In 1970, Salvador Allende, a self-avowed socialist-communist, was elected president in a three-way race in Chile. His election caused U.S. President Richard Nixon and the entire U.S. national-security state to go ballistic. Based on Allende’s record, they knew that he would never play a submissive and compliant role within the U.S. Empire.
Concluding that Allende was a threat to U.S. “national security,” Nixon and the national-security state apparatus, which had come into existence after World War II to wage a Cold War against America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union, initiated plans to oust Allende from office and replace him with a pro-U.S. dictator who would play an appropriate role within the Empire.
Mind you, however, this wasn’t the first time that the U.S. national-security state had set its sights on Allende. He had run for president several times before that. The U.S. government, primarily through the CIA, involved itself deeply in the Chilean political process by secretly funneling U.S. taxpayer money into the coffers of Allende’s opponents, all with the aim of ensuring his defeat at the polls.
The U.S. national-security state’s campaign efforts against Allende succeeded until 1970, when the Chilean people disregarded the wishes of the U.S. government and elected Allende their president by a plurality of votes. Even then, U.S. officials did everything they could to prevent Allende from being certified as Chile’s new president.
With Allende’s assumption of power, Nixon and his national-security operatives went into overdrive. Their obsession with ousting Allende from power was almost equal to their longtime obsession with ousting Fidel Castro from power in Cuba.
After all, don’t forget: Allende, like his close friend Castro, was a socialist-communist. In the eyes of the national-security state, that made Allende a legitimate target of U.S. regime change, either through assassination or coup. It made no difference that Chile, like Cuba, had no intention of ever invading and occupying the United States. The mere fact that Allende believed in socialism-communism automatically made him a threat to the “national security” of the United States.
What did U.S. national-security state officials do after Allende was sworn in as president? They pulled out all the stops to ensure his ouster from office and his replacement with an unelected military general, one, in their mind, who would bring “order and stability” to the country and “capitalism” to the economy.
There was at least one big problem, however. The commanding general of the Chilean armed forces, General Rene Schneider, was opposed to any extra-constitutional measures to remove Allende from power. After all, that’s what elections are for, Schneider held.
But that’s not what U.S. officials believed. They didn’t want to wait until the next election, especially because of the risk that the Chilean people might again elect the “wrong” person. As U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger put it, “I don’t see why we should have to stand by and let a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”
So, how did U.S. officials overcome the obstacle of General Schneider’s opposition to an unconstitutional military coup? No problem. The CIA simply orchestrated a plan to kidnap Schneider and remove him from the scene, so that he could be replaced by a general who would be more submissive and compliant with the wishes of the U.S. Empire.
Unfortunately, the kidnapping didn’t go as planned because Schneider resisted it with force. No problem. They just killed him.
Meanwhile, Nixon was ordering the CIA to “make the economy scream.” What he meant by that was for the CIA to create as much economic chaos and crisis as possible, so that the populace would be softened up for the possibility of a military coup.
Making the economy scream wasn’t difficult, of course, because Allende’s socialist economic policies had already sent the country into an economic tailspin. What the CIA did was make things worse, as bad as they could possibly make them. It’s didn’t matter how much additional suffering the CIA was placing on the Chilean people. The end — the ouster of the socialist, Castro-aligned Allende with a pro-U.S., “pro-capitalist” military general — justified the means.
CIA money poured into the country. For example, the trucking industry, which was responsible for transporting food to cities and towns went on strike and stayed on strike. Guess who was secretly paying their salaries so that they didn’t have to negotiate an end to the strike. You guessed it! The CIA, with monies that the IRS had extracted from American taxpayers.
In other words, it didn’t matter how many Chilean people starved to death because they couldn’t get food. Remember: The end justified the means. In the eyes of the CIA and the rest of the U.S. national-security state, any sacrifices imposed on the Chilean people, including death, were worth it.
Keep in mind that all of this was kept secret from the American people at the time it was occurring. That’s what a “covert operation” is all about — its intent is to keep the operation secret so that the president and U.S. officials can “plausibly deny” that the U.S. government is involved in the operation.
If anyone suggested that the CIA was involved in the chaos or objected to that possibility, he would immediately be hit with such attacks as “Our government would never do anything like that!” “You love socialism!” “You’re a communist!” “You hate America!” “You favor Allende!” “Conspiracy theory!” (Keep in mind that this was 1970-73, when increasing numbers of Americans were beginning to suspect that the U.S. national security state apparatus had secretly effected regime change in the United States with the assassination of President Kennedy.)
Keep in mind also that what the CIA was doing wasn’t kept secret from the Chilean military and intelligence forces. After Schneider was murdered, the U.S. and Chilean national-security state apparatuses worked closely together to magnify the crisis and chaos within the country, with the ultimate aim of effecting regime change.
Finally, in 1973 the Chilean national-security state, with the full support of the U.S. national-security state, took power in a violent coup in which many innocent people were killed. Allende himself, undoubtedly knowing that he would be assassinated anyway, committed suicide. The Chilean military, headed by pro-U.S. General Augusto Pinochet, assumed power over the country.
Chilean conservatives, along with American conservatives, were ecstatic. Allende, the socialist-communist who was a friend of Fidel Castro, was dead. A pro-U.S. military general with “free-market” leanings was now in power.
Even better, from the standpoint of the Pentagon and the CIA, was that Pinochet didn’t stop there. After all, don’t forget that the Cold War was still going on. That meant that not only Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende were fair game for assassination and related treatment, so were all other people who subscribed to socialist or communist beliefs. Since many Chileans had voted for and supported Allende because they shared his collectivist views, that meant that a lot of people needed to be dealt with as threats to Chilean “national security.”
Pinochet’s military and intelligence goons rounded up some 40,000 to 50,000 innocent people, not because they had initiated any violent resistance against the new military tyranny but simply because they were suspected of holding communist-socialist beliefs in their heads. Those tens of thousands of people were brutally beaten, tortured, and raped. Some 3,000 of them were killed after being tortured, beaten, and raped.
The Chilean federal courts lay back and declined to interfere. The federal judges understand where power now lay in Chile. They knew they had better go along if they knew what was good for them. (A few days ago, the Chilean federal judiciary issued a formal apology to the Chilean people.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. military and the CIA were fully supporting everything Pinochet and his goons were doing, all the while still keeping their participation secret from the American people. When a young American journalist named Charles Horman inadvertently witnessed American gunships offshore at the inception of the coup and saw U.S. military personnel freely traveling within Chile, he immediately became a threat to “national security,” especially given that he was a journalist sympathetic to the Allende regime who would undoubtedly publish articles disclosing the role of the U.S. national security state in the coup. Killing Horman, along with another young American named Frank Terrugi, was no problem for U.S. officials who participated in their murders because both Horman and Teruggi had liberal (ie., socialist) views on the role of government in society. Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayer money flooded into the Pinochet’s regime’s coffers.
Chilean conservatives celebrated. So did American conservatives, especially when free-market economist Milton Friedman and his “Chicago Boys” traveled to Cuba to advise a military tyrant on how to bring “free market” policies to Chile. In fact, American conservatives still think wistfully about the Pinochet regime, as reflected by the Wall Street Journal’s recent statement, “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took over power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.”
Never mind that the U.S.-Chilean national-security state coup destroyed Chile’s longtime experiment with democracy during the 17 years of one of the most brutal dictatorships in history.
And never mind that in the name of “order and stability,” military Gen. Pinochet unleashed a reign of terror involving indefinite detention, torture, rape, execution, and assassination of tens of thousands of innocent people, including two young American men, from which Chile has still not recovered.
George Santanaya said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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