The famous line which is said to have signaled the start of the military coup in Chile's capital on September 11, 1973, is hardly ever mentioned in any Western sources – however, it is quite popular among historians in the post-Soviet states. The reason is simple: it is the title of the 1976 film by Chilean director Helvio Soto, shot in Bulgaria in cooperation with France. The line is also a reference to the famous code phrase broadcast by a Spanish radio station in 1936 as the signal for the supporters of Francisco Franco to take arms: "Over all of Spain, the sky is clear".
On September 11, 1973, at 6:20 a.m., Chilean President Salvador Allende was informed of a mutiny in the Navy in the seaport of Valparaíso. In 1998, the US National Security Agency declassified several documents relating to Project FUBELT, which revealed that CIA agents were not only involved in the efforts to destabilize Chile, but also prepared the September 11, 1973 coup d'état.
At 4 a.m. on September 11, upon receiving requests from the Ministry of Defense, the commanders of military garrisons throughout Chile reported that they were ready to carry out orders. Alarms were sounded, and the soldiers started coming out of their barracks. Around 7:30 a.m., Allende was informed that the rebels had taken control of Valparaíso. His attempts to contact Pinochet and the military command were unsuccessful. By 7 a.m., army units entered almost every town and city of importance throughout the country. The headquarters of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party were raided and captured.
At the time, Chile's military vessels were conducting joint exercises with the US Navy as part of Operation Unitas. Several hundred sailors and officers loyal to Allende's Popular Unity coalition refused to support the coup and were executed. Their corpses were thrown into the sea. In the morning, the insurgents shelled Valparaíso, landed an assault on the city, and captured it. At 6:30 a.m. the insurgents launched an operation to seize the country’s capital. In the following hours, they captured a number of strategic targets. Right-wing radio stations Agricultura, Mineria and Balmacedo informed the country about the coup and announced the formation of a military junta. The provisional government consisted of the Army Commander-in-Chief, Augusto Pinochet, Head of the Navy José Merino, Air Force Commander Gustavo Leigh, and Head of the Carabineros César Mendoza.
The Chilean Air Force destroyed radio stations Portales and Corporación, which supported the Popular Unity coalition and the legitimate president. At 9:10 a.m., the president delivered his last address, broadcast by Radio Magallanes. After that, the Air Force bombed the station, and the insurgents captured the building. Several dozen radio employees were killed. This was followed by the shelling and the storming of the presidential palace, defended by some 40 men. Eight hours later, Allende was dead. Trapped in the burning presidential palace, Allende relieved those who could not fight from duty and personally directed the defense. He hit an enemy tank with a grenade launcher and, according to one of the accounts, died with a machine gun in his hands.
Thus, a military coup d'état took place in Chile, which overthrew President Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity Government, replacing them with a military junta led by Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army General Augusto Pinochet. The coup was masterminded and executed under the direct supervision of the CIA.
According to Leonard Kosichev who served as a correspondent for Gosteleradio (State Committee of Television and Radio Broadcasting of the Soviet Union) in Chile and witnessed some of the final hours of Chile's legitimate president, Allende asked his people "not to sacrifice themselves." Kosichev was able to record the president's message on tape, which he then managed to deliver to Moscow via the embassy channels and play to the whole world in his radio program. "My friends, surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you... The only thing left for me is to say to the working people: I am not going to resign! I will not resign! At this turning point in history, I will repay the people’s trust with my life... I am certain that my sacrifice will not be for nothing. I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason."
Allende's economic program ordered nationalization of Chile's largest commercial companies and banks. His agrarian reform required expropriation of private farms and estates. In the first two years of his administration, the Allende government expropriated approximately 500,000 hectares of land (about 3,500 estates), which accounted for about one-fourth of all the country's farmland. Combined with the land taken from farmers under the previous administration, about 40% of Chile's agricultural sector was 're-organized'. Naturally, this policy was met with resistance from the 'latifundistas' (major landowners), with several of them resorting to sabotage. Some started to kill off their cattle, while the estates close to the border moved their livestock to Argentina. This caused an overall economic decline in the country.
Tensions were building up in relations with Washington, which acted in the interests of American firms. The USA started boycotting Chilean copper exports which generated most of the country's dollar revenue. Chile's accounts were frozen; banks refused to give out loans to Chileans. Many Chilean entrepreneurs started moving their capital abroad, closing down their enterprises, and laying off workers. American sanctions effectively created an artificial food shortage in the country.
In 1972-1973, Allende's external and domestic opponents organized massive demonstrations and strikes. The Confederation of Truck Owners was one of the key instigators of unrest. A state of emergency had been declared in the country, and the president had ordered the confiscation of all idling trucks. In November 1972, when a new government was formed, the key positions were taken by the military. Former Commander-in-Chief General Carlos Prats González was put in charge of the Interior Ministry, Vice Admiral Ismael Huerta became the Minister of Public Works, and Brigadier General of Aviation Claudio Sepúlveda took the post of the Minister of Mining. The country was split into two camps: the opponents and the supporters of Allende's reforms.
It should be noted that Allende's policies were indeed aimed at improving the well-being of the majority of the population. His administration cut the interest rate on agricultural loans, created dozens of thousands of new jobs, reduced unemployment, increased wages for low-paid workers, raised the subsistence wage, as well as the minimum wage and retirement pensions. Overall, his reforms increased the people's purchasing power. The government developed a comprehensive system of benefits and welfare payments, and increased public access to healthcare and education. Naturally, major property owners, known as latifundistas, and the 'comprador bourgeoisie' were hit economically. They were unwilling to budge; fortunately for them, they had a powerful ally – the United States of America.
Washington did not want a 'second Cuba' (this time, on the mainland) in Latin America. Allende nationalized large industries and started agrarian reforms in the interests of the people. As it was, the USA’s geopolitical interests – which included the need to keep Chile in its sphere of influence – coincided with the interests of American corporations. In Chile, the Americans had a strong support from powerful landlords and property owners.
The tactical objective was to overthrow the legitimately elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, and to crush the socialist leftist movement in Chile. And it had to be done as brutally as possible in order to set an example. The plan was to return the nationalized enterprises, including American corporations, to their former owners, and to put an end to socialist reforms once and for all.
Strategically, the successful case of Chile's socialist transformation was too big of a risk to Washington and the transnational corporations and banks operating in Latin America. They had already lost Cuba. The triumph of Allende and his reforms in Chile would open a direct path towards a strong socialist government, and the emergence of a second socialist state in Latin America. Naturally, Washington needed these developments to be nipped in the bud, no matter the cost.
The most complete description of the 1973 coup can be found in the special report of the US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. According to the document, the cost of organizing the coup was estimated at $13 million. The Americans were operating in several key areas. The money was used to support political parties that opposed left-wing movements, and primarily the Christian Democratic Party. The US agents also funded opposition media, most notably the newspaper El Mercurio. On top of that, the Americans were fueling the strike movement: in 1972-1973, truck owners paralyzed the entire Chilean economy. Trucks were important since they carried up to 80% of the country's goods. Financial assistance was extended to the right-wing terrorist organization, Patria y Libertad. The Chilean government was pressured by banks withholding loans, both private and public. Arms were supplied to terrorist cells. In 1970, money was given out to all who opposed Allende's election campaign. During the 1970 elections, the USA spent about $0.5 million.
On September 7, 1973, American Ambassador to Chile Nathaniel Davis left for Washington, D.C. on an urgent flight. He held a private meeting with Henry Kissinger and returned to Santiago on September 9. Chile's Ambassador to Mexico Hugo Vigorena revealed that, a few days after the coup, he saw documents shown to him by a former CIA agent outlining a plan to overthrow Allende, code-named 'Centaur'.
It should be noted that before the coup, Allende effectively removed one of his biggest and most powerful supporters with his own hands. In August 1973, the military, led by Pinochet, organized a provocation against General Prats, who had remained loyal to the Popular Unity government. Prats resigned, and Allende appointed General Pinochet to replace him as Commander-in-Chief. On August 23, Carlos Prats wrote in his diary, "My career is over. Without exaggerating my role, I believe that my resignation is a prelude to a coup d’état and a great betrayal... Now, all that remains is to set a date for the coup..." Prats' potential to affect the developments in Chile is illustrated by the events of the coup themselves, when the CIA used a rather curious type of psychological warfare ('controlled chaos'). A rumor was spread in Santiago that a brigade led by Prats (who was under house arrest at the time) was approaching the capital from the north to help the president, and that volunteer units were joining it. Allende's supporters in Santiago believed the lie and waited for the 'reinforcements' to arrive. Thus, the people behind the coup were able to avoid a major confrontation with Allende's loyalists in the capital and take control of the city, even though Allende had well-trained and highly organized groups of supporters both in Chile and in the neighboring countries.
Why was Salvador Allende so careless? Many researchers believe that he underestimated the risk of a coup because he himself belonged to the Chilean aristocracy and, by his own admission, was a Freemason. According to the Masonic moral code, Freemasons must not attack or harm 'their own'. Pinochet was also a Freemason, so Allende did not expect his 'brother' to move against him. Clearly, Allende misjudged Pinochet's loyalty. The Freemasons are not at the top of Western hierarchy. Allende's actions were damaging to the United States and its transnational corporations, and so he was doomed. Peaceful attempts at removing him through elections and strikes proved unsuccessful, so his opponents had no choice but to resort to extreme measures. The Popular Unity coalition was crushed with brutality and ruthlessness in order to send a clear message to the rest of the world.
Patria y Libertad. On July 30, 1971, US President Richard Nixon replaced Edward M. Korry with Nathaniel Davis on the post of the Ambassador to Chile. Having served as the Head of the Soviet Desk at the State Department in Washington, D.C. from 1956 to 1960, Davis was known as an 'expert on communist countries'. He had also been an envoy to Bulgaria and an ambassador to Guatemala. For his work in Guatemala, he became known as the 'father' of Mano Blanca ('White Hand'), a paramilitary organization that carried out terrorist attacks against the leftist movement. In addition to that, Davis was considered to be the mastermind behind the de facto intelligence organization called 'Peace Corps', which had hundreds of informants operating in Chile at the time of the coup. The Peace Corps acted so brazenly that in 1969, President of the United Trade Union of Chile MP Luis Figueroa openly accused the organization of spying.
On September 10, 1970, inspired by success of the White Hand, the CIA set up an organization in Chile called Patria y Libertad ('Fatherland and Liberty'). The organization had a formal leader, Pablo Rodríguez Grez. Its purpose was to unite Allende's various opponents. Paramilitary units were created; fighters were trained in hand-to-hand combat and taught to shoot. Military operations of Patria y Libertad were run by Roberto Thieme. Some training camps were set up outside Chile. For example, one camp was run by former Chilean Army Major Arturo Marshall in Viaca, thirty kilometers from La Paz. The camp reportedly trained up to 400 militants at a time. Iván Feldes, one of the Patria y Libertad leaders, was in charge of communications. He smuggled equipment into Chile that was used to intercept encrypted messages from all the three branches of the Armed Forces. It could also take down the entire internal communications network in the country whenever necessary. The movement was financed by Orlando Sáez, the president of the Chilean Industrialists' Association, and Benjamín Matte Larraín, a major landowner who represented the National Agricultural Association. Patria y Libertad fighters operated in close coordination with criminal groups.
Patria y Libertad organized street riots, attacked state offices, educational institutions, socialist party buildings. They assaulted communists, socialists and journalists expressing the interests of the Popular Unity. The organization openly used terrorist tactics. On June 17, 1973, they fired a machine gun at the Communist Party offices in Ñuñoa and attacked the Socialist Party building in Barrancas. On June 20, a bomb was detonated at the offices of the national TV station in Santiago. On June 26, terrorists opened fire targeting government buildings in Santiago. Similar incidents occurred almost every day: shootings, explosions, assaults, beatings, arson, etc. Militants blew up bridges, railroads, power substations and other critical infrastructure. Because of the blackouts, industrial refrigerators stopped working, and by August, the country had lost half of its harvested fruit and vegetables. The supply of food to the provinces was disrupted by acts of sabotage on roads. Truck drivers bringing food to working areas were attacked and murdered. All of this was done in preparation for the coup.
On June 29, Patria y Libertad militants rehearsed the coup. In the morning, several tanks, armored vehicles and trucks carrying soldiers left the base of the 2nd Armored Brigade and moved into Santiago. One of the tanks opened fire on the presidential palace when it reached Bulnes Square, while other vehicles continued towards the Ministry of Defense. An M4 Sherman tank approached the front of the building, climbed the steps, took down the front door and fired into the lobby. The incident was contained by the evening of the same day. The military prosecutor's office investigated the case and announced that Fatherland and Liberty was behind the events.
The figure of Pinochet was nothing but a smokescreen. All the planning was done by professionals at the CIA. The people pulling all the threads were members of the US National Security Council led by Henry Kissinger. Deane Roesch Hinton was in charge of sabotage operations and suppressing Chile's economy. He was promoted to Vice-Chairman of the Council on International Economic Policy in 1971. Working with Nathaniel Davis, Hinton orchestrated the 'counterrevolution' in Guatemala. Harry W. Shlaudeman was the second envoy at the American embassy in Chile. He had previously worked in Bogota, Bulgaria, and the Dominican Republic. Among the people also involved in arranging the coup were Daniel N. Arzac, James E. Anderson, John B. Tipton, Raymond Alfred Warren, Arnold M. Isaacs, Frederick W. Latrash, Joseph F. McManus, Keith W. Wheelock (in charge of Patria y Libertad operations), Donald H. Winters, and others.
Chile was the first country in the world to implement the ideas of the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize winner, Milton Friedman. Pinochet's key economic advisors were the so-called 'Chicago Boys', i.e. Friedman's followers. Chile was offered a stabilization program based on monetarist theory which was the basis of all IMF programs. Monetarists see the root of all problems in the excess money supply in circulation and the state policy of printing 'cheap money' which leads to inflation. To 'fix' to this situation, they propose reducing the amount of money in circulation through strict credit and fiscal policies. Budget deficit is reduced by cutting state programs, including social spending, investments, subsidies, etc. Too many experts of this kind have been meddling with Russia's economy, too. They see dramatic cuts of spending as the only solution. Meanwhile, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Hitler achieved great success by investing heavily in the development of infrastructure.
In Chile, the 'Chicago Boys' cut workers’ wages and reduced the number of people employed in the public sector. They put a stop on subsidies for state-owned enterprises. Education and health programs were cut off from public funding (which is what Russia's 'liberal fascists' probably dream about). State budget deficit was covered mainly by IMF loans. Emission of money was brought down to almost zero (in 1985, it amounted to 0.2% of the GDP).
Over one third of the population was driven into poverty. Social inequality and poverty rose dramatically. For example, the director of a paper and board company earned 4.5 million pesos a year, while a nurse made only 30,000 pesos. Economically, the country began to resemble a colony supplying raw materials for the needs of the West. Overburdened by foreign debt, Chile was essentially stripped of its national independence. It took just two decades to put Chile in a debt trap. From $3 billion in 1973, the country's foreign debt increased to $17 billion by 1982 and to $21 billion by 1993.
A time bomb was planted into the national economy in the form of a steep drop in the government spending on infrastructure such as roads, power lines, schools, hospitals, etc. Between 1973 and 1982, infrastructure development fell by 22%. In 1973, Chile was ahead of Latin America in terms of electricity production by 50%. However, 20 years later, the country’s power generation was up by mere 1%. Lack of investment in the electricity sector is one of the hallmarks of all neoliberal 'stabilization' programs – while in reality, it is a path towards degradation. This was, in essence, a nuclear time bomb planted at the very foundation of Chile's economy.
Initially, Washington planned to crush Allende by placing economic pressure on his government. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in December 1972, Allende said, "There have been efforts to isolate us from the world, strangle the economy and paralyze the sale of copper, our main export product, and keep us from access to sources of international financing. We realize that when we denounce the financial and economic blockade we’re dealing with, it is hard for the international public opinion and even for many of our compatriots to grasp what’s going on because it is nothing like open aggression publicly declared to the whole world. Quite on the contrary, it is a sneaky and secretive offensive, which is just as damaging to Chile."
Despite the rapid deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the country, massive strikes, and the so-called 'march of the empty pots,' Allende never lost control of the situation. The results of the March 1973 parliamentary elections indicated that he had the support of about 45% of the voters. It was then that the CIA decided to remove Allende by force.
Today, it is a well-documented and proven fact that Washington orchestrated the coup d'état in Chile. In 1998, the US National Security Agency declassified documents relating to Project FUBELT, which was a series of CIA operations aimed at overthrowing Salvador Allende. These included direct preparations for the September 1973 takeover of the country by a military junta under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet, as well as political and financial backing of the new regime. Documents reveal an unprecedented amount of effort and financial resources invested in the coup d'état.
June 1973 saw a failed coup attempt known as the 'tanquetazo'. The coup was thwarted by the troops loyal to Salvador Allende. General Carlos Prats González, one of the few military commanders considered 100% loyal to the president, was in charge of suppressing the insurgency. However, after the 'tanquetazo' coup was foiled, protests broke out against Prats in the army. The general, who served as Commander-in-Chief at the time, felt that he had lost the trust of his subordinates and resigned. He was replaced by General Augusto Pinochet who was also involved in suppressing the rebellion in June 1973.
The assault on La Moneda Palace lasted for several hours and involved military aviation. Eventually, the insurgents rushed into Allende's office and fired at him many times. However, the official announcement said that the president of Chile had committed suicide. For many years, the question Allende's death remained a controversy. It was not until 2011 that the truth was finally revealed following his exhumation. Unwilling to surrender, Allende shot himself, and the militants who broke into his office fired at his dead body.
The day of the coup in Chile saw large-scale crackdowns and arrests of left-wing activists. The country's national stadium, the Estadio Nacional, was turned into a concentration camp for thousands of people. Among those arrested was the famous poet, theater director and singer Víctor Jara. A few days later, he was found dead in a street in Santiago. An investigation determined that he had been brutally tortured and then murdered by the putschists. In July 2018, nine retired Chilean military officers were convicted of the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Víctor Jara. Most of them were sentenced to 18 years in prison. In addition, they were to pay about two million dollars to Jara's relatives. Two weeks after the coup, Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prize-winning Chilean poet and Allende's supporter died in a Santiago hospital. The results of a 2017 forensic examination suggest that Neruda was killed by an injection of an unidentified toxin.
The exact number of victims of the September 11, 1973 coup d'état and subsequent crackdowns carried out by Pinochet's junta remains unknown. Chile's National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture announced in 2011 that it was able to identify only 3,065 of the victims that died at the hands of the insurgents in the early days of the coup. Chile's leftists dispute the official figure: according to the lists of the deceased party activists who supported Allende, the number of wrongful deaths in September alone exceeded 12,000 people.
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