered my whereabouts and obtained my freedom on condition I leave the country.

The man next to me in my cell was less fortunate. A Brazilian engineer, named Sergio Moraes, he had worked in a factory called Madeco. He was taken out for his first heavy interrogation two days before I was released.

When he returned he could hardly hear or speak: he had been hooded and beaten about the head and ears with a flat wooden bat. He told us that among his interrogators were Brazilian intelligence officers.

I never knew what happened to him, but an Amnesty International researcher who went to Santiago some weeks later was told by a military official: 'I hope to god we killed him'.

It is difficult to describe the atmosphere of terrible danger that had pervaded Chile in the weeks before Pinochet and the generals seized power.

In June there had been an abortive and somewhat ludicrous coup attempt by the head of a tank regiment, backed by the fascist party Fatherland and Freedom. However it was clear that these were merely hot-heads who had jumped the gun.

The opposition to the government continued with increased violence, and attacks on public property and institutions. Jeeps of the Forestry Institute were 'grounded' after several were stoned and their drivers injured at road-blocks set up by right-wing land and lorry-owners.

Like most of my colleagues, I did night-shifts to guard my place of work against possible sabotage attacks. Many of us considered, in those first days of September, that we were living in a de facto state of civil war, fomented and in part financed by Chile's enemies abroad, notably the US administration.

Nothing, however, had prepared us for the cold, surgical reality of the coup and the fact that a legal and constitutional government could be utterly defeated and destroyed within the space of twelve hours.

By the evening of September 11 there was no armed opposition to the military regime, no figure to rally support for democracy, no loyal general (the few who remained loyal were arrested, mostly in the hours before the coup), no place where government supporters could muster.

I will never forget from those days the press, radio and television images of the new dictatorship: the harsh robotic voice and the blank face (masked by dark glasses) of General Pinochet, who represents for me everything that is cruel, destructive, bigoted and philistine.

His was the first regime since the Nazis, I believe, to burn books publicly in the streets (my own were burned).

I returned home to Britain and for the next six years worked for Chile Solidarity Campaign. It was my privilege to accompany on their visits to Britain to seek support many leaders of Chile's democratic parties, trade unionists, musicians, and Hortensia Bussi, widow of President Allende.

Throughout Britain we met and worked with some of the finest and most generous people I have ever known: people who took Chilean refugees into their homes, befriended them and collected furniture, clothing and other essentials for them.

People like the Liverpool dockers and Rolls Royce workers who put their own jobs at risk by refusing to do work that might benefit the military junta in Chile. Church groups and people of no religion, members of Amnesty International, school students, trade unionists, Labour MPs, many thousands of people for whom Allende's Chile symbolised a unique and extraordinarily hopeful attempt to create a more just society, cut off and destroyed by the darkest and most cruel forces of naked power, selfishness and wealth.

I was delighted by the news of General Pinochet's arrest in London. For the first time since 1973 his impunity has been challenged. Such is his continuing power in Chile that no-one has been able to prosecute him.

It is not so much the person, but the nature, legitimacy and continuing support for that anti-democratic and authoritarian power that are being challenged.

Whatever the timidity of the present civilian government in Chile, neither democracy nor ordinary people in Chile will be safe until the full truth of the military coup and regime are exposed, and its victims given access to justice.

Mike Gatehouse. October 1998.

Mike Gatehouse with Hortensia Bussi, the widow of Salvador Allende in the 1970s.
Mike Gatehouse with Hortensia Bussi, the widow of Salvador Allende in the 1970s.