The Other 9/11: An Atrocity In Chile That Led To 40,000 People Tortured & Killed

On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet carried out a coup d'etat against the democratic government in Chile, led by Salvador Allende. Allende, head of the Popular Unity party, came to power in 1970 in a heavily contested election. Despite being democratically elected, Allende was a Marxist – a terrifying prospect to global capitalist powers, including the US, during the Cold War. His tenure in office as Chilean president was characterized by social and political unrest in Chile, not to mention international unease. 

The role of the US in international politics during the Cold War resulted in CIA supported coups, or attempted coups, in places like Indonesia and Cuba. With Richard Nixon's assertion in the early 1970s that he would do whatever it took to keep Allende from coming to power, Chile got the same attention with brutal consequences.

  • Salvador Allende Was A Socialist Who Repeatedly Tried To Become President Of Chile

    Born to a well-off family in 1908, Salvador Allende earned a medical degree before co-founding the Chilean Socialist Party in 1932. He served in several political offices during the 1930s before being elected a senator four times between 1945 and 1969.

    Allende advocated for social reforms and worker's rights, and he spoke out against capitalism throughout his career. He unsuccessfully ran for president two times before winning in 1970 on his third attempt. 

  • Salvador Allende's Policy Was To Bring About "The Chilean Way To Socialism"

    When Allende became president, Chile was in the midst of an economic downturn. Unemployment was high, and children were suffering from malnourishment as a result of conditions there. Allende implemented economic reforms that nationalized foreign-owned industries – specifically US-owned copper – took over private mines and land to form collectives, and approved higher wages for the nation's workers.

    His socialist policies weren't enough to bring Chile out of its economic depression; the country continued to suffer from inflation, shortages, general unrest, and decreased exports. In addition to Allende's socialist domestic policies, he allied himself with China and Cuba, two communist countries.

  • During Allende's Presidency, The CIA Actively Destabilized Chile To Try To Get Rid Of Allende

    During Allende's Presidency, The CIA Actively Destabilized Chile To Try To Get Rid Of Allende
    Photo: Wofford Archives / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    The US had worked to keep Allende out of office during his numerous presidential runs and were successful – until 1970. During the 1950s and 1960s, large amounts of money were sent from US interests to support Allende's opponents, but when he took office peacefully and legally in 1970, the US had a problem when it came to how to neutralize the new Marxist leader. The US feared that Allende would spread his ideas throughout Latin America, and he represented the growing strength of global communism.

    While he was in office, the CIA sent in covert agents to work against Allende and actively released propaganda against him in Chile and throughout Latin America, and Richard Nixon himself vowed to "make the economy scream." 

  • By 1973, The Chilean Military Had Turned On Allende

    Allende's power was waning, and he knew it. He asked Congress to grant him emergency powers in 1972, and they declined, fearful that the President would use his power against them. Allende maintained support from much of the working class in Chile, and his party won a significant portion of the Chilean Senate seats in the 1973 election. 

    However, the political struggle in Chile was so intense by 1973 that it had turned deadly. During July and August, several of Allende's aides were assassinated, and slowly the military began to pull their support from the President. 

  • The US Backed Augusto Pinochet As Allende's Successor

    The US Backed Augusto Pinochet As Allende's Successor
    Photo: fpealvarez / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Augusto Pinochet, a career military man in Chile, was made the commander in chief of the Chilean military just 18 days before the coup. Allende was unaware that Pinochet had been chosen as the "constitutionalist" that would replace him once the military took over the government. According to sources, "the CIA paid some US $6.8 to $8 million to right-wing opposition groups to 'create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles' and hasten Allende's ouster."

    When the coup launched on September 11, 1973, it was well-coordinated, well-planned, and quick. Pinochet had the support of both the Army and the Navy, the former captured the city of Concepción, and the Navy took control of Valparaiso, the country's main commercial port.

    Within hours, the civilian government of Chile was gone.

  • Allende Died Under Mysterious Circumstances; Some Experts Believe He Was Killed

    Allende Died Under Mysterious Circumstances; Some Experts Believe He Was Killed
    Video: YouTube

    As Pinochet and his men carried out the coup, Allende continued to resist. He gave a final speech to the backdrop of bombings and air raids, vowing to stay in Chile and in office.

    The rebels offered him safe-passage out of Chile, which he refused. As time ran out for Allende, he took his own life on September 11, within hours of the outset of the coup. Despite his body being exhumed in 2011, which confirmed his cause of death, forensic experts believe that he may have been killed.