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Chile's 9/11


A group of defiant women, drenched by water-cannon, challenge riot police at a protest on International Women's Day in Santiago on 1985. © Julio Etchart

A date which is now synonymous with the attacks in the US marks, for millions of Chileans, the anniversary of the 1973 military coup. President Salvador Allende’s elected government was replaced by General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Many thousands were murdered – far more than on the US’s ‘9/11’ – and still more tens of thousands were tortured, ‘disappeared’ and dispossessed over the following 17 years.

In the early 1970s, the ‘Southern Cone’ countries of Latin America – Chile, Uruguay and Argentina – joined Brazil, Peru and Bolivia under a shroud of brutal repression, darkened by poisonous components from the US and corporate power. Henry Kissinger, US President Nixon’s Secretary of State at the time, was quoted as saying: ‘I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.’

As the CIA itself now brazenly admits, it went to ruthless lengths to prevent the election of Allende’s Popular Unity party in 1970, to undermine it once elected, and then to promote its violent overthrow. Following the nationalization by Popular Unity of the giant (and largely US-owned) Chilean copper industry, ‘economic sanctions’ gave US corporations an official free hand. Ford, which made most of the buses, embargoed spare parts and brought the elongated country close to a standstill. In a place overflowing with the most drinkable wine in the world, a shortage of bottles meant you had to have an empty one in order to drink any of it.

A million Chileans fled the country. In Britain, the next generation has since then grown up in full awareness of its past. Through the Chile 40 Years On campaign, they are now planning to commemorate their ‘9/11’.

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