Historia es nuestra y la hacen los pueblos"
Historical Background Prior to 1973
Military Coup September 11, 1973
Annotated Cites and Links
Chile is a narrow country some 1,000 miles long that runs down the western spine of the Andes mountains from the northern
deserts that border on Bolivia, through the rich central valley that contains the capital city of Santiago linked to the chief port of
Valparaiso, to the cold southern tip of Latin America. Its economy has historically been based on mining, primarily nitrates in the
late nineteenth century, and copper in the twentieth. Its social and political structures since independence in 1821 were dominated
by the agricultural and mining elites, who had historically competed for national power through the vehicle of the conservative
National Party (Partido Nacional, or PN). Around and after World War 1, socialist and communist parties also emerged, vying
for the allegiance of the northern miners and the urban working class. Social structure was grossly unequal, with peasants in
particular living in semi-feudal conditions on the large estates of the central valley.
In the period leading up to and after World War 1, American companies invested heavily in Chilean copper, which became the
main export of the country. U.S. investments reached $1 billion by 1930, mostly in copper, and the U.S. displaced Britain as the
main foreign power in the country. There were a series of political experiments in this period as well. A military coup in 1924/25
brought a few reforms but with it came a dictator named Carlos Ibanez del Campo, interrupting for a time Chile's comparatively
long history of democratic rule, by Latin American standards (or indeed by any standards). The world-wide depression led to
more coups in 1931 and 1932 (a pattern also seen in Argentina, Brazil, and Central America). After that, there was a long period
of four decades of uninterrupted civilian democratic rule. Between 1938 and 1952 there was a government consisting of mostly
centrist parties (in particular the Radical Party) with left-wing support in a coalition called the Popular Front. These governments
presided over a certain amount of industrialization led by the populist state.1 Their social base lay in the growth of the Chilean
middle class, which supported the Radical or National parties, and the working class, which provided support for what were by
then Latin America's most numerous and well-organized Socialist and Communist parties.
Beginning in 1958, Chileans elected three successive one-term governments, each with a very different development strategy. In
1958, the conservative candidate Jorge Alessandri came to power by narrowly defeating the socialist leader Salvador Allende.
Alessandri followed a classic free market style of capitalist development, reducing the government's role in the economy and
inviting foreign companies to invest in Chile. Inflation was contained by keeping wages low. This strategy ran into problems
however -- there were few productive investments made by the private sector and eventually inflation broke out again when the
government devalued the currency. A new party, the Christian Democrats (Partido Democrata Cristiana, or PDC), made gains
in local elections in 1963. The Christian Democrats' support came from the middle classes -- white-collar workers, skilled
workers, professionals, managers. It also got votes from women and slum dwellers and had some support in the countryside
because it promised a land reform.
In order to prevent a victory by Allende and the left in the 1964 presidential elections, Chilean businessmen supported the
Christian Democrats. The United States also poured $20 million into the campaign in favor of the Christian Democrats, and their
candidate, Eduardo Frei, won the election with fifty-six percent of the vote to Allende's thirty-nine percent.
Frei's development strategy had a vague content but a progressive tinge. It was based on a vision called "communitarianism" in
which the state promoted social welfare without getting involved in class struggles. He said: "We do not propose for the country
either a socialist road or a capitalist road, but one that emerges from our national reality and our national being, in which the state
predominates as the administrator of the common good."2 The Christian Democrats called for land reform (but never
implemented it) and for the state to own fifty-one percent of the copper sector -- a policy known as the "Chileanization" of
copper -- which did not effectively dispossess the American companies, who continued to make large profits in Chile. For two
years the economy did fairly well, but inflation returned in 1967 along with slower growth and high unemployment. Landowners
and the business elite became alarmed at the prospect of land reform. Unions were angered by the decline in living standards and
repression of strikes. The Christian Democrats themselves divided into left and right wings. In May 1969 the party split, with the
left wing forming the Unitary Popular Action Movement (MAPU), and seeking an alliance with parties on the left.
The 1970 elections for president were a three-way contest between the conservative National Party, which ran former president
Jorge Alessandri; the left, which formed a coalition called Popular Unity (Unidad Popular, or UP) of communists, socialists, the
Radical Party, MAPU, and two smaller parties, with Salvador Allende of the Socialist Party as their candidate; and the Christian
Democrats, who ran Radomiro Tomic from the remaining left wing of the party. U.S. interests -- the CIA and the multinationals
-- put less money into the campaign than they had in 1964, assuming Alessandri would win, but the results were:
Allende (UP) 1,075,616 36.6 percent
Alessandri (PN) 1,036,278 35.3 percent
Tomic (PDC) 824,849 28.1 percent
Thus it was that the world's first freely elected socialist president came to power in Chile.
Allende's First Two Years: The Plan for a Chilean Path to Socialism
The development strategy of the UP alliance was clearly expressed in the opening sentence of its economic program:
The central objective of the united popular forces is to replace the current economic structure, ending the power of the national
and foreign monopoly capitalists and large landowners, in order to initiate the construction of socialism.3
Such a transition to socialism would require major structural changes, notably the nationalization of the industrial sector (to be
called the Area of Social Production), and the implementation of an effective agrarian reform. Other goals included providing
better health, housing, and social security, and ending discrimination against women.
The core of the policy was to raise wages at the expense of profits, thereby squeezing the private sector, much of which was to
be taken over by the state and run at a lower rate of profit. By the end of 1971, 150 industrial plants were under state control,
including twelve of the twenty largest firms. Unemployment declined as the economy expanded, inflation was kept under control,
and workers' incomes rose by fifty percent, a huge increase. As a result, the UP increased its share of the vote in the April 1971
In July 1971 the U.S.-owned copper mines were nationalized, and after a calculation of the companies' "excess profits" from
1955 to 1970, it was determined that Chile owed the two big American companies Anaconda and Kennecott Copper nothing for
the mines. (The way this was done was by comparing copper profits in Chile with the companies' profits elsewhere in the world.
It was calculated that twelve percent was the world-wide profit rate for these companies, and that they had made $774 million
above this in Chile from 1955 to 1970: "This deduction exceeded the book value of the companies' properties"). Nationalization
however caused an escalation of ongoing U.S. plans to destabilize the Chilean economy, which were coordinated for the Nixon
administration by Henry Kissinger, who in a famous quote said: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go
communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people." In other words, the U.S. would decide what was best for Chile, and if
that meant replacing a democratically-elected Marxist with a military government, that was perfectly acceptable to Kissinger and
Nixon (not to mention the copper companies and ITT -- International Telephone and Telegraphs -- which had also been
expropriated in Chile). So, the U.S. cut off loans to Chile and blocked World Bank and other sources of money (the U.S.
ambassador to Chile remarked: "Not a nut or a bolt will reach Chile.... We will do all in our power to condemn Chileans to utmost
As a result of the drop in aid and economic sanctions, Chilean industry ran into problems getting spare parts, technology, and new
machinery. Meanwhile inflation returned because workers and peasants now had more money to spend, driving up prices, while
shortages of goods were occurring. Agriculture declined as the land reform disrupted production, and landowners took land out of
production. Politically, it should be pointed out that Allende did not control the entire state machinery -- he did not have a majority
in Congress, he did not control the judiciary, he did not have the loyalty of the entire civil service nor of much of the army high
command, which had been trained in the United States. The upper classes owned most of the mass media, and used it against
him (the CIA also gave money to conservative newspapers and radios to do a vicious smear campaign playing on fears of
Top of Page
Military Coup: September 11, 1973
On September 11, 1973, the four branches of the Armed
Forces, led by Army Commander-in-Chief General Augusto
Pinochet, violently overthrew the constitutionally elected
government of President Salvador Allende, marking the
beginning of 17 years of military rule in Chile. With the stated
mission of "redirecting the country along the path of liberty
and law" the military regime immediately embarked on a "witch
hunt," arresting and imprisoning hundreds of supporters of
Allende's Popular Unity government and members of other
leftist political parties, as well as individuals perceived to be
affiliated with these.
The coup and its unexpectedly bloody aftermath, put an
abrupt end to a relatively long period of constitutional rule in Chile and set the stage
for a de facto authoritarian regime that would be sustained through force until 1990.
From 1973 until 1990, and particularly in the earliest years of the military regime,
human rights violations were widespread and systematic. These included arbitrary
arrests, raids on private households, imprisonment, extra-judicial executions, torture,
relegation and exile.
A Government Under Siege
"Getting up and shaking off the dust that had fallen on him,
Allende asked if anyone was hurt. In the group that
accompanied him, everyone was unharmed, even though the
bombardment had annihilated the GAP (Allende's personal
bodyguards) positioned in different parts of the presidential
building. The worst thing about the twenty rockets dropped
by the Hawkers was not so much the explosion itself, but
the fire and the expansive wave that followed the explosion,
advancing through the corridors, shattering windows and
ripping doors off their hinges."
(Chile. La Memoria Prohibida)
La Moneda, the seat of the Chilean government, was under siege. At 11:52 a.m.
Force began its bombardment of the presidential palace and the Army its tank attack.
For the next twenty minutes, Hawker planes launched 20 projectiles into the heart of
the government building, reducing it to a burning pile of rubble.
President Salvador Allende and a handful of his closest advisors and
bodyguards had hurried to La Moneda earlier that morning to assess reports of an
ominous movement of troops in Valparaiso.(read testimonies)
It was not the first time rumors had flown of a plot to overthrow the
elected socialist government but this seemed the most serious rebellion yet. Originally
believed to be an uprising of minority factions within the Army and Navy, it became
clear as the morning progressed that Allende no longer had a single ally among the
leaders of all branches of the Armed Forces.
The coup was inevitable.
In the moments before the commanding generals of the coup gave the order to
an air strike against La Moneda, they repeatedly demanded Allende’s resignation,
offering him and his family safe passage out of the country. Allende refused to
surrender, and instead busied himself organizing the armed resistance from within La
Moneda, evacuating as many people as possible from the building and sending his top
aides to negotiate with the military leaders.
Shortly before he died, Allende went on the only radio airwave still open,
Magallanes, to give a defiant last address (link) to the nation, in which he pledged his
own life in defense of his right to govern.
Throughout September 11 and the following day, the military established
control over all Chilean territory.
"The military tricked us all, because we believed that (the coup) meant the
of democracy and that turned out to be false. But we could not believe that it was
false... We were all tricked, because we believed it was for freedom and democracy."
(Cardinal Silva Henriquez as cited in Chile. La Memoria Prohibida)
"The Chilean Armed Forces have long been attributed with a
"traditional apolitical attitude." But that presumed "loyalty to
the Constitution" always had its limits and disappeared every
time it became necessary to protect the privileges of the
dominant class. Also, the Chilean Army has always proven to
be a brutal instrument for class domination." (Chile. Libro
"Above all, we are conscious and happy to be able to live
with the assurance that we will not be murdered in cold blood
and without reason, that our children will again study without anyone putting a yoke on
their minds, that our wives will not be beaten, insulted or massacred. And, ultimately,
happy to be able to contribute all that each of us is capable of contributing so that our
country continues being free and sovereign, just like before the damnation of the
Marxist experiment and the ignominious vice of a corrupt and treasonous government
fell upon us."
(Libro Blanco de la Ingenieria Chilena, Colegio de Ingenieros.)
There are, inevitably, widely diverging views as to how it came about that
traditionally apolitical Armed Forces would undertake a military strike against its own
government. Political analyses aside, there is one undeniable fact about the Chilean
coup of 1973 - nobody imagined that the military regime would be so bloody nor so
The conventional view among Latin Americanists is that the Chilean Armed Forces
been institutionally loyal and supportive of civilian supremacy at least since the 1891
civil war, which pitted different factions of the Armed Forces against one another and
resulted in the overthrow of President Jose Manuel Balmaceda. The military rarely
intervened in the political arena after that and when it did so, its interference was
This was the military that most Chileans knew, or thought they did. And it was
same military that so many Chileans, some of whom supported the coup initially, quickly
lost trust in as the new regime’s horrors unfolded before them. The leadership of the
Christian Democratic party, for example, publicly supported the military coup at first,
only to do an about-face several months later when the regime's dismal human rights
record could not be ignored.
World-record inflation rates (238% in mid-1973), long queues for food, strikes,
rampant black market, corruption and a growing split between left-wing and right-wing
political groups were the norm in the months leading up to the coup and, rightly or
wrongly, many Chileans called for a drastic change. Not foreseeing the consequences
of military intervention, some groups saw the events of September 11 as a chance to
rescue a country on the verge of economic collapse and civil war, an argument that
would later characterize the texts of the military junta's first legal decrees.
Those who explicitly opposed the coup from the beginning were principally the
political parties, both those that comprised the Unidad Popular and others, as well as a
small group of dissident Christian Democrats. Rather than blaming the coup on the
breakdown of traditional political consensus and seeing it as the answer to economic
and social "chaos," some of these opponents saw September 11 as the "last card"
played by conservative forces to defeat Latin America's only successful socialist
revolution in democracy. They argue that Chilean conservatives allied with US interests
were unsuccessful in defeating Allende through elections, economic sabotage or CIA
covert aid, so they resorted to the only remaining option - military intervention.
Top of Page
Annotated Cites and Links
Tim Weiner, "How the CIA Took Aim at
Allende," New York Times, September 12, 1998
Tim Weiner wrote this article for the New York
Times. Here the author describes
the role that the U.S. adopted in order to get rid of the socialist government of President Salvador
Allende. Briefly, Weiner describes the most important information from declassified CIA documents
that have been released. This article is a good place to start for those who want to have a quick
overview of the American involvement in Chile. Few of the highlights of the article are Nixon’s
statement that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable and the planning that was put
forth in order to overthrow this socialist regime. The CIA document s that the article
mentions can be found at the following website:
Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents relating to the Military Coup, 1970-1976
Salvador Allende's Leftist Regime,
I reviewed the Library of Congress historical synopsis
of Allende’s regime. This
synopsis whichcovered the period from 1970-73, was very effective in providing a clear
explanation of the events leading up to the 1973 coup. It discussed the nationalization of the
copper mines and other industries, the political parties in power at the time and the power
struggle that was taking place between them (which is attributed in large part to the socialization
of the economy), and the United States’ strategy toward dealing with Chile. All in all, it was
a trustworthy, unbiased source of general information on the Chilean revolution. For a
more in-depth look at the revolution, however, I would consult other sources.
In Memory of Salvador Allende and all
the Other Victims
of the Fascist, U.S. Sponsored Coup 25 Years Ago
This website is a good place where to go in order to
find different links to usefull websites related
to Salvador Allende. However, it is important to state that this is a pro-Allende site. Therefore,
the information that is found here is biased. However, the different sites provide good factual
information such as Allende's last speech the day of his death. For our class, one of the problems with this website is that the majority of the sites that are linked are in Spanish.
Chile: How We Destroy the Oldest
Democracy in South America, and Turn
a Peace-Loving Nation into a Slaughterhouse
This page is filled with quotes from top U.S. offices
during the 1970's in regard to the
presidency of Allende in Chile. Most of these quotes are from CIA reports although
some are from other government sources, including Henry Kissenger. These quotes give insight
into U.S. views on Chile but are not explained well. This site is a useful resource for someone
knowledgeable of Chilean history but does not contain general information. The author is Eric
Lorman and no date is given.
This site is dedicated to providing clear information
about the Chilean Revolution and
its aftermath. It provides a full history of the revolution, definitions of key terms,
media resources, and links to other sites. This site is easy to understand and
is a valuable resource. This site was developed by Louise Egan, Maxine Lowry,
and Isabel Toledo and is funded by the Ford Foundation. No date is given.
JUST FOR FUN!