CHILE 50 YRS: Had There Been No Coup in 1973

At the time, 50 years ago on Monday, the coup was seen as not just an attack on the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, writes Vijay Prashad. It was an attack on the Third World.

Gracia Barrios, Chile, Multitud III or Multitude III, 1972.

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Imagine this scenario. On Sept. 11, 1973, the reactionary sections of the Chilean army, led by General Augusto Pinochet and given a green light by the U.S. government, did not leave their barracks.

President Salvador Allende, who led the Popular Unity government, went to his office in La Moneda in Santiago to announce a plebiscite on his government and to ask for the resignation of several senior generals. Then, Allende continued his fight to bring down inflation and to realise his government’s programme to advance the socialist agenda in Chile.

Until the moment when the Chilean Army descended upon La Moneda in 1973, Allende and the Popular Unity government were in a pitched fight to defend Chile’s sovereignty, particularly over its copper resources and its land as they sought to raise sufficient funds to eradicate hunger and illiteracy and to produce innovative means to deliver health care and housing. In the Popular Unity programme (1970), the Allende government founded its charter:

“The social aspirations of the Chilean people are legitimate and possible to satisfy. They want, for example, dignified housing without readjustments that exhaust their income; schools and universities for their children; sufficient wages; an end once and for all to high prices; stable work; timely medical attention; public lighting; sewers; potable water; paved streets and sidewalks; a just and operable social security system without privileges and without starvation-level pensions; telephones; police; children’s playgrounds; recreation areas; and popular vacationing and sea resorts.

The satisfaction of these just desires of the people – which, in truth, are rights that society must recognise – will be a preoccupation of high priority for the popular government.”

Realising the “just desires of the people” – a laudable objective – was possible amidst the public’s optimism for the Popular Unity government, Allende’s administration adopted a model that decentralised the government and mobilised the people to attain their own “just desires.”

Had this model not been interrupted, the depositors in the government’s social security institutions would have remained on directive councils with oversight of these funds.

Organisations of slum dwellers would have continued to inspect the operations of the housing department tasked with building quality housing for the working class.

Old democratic structures would have continued to strengthen as the government used new technologies (such as Project Cybersyn) to create a distributed decision system. “It is not only about these examples,” the programme noted, “but about a new understanding in which the people participate in state institutions in a real and efficient way.”

Roberto Matta, Chile, “Hagámosnos la guerrilla interior para parir un hombre nuevo” or “Let’s Fight the Guerilla War Within Ourselves to Give Birth to a New Man,” 1970.

 As Chile’s people, led by the Popular Unity government, took control over their economic and political lives and worked hard to improve their social and cultural worlds, they sent a flare into the sky announcing the great possibilities of socialism.

Their advances mirrored those that had been attained in several other projects, such as in Cuba, and boosted the confidence of people across the Third World to test their own possibilities. The eradication of poverty and the creation of housing for every family was an inspiration for Latin America.

Had the Popular Unity project not been cut short, it very well might have encouraged other left projects to demand the satisfaction of just desires in a world where it was possible to attain them. No longer would we live in a world of scarcity, which impedes the realisation of these desires.

No Chicago Boys would have arrived with their noxious neoliberal agenda to experiment in the laboratory of a military regime. Popular mobilisations would have exposed the illegitimate desire of the capitalist class to impose austerity on the people in the name of economic growth. As Allende’s government expanded its agenda, driven by a decentralised government and by popular mobilisation, the “just desires” of the people might have eclipsed the narrow greed of capitalism.

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If there had been no coup in Chile, there might not have been coups in Peru (1975) and Argentina (1976). Without these coups, perhaps the military dictatorships in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay would have withdrawn in the face of popular agitation, inspired by Chile’s example. Perhaps, in this context, the close relationship between Chile’s Salvador Allende and Cuba’s Fidel Castro would have broken Washington’s illegal blockade of revolutionary Cuba.

Perhaps the promises made at the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) meeting in Santiago in 1972 might have been realised, among them the enactment of a robust New International Economic Order (NIEO) in 1974 that would have set aside the imperial privileges of the Dollar-Wall Street complex and its attendant agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Perhaps the just economic order that was being put in place in Chile would have been expanded to the world.

But the coup did happen. The military dictatorship killed, disappeared, and sent into exile hundreds of thousands of people, setting in motion a dynamic of repression that has been difficult for Chile to reverse despite the return to democracy in 1990.

From being a laboratory for socialism, Chile – under the tight grip of the military – became a laboratory for neoliberalism. Despite its relatively small population of roughly 10 million (a 10th of the size of Brazil’s population), the coup in Chile in 1973 had a global impact. At that time, the coup was not just seen as a coup against the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, but as a coup against the Third World.

That is precisely the theme of our latest dossier, “The Coup Against the Third World: Chile, 1973,” produced in collaboration with Instituto de Ciencias Alejandro Lipschutz Centro de Pensamiento e Investigación Social y Politica (ICAL).

“The coup against Allende’s government,” we write, “took place not only against its own policy of the nationalisation of copper, but also because Allende had offered leadership and an example to other developing countries that sought to implement the New International Economic Order principles.”

At the third session of UNCTAD in Santiago in 1972, Allende said that the mission of the conference was to replace “an obsolete and radically unjust economic and trade order with an equitable one that is based on a new concept of man and human dignity and to reformulate an international division of labour that is intolerable for the less advanced countries and that obstructs their progress while favouring only the affluent nations.”

This was exactly the dynamic that was derailed by the coup in Chile as well as by other manoeuvres of the imperialist bloc. Instead of promoting an order “based on a new concept of man and human dignity,” these manoeuvres resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people’s advocates (among them leftists, trade unionists, peasant leaders, environmental justice campaigners and women’s rights activists) and prolonged the destiny of hunger and illiteracy, poor housing and medical care, and the general orientation of a culture of despair and toxicity.

Please read our dossier and share it. These dossiers — produced once a month — are a product of collaboration and hard work, a synthesis of how we, as an institute rooted in popular movements, see key events of our history. The art for this dossier comes from the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum, which preserved art from the Popular Unity period and from the struggle against the coup. We are grateful to them, and to ICAL, for our collaborations based on solidarity and against the neoliberal ethic of parochial greed.

Two weeks before the 50th anniversary of the coup in Chile, Guillermo Teillier, the president of the Communist Party of Chile (PC), died. At his funeral, the party’s General Secretary Lautaro Carmona Soto described how Teillier — with the coup’s cordite still in the air — went to work in Valdivia to protect and then build the party as part of the broader resistance to the coup regime.

In 1974, Teillier was arrested in Santiago and subsequently held and tortured for two years in the Academia de Guerra Aérea. For another year and a half, Tellier was held in concentration camps in Ritoque, Puchuncaví and Tres Álamos.

Released in 1976, he went into hiding and continued to build the party back to its fighting strength, joined the following year by PC leader Gladys Marín.

This was dangerous work, made even more dangerous when Tellier took over as the leader of the party’s military commission, which managed the aid sent from Cuba to Chile and oversaw the creation and operations of the Manuel Rodríquez Patriotic Front (FPMR), the PC’s armed wing. Though attempts to assassinate Pinochet failed, broader work to build the movement for democracy succeeded. It is the bravery and sacrifice of people such as Tellier, Marín and countless – and often nameless – others, that brought the dictatorship of Pinochet and the Chicago Boys to an end in 1990.

The 1973 coup in Chile destroyed lives and suspended a process of great promise. Today, that promise must be revived.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations.  His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and, with Noam Chomsky,  The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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7 comments for “CHILE 50 YRS: Had There Been No Coup in 1973

  1. Eric
    September 8, 2023 at 23:26

    “If there had been no coup in Chile, there might not have been coups in Peru (1975) and Argentina (1976). Without these coups, perhaps the military dictatorships in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay would have withdrawn in the face of popular agitation …”

    Also in Uruguay, which had suffered a military coup just three months before Chile’s.

  2. September 8, 2023 at 18:16

    I remember when Kissinger’s malevolence in Chile and elsewhere was criticized by most of us on the non-interventionist, pacifist, human rights oriented left, but how it turned out that too many of us had partisan blinders. If coups and invasions were orchestrated by Republican led administrations, they were evil, but if they were undertaken by Democrat led administrations, well, there were extenuating circumstances that justified them, or at least, justified not finding them intolerable, The same thing was true of misogyny. I remember the feminist outrage involving Senator Robert William Packwood’s purported indiscretions which led to his resignation (he was a pro feminist member of the GOP), and the utter hypocrisy by the same feminists when it came to President Bill Clinton (who was not only a Democrat, but the founder of the modern (post 1992) Democratic Party, a virtual clone of that era’s GOP, but much more ruthless. I wonder if hypocrisy has ever been as dominant as it is today. Indeed, given how I see news reporting crystallized into history, or perhaps, calcified, I now wonder what the real truth about the second war to end all wars is, or the first? I’ve seen the history of the US Civil War turned on its head to pander to political strategies and tactics, and now, reporting on the situation in the Ukraine and with respect to Taiwan turned from black to white (in terms of the hats the respective players wear) and I ask myself if the tiny group who orchestrate all this (the billionaires who own the Deep State and its tools) can be as purely evil as they seem, and then, whether it has always been this way. Perhaps more to the point, how long can this stupidity last until the human race becomes a nightmare in a more evolved species’ myths.

  3. September 8, 2023 at 18:04

    During the Cold War the Soviets were regarded as the big bad guys who invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 and were against freedom and democracy. We (Americans) were supposedly the good guys who were for freedom and democracy.

    America did in Chile exactly what we condemned the Soviets for doing in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. So much for America always being the good guys, and always being all for freedom and democracy.

  4. mary-lou
    September 8, 2023 at 16:49

    still in high school, but I remember. Allende was liked all over the world. these were sad, sad days.

  5. Paula
    September 8, 2023 at 16:48

    “The 1973 coup in Chile destroyed lives and suspended a process of great promise. Today, that promise must be revived.” Yes, the promise of democracy in Chili as well as the promise of democracy in the USA, which is losing its hold since Reagan and before. We are in deep trouble and too tied to entertainment and consumerism to notice, it seems. What’s more entertaining than watching the world fall apart before our eyes?

  6. Alberto Saavedra
    September 8, 2023 at 15:53

    I believe Operation Condor started in 1972 in Chile and contributed to the coup. I have an interesting story.

  7. Rafael
    September 8, 2023 at 14:43

    “to announce a plebiscite on his government and to ask for the resignation of several senior generals.”

    Does anyone know why Allende did not do this from the very outset? (not the plebiscite, but the neutralisation of the golpistas).
    This fatal inaction on his part is something I have never understood.

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