A supporter of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet holds a picture of Pinochet outside of Chile's Military Hospital in Santiago on December 3, 2006. (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)
Let’s not forget Chile.
On September 11, 1973, warplanes began strafing radio stations and newspapers. Images arrived of people scattering in fear ahead of tanks in the streets. Fearsome generals in coats with starred epaulets ordered President Salvador Allende, the world’s only elected Marxist leader, to step down. A military communiqué: “The armed forces and the body of carabineros are united in their historic and responsible mission of fighting to liberate Chile from the Marxist yoke.” Signed; General Augusto Pincohet Ugarte, Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
Pinochet’s coup came the day before a planned national referendum scheduled by Allende, a man fastidiously obsessed with observing his nation’s constitution. Unlike Allende, the military chose not to chance democracy. Instead, they rounded up thousands and deposited them in the national stadium, some marked for execution. In the streets of Santiago, loudspeakers barked out commands: “All people resisting the new government will pay the price.” For at least seventy-five, in the first three weeks, the price was execution by Pinochet’s Caravana de la Muerte—the “Caravan of Death.” One bullet-ridden body, belonging to the popular, pacifist singer Víctor Jara, was found dumped in a Santiago back street, his hands broken and his wrists cracked.
On the morning of the coup, the ousted president, refusing to yield, made his way to the parliament for one last speech. Then he fell back to the presidential palace, now bombarded by planes and pummeled by tanks, forty civil servants still pinned inside. The majestic building nearly burned to the ground. “Oh, baby!” a CBS Radio correspondent intoned on the air with an intake of breath as machine gun volleys sounded. “We’re in the wrong place…. We are pinned down on a corner…looking at a policeman with an automatic rifle…. What the hell am I doing here?”
I wrote here this winter about what General Pinochet’s subsequent rule was like, in the context of Ronald Reagan’s complaining two years later about “the innuendos and the accusations that the CIA and our government had a hand in bringing about the downfall of the government of Chile,” flaying congressmen who “act as if fascism had been imposed on the Chileans, to their great distress and unhappiness,” citing a goofy Gallup Poll—as if “citizens” in a police state could tell strangers honestly what they thought about their government—that 60 percent of Chileans approved of their government and only 3 percent did not. Reagan: “This is quite a contrast to much of what we’ve heard in the news about a reign of terror, political prisoners, torture and a depressed and frightened populace!”