A Conversation With Salvador Allende – 1973 – Past Daily Reference Room
Since South America has come under scrutiny of late, more specifically Venezuela with the civil unrest currently going, I was reminded of another closely watched South American country, undergoing a series of upheavals – that one ending in an overthrow and the death of its President, Salvador Allende.
A little background on the place and the times (compliments of Wikipedia):
Salvador Allende was president of Chile from 1970 until 1973, and head of the Popular Unity government; he was the first Marxist ever to be elected to the national presidency of a liberal democracy. Though the 1970 election was lawful, in August 1973 the Chilean Senate declared the Allende government to be “unlawful” in large part due to its practice of unconstitutional expropriation of private property. Allende’s presidency ended with a military rising before the constitutional end of his term.
During his tenure, Chilean politics reached a state of civil unrest amid strikes, lockouts, economic sanctions, CIA-sponsored propaganda, and a failed coup in June 1973. Allende’s coalition, Unidad Popular, faced the problem of being a minority in the congress and it was plagued by factionalism.
On 11 September 1973, a successful coup led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government of Allende.
During the bombing of the presidential palace by the Chilean Air Force, President Allende, after mounting a brief armed resistance against the military, eventually committed suicide (it has also been alleged that he was murdered by an infiltrator), terminating the period of Chilean history known as the “Presidential Republic” (1925–1973).
The United States opposition to Allende started several years before he was elected President of Chile. Declassified documents show that from 1962 through 1964, the CIA spent $3 million in anti-Allende propaganda “to scare voters away from Allende’s FRAP coalition”, and spent a total of $2.6 million to finance the presidential campaign of Eduardo Frei.
The U.S. administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon, then embroiled in the Vietnam War and Cold War with the Soviet Union, was openly hostile to the possibility of a second Marxist regime (after Cuba) in the Western Hemisphere. There was clandestine support by the U.S. government to prevent Allende from taking office after election: On 16 October 1970, a formal instruction was issued to the CIA base in Chile, saying in part, “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October, but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden”.
Regarding the botched attempted-kidnapping and manslaughter of Chilean Army Commander René Schneider on 22 October 1970 (Schneider was a constitutionalist opposed to the idea of a coup preventing Allende from taking office or removing him after the fact), the Church Committee observed: “The CIA attempted, directly, to foment a military coup in Chile. It passed three weapons to a group of Chilean officers who plotted a coup. Beginning with the kidnapping of Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief Rene Schneider. However, those guns were returned. The group which staged the abortive kidnap of Schneider, which resulted in his death, apparently was not the same as the group which received CIA weapons.” However, the group which killed Schneider had previously been in contact with the CIA. The agency later paid that group $35,000, according to the Hinchey report, “in an effort to keep the prior contact secret, maintain the good will of the group, and for humanitarian reasons”. CIA documents indicate that while the CIA had sought his kidnapping, his killing was never intended. Public outrage over the killing of Schneider cooled sentiments for a coup, and neither the U.S. nor Chilean military attempted other removal actions in the early years of the Allende administration. On 26 October, President Eduardo Frei Montalva (Salvador Allende was inaugurated 3 November) named General Carlos Prats as commander in chief of the army in replacement of René Schneider. Carlos Prats was also a constitutionalist.
With Allende in office, the United States reduced economic aid to the Chilean government.
In 1973, the CIA was notified by contacts of the impending Pinochet coup two days in advance, but contends it “played no direct role” in the coup. After Pinochet assumed power, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Nixon that the United States “didn’t do it” (referring to the coup itself) but had “created the conditions as great [sic] as possible”.
With that information in mind, here is that interview with Salvador Allende, broadcast by National Public Radio in June of 1973. I’m not drawing direct comparisons to the government of Allende to the Venezuela government of Maduro, but you get the impression something violent may be in the offing, as something violent occurred 46 years ago. In 1973 it was about Chile and copper – in 2019 it’s about Venezuela and oil. Whatever comes to pass, it will have an eerie ring of familiarity to it.
Such is history.