50 years of the coup in Chile

Charlie Millar, Red Painting


Presentation of the newly published book

"I step on the streets again \ Of what was bloody Santiago \ To my brothers who died before \ Yo united when he did much and little \ When the patria wanted liberated \ Fired the first bullets \ Longer than later without rest \ Will return the books, the songs \ That burned our asesinas hands \ Will be reborn my village of its ruin \ And the traitors will pay their guilt” (Pablo Milanés, Yo Pisare Las Calles Nuevamente).

Tuesday, September 11, 1973, scheduled date for a plebiscite called by President Salvador Allende in response to the coup's escalation to a boiling point. The situation was dramatic, hanging by a thread, and the political forces organized in the Popular Unity (UP) were looking for a political, social and military solution to defeat the coup's escalation. A coup announced since the electoral victory and throughout the government. That morning the armed forces left the barracks and attacked democracy and the Chilean people.

Images of the attacks on the Palace La Moneda (Presidential), toured the world. The president was killed, the streets of the capital and the main cities were swept in a hunt carried out by the armed forces and sectors of the right with orders to arrest, torture, disappear and execute. The coup spared no effort and handed power to a military junta, which was immediately recognized and supported internationally by the US and aligned countries.

Before the coup was consummated in September 1973, what was seen was a campaign of boycotts, blockades, sabotage, terrorism and all types of conspiracy. All under the supervision and support of the USA, whose President Richard Nixon, in a meeting at the White House in September 1970, shouted to Henry Kissinger, the powerful Secretary of State, according to notes from CIA director Richard Helms, that Allende's election would be unacceptable and launched the famous phrase: “We will make Chile's economy scream for help”, as recorded by Richard Helms in a personal document later revealed.

And after the coup, what was applied in Chile was a set of economic proposals born in central countries to supposedly solve the problems of countries on the world's periphery. The proposal for an unprecedented and violent liberalism would be adopted by the coup plotters. There it would be the laboratory of radical neoliberalism of liberals in suits and loud speeches, but applied under an iron fist, combining State violence with the dismantling of local economies. We all know what they did in Chile with this booklet supported by a shameless military dictatorship.

Democracy and the popular struggle were stifled, progressive and democratic political forces were thrown into illegality and the people paid the hard price of a dictatorship run by the military under the coordination of oligarchic sectors guided by Washington's guidelines. And the neoliberal playbook led by Milton Friedman and his Chicago boys.

The coup action of that September 11th had previously been demonstrated in trials or failed attempts, and not far from there carried out in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. After 50 years since those intense and difficult days, much has been done in terms of assessments, critical assessments, hypotheses and different approaches to the background and terrible moments of that September morning.

Even though much has already been said, written and spoken about the Coup d'Etat of September 11, 1973, which imposed a profound defeat on the popular forces of Chile and with harsh consequences for the entire region, it is still necessary to study and always remember the main elements present in this story.

The purpose of this work is to bring together speeches, texts and reflections about this rich and intense experience of struggle, dreams, achievements and a lot of daring.

Democracy at the service of the majorities

Representative democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean was achieved through popular struggle, but it has always served as a legitimizing mechanism for the conversion of social minorities into political majorities. Small social groups – such as large landowners, industrialists, bankers, etc., hold a lot of strength in State institutions – Executive, Legislative and Judiciary –, clearly assuming the position of political majorities, sometimes in hegemony. The main mechanism to guarantee this process is the role of economic power in democracies, preponderant in determining victories or defeats, the restrictive rules for popular participation and other aspects.

But in several situations these same limited democracies allowed social majorities – workers, peasants, small landowners to achieve political majority. This process appeared to subvert the “natural” dynamics of democracies, which would legitimize the political dominance of the most powerful social classes. And the subversion of democracy was attacked and beaten and the examples are abundant, with Jacobo Arbenz's Guatemala in the late 1940s always worth highlighting; Getúlio, who went to sacrifice to contain a blow; the execution of the favorite candidate Jorge E Gaitan in Colombia in 1948, the coup in Cuba (1952), Argentina with successive coups d'état; Central America, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and many others who managed to compete within the system of democracy.

Chile presented a “Chilean path” to Socialism precisely combining social struggle with institutional struggle. Allende's own successive defeats as a candidate until his victory in 1970 had strategic importance: the democracy fought for by the fighting people could result in a strategic field of struggle and victories.

Again we turn to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was pedagogical about the threat of the Chilean road to socialism: “I firmly believe that this line is important in terms of its effect on the people of the world,” Nixon told Kissinger in a conversation phone call in November 1970, according to papers first released by the National Security Archive. And the president responded: “If [Allende] can demonstrate that he can establish an anti-American Marxist policy, others will do the same,” said the American president. Kissinger agreed: “It will have an effect even in Europe. Not just in Latin America.”

In another even more didactic excerpt from the then Secretary of State: “The example of a successful Marxist Government elected in Chile would certainly have an impact on – and even a value as a precedent for – other parts of the world, mainly in Italy. The imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would in turn significantly affect the world balance and our own position in it.”[I]

In Latin America, the Allende government was the most daring and, so to speak, radical experience of the dispute inside and outside the legal instruments of democracy. It was able to tighten legality so that normally subordinate sectors had a voice – and a voice. He was victorious and since his victory he combined action within institutions with mass action, the living force of society, pulsating, active and tenacious. A victory at the polls, within a system that historically served as a terrain of hegemony for fractions of the minority dominant classes, followed by a process of permanent mobilization and governing with a mass social base with capillarity, creativity, ability to pressure and take action. streets of Chile. An incredible vivacity covered the territory with songs, slogans, strikes, strikes and popular action and organized workers. Life pulsed at a frantic pace.

This is how the issue was addressed by Chilean Marta Harnecker: “Salvador Allende's victory presented the opposition forces with the following alternative: either respect the simple majority, as was traditionally done in Chile, or prevent, by any means, the Marxist candidate. take over the government. The latter was the solution that the most conservative forces tried to put into practice.”[ii]

The electoral process of September 04, 1970 resulted in a majority of the Popular Unity (UP), which obtained 36,6% of the votes, but less than a year later, in April 1971, in the municipal elections, the Popular Unity's candidacies obtained more 50% of the votes. An important growth, celebrated by the left and feared by the right. The warning signal had already become an ultimatum for the coup plotters: either defeat this experiment or watch Chile pave the way for the socialist struggle within liberal democracy.

Salvador Allende was one of the architects of the victories (1970 and 1971), also highlighting his ability to build unity among progressive sectors and forge political alliances with centrist sectors, even under strong tension and pressure from sectors of the coup right to divide the Popular Unity and also the government sectors outside the UP's progressive arc.

In this process, as we have seen, Imperialism gave no respite. CIA groups, under the command of the President, Secretary of State and CIA leader, worked since before the elections, but more intensely after the victory, to destabilize the government and the Chilean alternative. A multiplicity of efforts: indoctrination of military personnel in the Stole of the Americas; financing of opposition groups; presence of US military personnel in various sectors of the Armed Forces and National Police (Carabineers); in financing groups of employers' unions; in international tensions with Chile (boycotts, actions to attack economic sectors linked to the international market, etc.); in financing lockouts (employer strikes) etc. And guiding and financing all opposition directly through the US Embassy. There was not a day of calm.

The method is what is already known throughout Latin America and the Caribbean: economic, political and social destabilization; financing; ideological war – centrally with anti-communist discourse, defender of customs and religiosity and intervention in the Armed Forces. The government facing an epic battle to build popular solutions to the people's serious problems and the usual enemies set the tone for that rich and intense experience.

The popular sectors, the organized left, the Popular Unity parties, etc. They spared no effort to face the crisis of two complementary dimensions: the crisis of a dependent country centered on exports and the crisis caused by the coup action via boycotts, sabotage, blockades caused by the USA.

The great “sin”, “crime” or audacity of the Chileans was first in subverting the traditional comfortable ground for the dominant sectors into a means for a political victory. And it deepened by building a government uniting the institutional dispute with the people occupying the streets, universities, schools, unions, parliament to fight for urgent changes and compete for hearts and minds with poetry, music, literature, theater, a lot of capacity to dispute the hegemony of ideas, in politics and society.

The issue of the Armed Forces

An always relevant topic in the processes of struggle, revolutions and counter-revolutions is that of the Armed Forces. In most of the counterrevolutionary processes, the Armed Forces played an important role in the victory of the forces of terror. Also in some experiences and struggles the role played by the Armed Forces was to respect the Constitution and contain coups. Unfortunately, this second role played by the Armed Forces is absolutely minority.

The victory and possession of the UP were assured by a position taken by the Chilean Armed Forces led by General René Schneider, who in July 1970 announced the main line: “The armed forces are not a path to political power nor an alternative to that power.” . They exist to guarantee the regular functioning of the political system and the use of force for any purpose other than its defense constitutes high treason.”

The elections took place less than two months after (September 4, 1970) this speech and defined two names for the indirect second round, decided at the National Congress, held on October 24 of that year. Two days before this vote that defined the inauguration of the first place in the popular vote, General Schneider was shot in a kidnapping attempt orchestrated by the CIA, which supplied weapons and financed it. Having resisted the attempt and been injured in the exchange of fire, the general died on October 25, one day after confirmation. This was perhaps the first act of the coup, even before taking office.

The Schneider doctrine was a manifestation of respect for the sovereignty of the people and their will expressed in the vote. From the election to the coup, the issue of respect and the popular decision was marked by strong tension.

In 1971, Fidel Castro took a trip to Chile, traveling the country in more than 20 days between meetings with workers, students, trade unionists, leaders, artists, parties and the government. The right was in an uproar. And among the many dialogues, the topic was addressed by Fidel with Allende in the face of yet another military crisis at the end of the first year of the government. And he would have questioned the Chilean president about the situation of the Armed Forces, receiving a response highlighting the tradition of non-intervention by the Armed Forces, expressed in clear terms by General Schneider the previous year, on which occasion the Cuban leader would have made a clear observation that This would be an unstable position and in decisive moments, such as the one that was approaching, the interests of the classes to which the military hierarchy belonged would be preponderant and against democracy. And so it was done.

Lessons for the future

There are many lessons from the already distant Chilean, Latin and Caribbean process to the present day. Understanding this history is the challenge of current generations and preventing it from happening again is one of the biggest political tasks in Latin America and the Caribbean, territories where coup plots are always lurking and always count on the support of the USA.

The economic-social formation in the region has in common the legacy of colonialism and slavery, which greatly influence the dominant classes of the region's countries to assume a subordinate condition and dependent integration, without projects or national sovereignty. These colonized and slaveholding dominant classes, without a project and not even concerned with national sovereignty, fight the organized sectors of the people with violence and preventively. Democratic and reform projects within the framework of the historical reforms of the bourgeoisies around the world are treated as threats to the project of subjection and dependence. And fought in all ways and means. The region knows well what this means: coups and institutional ruptures in each process of people's struggle that threatens this condition of projectless, violent and anti-popular capitalism.

And the greater the subordinate condition, associated and dependent of these sectors on the USA and central countries, the greater the intensity of the reaction to any democratic, sovereign, national and progressive project aspiration of the people. More reactive, violent, preventive and explicitly coup-minded are the region's dominant classes.

The neocolonial project for the region follows the same contours: production and export of mining, agriculture, livestock, a source of energy and “cheap” labor, combined with an open market for large transnational corporations and buyers of industrialized, high-technology products that require an advanced production process. A fate for the people of the Global South that resists time, struggles and so many changes. Neocolonialism is a political, economic, cultural/ideological, military and technological force and is the project of the dominant classes for the region. A project for the minorities and a non-project for the majorities.

A highlight of the historical significance of this truly epic period in Chile was the ability to wage the ideological battle, the struggle of ideas, the contest of hearts and minds. Literature, poetry, music and all fields of arts; newspapers, pamphlets, posters, graffiti; speeches, shows, acts, agitation and propaganda, an infinity of initiatives, methods and fronts to take the most strategic debates to society as a whole and more specifically so that debates would be popular and present in popular neighborhoods, factory floors, schools, theaters, squares, churches and everywhere.

The strategic importance of the struggle of ideas was treated centrally and was capable of involving millions in the burning issues of those intense and effervescent years throughout Chile. A wave of ideas politicizing society. President Allende in speeches that were always didactic, clear, direct and applied popular and mass pedagogy. In this small book we present some that had great impact and symbolic force. It is worth observing the precision of the terms, the strength of the ideas and the hope for profound changes.

The ability to dispute democracy so that it could be a tool of the majorities for the majorities was one of the characteristics of the times portrayed in this book. A sweeping force in the streets, schools, factories, copper mines took the future in their hands and began building a society with democracy, freedom, rights, sovereignty and a national project with depth and radicality. The Chileans, led by Allende, turned hope into a weapon and transformed the uncertain future into a field of disputes in which the strength of the people would be the driver of change.

The coup interrupted this construction. We know what happened after that: disappearances, arrests, exiles, deaths and torture as a method. The response was one of destruction and hatred. And he gave a message to the people: don't you dare fight for your real interests. But they cannot stop history, they have no project to solve the people's serious problems and they do not kill dreams with disappearances, deaths, torture and lies. They interrupt, and that is why they always fear that the dreamy ghosts of the past and the real forces of the people of the present will resume the many interrupted dreams and advance in the construction of a free, supportive, fraternal and truly democratic society. And it's good that they have nightmares, that they tremble with fear, history doesn't allow them to sleep in peace.

This is how Allende taught us, on that harsh morning: “social processes cannot be stopped by crime or force. History is ours and the people make it. […] Know that, sooner than you think, the great avenues will open again along which free men will pass, to build a better society.”

And again Pablo Milanes

"A child will play in a lane \Y will sing with his new friends \Y and that song will be the song of the soil".

Allende lives, today and always. In memory of so many fighters silenced by the Chilean dictatorship. They will not be forgotten!

*Ronaldo Tamberlini Pagotto, labor and union lawyer, educator, is an activist of the Popular Brazil Movement.


Ronaldo Tamberlini Pagotto (org.). 50 years of the coup in Chile: we will not forget, it will not happen again!. São Paulo, Publisher Expressão Popular, 2023.


[I] Coup d'état in Chile: Richard Nixon: “If there is a way to overthrow Allende, we better do it” | International | EL PAÍS Brazil (elpais.com)

[ii] https://www.marxists.org/espanol/harnecker/allende.pdf

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