On September 11 the world changed. Many people lost their lives, and for many others the world would never be the same.
Some people call September 11, 1973 the other September 11. On this day the democratically elected president of Chile Salvadore Allende was overthrown by a military coup, and thus began the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet where thousands of Chileans were killed. And while the coup was carried out by the Chilean military, this September 11 had American fingerprints all over it.
This story began in 1970 when Salvadore Allende, a Marxist, won the election in Chile. The Nixon administration, which was deep in Cold War politics and still trying to extricate itself from the disaster in Viet Nam, decided right away that the Allende presidency had to be brought down. Nixon used the CIA to first try to prevent Allende from taking power. When that failed, plans were made to support a potential military coup. Nixon's Secretary of State Henry Kissinger denied multiple times that America was involved in any coup attempt, however declassified documents from the 1970's prove otherwise. Clearly the Chilean people could not be trusted to make their own decision about who to elect. To our government, democracy is great - unless you elect someone we don't like. And we don't like anyone who is on the wrong side of the Cold War politics.
A quote from 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. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."
Allende's presidency went about like any Marxist one would. He nationalized the banks, the copper industry, and set about to redistribute land. You can argue whether these Socialist policies are good policies or not. If the Chilean people were not happy with the results, they could elect someone else. America made sure the Chilean people were not happy but blocking foreign aid and loans to the Chilean government, and using the CIA to plant anti-Allende propaganda in the Chilean press.
On September 11 the Chilean military staged a coup in which Allende was killed. The Nixon administration was ecstatic. "Chile's coup de etat was close to perfect" sited one official, and another characterized September 11, 1973 as "Chile's day of destiny and D-Day". The Chilean people were hardly ecstatic. Hundreds of people were rounded up and brought to the national stadium in the days after the coup. There they were tortured, raped, and put to death by all sorts of horrible means. Singer Victor Jara was one of the victims. Known for his songs about peace, he had his hands broken, so the story goes. When he rose up to sing again, he was shot multiple times and his body was dumped in the street.
These are the words from the Holly Near song "It Could Have Been Me"
The junta took the fingers from Victor Jara's hands
They said to the gentle poet play your guitar now if you can
Well Victor started singing until they shot his body down
You can kill a man but not a song when it's sung the whole world round
Americans Charles Horman and Frank Terruggi were also executed in the national stadium. The story of Charles Horman was the subject of the movie "Missing" with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Did US officials know that Horman and Terruggi had been brought to the national stadium to be executed, and do nothing about it? It is alleged in the movie that Horman knew about American involvement in the coup. Could US officials put the exposure of its involvement in the coup ahead of protecting Americans?
American aid began to flow back to Chile in the aftermath of the coup. Now they were a friendly regime since they'd gotten rid of the Marxist. The Pinochet junta continued to torture and execute anyone suspected of virtually anything. To the Nixon and Ford administrations, the horrible human rights record in Chile was an embarrassment. And there you have it. Allende, the democratically elected president had to be overthrown because he was a Marxist. Pinochet brutally tortures and kills thousands of his own people, and he is a public relations problem.
The Pinochet reign of terror lasted until 1990 when power was at last returned to civilians. Pinochet somehow avoided prosecution for all of the murders and human rights abuses. This whole incident will never make sense to me. How can America engineer the overthrow of a democratically elected president, but stand with a brutal dictator who kills his own people? The Cold War politics clearly put us on the wrong side of the moral compass. The American people never would have accepted this Cold War policy had it been public, and Nixon and his administration knew this so it all had to be done in secret. During the Cold War this theme is repeated again and again. See Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa. If your politics is to our liking, we support you no matter how badly your people are treated.