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The Forgotten September 11: Uncovering Chile’s Dark History

It’s the 22nd anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks in a few days. Trials related to these attacks carried out by the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization are ongoing, and many unanswered questions still linger.

This event, which had a profound impact on the world, has also resulted in many painful consequences, some of which continue to affect us today. After these attacks connected to the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, the world is no longer the same.

The September 11, 2001 attacks that struck at the heart of the United States were not the first series of events to influence the future of the world, although the United States may not admit it. The events in the pages of history reveal this reality.

In 1976, U.S. Senator Frank Church made the following statement: “Like Caesar watching over his distant colonies, Nixon said that the election of the government by the Chileans for the President of the United States was unacceptable. The White House’s position was, ‘If I can’t send marines after Vietnam, then I’ll send the CIA.'”

The country where the CIA was sent was Chile, and the September 11, 1973 coup was the overthrow of the democratic socialist government led by Salvador Allende in Chile. Known as the first Marxist president, Allende had been in political tension with the Chilean National Congress, and he also faced economic sanctions imposed by U.S. President Richard Nixon.

On September 11, 1973, a group of soldiers led by General Augusto Pinochet seized power in a coup, putting an end to civilian rule.

CIA acknowledged its role in the kidnapping of a senior general in 1970 who had refused to call the army to prevent Allende from taking office. Documents indicating that Nixon considered Allende a dangerous communist had appeared in the American public. These documents revealed that the U.S. government was aware of the plans to overthrow the elected government of Allende.

Historian Peter Winn is one of the individuals who provide “strong evidence” that the U.S. was complicit in the coup that took place on September 11, 1973, in Santiago. Dark events surround the Chilean armed forces’ coup in Santiago on September 11, 1973.

The U.S. had indirectly involved itself in the military coup it had started inciting three years before. Military intervention began even before the 1970 elections when Salvador Allende, the Socialist Party presidential candidate, was joking about his opponent Allende on the campaign trail, saying, “Here lies … the future president of Chile” on a gravestone.

Even before the elections, there were signs of a wind of change. Henry Kissinger, the man responsible for foreign policy in the Nixon administration, said, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

The U.S. had a hand in many events that were thought to involve secret regime changes in the 20th and 21st centuries, not only in Chile. Some of these are listed as follows:

  • 1948-1960 Italy
  • March 1949 Syrian coup
  • 1949-1953 Albania
  • 1953 Iran coup
  • 1954 Guatemala coup
  • 1956-57 Syrian Crisis
  • 1957-58 Indonesian revolt
  • 1959 Assassination attempts on Fidel Castro
  • 1959 Cambodia, Bangkok
  • 1960 Congo coup
  • 1961 Cuba, Bay of Pigs invasion
  • 1961 Cuba, Operation Mongoose
  • 1961 Dominican Republic
  • 1963 South Vietnam coup
  • 1964 Brazil coup
  • 1965–66 Indonesia
  • 1966 Ghana coup
  • 1971 Bolivia coup
  • 1970-73 Chile
  • 1976 Argentina coup
  • 1979 El Salvador coup
  • 1979-89 Afghanistan, Cyclone Operation
  • 1980-92 Angola
  • 1981-87 Nicaragua, Contras
  • 1982 Chad
  • 1996 Iraq
  • 2012-17 Syria

When the voters brought Allende to power, the U.S. efforts were aimed at preventing the parliament from approving his presidency. The best option on the table was a military coup. But army commander René Schneider was in favor of democracy. This objection led to a CIA-backed kidnapping attempt, which ended with Schneider’s assassination. The Chilean Congress had approved Allende’s presidency.

Washington activated its most potent weapon, economic sanctions. It aimed to strangle the economy, especially with a nationalization plan that targeted multinational corporations and private property. Many U.S. companies had set their sights on Chile’s natural resources and infrastructure. What happened in Chile was worse than the revolutionary puzzle in Cuba a decade earlier. Washington’s fear was that socialism obtained through elections could inspire change not only in Latin America but also in many parts of the world.

The Nixon administration believed that this success needed to be stopped urgently. Nixon had sworn to use his most significant weapon, economic sanctions, to the fullest.

Allende managed to survive despite facing strikes, protests, and acts of violence throughout his three years in office. A military operation was needed to overthrow him. Just a few days before September 11, the power struggle within the army came to an end when the newly appointed commander switched sides.

The new commander was General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile with a dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. He served as the chief commander of the Chilean army from 1973 to 1998 and as the president of the Chilean Junta Government from 1973 to 1981.

General Pinochet had removed President Salvador Allende from power through a military coup. During his tenure, he was infamous for sexual assault and numerous acts of torture. His orders led to mass killings, and even after 50 years, the remains of thousands of his victims are still being sought.

Allende did not fit the revolutionary image in people’s minds. Biographies describe him more as a country doctor than a politician. Faced with warnings to surrender or resign, he mocked those who called him to surrender. He said that traitors wouldn’t understand honorable people.

Allende declared his determination to resist to the end in his last speech to the people on the morning of September 11, 1973. He wrote once, “Chilean democracy is the conquest of all the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of exploiting classes. It will be defended by those who imposed it through generations of sacrifices… I reiterate my decision to develop democracy and the rule of law seriously.”

Wearing a helmet and holding an automatic weapon, he took a machine gun in his hand. The weapon he held was a gift from Fidel Castro, who had recommended arming his supporters a few years earlier.

While much of the Americas fell under U.S.-backed military rule, on the threshold of the 21st century, interesting alternatives to neocolonial and neoliberal orders emerged. At least in Chile, people still hope that the heroism of Allende is stronger than those with military obsessions like Pinochet.

While other countries in the region suffered under military juntas, Chile had previously been seen as a symbol of democracy and political stability in South America. When we hear “September 11,” aside from the terrorists who hijacked planes to the Twin Towers, there are other September 11ths hidden in the pages of history, where dark games were played. The Chilean coup is also referred to as the “other September 11” because it happened on the same date as the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs. He serves as the Foreign Relations Director of the International Journalists Association e.V. and holds the position of Editor-in-Chief at Journalist Post.


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