1973 Chilean coup d'état
|1973 Chilean coup d'état|
|Part of the Cold War|
The Bombing of La Moneda on 11 September 1973 by the Junta's Armed Forces.
| Chilean Government
Revolutionary Left Movement
Grupo de Amigos Personales
Other working-class militants
|Chilean Armed Forces|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Salvador Allende
| Augusto Pinochet
José Toribio Merino
The 11 September 1973 Chilean coup d'état was a watershed event in both the Cold War and the history of Chile. Following an extended period of social and political unrest between the conservative-dominated Congress of Chile and the socialist President Salvador Allende, as well as economic warfare ordered by U.S. President Richard Nixon, Allende was overthrown by the armed forces and national police.
During the air raids and ground attacks that preceded the coup, Allende gave his last speech, in which he vowed to stay in the presidential palace, denouncing offers for safe passage should he choose exile over confrontation. Direct witness accounts of his death agree that he committed suicide in the palace.
The military abolished the civilian government and established a junta that brutally repressed left-wing political activity both domestically and abroad. Augusto Pinochet, Allende's army chief, eventually arose to supreme power within a year after the coup, formally assuming the presidency in late 1974. Before Pinochet's rule, Chile had for decades been hailed as a beacon of democracy and political stability in a South America plagued by military juntas and Caudillismo.
The United States government, which had worked to create the conditions for the coup, promptly recognized the junta government and supported it in consolidating power. A weak insurgent movement against the Pinochet government was maintained inside Chile by elements sympathetic to the former Allende government. An internationally supported plebiscite in 1988 eventually removed Pinochet from power.
|History of Chile|
Allende contested the 1970 Chilean presidential election with Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez of the National Party and Radomiro Tomic of the Christian Democratic Party. Allende received 36.6% of the vote. Alessandri was a very close second with 35.3%, and Tomic third with 28.1%. Although Allende received the highest number of votes, according to the Chilean constitution and since none of the candidates won by an absolute majority, the National Congress had to decide among the candidates.
The Chilean constitution did not allow a person to sit as president for two consecutive terms so the incumbent president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, was thus ineligible as a candidate. The CIA's "Track I" operation was a plan to influence the Congress to choose Alessandri, who would resign after a short time in office, forcing a second election. Frei would then be eligible to run. Alessandri announced on 9 September that if Congress chose him, he would resign. Congress then decided on Allende. Soon after hearing news of his win, Allende signed a Statute of Constitutional Guarantees, which stated that he would follow the constitution during his presidency.
The U.S. feared "an irreversible Marxist regime in Chile" and exerted diplomatic, economic, and covert pressure upon Chile's elected socialist government. At the end of 1971, the Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro made a four-week state visit to Chile, alarming Western observers worried about the "Chilean Way to Socialism" yielding to Cuban Socialism, i.e., a dictatorial single-party state.
In 1972, economics minister Pedro Vuskovic adopted monetary policies that increased the amount of circulating currency and devalued the escudo, which increased inflation to 140 percent in 1972 and engendered a black market economy. The Allende Government acted against the black market with organised distribution of basic products.
In October 1972, Chile suffered the first of many strikes. Among the participants were small-scale businessmen, some professional unions, and student groups. Its leaders – Vilarín, Jaime Guzmán, Rafael Cumsille, Guillermo Elton, Eduardo Arriagada – expected to depose the elected government. Other than damaging the national economy, the principal effect of the twenty-four-day strike was drawing Army head, Gen. Carlos Prats, into the government as Interior Minister, an appeasement to the right wing. Gen. Prats succeeded Gen. René Schneider after his assassination on 24 October 1970 by a group led by Gen. Roberto Viaux, whom the Central Intelligence Agency had taken actions to discourage. Gen. Prats supported the legalist Schneider Doctrine and refused military involvement in a coup d'état against President Allende.
Despite the declining economy, President Allende's Popular Unity coalition increased its vote to 43.2% in the March 1973 parliamentary elections; but, by then, the informal alliance between Popular Unity and the Christian Democrats ended. The Christian Democrats allied with the right-wing National Party, who were opposed to Allende's Socialist government; the two right-wing parties forming the Confederation of Democracy (CODE). The internecine parliamentary conflict, between the legislature and the executive branch, paralyzed the activities of government. The CIA paid some U.S. $6.8–$8 million to right-wing opposition groups to "create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles" and hasten Allende's ouster.
On 29 June 1973, Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the La Moneda presidential palace with his tank regiment and failed to depose the Allende Government. That failed coup d’état – known as the Tanquetazo tank putsch – organized by the nationalist "Fatherland and Liberty" paramilitary group, was followed by a general strike at the end of July that included the copper miners of El Teniente.
In August 1973, a constitutional crisis occurred; the Supreme Court publicly complained about the Allende Government's inability to enforce the law of the land. On 22 August, the Chamber of Deputies (with the Christian Democrats united with the National Party) accused the Allende Government of unconstitutional acts and called upon the military to enforce constitutional order.
For months, the Allende Government had feared calling upon the Carabineros (Carabineers) national police, suspecting them to be disloyal. On 9 August, Allende appointed Gen. Carlos Prats as Minister of Defence. He was forced to resign both as defence minister and as the Army Commander-in-chief on 24 August 1973, embarrassed by the Alejandrina Cox incident and a public protest of the wives of his generals before his house. Gen. Augusto Pinochet replaced him as Army commander-in-chief the same day. In late August 1973, 180,000[disputed ] Chilean women congregated at Plaza de la Constitución to protest against Allende's Government for the rising cost and increasing shortages of food and fuels, but they were dispersed with tear gas.
Supreme Court's resolution
On 26 May 1973, Chile’s Supreme Court unanimously denounced the Allende régime’s disruption of the legality of the nation in its failure to uphold judicial decisions. It refused to permit police execution of judicial resolutions that contradicted the Government's measures.
Chamber of Deputies' resolution
On 22 August 1973, with the support of the Christian Democrats and National Party members, the Chamber of Deputies passed 81–47 a resolution that asked "the President of the Republic, Ministers of State, and members of the Armed and Police Forces" to "put an immediate end" to "breach[es of] the Constitution . . . with the goal of redirecting government activity toward the path of Law and ensuring the Constitutional order of our Nation, and the essential underpinnings of democratic co-existence among Chileans."
The resolution declared that the Allende Government sought ". . . to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the State . . . [with] the goal of establishing a totalitarian system", claiming it had made "violations of the Constitution . . . a permanent system of conduct." Essentially, most of the accusations were about the Socialist Government disregarding the separation of powers, and arrogating legislative and judicial prerogatives to the executive branch of government.
Specifically, the Socialist Government of President Allende was accused of:
- ruling by decree, thwarting the normal legislative system
- refusing to enforce judicial decisions against its partisans
- ignoring the decrees of the independent General Comptroller's Office
- sundry media offences; usurping control of the National Television Network and applying ... economic pressure against those media organizations that are not unconditional supporters of the government...
- allowing its socialist supporters to assemble armed, preventing the same by its right wing opponents
- . . . supporting more than 1,500 illegal ‘takings’ of farms...
- illegal repression of the El Teniente miners’ strike
- illegally limiting emigration
Finally, the resolution condemned the creation and development of government-protected armed groups, which . . . are headed towards a confrontation with the armed forces. President Allende's efforts to re-organize the military and the police forces were characterised as notorious attempts to use the armed and police forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks.
It can be argued that the resolution called upon the armed forces to overthrow Allende if he did not reform, as follows "...To present the President of the Republic, Ministers of State, and members of the Armed and Police Forces with the grave breakdown of the legal and constitutional order ... it is their duty to put an immediate end to all situations herein referred to that breach the Constitution and the laws of the land with the aim of redirecting government activity toward the path of Law " 
President Allende's response
Two days later, on 24 August 1973, President Allende responded, characterising the Congress's declaration as destined to damage the country’s prestige abroad and create internal confusion, predicting It will facilitate the seditious intention of certain sectors. He noted that the declaration had not obtained the two-thirds Senate majority constitutionally required to convict the president of abuse of power: essentially, the Congress were invoking the intervention of the armed forces and of Order against a democratically elected government and subordinat[ing] political representation of national sovereignty to the armed institutions, which neither can nor ought to assume either political functions or the representation of the popular will.
Allende argued he had obeyed constitutional means for including military men to the cabinet at the service of civic peace and national security, defending republican institutions against insurrection and terrorism. In contrast, he said that Congress was promoting a coup d’état or a civil war with a declaration full of affirmations that had already been refuted before-hand and which, in substance and process (directly handing it to the ministers rather than directly handing it to the President) violated a dozen articles of the Constitution. He further argued that the legislature was usurping the government's executive function.
President Allende wrote: Chilean democracy is a conquest by all of the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of the exploiting classes, and it will be defended by those who, with sacrifices accumulated over generations, have imposed it . . . With a tranquil conscience . . . I sustain that never before has Chile had a more democratic government than that over which I have the honor to preside . . . I solemnly reiterate my decision to develop democracy and a state of law to their ultimate consequences . . . Parliament has made itself a bastion against the transformations . . . and has done everything it can to perturb the functioning of the finances and of the institutions, sterilizing all creative initiatives.
Adding that economic and political means would be needed to relieve the country's current crisis, and that the Congress were obstructing said means; having already paralyzed the State, they sought to destroy it. He concluded by calling upon the workers, all democrats and patriots to join him in defending the Chilean Constitution and the revolutionary process.
While declassified documents related to the military coup have shown that the CIA "probably appeared to condone" the 1973 coup, there is no evidence that the US actually participated in it. However, some point to the involvement of the Defense Intelligence Agency, agents of which allegedly secured the missiles used to bombard the La Moneda Palace.
The U.S. Government's hostility to the election of Allende in Chile was substantiated in documents declassified during the Clinton administration; involving the CIA, which show that covert operatives were inserted in Chile, in order to prevent a Marxist government from arising and for the purpose of spreading anti-Allende propaganda.
The CIA, as recounted in the Church Committee report, was involved in various plots designed to remove Allende and then let the Chileans vote in a new election where he would not be a candidate: It tried to buy off the Chilean Congress to prevent his appointment, worked to sway public opinion against him to prevent his election, and financed protests designed to bring the country to a stand-still and make him resign. The CIA, acting with the approval of the 40 Committee—the body charged with overseeing covert actions abroad—devised what in effect was a constitutional coup. The most expeditious way to prevent Allende from assuming office was somehow to convince the Chilean congress to confirm Jorge Alessandri as the winner of the election. Once elected by the congress, Alessandri—a party to the plot through intermediaries—was prepared to resign his presidency within a matter of days so that new elections could be held. This first, nonmilitary, approach to stopping Allende was called the Track I approach.
The CIA's second approach, the Track II approach, was designed to encourage a military overthrow, by creating an atmosphere of crisis and disaster (a "coup climate") in the country. False flag operatives approached senior Chilean military officers, in "some two dozen contacts", with the message that "the United States intended to cut military assistance to Chile unless they moved against Allende, and that the U.S. desired, and would actively support, a coup."
The CIA provided extensive support for black propaganda against Allende, funneled largely through El Mercurio, but also using other media outlets. Propaganda targeted both the people and the military. Financial support was also provided for anti-Allende political opponents and for organized strikes and unrest to destabilize his government.
The first attempt to engineer a military overthrow of Allende occurred in 1970. The CIA had been in contact with two groups of coup plotters, one group run by retired General Roberto Viaux and a second by active-duty General Camilo Valenzuela. The CIA had attempted to stop Viaux's group from moving forward until it had joined forces with Valenzuela's group. Both groups were attempting to remove Chilean general René Schneider, due to his support for military non-intervention in politics, and thus the appointment of Allende. The Church hearings found that the CIA gave weapons to a group of men who it knew had attacked him twice before, ostensibly as a test of loyalty so that the CIA would remain privy to their information, but that the weapons provided and the group thereby armed (Valenzuela's group) were not the ones who actually killed him (Viaux's group).
Historian Mark Falcoff credits the CIA with preserving democratic opposition to Allende and preventing the "consolidation" of his supposed "totalitarian project". However, Peter Kornbluh asserts that the CIA destabilized Chile and helped create the conditions for the coup.
In 1970, the U.S. manufacturing company ITT Corporation owned of 70% of Chitelco, the Chilean Telephone Company, and funded El Mercurio, a Chilean right-wing newspaper. The CIA used ITT as a conduit to financially aid opponents of Allende's government. On 28 September 1973, ITT's headquarters in New York City, was bombed by the Weather Underground for the alleged involvement of the company in the overthrow of Allende.
By 7:00 am on 11 September 1973, the Navy captured Valparaíso, strategically stationing ships and marine infantry in the central coast and closed radio and television networks. The Province Prefect informed President Allende of the Navy's actions; immediately, the president went to the presidential palace, La Moneda, with his bodyguards, the Grupo de Amigos Personales (GAP) (Group of Personal Friends). By 8:00 am, the Army had closed most radio and television stations in Santiago city; the Air Force bombed the remaining active stations; the President received incomplete information, and was convinced that only a sector of the Navy conspired against him and his government.
President Allende and Defence minister Orlando Letelier were unable to communicate with military leaders. Admiral Montero, the Navy's commander and an Allende loyalist, was rendered incommunicado; his telephone service was cut and his cars were sabotaged before the coup d’état, to ensure he could not thwart the opposition. Leadership of the Navy was transferred to José Toribio Merino, planner of the coup d’état and executive officer to Adm. Montero. Augusto Pinochet, General of the Army, and Gustavo Leigh, General of the Air Force, did not answer Allende's telephone calls to them. The General Director of the Carabineros (uniformed police), José María Sepúlveda, and the head of the Investigations Police (plain clothes detectives), Alfredo Joignant answered Allende's calls and immediately went to the La Moneda presidential palace. When Defence minister Letelier arrived at the Ministry of Defense, controlled by Adm. Patricio Carvajal, he was arrested as the first prisoner of the coup d’état.
Despite evidence that all branches of the Chilean armed forces were involved in the coup, Allende hoped that some units remained loyal to the government. Allende was convinced of Pinochet's loyalty, telling a reporter that the coup d’état leaders must have imprisoned the general. Only at 8:30 am, when the armed forces declared their control of Chile and that Allende was deposed, did the president grasp the magnitude of the military's rebellion. Despite the lack of any military support, Allende refused to resign his office.
At approx. 9:00 the carabineros of the La Moneda left the building. By 9:00 am, the armed forces controlled Chile, except for the city centre of the capital, Santiago. Allende refused to surrender, despite the military's declaring they would bomb the La Moneda presidential palace if he resisted being deposed. The Socialist Party proposed to Allende that he escape to the San Joaquín industrial zone in southern Santiago, to later re-group and lead a counter-coup d’état; the president rejected the proposition. The military rebels attempted negotiations with Allende, but the President refused to resign, citing his constitutional duty to remain in office. Finally, Allende gave a potent farewell speech, telling the nation of the coup d’état and his refusal to resign his elected office under threat.
Annoyed with negotiating, Leigh ordered the presidential palace bombed, but was told the Air Force's Hawker Hunter jet aircraft would take forty minutes to arrive. Pinochet ordered an armoured and infantry force under General Sergio Arellano to advance upon the La Moneda presidential palace. When the troops moved forward, they were forced to retreat after coming under fire from GAP snipers perched on rooftops. General Arellano called for helicopter gunship support from the commander of the Chilean Army Puma helicopter squadron and the troops were able to advance again. Chilean Air Force aircraft soon arrived to provide close air support for the assault (by bombing the Palace), but the defenders did not surrender until nearly 2:30 pm. First reports said the 65-year-old president had died fighting troops, but later police sources reported he had committed suicide.
In the first months after the coup d’état, the military killed thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected, or forced their "disappearance". The military imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile; among the tortured and killed desaparecidos (disappeared) were the U.S. citizens Charles Horman, and Frank Teruggi.  In October 1973, the Chilean song-writer Víctor Jara, and 70 other political killings were perpetrated by the death squad, Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte).
The government arrested some 130,000 people in a three-year period; the dead and disappeared numbered thousands in the first months of the military government. Those include the British physician Sheila Cassidy, who survived to publicize to the UK the human rights violations in Chile. Among those detained was Alberto Bachelet (father of future Chilean President Michelle Bachelet), an air force official; he was tortured and died on 12 March 1974,. The right-wing newspaper, El Mercurio (The Mercury), reported that Mr Bachelet died after a basketball game, citing his poor cardiac health. Michelle Bachelet and her mother were imprisoned and tortured in the Villa Grimaldi detention and torture centre on 10 January 1975.
After Gen. Pinochet lost the election in the 1988 plebiscite, the Rettig Commission, a multi-partisan truth commission, in 1991 reported the location of torture and detention centers, among others, Colonia Dignidad, Esmeralda ship and Víctor Jara Stadium. Later, in November 2004, the Valech Report confirmed the number as less than 3,000 killed, and reduced the number of cases of forced disappearance; but some 28,000 people were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.
In El día decisivo (The Decisive Day), Pinochet recounts the coup d’état, affirming he was the leading plotter. Pinochet said that he co-ordinated from his army commander office the deposition of President Salvador Allende. Recently, high military officials from the time[who?] said Pinochet was at first a reluctant participant and followed the lead of Adm. Merino and air force Gen. Leigh.
Fewer than 60 individuals died as a direct result of fighting on 11 September although the MIR and GAP continued to fight the following day. In all, 46 of Allende's guard (the GAP, Grupo de Amigos Personales) were killed, some of them in combat with the soldiers that took the Moneda. Allende's Cuban-trained guard would have had about 300 elite commando-trained GAP fighters at the time of the coup, but the use of brute military force, especially the use of Hawker Hunters, may have handicapped many GAP fighters from further action.
According to official reports prepared after the return of the democracy, at La Moneda only two people died: President Allende and the journalist Augusto Olivares (both by suicide). Two more were injured, Antonio Aguirre and Osvaldo Ramos, both members of President Allende's entourage; they would later be allegedly kidnapped from the hospital and disappeared. In November 2006, the Associated Press noted that more than 15 bodyguards and aides were taken from the palace during the coup and are still unaccounted for; in 2006 Augusto Pinochet was indicted for two of their deaths .
On the military side, there were 34 deaths: two army sergeants, three army corporals, four army privates, 2 navy lieutenants, 1 navy corporal, 4 naval cadets, 3 navy conscripts and 15 carabineros. In Mid-September, the Chilean military junta claimed its troops suffered another 16 dead and 100 injured by gunfire in mop-up operations against Allende supporters, and Pinochet said "sadly there are still some armed groups who insist on attacking, which means that the military rules of wartime apply to them." A press photographer also died in the crossfire while attempting to cover the event. On 23 October 1973, 23-year-old Army Corporal Benjamín Alfredo Jaramillo Ruz, who was serving with the Cazadores, became the first fatal casualty of the counterinsurgency operations in the mountainous area of Alquihue in Valdivia after being shot by a sniper. The Chilean Army suffered 12 killed in various clashes with MIR guerrillas and GAP fighters in October 1973.
While fatalities in the battle during the coup might have been relatively small, the Chilean security forces sustained 162 dead in the three following months as a result of continued resistance and tens of thousands of people were arrested during the coup and held in the National Stadium. This was because the plans for the coup called for the arrest of every man, woman and child on the streets the morning of 11 September. Of these approximately 40,000 to 50,000 perfunctory arrests, several hundred individuals would later be detained, questioned, tortured, and in some cases murdered. While these deaths did not occur before the surrender of Allende's forces, they occurred as a direct result of arrests and round-ups during the coup's military action.
President Allende died in La Moneda during the coup. The junta officially declared that he committed suicide with a rifle given to him by Fidel Castro, two doctors from the infirmary of La Moneda stated that they witnessed the suicide, and an autopsy labelled Allende's death a suicide. Vice Admiral Patricio Carvajal, one of the primary instigators of the coup, claimed that "Allende committed suicide and is dead now."[this quote needs a citation]
At the time, few of Allende's supporters believed the explanation that Allende had killed himself. Allende's body was exhumed in May 2011. A scientific autopsy was performed and the autopsy team delivered a unanimous finding on 19 July 2011 that Allende committed suicide using an AK-47 rifle.
On 13 September, the Junta dissolved Congress. At the same time, it outlawed the parties that had been part of the Popular Unity coalition, and all political activity was declared "in recess".
Initially, there were four leaders of the junta: In addition to General Augusto Pinochet, from the Army, there were General Gustavo Leigh Guzmán, of the Air Force; Admiral José Toribio Merino Castro, of the Navy (who replaced Constitutionalist Admiral Raúl Montero); and General Director César Mendoza Durán, of the National Police (Carabineros de Chile) (who replaced Constitutionalist General Director José María Sepúlveda). Coup leaders soon decided against a rotating presidency and named General Pinochet permanent head of the junta
In the months that followed the coup, the junta, with authoring work by historian Gonzalo Vial and admiral Patricio Carvajal, published a book titled El Libro Blanco del cambio de gobierno en Chile (commonly known as El Libro Blanco, "The White Book of the Change of Government in Chile"), where they attempted to justify the coup by claiming that they were in fact anticipating a self-coup (the alleged Plan Zeta, or Plan Z) that Allende's government or its associates were purportedly preparing. United States intelligence agencies believed the plan to be untrue propaganda. Although later discredited and officially recognized as the product of political propaganda, some Chilean historians pointed to the similarities between the alleged Plan Z and other existing paramilitary plans of the Popular Unity parties in support of its legitimacy.
The newspaper La Tercera published on its front page a photograph showing prisoners at the Quiriquina Island Camp who had been captured during the fighting in Concepción. The photograph's caption stated that some of the detained were local leaders of the "Unidad Popular" while others were "extremists who had attacked the armed forces with firearms". The photo is reproduced in Docuscanner. This is consistent with reports in newspapers and broadcasts in Concepción about the activities of the Armed Forces, which mentioned clashes with "extremists" on several occasions from 11 to 14 September. Nocturnal skirmishes took place around the Hotel Alonso De Ercilla in Colo Colo and San Martino Street, one block away from the Army and military police administrative headquarters. A recent published testimony about the clashes in Concepcion offers several plausible explanations for the reticence of witnesses to these actions.
- 1970 Chilean presidential election
- Cuban packages – arms smuggling from Cuba
- Government Junta of Chile (1973)
- The Battle of Chile
- The Black Pimpernel
- The House of the Spirits
- Operation TOUCAN (KGB) – secret KGB operations in Chile
- Project FUBELT – secret CIA operations to unseat Allende.
- U.S. intervention in Chile
- Valech Report
- 2013 Egyptian coup d'état, started with attacks on the government and was also polarising with ongoing repressions and media support.
- Chilean coup of September 11, 1924
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- Junta general names himself as new President of Chile. The Guardian, Friday, 14 September 1973
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- CIA acknowledges involvement in Allende's overthrow Pinochet's rise, CNN.
- Cronología, Salvador-Allende.cl, originally published in Archivo Salvador Allende, number 14. An extensive Spanish-language site providing a day-by-day chronology of the Allende era. This is clearly a partisan, pro-Allende source, but the research and detail are enormous. (Spanish)
- National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project which provides documents obtained from FOIA requests regarding U.S. involvement in Chile, beginning with attempts to promote a coup in 1970 and continuing through U.S. support for Pinochet
- US Dept. of State FOIA Church Report (Covert Action in Chile)
- 11 September 1973, When US-Backed Pinochet Forces Took Power in Chile – video report by Democracy Now!