The Chilean coup d'etat of 1973 was a watershed event in the history of Chile and the Cold War. Historians and partisans alike have wrangled over its implications ever since.
On September 11, 1973, less than three months after the first failed coup attempt (Tanquetazo), and less than a month after the Chamber of Deputies, where the Opposition held a majority, condemned Allende's alleged breaches of the constitution and requested his forcible removal, the Chilean military overthrew president Salvador Allende, who died during the coup. US intervention in Chilean politics and support to Allende's opposition has been recognized, especially with the declassification in 1998 of documents concerning the Project FUBELT operations, although its exact nature is still controversed. General Augusto Pinochet took over and established an anti-communist military dictatorship which lasted until 1990.
Situation before the coup
When Salvador Allende came to power as a result of the 1970 Chilean presidential election, Chilean society was already racked by huge economic difficulties. Problems such as slow growth, inflation, unequal income distribution and the concentration of economic power remained stubborn and intractable. The majority of the Chilean population were at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum and had grown weary of perennial problems that were affecting the country. However, the first year of Allende's presidency saw economical improvement. The GDP increased by 8.6%, the inflation decreased from 34.9% in 1970 to 22.1%, while the industrial production increased by 12% Comienzan los problemas, part of series "Icarito > Enciclopedia Virtual > Historia > Historia de Chile > Del gobierno militar a la democracia" on LaTercera.cl. Accessed 22 September 2006.. However, President Allende's Socialist political agenda brought opposition from wealthy sectors of Chilean society as well as the United States, which placed diplomatic, economic, and covert[https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol47no3/article03.html. Accessed 21 August 2007. pressure on the government.
Towards the end of 1971, Cuban leader Fidel Castro toured Chile extensively during a four-week visit. Castro speech database at the University of Texas: English translations of Castro speeches based upon the records of the (United States) Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). See locations of speeches for November–December 1971. Accessed 22 September 2006. This gave credence to the belief of those on the right that the Chilean Way to Socialism was an effort to put Chile on the same path as Cuba.
In 1972, the monetary policies of an increase in the amount of currency, which had been adopted by the Minister of Economics, Pedro Vuskovic, led to a devaluation of the escudo and to renewed inflation, which reached 140% in 1972 . The Allende administration tried to respond to developing black market, by organizing the distribution of basic products.
In October 1972, Chile saw the first of what were to be a wave of confrontational strikes led by some of the historically well-off sectors of Chilean society; these received the open support of United States President Richard Nixon. A strike by truck-owners, which the CIA supported by funding them with US$2 million within the frame of the "September Plan," began on October 9, 1972 El paro que corono el fin o la rebelion de los patrones, El Periodista, 8 June 2003 . The strike was declared by the Confederacion Nacional del Transporte, then presided by Leon Vilarin, one of the leader of the far-right paramilitary group Patria y Libertad . The Confederation, which gathered 165 truck-owners trade-unions, with 40 000 members and 56 000 vehicles, decreeted an indefinite strike, paralyzing the country.
It was soon joined by the small businessmen, some (mostly professional) unions, and some student groups. Its leaders (Vilarin, Jaime Guzman, Rafael Cumsille, Guillermo Elton and Eduardo Arriagada) expected to topple the government through the strike. Other than the inevitable damage to the economy, the chief effect of the 24-day strike was to bring the head of the army, general Carlos Prats, into the government as Interior Minister, as a sign of appeasement. Carlos Prats had succeeded General Rene Schneider after his assassination on October 24, 1970 by two groups, General Roberto Viaux and General Camilo Valenzuela, whom had benefited from logistical and financial support from the CIA. Prats was a supporter of the legalist Schneider doctrine and refused to involve the military in a coup against Allende.
Despite declining economic indicators, Allende's Popular Unity coalition actually slightly increased its vote to 43.2 percent in the parliamentary elections of March 1973. However, by this point what had started as an informal alliance between Allende's coalition and the Christian Democrats was long gone. Development and Breakdown of Democracy, 1830-1973, United States Library of Congress Country Studies: Chile. Undated; according to Preface, "The body of the text reflects information available as of March 31, 1994." Accessed 22 September 2006. The Christian Democrats now leagued with the right-wing National Party to oppose Allende's government, the two parties forming the Confederacion Democratica coalition (CODE). The conflict between the executive and legislature paralyzed initiatives from either side. Se desata la crisis, part of series "Icarito > Enciclopedia Virtual > Historia > Historia de Chile > Del gobierno militar a la democracia" on LaTercera.cl. Accessed 22 September 2006.
The CIA tried to destabilize the Allende government, by providing up to US$8 million in funding to opposition groups in order to "create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles" and hasten Allende's downfall . The CIA report released in 2000 spoke of US $6.8 million spent during Allende's presidency to destabilize him CIA 2000 report, page 12, published by the National Security Archive
On June 29, 1973, a tank regiment under the command of Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the La Moneda presidential palace in a violent but unsuccessful coup attempt.Second coup attempt: El Tanquetazo (the tank attack), originally on RebelYouth.ca. Unsigned, but with thorough citations. Archived on Internet Archive 13 October 2004. This failed coup, known as the Tanquetazo, and which had been organized by the far-right group Patria y Libertad, was followed by a general strike at the end of July, joined this time by the copper miners of El Teniente as well.
In August of 1973, a constitutional crisis was clearly in the offing: the Supreme Court publicly complained about the government's inability to enforce the law of the land and on August 22 the Chamber of Deputies (with the Christian Democrats now firmly united with the National Party) accused Allende's government of unconstitutional acts and called on the military ministers to enforce constitutional order.
For some months, the government had been afraid to call upon the national police named Carabineros, for fear of their lack of loyalty. On August 9, Allende made General Carlos Prats Minister of Defense. Nonetheless, General Prats was forced to resign not only this position but his role as Army Commander-in-chief on August 24, 1973, embarrassed by the Alejandrina Cox incident and a public protest of the wives of his Generals in front of his home. He was replaced as Commander-in-chief by General Augusto Pinochet that same day.
Supreme Court Resolution
On May 26, 1973, Chile’s Supreme Court issued a unanimous resolution denouncing the Allende regime’s "disruption of the legality of the nation" by its failure to uphold judicial decisions, due to the government's constant refusal to allow the police to carry out the judicial resolutions that were opposed to its own measures.
Chamber of Deputies' Resolution
On August 22, 1973 the Christian Democrats and the National Party members of the Chamber of Deputies passed, by 81 to 47 votes, a resolution entitled "", which called upon the military to "put an immediate end" to what they described as "breach[es of] the Constitution… with the goal of redirecting government activity toward the path of Law and ensuring the constitutional order of our Nation and the essential underpinnings of democratic coexistence among Chileans."
The resolution declared that the Allende government was seeking "...to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the state... [with] the goal of establishing a totalitarian system," and claimed that it had made "violations of the Constitution" into "a permanent system of conduct." Many of the charges came down to disregarding the separation of powers and arrogating the prerogatives of both the legislature and judiciary within the executive.
Among other particulars, the regime was accused of:
- ruling by decree, thus thwarting the normal system of adopting legislation
- refusing to enforce judicial decisions against its own partisans and "not carrying out sentences and judicial resolutions that contravene its objectives"
- ignoring the decrees of the independent General Comptroller's Office
- various offenses related to the media, including usurping control of the National Television Network and "applying ... economic pressure against those media organizations that are not unconditional supporters of the government..."
- allowing its supporters to assemble even when armed, while preventing legal assembly by its opponents
- "...supporting more than 1,500 illegal 'takings' of farms..."
- illegal repression of the El Teniente strike
- illegally limiting emigration
The resolution finally condemned the "creation and development of government-protected armed groups which... are headed towards a confrontation with the Armed Forces." Allende's efforts to re-organize the military and police, which he could not trust in their current forms, were characterized as "notorious attempts to use the Armed and Police Forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks."
Two days later (August 24, 1973), Allende responded La respuesta del Presidente Allende, posted on the site of Jose Pinera. Accessed 22 September 2006. on Wikisource, accessed 22 September 2006. characterizing Congress's declaration as "destined to damage the country's prestige abroad and create internal confusion," and predicting that "It will facilitate the seditious intention of certain sectors." He pointed out that the declaration (passed 81-47 in the Chamber of Deputies) had not obtained the two-thirds Senate majority constitutionally required to convict the president of abuse of power: essentially, they were "invoking the intervention of the Armed Forces and of Order against a democratically elected government" and "subordinat[ing] political representation of national sovereignty to the armed institutions, which neither can nor ought to assume either political functions or the representation of the popular will."
Allende argued that he had followed constitutional means in bringing members of the military into the cabinet "at the service of civic peace and national security, defending republican institutions against insurrection and terrorism." In contrast, he said that Congress was promoting a coup or a civil war, using a declaration "full of affirmations that had already been refuted beforehand" and which, in substance and process (handing it directly to the various ministers rather than delivering it to the president) violated a dozen articles of the then-current constitution. Further, he argued that the legislature was trying to usurp the executive role.
"Chilean democracy," Allende wrote, "is a conquest by all of the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of the exploiting classes, and it will be defended by those who, with sacrifices accumulated over generations, have imposed it... With a tranquil conscience... I sustain that never before has Chile had a more democratic government than that over which I have the honor to preside... I solemnly reiterate my decision to develop democracy and a state of law to their ultimate consequences... Parliament has made itself a bastion against the transformations... and has done everything it can to perturb the functioning of the finances and of the institutions, sterilizing all creative initiatives." Economic and political means, he said, would be needed to get the country out of its current crisis, and Congress was obstructing these means; having already "paralyzed" the state, they were now seeking to "destroy" it. He concluded by calling upon "the workers, all democrats and patriots" to join him in defense of the constitution and of the "revolutionary process."
Military Coup d'etat
On September 11, 1973, a military coup d'etat removed Allende. The intervention was extremely violent from the very beginning. The military surrounded La Moneda with tanks and infantry troops and bombed it with Hawker Hunter fighter jets. The president and some of his aides were besieged in the palace. Allende refused to surrender, and addressed the nation for a last time in a potent .
The worst violence occurred in the first few months after the coup, with the number of suspected leftists killed or "disappeared" soon reaching into the thousands. In the days immediately following the coup, the National Stadium was used as a concentration camp holding 40,000 prisoners. Some of the most famous cases of "desaparecidos" are Charles Horman, a U.S. citizen who was tortured and killed during the coup itself; Chilean songwriter Victor Jara, murdered while held prisoner at the Chile Stadium immediately after the coup, and the October 1973 Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte) where at least 70 persons were killed. Approximately 130,000 individuals were arrested in a three-year period, with the number of dead and "disappeared" reaching into the thousands within the first few months. Most of the people targeted had been supporters of Allende.
Following Pinochet's defeat in the 1989 plebiscite, the 1991 Rettig Commission, a multipartisan effort from the democratic governments to discover the truth about the allegations, listed a number of torture and detention centers (such as Colonia Dignidad, Esmeralda ship or Victor Jara Stadium), and found that at least 2,700 people were killed or disappeared by the regime between 1973 and 1990.
A later report, the Valech Report (published in November 2004), confirmed the figure of less than 3,000 deaths, but dramatically reduced the alleged cases of disappearances. It tells of some 28,000 arrests in which the majority of those detained were incarcerated and in a great many cases tortured. Many were exiled and received abroad, in particular in Argentina, as political refugees; however, they were followed in their exile by the secret police DINA (National Intelligence Directorate), in the frame of Operation Condor which linked South-American dictatorships together against political opponents.
In the book in which he recounts the coup (El Dia decisivo), General Pinochet affirms that he was the leading plotter of the coup and used his position as Commander of the Army to coordinate a far-reaching scheme with the other branches of the military. In recent years, however, high military officials from the time have said that Pinochet only reluctantly got involved in the coup a few days before it was scheduled to occur, and then only followed the lead of the Navy and Air Force, as they triggered it.
According to official reports prepared after the return of the democracy, at La Moneda only two people died: President Allende and the journalist Augusto Olivares. Two more were injured, the GAPs Antonio Aguirre and Osvaldo Ramos, who would later be kidnapped from the hospital and disappeared. In November 2006, the Associated Press noted that more than fifteen bodyguards and aides were taken from the palace during the coup and are still unaccounted for; in 2006 Augusto Pinochet was indicted for two of their deaths Associated Press, Pinochet indicted for deaths of Allende bodyguards, put under house arrest, Nov. 27, 2006. Accessed 11. December 2006..
On the military side, there were 5 deaths: two sergeants, a corporal, an army private, and a transit policeman. A press photographer also died in the crossfire while attempting to cover the event. In the rest of Santiago, the deaths in battle were also very few: 10 policemen, one MIR and two Socialist fighters, 5 workers and two housewives.
While fatalities due to battle during the coup might have been relatively small, tens of thousands of people were arrested during the coup and held in the National Stadium)Alex Wilde, In Chile, a New Generation Revisits Haunted Space, Ford Foundation Report, Winter 2003. Accessed Dec. 11, 2006.. This was because the plans for the coup called for the arrest of every man, woman and child on the streets the morning of September 11. Of these approximately 40,000 to 50,000 prefunctory arrests, several hundred individuals would later be detained, questioned, tortured, and in some cases murdered. While these deaths did not occur before the surrender of Allende's forces, they occurred as a direct result of arrests and round-ups during the coup's military action. Furthermore, a death squad known as the "Caravan of Death" (including Pedro Espinoza Bravo, who later became operations chief of the DINA) roamed Chile from September 30, 1973 to October 22, 1973, and executed without judgment between 75 and 97 political opponents which were already detained by the military Chile priest charged over deaths, BBC, 1st September 2007 Caravan of Death, Memoria y Justicia .
President Allende died in La Moneda during the coup. The junta officially declared that he committed suicide with a machine gun given to him by Fidel Castro, and an autopsy labelled his death as suicide. At the time few of his supporters accepted the explanation; today it is widely—though still not universally—accepted based on statements given by two doctors from the La Moneda Palace infirmary who say that they witnessed the suicide.Ronald Hilton, Chile: The Continuing Historical Conflict, World Association of International Studies, 22 December 1997. Accessed 22 September 2006.Robinson Rojas, The murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism, originally published by Harper and Row, New York, 1975,1976-Fitzhenry&Whiteside Ltd., Toronto, Canada, 1975. Accessed online 22 September 2006.
On September 13, the Junta dissolved Congress. At the same time, it outlawed the parties that had been part of the Popular Unity coalition, and all political activity was declared "in recess".
Initially, there were four leaders of the junta: In addition to General Augusto Pinochet, from the Army, there were General Gustavo Leigh Guzman, of the Air Force; Admiral Jose Toribio Merino Castro, of the Navy; and General Cesar Mendoza Duran, of the National Police (Carabineros de Chile). Coup leaders soon decided against a rotating presidency and named General Pinochet permanent head of the junta.
Over the years, both the active participants in the coup and their supporters have argued that the coup was essential for preserving freedom, democracy, and prosperity in Chile. They claim that Salvador Allende wanted to establish a Cuban-style dictatorship, which would have destroyed human rights, as well as economic prosperity. They assert, therefore, that the forcible removal of Allende was a necessary and justified course of action. Supporters also contend that the subsequent economic boom of the late 1980s and 1990s was a direct result of Pinochet's economic policy.
Contrary to this view, opponents of the coup assert that the succeeding government was itself a repressive dictatorship, with several thousand documented cases of torture, as well as forced disappearances. They state that Chile did not have a freely elected civilian government for the next 17 years and that, in the early Pinochet years, unemployment rose, real wages fell, and the divide between rich and poor grew, temporarily decreasing the economic prosperity of the average Chilean.
A number of people and organizations who supported the coup when it took place were later critical of Pinochet's regime. They considered the activities of Allende's regime illegal, in a way that justified a coup, but asserted that Pinochet did not restore democracy as they had hoped.
U.S. Role in the 1973 Coup
While U.S. government hostility to the Allende regime is unquestioned, the U.S. role in the coup itself remains a controversial matter. Documents declassified during the Clinton administration show that the United States government and the CIA had sought the overthrow of Allende in 1970, immediately after he took office ("Project FUBELT"; U.S. efforts to prevent Allende taking office in 1970 are discussed in 1970 Chilean presidential election), but claims of their direct involvement in the actual coup are neither proven nor contradicted by publicly available documentary evidence; many potentially relevant documents still remain classified.
"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves." — Henry Kissinger
"Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty." — Edward M. Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, upon hearing of Allende's election.
"Make the economy scream [in Chile to] prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him" — Richard Nixon, orders to CIA director Richard Helms on September 15, 1970
"It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October  but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden..." — A communique to the CIA base in Chile, issued on October 16, 1970
"[Military rule aims] to make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs." — Augusto PinochetDandan, Zaldy (2006). "Gracias mi general" Marianas Variety (accessed December 20, 2006)
- "We didn't do it. I mean we helped them. [Garbled] created the conditions as great as possible. — Henry Kissinger conversing with President Nixon about the coup. Telephone call from Kissinger to Nixon
- 1970 Chilean presidential election
- History of Chile
- Salvador Allende - deposed by 1973 coup
- Chile under Allende
- Government Junta of Chile (1973)
- Augusto Pinochet - took power in 1973 coup
- Chile under Pinochet
- Project FUBELT - secret CIA operations to unseat Allende.
- U.S. intervention in Chile
- List of Chilean coup d'etat
- Chile - Toad the Wet Sprocket
- The Ballad of Victor Jara - Rod MacDonald
- CIA acknowledges involvement in Allende's overthrow Pinochet's rise, CNN.
- La Tercera, Chilean newspaper, September 11, 1973
- La Tercera, El Once, includes news of different newspaper of days previous to the coup
- Las 24 horas que estremecieron a Chile. Detailed minute-by-minute account of the events of September 11, 1973 by historian Ascanio Cavallo, on the site of La Tercera.
- Cronologia, Salvador-Allende.cl, originally published in Archivo Salvador Allende, number 14. An extensive Spanish-language site providing a day-by-day chronology of the Allende era. This is clearly a partisan, pro-Allende source, but the research and detail are enormous.
- Alternate source of the Resolution of August 22, 1973, on the site of Jose Pinera.
- "Never Again: An essay about the breakdown of democracy in Chile" by Jose Pinera, a former Minister of Pinochet (examination of events leading up to, and implications regarding, the Resolution of August 22, 1973. (Mirror site)
- Allende's August 24, 1973 response to the Chamber of Deputies' declaration, on the site of Jose Pinera.
- National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project which provides documents obtained from FOIA requests regarding U.S. involvement in Chile, beginning with attempts to promote a coup in 1970 and continuing through U.S. support for Pinochet
- Sources on the coup
- Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents relating to the Military Coup, 1970-1976, GWU
- US Dept. of State FOIA Church Report (Covert Action in Chile)
Footnotes and references
- Simon Collier & William F. Sater (1996). A History of Chile: 1808-1994. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Julio Faundez (1988). Marxism and democracy in Chile: From 1932 to the fall of Allende, New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Ignacio Gonzalez Camus, ed. (1988). El dia en que murio Allende (The day that Allende Died), Chilean Institute of Humanistic Studies (ICHEH) / CESOC.
- Anke Hoogvelt (1997). Globalisation and the postcolonial world, London: Macmillan.
- Thomas Karamessines (1970). Operating guidance cable on coup plotting in Chile, Washington: National Security Council.
- Jeane Kirkpatrick (1979). "Dictatorships and Double Standards", Commentary, November, pp 34-45.
- Henry Kissinger (1970). National Security Decision 93: Policy Towards Chile, Washington: National Security Council.
- Richard Norton-Taylor (1999). "Truth will out: Unearthing the declassified documents in America which give the lie to Lady Thatcher's outburst", The Guardian, 8 July 1999, London: Guardian Newspapers Ltd.
- Alec Nove (1986). Socialism, Economics and Development, London: Allen & Unwin.
- James F. Petras & Morris H. Morley (1974). How Allende fell: A study in U.S.–Chilean relations, Nottingham: Spokesman Books.
- Sigmund, P.E. (1986). "Development Strategies in Chile, 1964-1983: The Lessons of Failure", Chapter 6 in I.J. Kim (Ed.), Development and Cultural Change: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, New York: Paragon House Publishers, pp. 159-178.
- Valenzuela, J.S., & Valenzuela, A. (1993). "Modernisation and Dependency: Alternative Perspectives in the Study of Latin-American Underdervelopment", in M.A. Seligson & J.T. Pass-Smith (Eds.), Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Inequality, Boulder: Lynnes Rienner, pp. 203-216.
Other pages about 1973 in Chile
-1973 Chilean coup d'etat -Death of Salvador Allende -Estadio Nacional de Chile -Estadio Victor Jara -Tanquetazo
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