the Chilean Coup

“The true American goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

John Quincy Adams, July 4, 1821

“I am ready to resist by whatever means, even at the cost of my life, so that this may serve as a lesson to the ignominious history of those who use force not reason.”

Dr. Salvador Allende, in his last radio address to the Chilean people, 8:30 a.m. — 9/11/73

What did Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s 1970-73 conspiracy to overthrow the government of Chile have in common with the 2001 Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda plot to destroy the World Trade Center and Pentagon? Answer: Both of these criminal intrigues reached their climax on 9/11.

Almost all Americans know that 9/11 now refers to the horrendous events two years ago when almost 3,000 people died in terrorist attacks. Few Americans, however, recall that 9/11 also refers to the day in 1973 on which the Chilean armed forces, with US encouragement and help, launched air and ground strikes against the presidential palace, the office of Dr. Salvador Allende, the elected president. Allende died that morning. A reign of terror followed the coup in which tens of thousands of Chileans underwent torture, hundreds of thousands were forced or fled into exile and the democratic institutions of the country were systematically destroyed. The coup leader, General Augusto Pinochet, remained military dictator of Chile for seventeen years four years longer than Hitler.

“The terrorists hate our freedoms,” the Chilean workers, peasants and students could have echoed George W. Bush’s post 9/11/01 comments. They would be explaining, however, what lay behind the US and Chilean military plotters who helped make the coup possible, just as George W. Bush simplistically explained the 2001 attack from the mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists.

His Republican predecessor in 1970, Richard Nixon, committed US covert power precisely to destroying the freedom of Chileans, who had selected a president in a freer and fairer election than the 2000 US vote. Indeed, Chileans watched their democracy go up in flames. Their military with full support from Washington proceeded to wipe out their ancient bicameral legislature, independent judiciary, elected local and regional bodies, free trade unions and media and their broad-based civil liberties.

The US government has not yet admitted its actual role in the coup itself. According to a national security source, the Chilean Navy had coordinated with the US armada to hold maneuvers off the coast at precisely the time planned for their putsch. US military spy ships intercepted communiques from Chilean military bases and forwarded them to the treasonous coup-makers. The mutinous general and admirals would then be able to send sufficient force to repress those units whose messages indicated loyalty to the elected government, and thus avoid civil war.

Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted in April of this year that “it is not a part of American history that we’re proud of.” Powell attributed the US role in the destabilization of Chile from 1970-73 (some of which is documented in Volume 7 of the 1975 Church Senate Select Committee report on US Intelligence) to the Cold War. This refers to Allende’s political “sin” of allowing the Chilean Communist Party as one of the five political groupings inside his Popular Unity coalition.

In fact, for over a century, US policy makers have consistently plotted to overthrow “disobedient” regimes like Allende’s socialist coalition in Chile. US forces occupied Nicaragua and Haiti for some 20 years each in the early 20th Century after tossing out governments in those countries that refused insufficient obeisance to Washington. Similarly, in Cuba under the terms of the US-imposed Platt Amendment, American forces occupied that island on several occasions (1906-9, 1912 and 1917-22).

Between 1900-10, US troops went into Colombia, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Panama, mainly to put down revolutionary movements. These troop landings refer only to military actions in this hemisphere. During the same decade, Presidents deployed US troops in China (1900), Syria (1903), Korea (1904-5) and Morocco (1904).

In the 1910-20 period, US troops made numerous incursions into Mexico during its revolutionary era and landed expeditionary forces in Guatemala and Costa Rica as well. Outside the hemisphere, US troops landed again China (1911, 1912 and 1920), Turkey (1912) and the Soviet Union (1918-22) in addition to US participation in World War I.

So, when Powell gives as an excuse the “Cold War” he ignores significant interventionist antecedents in 20th Century US foreign policy. True, during the Cold War the CIA acted in flagrant violation of a host of new treaties signed by the United States that eschewed intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. But the UN and OAS Charters, the NATO and the Rio Treaty be damned, said President Eisenhower in 1953 as he signaled the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran. In 1954, the Agency toppled the government of Guatemala. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson backed a coup in Brazil and, in the words of former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, himself a victim of CIA destabilization in 1976 and 1980, “mashed up the good order of society” in several countries. Former CIA official Phillip Agee documented routine CIA interference in the politics of Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico.

But the 1973 Chile coup took the proverbial cake for blatant imperial illegality. Just days after Allende’s September 1970 electoral victory, Secretary of State Kissinger and President Nixon conspired in the Oval Office to “correct” the destiny of Chileans who had foolishly elected the wrong man as president. For three years following Allende’s electoral triumph, the CIA plotted violence, economic sabotage and psychological warfare against his government because it did not fall into line behind Washington dictates: not allow Communists to enter a government; not expropriate, even with compensation, US property; follow free market economics; eschew all relations with Castro’s Cuba and never vote against the United States in any international forum.

As then CIA Director Richard Helms testified to the Church Committee, Nixon “wanted a major effort to prevent Allende’s accession to power.” Nixon also ordered, as Helms’ notes indicate, that Chile’s “economy should be squeezed until it screamed.”

The CIA failed to stop Allende’s inauguration, although in October 1970 it hired thugs to murder Chile’s Army Chief General Rene Schneider since he opposed a military coup.

Nixon and Kissinger intended to “save Chile,” as they told Helms, meaning that they saw the elected socialist and quintessential Parliamentarian, Allende, as no different from the Soviet Communists. Although Moscow gave no significant aid to Allende, the Nixon-Kissinger ideological dogma nevertheless proved sufficient to motivate the CIA in its course of coup-fomenting or outright terrorism.

Did a memory lapse lead George W. Bush to nominate the terrorist Kissinger who withdrew his name some days later — to investigate the 9/11/01 terrorism, or did some White House savant think that “since Kissinger was a real-life practicing terrorist, he would have the kind of knowledge and experience to lead a probe in the subject”?

Indeed, refer again to CIA Chief Helms’ notes taken from his September 1970 conversation in the Oval Office with Nixon and Kissinger where he received his orders to overthrow the government of Chile. “Not concerned risks involved,” Helms had written. “$10,000,000 available, more if necessary.” A similar conversation could have taken place somewhere in Saudi Arabia two years before 9/11/01, with Osama bin Laden talking with his fiends about risks and costs involved for hijacking jumbo jets and flying them into the twin towers and Pentagon.

Suppose, I ask myself, I had lost my father or brother in the Moneda Palace in 1973! You can’t sue Kissinger or even pursue justice abroad. US military and political officials, Bush insists, must retain immunity from prosecution outside the United States, thus protecting the terrorists in his Administration and those violent ghosts from regimes past.

In this very born-again nation, with people making pilgrimages to the recently removed Ten Commandments monument in Alabama and piety dripping from the fundamentalist lips of the political leaders, it seems odd that few can remember the words that follow the opening phrase of the Christian adage: “Do unto others.”

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, will be published in September by Pluto Books. He can be reached at:


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.