As journalist William Blum notes, there's one thing the United States hates more than a Marxist in power, and that's a democratically elected Marxist in power. A prime example was Salvador Allende of Chile. September 4 marks 31 years since his election. September 11 marks 28 years since his death in a U.S.-sponsored coup.
Henry Kissinger, June 27,1970
Salvador Allende, a physician by trade, first gained worldwide attention when he came within three percent of winning Chile's 1958 presidential election. Six years later, the United States decided to no longer leave such elections to chance. It was time to introduce the Chilean people to democracy, American-style.
The U.S. government, mostly through the covert efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency, spent more money per capita to support Allende's opponent, Eduardo Frei, than Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater combined to spend that same year in the American presidential election.
With an estimated $20 million of U.S. taxpayer money to work with, the CIA embarked on a program of anti-communist propaganda and disinformation designed to scare Chilean citizens - specifically mothers - into believing that an Allende victory would result in direct Russian control of their country and their lives. "No religious activity would be possible," they were told. Their children, hammer and sickle stamped on their foreheads, would be shipped to the USSR to be used as slaves, the radio and newspapers direly warned.
The scare tactics worked. While Allende won the male vote by a small margin, 469,000 more Chilean women chose Frei. Cleverly manipulated to fear the "blood and pain" of "godless, atheist communism," the mothers of Chile voted against the man who promised to "redistribute income and reshape the . . . economy" through the nationalization of some major industries, like copper mining, and the expansion of agrarian reform. A far cry from Leninism, Allende's policy of "eurocommunism," i.e. communists linking with social democratic parties into a united front, was for the most part, as unacceptable to the Kremlin as it was to the White House.
When the 1970 Chilean presidential election rolled around, Allende was still a major player. However, he had a new and powerful enemy: Dr. Henry Kissinger.
Despite another wave of U.S.-funded propaganda, Salvador Allende was elected president of South America's longest functioning democracy on Sept. 4, 1970 with Henry Kissinger (HK) and his cohorts had to act. The 40 Committee was formed with HK as chair. The goal was not only to save Chile from its irresponsible populace but to yet again stave off the red tide.
"Chile is a fairly big place, with a lot of natural resources," says Noam Chomsky, "but the United States wasn't going to collapse if Chile became independent. Why were we so concerned about it? According to Kissinger, Chile was a 'virus' that would 'infect' the region with effects all the way to Italy."
At a Sept. 15 meeting called to halt the spread of infection, Kissinger and President Nixon told CIA Director Richard Helms it would be necessary to "make the [Chilean] economy scream." While allocating at least $10 million to assist in sabotaging Allende's presidency, outright assassination was also considered a serious and welcome option.
The respect held by the Chilean military for the democratic process led Kissinger to pick as his first assassination target not Allende himself, but General Ren Schneider, head of the Chilean Armed Forces. Schneider, it seems, had long believed that politics and the military should remain discrete. Despite warnings from Helms that a coup might not be possible in such a stable democracy, HK urged the plan to proceed.
"Kissinger had direct personal knowledge of the CIA's plan to kidnap and murder Schneider," declares journalist Christopher Hitchens. "The is one of the relatively few times when Mr. Kissinger involved himself in the assassination of a single named individual rather than the slaughter of anonymous thousands."
When the killing of Schneider only served to solidify Allende's support, a CIA-sponsored media blitz similar to that of 1964 commenced. Citizens were faced with daily "reports" of Marxist atrocities and Soviet bases supposedly being built in Chile. U.S. threats to sever economic and military aid were also used to help cultivate a "coup climate" among those in the military. These two approaches represented the hard and soft lines outlined by Nixon and HK.
How soft was soft? Edward Korry, U.S. ambassador to Chile at the time, articulated the soft sell by declaring that the U.S. task was "to do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty." Korry warned, "not a nut or bolt [will] be allowed to reach Chile under Allende."
On the hard side, Dr. Henry began securing support for a possible military coup.
"In 1970," writes historian Howard Zinn, "an ITT director, John McCone, who had also been head of the CIA, told Kissinger and Helms that ITT was willing to give $1 million to help the U.S. government in its plans to overthrow the Allende government."
"The stage was set for a clash of two experiments," says Blum. Allende's socialism was pitted against what was later called a "prototype or laboratory experiment to test the techniques of heavy financial investment in an effort to discredit and bring down a government." This clash would reach its climax on Sept. 11, 1973.
The socialist experiment ended in violence on that day and Allende himself was said to have committed suicide . . . with a machine gun. Of course, the U.S. claimed no complicity in or even knowledge of the coup at the time. However, when the State Department declassified 5000 documents in 1999, a different story was told.
For example, a CIA document from the day before the coup stated bluntly, "The coup attempt will begin September 11." Ten days later, the Agency announced, "severe repression is planned." With thousands of opponents of the new regime gathered in soccer stadiums, a Sept. 28 State Department document detailed a request from Chile's new defense minister for Washington to send an expert advisor on detention centers.
Allende was dead. In his place, the people of Chile now faced brutal repression and human rights violations, book burnings, dogs trained to sexually molest females, a powerful secret police, and more than 3000 executions. Tens of thousands more were tortured and/or disappeared. Shortly after the coup, U.S. economic and military aid once again began to flow into Chile.
The man in charge of all this was General Augusto Pinochet, a man Dr. Kissinger could really get behind. "In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic to what you are trying to do," HK told the Chilean dictator in 1975. "We wish your government well.
"My evaluation,": he continued to Pinochet, "is that you are the victim of all the left-wing groups around the world and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going communist."
Later that same year, when facing a roomful of Chilean diplomats concerned about the effect Pinochet's human rights violations might have on world opinion, Henry was in top form:
Well, I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.
Was HK really that concerned with the minor nationalization of industry proposed by Salvador Allende or were other forces at work here?
Here's how the CIA saw it three days after Allende won the election: "The U.S. has no vital national interests within Chile. The world military balance of power would not be significantly altered by an Allende government. [But] an Allende victory would represent a definite psychological advantage for the Marxist idea."
"Even Kissinger, mad as he is, didn't believe that Chilean armies were going to descend on Rome," explains Chomsky. "It wasn't going to be that kind of an influence. He was worried that successful economic development, where the economy produces benefits for the general population - not just profits for private corporations - would have a contagious effect. In those comments, Kissinger revealed the basic story of U.S. foreign policy for decades."
Accordingly, in 1974, when the new U.S. ambassador to Chile, David Popper, complained about Chile's human rights violations, Dr. Kissinger promptly sent these orders:
"Tell Popper to cut out the political science lectures."
Mickey Z. (Michael Zezima) is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good War" (Soft Skull Press) and a contributor to You Are Being Lied To (Disinformation Books). He lives in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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