The Overthrow of Salvador Allende

Every year on 9/11, I publish a short piece on the American-inspired overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende which took place on 11th September, 1973 (the most recent post was here).

For years we have known that the Americans were behind the coup led by the fascist Pinochet which caused the death of thousands of Chileans in the military action and in the violent repression that followed for years thereafter. It is the primary reason — along with the destruction of Cambodia and Laos — that I consider Henry Kissinger to be a major war criminal.

Now, 50 years after Nixon declared Allende’s overthrow to be national US policy, the National Security Archive (NSA) has released a raft of documents showing the detailed development of the coup from before that fateful CIA meeting in September 1970 to the event itself three years later.  The documents have been analyzed in an article entitled Extreme Option: Overthrow Allende on the NSA website.

““These documents provide a roadmap of U.S. coup-plotting and regime change,” notes Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive’s Chile project and is the author of The Pinochet File. “The September 15, 1970, Oval Office meeting marked the first major step in undermining Chilean democracy and supporting the advent of a military dictatorship.”

The documents show that the US had begun planning for a coup earlier in the summer and had hoped to engage then-President Frei to cancel the elections that would bring Allende to power. That maneuver failed, Six days before Nixon’s pronouncement::

“William Broe, the head of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere division, instructed Santiago station chief Henry Hecksher to initiate “the operational task of establishing those direct contacts with the Chilean military which … could be used to stimulate a golpe if and when a decision were made to do so.”  And “within days of Nixon’s September 15 directive, CIA headquarters began transmitting instructions for the “creation of coup climate” through “economic warfare,” “political warfare” and “psychological warfare.”

The documents show clearly that most seasoned observers — CIA, State Department, embassy, and NSC personnel — opposed the coup as too risky to America’s reputation.

“Most courageously, [Kissinger’s deputy at NSC Viron] Vaky questioned whether the threat of an Allende government really outweighed the dangers and risks of the chain of events U.S. intervention could set in motion. He advised Kissinger on the answer: What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets .… If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat to us, e.g. to our survival. Is Allende a mortal threat to the U.S.? It is hard to argue this.”

Kissinger rejected all the arguments, and the murderous trail continued.

“To instigate a coup CIA soon focused on providing guns, funds, and even life insurance policies for Chilean military operatives to remove the commander-in-chief of the Chilean armed forces, General Rene Schneider, who opposed a golpe. On October 22, 1970, Schneider was intercepted and shot on his way to work; he died the next day.”

Less than three years later, Allende himself was dead, and the Chilean Army had taken control of the country.  The coup leader Auguste Pinochet would be a favoured client of the US for many years to come.

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