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The other 9/11: Chile, The Losing Side of History

September 11th 1973 saw a different type of tragedy and the rise of Pinochet

by Tomás Pizarro-Escuti


Forty-five years ago, Chile’s dramatic coup moved the world. The attempt to make profound changes of socialist inspiration, maintain respect for democratic norms and the constitution, ended with one of the worst dictatorships of the 20th century.  Backed by the CIA, the military attack on the presidential palace destroyed not only the palace walls, but the hopes of a prosperous and egalitarian future.


Since its full independence of Spain, in 1818, Chile has kept an almost linear constitutional history, with only two civil wars in the 19th century. In fact, as the famous British historian,  Alistair Horne said: “ In London Chile was known as the ‘England of South America’… The West perceived Chile as a country that had a strong link with democracy.” This is one of the reasons why for Chilean society and the world the coup was such a shocking event- it was unexpected.  

“ In London Chile was known as the ‘England of South America’… The West perceived Chile as a country that had a strong link with democracy.”

The key fact is the way in which the pre-coup President, Salvador Allende, came to power. He was not a caudillo (Spanish meaning military or policial leader, often used interchangeably with 'dictator'); Allende was an elected socialist leader who was following a peaceful and democratic path. The events in Chile since 1970 were even impacting Europe, which was reviewing socialism, and what Allende offered was socialism in a constitutional manner, without violence.


The coup d'etat of September 11, 1973, meant the breaking of the institutional order and the beginning of a new dark era in Chile. The country was violated, divided and used by unscrupulous foreign interests. Some believe in forgetfulness as a cure for the injuries of the country, others believe that by denying the systematic violation of human rights, the country would advance.  But how could oblivion be the solution for a terrible event that did not only affect Chile but the whole Latin-America? How could the 250,000 imprisoned, the 200,00 exiled, the 35,000 tortured and the thousands killed be forgotten?

Some believe in forgetfulness as a cure for the injuries of the country, but how could the 250,000 imprisoned, the 200,00 exiled, the 35,000 tortured and the thousands killed be forgotten?

After the coup, Chile became a subsidiary country: a state of privileges and not rights; natural resources were handed over to multinationals; access to free and quality education was taken away and marketed as a product. The country was left speechless and blind to see how its freedom and dignity were torn apart.


While Allende was certainly experimenting with something that had rarely been done before, those who took power after the coup also had a new project: the so-called "Chicago boys" took the principles of the American economist Milton Friedman to Chile before neoliberalism was implemented in the rest of the world. Chile was Friedman’s guinea pig.  Faithful to the neoliberal program, Pinochet's dictatorship carried out economic guidelines that led to a drastic deregulation of the economy, mass unemployment, privatisation of public goods and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.


From the first minute of Allende’s government that Nixon and Kissinger conspired to overthrow him, with a plan that began with the coup in Uruguay two months before the coup in Chile. What would finally be materialised in September 1973, was a premeditated US conspiracy.

Although Pinochet’s dictatorship was overthrown in the 1988 referendum, with the return of democracy questions arose about the regime’s legacy. Nowadays the dictatorship’s ghost remains despite the 45 years that have passed. The pain for the thousands of Desaparecidos (literally 'the desparate', used to refer to those tortured and killed under the Pinochet regime) has not vanished, substantial economic and social inequalities still persist, miserable pensions for the elderly, a deficient health service and a segregated education.

The pain for the thousands of Desaparecidos has not vanished, substantial economic and social inequalities still persist, miserable pensions for the elderly, a deficient health service and a segregated education.

The bombing of Presidential palace-with the President fighting inside- on the morning of September 11, meant a serious defeat for those who took part in the construction of a fairer country. Funded by the United States’ government, the coup d’etat of Pinochet put an end to a long constitutional history and wounded a nation whose tremendous injury cannot still be cured.

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