Thirty years ago this week, on 11 September 1973, an atrocity against an American democracy took place. In Santiago, Chile.
A parliament was bombed. Aeroplanes strafed the residence of a president. A dark era of terror ensued, the consequences of which continue to reverberate in Chile to this day.
Chile had been known as the “England of Latin America”. Not for them the “banana republic” helter skelter of military coups and government by generalisimo.
They were stable, democratic, dignified. Until they elected the wrong kind of government; at least in the eyes of their northern neighbour, land of the free, home of the brave, the United States of America, then ruled by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
The Socialist president of Chile Salvador Allende was no Kim Il Sung, more a Hugo Chavez. He was a veteran of Latin American politics and he had won a narrow plurality over his right wing rivals two years before.
Nixon’s interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine – by which the US claimed all of Latin America as it’s backyard and would tolerate no “extra-hemispheric” interference there – meant that he began plotting to get rid of the elected president as soon as he took office.
Just like much later in Venezuela the ranks of the local bourgeoisie were tried first. Lorry owners strikes, “housewives revolts”, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church; a full scale revolt of the well fed and the well shod against a government of the poor.
It all failed. In the local elections of 1973 Allende and his left wing allies improved their position at the polls. But the votes of the people of Chile constituted a death warrant for Salvador Allende, for thousands of others and for Chilean democracy itself.
As the day dawned, out of the blue skies swooped the jets which set fire to the presidential palace.
Chilean President Salvador
The army navy and air force led by General Augusto Pinochet which had mounted the military overthrow of their government may have been Chilean; but the controlling hand was under the White House in the situation room and belonged to Henry Kissinger.
It is now an accepted fact that the US pushed the Chilean military into the coup, financed the leading elements of it, and played a decisive co-ordinating role in it’s execution. Execution being the operative word.
Allende defended the presidential palace with his own hand and that of his comrades.
Bearing the Kalashnikov given to him as a gift by Fidel Castro the Chilean president fought until he ran out of ammunition and was killed by a hail of machine gun fire.
In the bloodbath which ensued more than eight thousand civilians were murdered by their own armed forces. Thousands more were rounded up many of them tortured.
The electric shock table was the favoured device of Pinochet although rape by dogs was not far behind. On 9/11 1973 the football stadium in Santiago became a killing field, it’s dressing rooms doubling as torture chambers for the predominantly youthful supporters of the slain Allende.
Prominent poets musicians artists writers politicians even an English nun Sheila Cassidy were among the victims of the Pinochet/Kissinger torture gang.
That day there was blood on the grass and the people reeled through the streets in shock at the sudden violence which had been unleashed upon them, orchestrated not from a cave in the Tora Bora but from the government of a fellow democracy.
George Galloway, British MP and
More than forty thousand Chilean refugees flooded out of the country in the days following the coup, a considerable number of them settling in Britain.
Many were never to see their homeland again. Most remained marooned in lonely exile for more than twenty years. In those twenty years Pinochet, the usurper the torturer the murderer became a blue eyed boy of the Thatcherite right.
He plunged Chile into the deep and cold bath of neo-liberalism of an extreme and vicious kind, bringing the so-called “Chicago Boys” – the followers of the economist Milton Friedman – to sell off virtually the entire economy. In the subsequent retrenchment millions of Chileans were plunged into an abyss of poverty and deprivation.
Most people in the world long ago forgot this great crime of 9/11 1973. Most Americans never knew about it in the first place.
Nixon left office in disgrace but Kissinger remains feted around the world as a statesman in the Talleyrand league, combining his work for George W Bush ( who chose him to chair the campaign running the war on terror before realising that Henry’s hands were perhaps just a little too stained with the blood of Vietnam Cambodia East Timor Chile..) with a seat on the board of the company which owns the Daily Telegraph where he plots alongside Margaret Thatcher and Richard Perle how best to defeat…”terrorism”.
Pinochet was arrested in London following a warrant for his arrest being issued by a magistrate in Spain for the murder of Spanish nationals in the 9/11 coup d’etat.
Cuban President Fidel Castro
He was allowed to go free by the then British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who today as British Foreign Secretary, is one of the leaders of President Bush’s “War on Terror”.
This week the Chilean generals and admirals are guests of honour at Europe’s biggest arms fair being held in London’s docklands.
Although I have listened carefully I have heard no minutes silence being observed for the victims of this other 9/11. The one committed by the United States upon the people of Chile who still await an apology or even an acknowledgment of the crime.
But then these victims had brown skins, came from the south and were attacked by a democracy. Which as we know makes a very big difference indeed.
*George Galloway is British Member of Parliament for Glasgow Kelvin