The other 9/11

Urs Müller-Plantenberg (Taz) 10 September 2023

On September 11, 1973, Chile's military overthrew the elected left-wing government. Torture and murder followed - and a radical restructuring of society.

Dhe land was a hope. After the failed Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring, which was ended by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968, it seemed that democratic socialism would have a new chance in Chile.

In 1970, six parties came together to form the Unidad Popular ("Popular Unity") for the presidential elections in Chile and agreed on the doctor Salvador Allende as their candidate: Allende's Socialist Party, the Communist, the Radical and the Social Democratic Party as well as two left-wing splits from the Christian Democratic Party .

In the election, Allende only received a relative majority over the conservative candidate Jorge Alessandri, but he prevailed in the congressional runoff thanks to the support of the Christian Democrats. There was no shortage of enemies from the start. Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor and US Secretary of State from September 1973 , and the CIA did everything they could to prevent Allende's election and, when that failed, to overthrow him.

However, the first year of the reign went quite favorably for the Unidad Popular. Massive redistribution of income in favor of the poor led to a strong surge in demand and some economic growth. The fact that there was around 50 percent more demand for potatoes, beans and cigarettes just showed how widespread poverty was before. But it also meant that supply shortages became inevitable.

In the second year, Chile became a laboratory of class struggle, which became increasingly violent. Especially from the wealthier classes. Ladies from the better neighborhoods marched through the streets banging on empty cooking pots. In 1972, the hauliers' association organized a strike that was intended to completely paralyze supplies to the population.

In parliamentary elections in March 1973, the Unidad Popular parties received 43 percent of the seats, preventing the opposition from gaining a two-thirds majority that would have been necessary to vote Allende out of office. Because of fears that there could be a coup, Allende appointed leading loyal military officers to the government in 1973. The commander-in-chief of the army, General Prats, was appointed Minister of the Interior. His careful intervention thwarted an attempted coup at the end of June 1973. This made the Unidad Popular parties feel even more confident that a coup could be prevented.

During this time, General Prats was so violently insulted as a "coward" by generals' wives that he finally resigned and recommended that Allende appoint his deputy, General Augusto Pinochet, who was considered loyal, as the new commander-in-chief of the army. This sealed the fate of the Unidad Popular. Allende decided to go on the offensive and announce a plebiscite on September 11, 1973. The commanders of the armed forces then moved the date of the coup, originally planned for later, forward to September 11th.

Chile, September 11, 1973
Salvador Allende was still able to drive to the presidential palace, the Moneda, that morning. From here, when the building was already being bombed, he sent a radio message to his people: “This is certainly the last opportunity for me to address you. […] At this historic moment, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. […] They have the power, they can overpower us, but they cannot stop social processes through crime and violence. History belongs to us and it is written by the peoples. […] Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words and I am sure my sacrifice will not be in vain.”

While the Luftwaffe flew attacks on the Moneda and destroyed parts of the building, Allende ordered his companions to leave the palace. As was later clearly established, he then shot himself with a gun that Fidel Castro had given him.

The opponents of the coup were relentlessly persecuted from the start. Hundreds were murdered, thousands were tortured, tens of thousands were sent to concentration camps. DINA, the putschists' secret service, also operated abroad. General Prats was murdered by car bombs in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires, the former socialist foreign minister Orlando Letelier in Washington and the popular left-wing Christian Democrat Bernardo Leighton was shot on the street in Rome. However, Leighton survived the attack in Rome and did not die until 1995 in Chile.

The separation of powers was abolished: legislative and executive power now rested solely with the Junta. If laws violate the previous constitution, they should automatically be considered as changing the constitution.

When the generals took power in 1973, there was already a ready-made plan for a neoliberal economy, but it was not known to the military. Their main motive was to “eradicate the Marxist cancer,” as Air Force General Gustavo Leigh called it. But it soon became clear that the military junta wanted more politically than just a restoration of the situation that had existed before Allende's election. Hernán Cubillos from the management of the daily newspaper El Mercurio, the central organ of the Chilean big bourgeoisie, highly recommended to the admirals a group of economists, the majority of whom came from the Catholic University, had degrees from the University of Chicago, and who had secretly been developing a plan since 1972 to destabilize and overthrow the left-wing government, which also... also contained a government program for this case. A US Senate investigative commission later revealed that the funds for this team's activities were provided by the CIA.

Until the beginning of 1975, the team from Chicago had to fight hard for control of economic policy. The military officers in charge of the economy initially devoted their main efforts to balancing the state budget and reducing inflation. The first economic team, made up primarily of civilians, also reiterated the intention to reduce inflation through moderate cuts in the state budget, fearing that drastic solutions would produce catastrophic results.

This was actually achieved with the “shock treatment” that was initiated in April 1975 under the leadership of the “Chicago Boys” . The “gradual” fight against inflation was rejected and the cuts in the state budget were drastically increased. The measures plunged the economy into a deep recession, during which gross domestic product fell by 12.9 percent.

Between 1973 and 1980, literally all government controls over retail prices were abolished; only wages, i.e. the prices for labor as a commodity, remained strictly controlled. The role of the state was drastically reduced. Between 1973 and 1979, government spending fell from 40 percent of gross domestic product to 26 percent.

The Chicago Boys then focused their efforts on extending the logic of the market to the totality of social relationships. This meant the privatization of basic social services in health, education and social security, the elaboration of a “Plan Laboral” intended to develop “a free trade union movement” through the repression of existing trade unions.

Authoritarianism as a vital element
The influence of the Chicago Boys on the discourse of the ruling military became increasingly obvious. Shock treatment and the restriction of the state apparatus had devastating effects on the middle class and its development prospects; At the same time, unemployment had risen to previously unknown levels of well over 30 percent. Social costs of this magnitude could not have been enforced under democratic conditions. Authoritarianism was therefore a vital element for the neoliberal “revolution”.

There could be no question of the class neutrality that “scientific” neoliberalism so much boasted about. The work of destruction was linked to an unprecedented redistribution to the detriment of the poorer classes. Chile has become one of the countries in the world with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth.

The lasting result of the neoliberal "revolution" is, above all, that in almost all areas of social life it has brought about an atomization of society that has not been known in Chile for many decades. People have been pushed with all power to make only their own personal well-being the measure of all things. Solidarity, a very common virtue in Chile before 1973, was no longer in demand.!5957118/


Urs Müller-Plantenberg, born in 1937, sociologist, was co-founder of the magazine “Chile Nachrichten” (today “Latin Amerika Nachrichten”) in 1973.

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