9/11: A Day Of Tragedy For Both The U.S. And Chile
Accross every social media niche, Americans raised their arms in solemn salute, posting photos of present-day New York with the Twin Towers sketched into the background, and photos of loved ones who passed that day. Yet, coupled with #Remember911 and #NeverForget, emerged, equally strongly, #NiPerdonNiOlvido - Chilean voices commemorating the same day - a fateful Tuesday - but one that occurred 28 years earlier.
September 11, 1973 marks the day of the coup d’état in Chile that witnessed the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, and ushered in the quarter-century-long dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. On September 11, 1973, military planes bombed la Moneda, the Chilean equivalent of the White House. Though not as widely recognized in the U.S., September 11, 1973 was a day that rerouted Chilean democracy, pushed the Chilean economy into a state of neoliberalism (who's to say it was for the better?), and dramatically altered the course of Chilean history.
Ironically, the tragic events of September 11, 1973 are marked heavily by the American hand.
On September 4, 1970, Salvador Allende, representing the Popular Unity Party (Unidad Popular) emerged victor of the Chilean presidential elections after his fourth attempt to secure the presidency. As the first democratically elected socialist president in the Western hemisphere, Allende nationalized copper (with unanimous congressional support), land and industries in an attempt to equalize society. Just three years later, General Augusto Pinochet led a coup that deposed the president, and Allende committed suicide.
A few years earlier, back in the United States, President Nixon was livid and paranoid (shocking) about the prospect of Allende’s election. He expressed concern that “if Allende should win the election in Chile, and then you have Castro in Cuba, what you will in effect have in Latin America is a red sandwich and eventually it will all be red.”
Before the 1970 Chilean election, the Nixon Administration flooded Chile with anti-communist propaganda to turn the vote against Allende, and with massive amounts of funding to rival candidate Eduardo Frei. Just hours after Allende's rightful victory, Nixon confidentially demanded a coup d’etat in Chile to preempt the president’s inauguration; or, if that failed, to cripple his presidency during the early formation of his new government.
More shocking was the information that surfaced from a massive project undertaken in the late 1990s by Peter Kornbluh and the National Security Archive to declassify the White House and CIA’s secret files regarding Chile. Among the documents found were memoranda, conversations and other confidential records that revealed a number of ways in which the U.S. was involved in bolstering the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Notably, support for Pinochet’s dictatorship started even before the military coup. One of these forms of support came in the form of Project FUBELT, a clandestine CIA operation to assassinate General René Schneider, commander of the army. The commander’s assassination not only led to Pinochet’s assumption of the position of general (whether directly or indirectly is uncertain; Schneider’s successor Carlos Prats recommended Pinochet as the new general upon his resignation), but it also put an end to the Schneider Doctrine that kept the military politically neutral, in effect paving the way for the subsequent coup and dictatorship. And as if that were not enough, just hours after the coup was actually orchestrated, Pinochet received a secret message of congratulations and support from the U.S. government.
While it is true that Allende’s presidency was polarizing - his efforts to create a more equal society also created grounds for massive conflict between the rich and poor - his presidency was legitimate and democratic. So, of course, the U.S., big brother of the world, policeman of the universe, etc., not only assisted the military coup that overthrew Allende’s government, but also continued to funnel aid to Pinochet’s military junta for its own political and economic interests, despite the dictatorship’s blatant human rights violations. Not to mention that the U.S., supposedly a champion of democracy, just so happened to topple a democracy...in the name of democracy (the last time I checked, socialism and democracy are not mutually exclusive).
The repetition of history is uncanny. Both 9/11 attacks destroyed symbolic landmarks - in the U.S., political and economic centers; in Chile, the emblem of Allende’s government, a symbol of the peaceful, democratic road to socialism. In both countries, the date 9/11 also has special significance. In the U.S., it is the national number for emergencies. In Chile, 9/11 is just a mere seven days before Independence Day, a day during which Pinochet posed as savior of the country. Indeed, Pinochet claimed to be the extirpator of Chile’s “marxist cancer,” failing to mention the infections he himself caused.
The irony, however, is derived from the way in which these two dates are intertwined. September 11, 1973 is the ghost that haunts September 11, 2001. One tragedy mirrors the other.
The tragedy of September 11, 1973: roughly 1,500 civilian deaths followed the coup, but it was a sight so bloody and chaotic that the initial CIA report described “4000 deaths [resulting] from the 11 September 1973 coup action and subsequent clean-up operations.” After the originally recorded 1,500 civilian deaths, as the military regime took shape, thousands more were imprisoned, tortured and murdered.
Equally, if not more sobering, is the fate of the 1,100 desaparecidos, the “disappeared,” those who simply vanished while under Pinochet's rule. Some were exiled, some appeared years later as corpses. And the remaining are still yet to be found, their bodies like that of Antigone’s Polynieces suspended forever in limbo, in an abyss, never put to rest.
For all those who say that this particular day in September has never been the same since 2001, I say that it hasn’t been the same since 1973. This is not in any way to dismiss or mitigate mourning for our national tragedy of 11 years past. September 11, 2001 is nothing less than terrible, and there are many who have lost loved ones whose memories deserve to be uplifted and honored. But I think it is important that we also remember the thousands lost in Chile: tortured, killed, imprisoned and missing.
The truth needs to be told, so that we may forgive (I personally believe in forgiving), but never forget. Forgetting means only more terror, more deaths.