LESSONS FROM THE 9/11/73 COUP IN CHILE
Jorge A. Lawton, Ph.D.
Jorge A. Lawton is a binational from the U. S. and Chile. During the Allende Popular Unity years, he worked as a daily staff reporter for the Financial Times (London) from Chile . In May of 1974, he returned to Chile as advisor to former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Subsequently he worked as Latin American analyst on the Senate “Church Committee”, and as advisoto former Chilean Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier until his September 1976 assasination. Today, Dr. Lawton, former Distinguished Fellow at Emory University's Center for Ethics, writes and works from Atlanta, GA.
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Pre-dawn, on Tuesday morning, 9/11/73, three years of relentless intervention by the hemisphere's greatest power, the United States, succeeded both in choking off Chile's historic experiment in it's “transition to socialism thru democracy”, and in giving birth to the brutal Augusto Pinochet years of dictatorship. For many reasons, both U. S. perception and policy against the “Allende experiment in socialism”, as well as U. S. support for and use of the Pinochet alternative are rich in present day and future lessons. Their close examination also reveals how only the same relatively limited repertoire of policy tools is likely to be available to implement U. S. interests in the future.
Over these past four decades many formerly classified documents have been brought to light, and significant architects of the Chile policies have been intervivewed. Not the least of these efforts came in l974-75, through the Senate Select Committee to Investigate U. S. Intelligence Activities, popularly known simply as the “Church Committee”, after its Chair, Senator Frank Church (D. Idaho). Valuable additional documentation has been unearthed thru persistent Freedom of Information Act, or “FOIA”, requests for declassification by public interests groups such as The National Security Archive (WDC) and The Center for Constitutional Rights (NYC), as well as authors and teams of investigators in Chile and abroad. Finally, some of us who lived through and survived those turbulent years, now growing older, are also putting pen to paper.
In the short space of this anniversary blog, I will attempt to address four of the more persistent questions surrounding U. S. behavior and “the Chilean experience”:
(1) Who constituted the the Popular Unity Coalition and what was the essence of its social base?
(2) What were the four central strands making up the anatomy of Nixon/Kissinger policy toward the Allende Popular Unity Coalition in 1970-73?
(3) What was most responsbile for Allende's overthrow: a) strategic errors of his own coalition? b) internal opposition forces ? c) external opposition forces?
And finally, (4) What were the fundamental post-coup priorities of the United States ?
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The Popular Unity Coalition
Senator Salvador Allende, M.D., had been a presidential candidate in 1958, again in 1964, and again in 1970. His Popular Unity Coalition had been growing in strength over the years, and by 1970 included six broad parties: 1) Allende's own Socialist Party; 2) the Chilean Communist Party; 3) the middle-class, non-Marxist Radical Party; 4) the Left Christian Party, a splinter from the powerful opposition Christian Democrats of the Center-Right; and 5) & 6)two new parties, MAPU and MAPU-OC (Obrero Campesino / Worker Farm Laborer).
The radical, pro-insurrectionary “MIR”, or “Movement of the Revolutionary Left”, tho allied, did not form part of the Popular Unity coalition. MIR could be seen as representing an ideological pole far more than any offering a strategic alternative. Tactical differences between Chile's broad Socialist Party – advocating “advance without concessions”, and its old and more traditional Communist Party – advocating “consolidate first in order to advance”, were evident on nearly every level. The great majority of organized labor also situated themselves firmly within the ranks of the governing U. P. coalition.
Aligned against the Popular Unity parties were Chile's center-right Christian Democrats; also a conservative splinter from the majority, middle of the road Radical Party; the traditional right wing National Party; and even an open, neo-fascist shock group known as “Fatherland and Freedom”. Increasingly groupings of “guilds” or “gremios”, and “owner associations”, such as the truck-owners SIDUCAM, worked with the opposition.
The prevailing mood among all of the parties and social groups in the U. P., from neighborhod and community organizations through the six parties, was overwhelmingly one of optimism and hope. There was a keen awareness, even in the midst of unbridled opposition and mounting chaos, of how, as organized workers, they were fundamentally transforming Chilean society.
For the status quo defending parties, the mood was increasingly one of apprehension and visceral opposition to each and every U. P. initiative. We will see how U. S. policy worked to further increase this polarization on every level, and in its own words, “create a coup climate.”
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The View from Washington
Richard Nixon viewed Allende's surprise plurality election in September, 1970, as evidence of a “red sandwich” – with Castro's Cuba in the north, and now “Marxist Chile” in the south, where “soon all of Latin America in between may turn Communist”. Henry Kissinger was somewhat more sophisticated. If allowed to succeed, Kissinger viewed the cooperative coalition between Chile's Socialist and Communist parties as posing “an insidious example” to similar coalitions in France and Italy – whose societies were accepted as directly effecting U. S. strategic interests.
Nixon was clear in his immediate instructions to his national security advisors at Allende's election: “Make the economy scream”, he privately ordered. Subsequently, U. S. Ambassador Edward Korry would privately pledged that “not a nut or a bolt” would make it into Chile on his watch.
The U. S. national security state under Nixon/Kissnger quickly developed a powerful anti-Allende policy with four strands: 1) diplomatic deception; 2) military-to-military intervention; 3) economic pressure/strangulation; and, 4) a series of “covert actions”.
U. S. Diplomatic Deception.
While the full force of U. S. power in fact moved swiftly and mercilessly against Allende's Chile, the official U. S. position was deceptively conciliatory: “Our position is one of “wait and see”. We are prepared to have the kind of relations with the Allende government that they want to have with us.”
Officially, the llitmus test for the Nixon Administration was said to be whether or not they were satisfied by the terms of indemnization by the Allende government for the private U. S. owned transnationals, particularly the U. S. copper corporations – Anaconda, Kennecott, and Braden, but also I.T.T, Chase Manhattan Bank, and not to be overlooked, Nixon's former client, Pepsi Cola!
U. S. ire was hardly calmed when, after months and months of deliberations, Allende's international legal counsel, Eduardo Novoa, declared that neither side owed the other anything. According to Novoa's doctrine of “retroactive excess profits”, adoped by Allende, the transnationals would still end up with a traditionally acceptable annual profit even if not paid anything further for the nationalization of their properties in Chile.
U. S. Military Intervention.
Much of what has been publicly revealed, especially by the Church Committee, of the U. S. military actions against the Allende government, falls in the initial months in which the U. S. attempted to prevent Allende from being confirmed by the Chilean congress, rather than three years later at the time of the 9/11/73 coup itself. Yet we know that U. S. opposition to Allende not only did not wane, but significantly intensified as time went on. Thus it would hardly be logical to expect U. S. military advice to have become less involved and less interested as the military ultimatum against the Allende regime escalated month after month.
In the earlier, pre-confirmation period, we know that the U. S. went as far as to dispatch three “false flag” clandestine officers to Chile with submachine guns whose serial numbers had been erased. These clandestine U. S. officers, traveling as nationals of other countries, had instructions to pass these weapons to one of two renegade Chilean military factions in order to kidnap the constitutionalist Commander-in-Chief of Chile's Armed Forces, General Rene' Schneider. In the assault, General Schneider resisted and was assasinated. This U. S.-backed terrorist action so shocked Chile's constitutionalist majority, that it turned out to have precisely the opposite effect, facilitating Allende's confirmation by the Congress on October 24, 1970.
The first signs of the Chilean military coup itself came in the pre-dawn hours of 9/11/73, and commenced with the uprising of the Chilean Navy in the principle port of Valparaiso. Just concluding at the time were the War Games being carried out by the U. S. Navy under Operation Unitas. It was the unguarded boasts of U. S. Navy officers, gathered at Viña del Mar's Hotel O'Higgins on the Sunday night prior to the Tuesday a.m. coup, that U. S. filmmaker Charlie Horman witnessed, leading to his subsequent kidnapping and “disappearance”, later portrayed in the film, “Missing”.
In the capital of Santiago, as in cities up and down the length of Chile, the intricate choreography of the coup was carried off with a precision previously unassociated with Chile's Armed Forces. Were they operating alone as we have been led to believe by the “official accounts”? All traffic intersections and bridges had been taken over and controled; all radio and T. V. stations taken over; all “intervened” worker-controled factories were surrounded and controled by specialized military units; a master “watch list” of the thousands upon thousands to be arrested, interrogated and held had been prepared and distributed; and as the two British Hawker Hunter bombers slowly passed over La Moneda, the presidential palace, fixing its coordinates to launch it's missiles, someone was there to film the bombing and burning of the constitutional symbol of the palace, with the elected president inside –and then feed the film to the national television channels. The resulting burning image was run over and over, exclusive T. V. content, accompanied only by various official pronunciations and citizen warnings from the new military junta!
After three years of intensive preparation and unremiting hostility, are we really to believe that onthe day of the coup itself, and subsequent days, the U. S. military advisors were on vacation?
U. S. Economic Pressures
Immediately following Allende's election, the Nixon Administration established an interagency working group to coordinate overt economic pressure toward Chile. This was composed of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division Chief, and representatives from State, the NSC, and Treasury. In 1970, U. S. direct private investment in Chile reached $1.1 billion, out of an estimated total foreign investment of $1.672 billion. Four-fifths of Chile's foreign exchange earnings at the time came from copper exports, and 80% of Chile's copper production was controled by U. S. based corporations.
The N. S. C. decision to isolate Chile from all sources of needed foreign capital, summarizedin National Security Defense Memorandum 93 of November 1970, can be traced in the macro statistics. While U. S. bilateral aid to Chile in 1969 reached $35 million, this had been cut to only $1.5 million in 1971. U. S. Export-Import Bank credits, which had totaled $234 milionunder President Eduardo Frei in 1967, fell to zero by 1971. Chile's credit rating with the Ex-Im Bank was dropped from “B” to “D” (it lowest level) at Allende's election. Loans from the Inter-American Development Bank had totaled $46. milion in 1970; by 1972 they were only $2 million. The World Bank made no new loans whatsoever to Chile between 1970 and 1973.
As the Church Committee Senate report states, “the United States [also] linked the question of indemnization for U. S. copper companies with Chile's multilateral foreign debt. That foreign debt, an inheritance from the obligations incurred by the [previous Chilean governments of Presidents] Alessandri and Frei, was the second highest foreign debt per capita of any country in the world . Yet, in the 1972 1n 1973 Paris Club foreign debt negotiations with Chile's principal foreign creditor nations, the United States alone refused to consider rescheduling Chile's foreign debt payments until there was movement toward indemnization for the U. S. copper companies. The United States also exerted pressure on each of the other foreign creditor nations not to renegotiate Chile's foreign debt.”
U. S. Covert Actions
What do we mean by the category “covert actions”? Broadly speaking, these are activities which the United States government authorizes, pays for, coordinates, and carries out without ever divulging any association or responsibility. They may often be falsely attributed to other authorities or entities. In intelligence slang they are often loosely referred to as “dirty tricks”. This may involve clandestine payments to individuals or parties, covert military to military activity, or, one of the broadest and most significant categories in the case of U. S. policy toward Chile, “psy-ops” or “psychological operations”. This is non-attributed, or falsely attributed (“black”) propaganda pouring into a country such as Chile to act as “scare tactics”, often in order to change how people vote. The information itself does not have to be true, and often is blatantly false. Ironically enough, the U. S. covert action campaigns directed against the Allende candidacy in 1964, and again in 1970 against his candidacy and subsequent government, were so massive in character, that they often betrayed thier allegedly “clandestine” nature. They thus turned out to be anything but “covert” to their targets, the people of Chile; they often were covert or unknown, however, to the U. S. people in whose name and through whose taxes they were being authorized and spent! Only with the major congressional investigation of the Church committee in the Senate, and the Pike committe in the House were descriptions of U. S. covert action programs against Chile ever revealed to the U. S. public.
The C. I. A. chose to pour millions into blatant attack copy into Chile's daily opposition radio, T.V., and print media, especially the conservative daily, El Mercurio. The funds were routinely channeled through Chile's black market, producing a 5 to 8 fold increase in a country whose entire population at the time was 1/20 that of the United States. The “covert action” strategy was twofold: First, it aimed to denigrate and smear each and every initiative of the Popular Unity coalition, and increasingly, of the character of President Allende himself; secondly, it furthered a self-fulfilling prophecy that the Allende government, per se, represented a threat to “freedom of the press”, forcing the government either on the one hand to choose between setting limits on what propaganda could be launched in the press, including suspension of printing privileges when the courts determined the attacks to be libelous, versus opting to refuse to be coerced into any such suspension and thus allowing ever more vicious daily attacks and rumors to spread. Allende and the U. P. chose to keep even the most rabid of the opposition press open and publishing all the time.
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Key Factors in Allende's Overthrow
There has been a long and largely inconclusive academic debate over which factors were more influential in the overthrow of the Popular Unity government on September 11, 1973. The question is usually put in terms of the relative influence of external vs. internal opposition factors.
We know that the most significant and visible actor in provoking the coup was, of course, the betrayal of the Chilean Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Carabiñeros or National Police, plus their various respective, and competing, intelligence services. The C. I. A., the D. I. A., and the N. S. A. were far less forthcoming with the investigating Senate Church Committee, when it came to questions of the degree and nature of U. S. covert involvement at the time of the 9/11 coup itself, than with some of the details on the earlier “Track 1” and “Track 11” covert U. S. intervention programs. The nature of the coup being the culmination of three years of unrelenting pressure and propaganda economically, politically, psychologically and militarily is often conveniently overlooked, as it is looked at as an isolated event. Even so, serious questions continue to be raised regarding the likely continuation of the U. S. intimate role, but in a far less visible or highly more discrete deployment on the day of the coup itself. Some critics have charged that the U. S. Airforce deployed two highly sophisticated aircraft, similar to AWACs, with orders to maintain a centralized military communication system far above the capital city of Santiago, just in case the Chilean military's closely coordinated monopoly of all ground communications should suffer any unforeseen glitches.
Thus even today, 43 years after the fact, we are still limited in what forces were visible at the time, and in what information has been revealed and confirmed by official sources. This does not prevent, however, further responsible and trained inquiry, given the nature of the policy and the intervention.
We also must analyze the essence of the C. I. A.'s work. It is a clandestine agency working across national boundaries. As such, it primary task is to unite covertly the international, or external forces with the internal forces – not have one compete against the other. Both external and internal forces, so long as they are loyal to the policy's central purpose – in this case, in President Nixon's words, “to make the economy scream” and “to create a coup climate” – are aligned together if the C. I. A. and its fellow clandestine agencies are doing their job. Common cause is made between the external and the internal forces. Thus the very question as to which forces are more responsible for the overthrow is clearly the wrong question to ask.
Does this mean for a moment that Allende and the Popular Unity coalition did not commit their own errors in the intense three years of governing? Of course not. The most frequent charge against the coalition is often thought to be that of their alleged naivete'. “They should have seen the militarycoup coming and countered the same by arming the workers in a popular uprising”, runs the argument. This view, often expressed by some on the Left from abroad, ignores how acutely aware each of the parties in the U. P,. coalition were of a military coup, and how they realized that discovery by the military of introduction of any parallel armed militia, would only have accelerated the timing and resolve of the military to protect themselves and act to carry out a coup.
While many tactical errors did exist, the overwhelming thrust of the U. P, programs was one of building a new, alternative social order. Time after time, Allende, a gruff conciliator by nature, reached out to sectors of the opposition to form broader national coalitions. One such accord had been all but reached with the opposition Christian Democrats in 1972. What remained was formal approval by former President Eduardo Frei, then traveling in Yugoslavia. It was learned that Frei consulted with the Nixon/Kissinger administration before ordering that absolutely under no circumstances would his party enter into any pact with the Allende coalition. One CIA report which \\ reached the Church Committee, in dealing with the September timing of the coup, predicted that if the coup were not successfully launched then that it might well be “too late” soon after, as Allende was seen as consolidating his forces.
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U. S. Post-Coup Priorities & “Los Chicago Boys”
The 9/11/73 military coup in Chile marked a bloody watershed. It heralded far more than so-called “regime change”. The very democratic institutions which the C. I. A. had carried out a drumbeat of warnings as being “threatened” under Allende, primarily the country's ample electronic and print media, but also the generations-old House and Senate Chambers, were summarily closed with the coup. Strict nightly curfews were established. Gatherings of more than five persons were prohibited. A new reality, the C. I. A.-prepared “Watch List” guided mass arrests such that the overflow soon had to be sent to locales such as the National Footbal (Soccer) Stadium, now one massive political prison. Eleven new “interrogation centers”, such as Villa Grimaldi or Londres 38, were set up. Old concentration camps, such as “Tres Alamos” or “Pisagua”, not used for decades, were re-opened.
From the first moment of the coup onward, the military succeeded in cutting Chile off from Argentina to the East, while controling the northern border with Bolivia. That left control of Patagonia to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west – effectively cutting Chile off from the world. This new territorial control was then used to corral, interrogate, and imprison not only all of the hundreds of thousands of Chilean nationals, but also, of immediate interest, the thousands of foreign nationals, including dissident leaders from their own countries, who had been welcomed to Chile under Allende. The interrogation process routinely employed torture. Summary executions ocurred widely, especially during the first weeks following the coup. Some prisoners, still alive, were cast into the Pacific Ocean from helicopters. Many were simply “disappeared”, never to be accounted for again.
One common experience was to have a non-Spanish speaking man present in the torture sessions. Not infrequently, some anti-Allende residents used the coup climate to denounce and “turn-in” any neighbors who they knew to have supported the previous regime. The highest level Chilean prisoners, former party heads or Cabinet members, were separated and sent to the extreme southern pole Dawson Island, Chile's equivalent of South Africa's Robben's Island.
Two CIA agents were assigned to prepare the military junta's own publication or, “White Book” to justify the coup itself and to present the junta in a uniquely positive light. Covert action programs designed to place the Agency in close touch with the command level of the military, and to direct the national and international media coverage in the most favorable light toward the new junta, were maintained.
The agency deployed other agents to help draw up the new national economic plans of the government. Analysts on the Senate Church Committee learned in declassified information that on the afternoon of the military coup ravaging Chile, the C. I. A. station chief encouraged his staff of officers to enjoy the bottles of champagne which they had uncorked, but to realize that “our real work starts tomorrow morning as we carry out the drafting of Chile's new economic plan.”
Even before the new national economic plan could be drafted, Chile's broad public health network and decades old social safety net had to be dismantled. “Privatization” and nearly universal “user-fees” in instance after instance replaced former public benefits; decades old Chilean trade unions, were intervened and banned. These plans were a bold copy of fundamental “neo-liberal” or unfettered, market-oriented, Chicago School principles. Deregulation became the order of the day.
Eventually it became impossible to square the more drastic of these raw capitalist measures with some of Chile's oldest constitutional guarantees. But rather than curtail the drastic economic measures, it was decided to rewrite Chile's constitution – once again, with the explicit participation of U. S. C.I.A. Agents! All new decision-making power was vested in the military junta itself; Congress hadbeen closed and the ultra-conservative Supreme Court was only too happy to be subservient to the new mlitary executive, increasingly centered in the person of Army General Augusto Pinochet. Elections, formerly a near-constant in Chilean life, were now banned, and the new constitution guaranteed unquestioned terms of rule for the new Pinochet junta and its welcoming of foreign capital. Unemployment soared under Chile's “new economy”, while a handful of well-placed financiers, including future president Sebastian Piñera, became the new billionaires.
Nearly three years later, in June of 1976, Henry Kissinger paid a visit to Pinochet's Chile. The dictatorship's human rights repression had become known around the globe. Yet, in his private meeting with Pinochet, recently declassified memos quote Kissinger confiding to the dictator, “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.” To his undoubted embarrassment, upon parting, Pinochet turned to Kissinger, and publicly assured him that, “You are my leader.”
General Pinochet remained in unchecked power for the next 17 years, until a national plebescite would vote him out. Even then he negotiated to remain as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
for another 8 years – effectively preventing any member of the military to cooperate with the various commissions of inquiry into the crimes committed by the military. And to this day, 41 years from the 9/11/73 military coup, the C.I.A.-counseled, Pinochet constitution remains in place. Socialist President Michele Bachelet, herself a former victim of the dictatorship, must now decide whether the correlation of constitutional forces even today will allow her to rewrite Chile's constitution.
[(a) Corraling and repression of all foreign and Chilean supporters of the Popular Unity government,
together with corresponding “psy-ops” to portray them as “terrorists”;
(b) CIA Santiago station chief: Enjoy your champagne now, gentlemen, as of first order of business,
tomorrow morning we must draw up the plans of Chile's “new economy”;
(c) dismantling of the “liberal” Chilean state, the media, and the representative institutions;
& dismantling of the traditional Chilean social security, pension, and public health systems;
(d) banning of the Central Labor Coalition (C.U.T.);
(e) drafting and adopting of a new national Constitution;
(f) opening of the post-coup economy to transnational financial capital virtually without restriction;]