THE US government was horrified at the prospect of Allende heading a left wing government in Chile. There were over 100 US multinationals who had investments worth over $1 billion in Chile. Chile received more US aid per head than any other country in the western hemisphere.
US president Nixon's sidekick was Henry Kissinger. He was Nixon's national security organiser and later became US Secretary of State. Kissinger 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.' Documents released from the US National Security Archives show that the US did not 'stand by'.
An 'eyes only, restricted handling, secret' message was sent from CIA headquarters to the US station chief in Santiago on 16 October 1970. It read, 'It is the firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup... Please review all your present and possibly new activities to include propaganda, black operations, surfacing of intelligence or disinformation, personal contacts, or anything else your imagination can conjure.'
It added that 'it is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so the United States government hand be well hidden.' Richard Helms, the CIA's director, jotted down his notes of the first crisis meeting between Nixon and Kissinger after Allende's election. They read, 'Not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy. $10,000,000 available, more if necessary. Full time job, best men we have. Game plan. Make the economy scream.'
Nixon told Helms the CIA was to 'play a direct role in organising a military coup d'etat in Chile to prevent Allende's succession to the presidency'. So a secret 'strategy of destabilisation, kidnap and assassination, designed to provoke a military coup' was set up. A plot was hatched to kidnap General Schneider, commander in chief of Chile's army, and lay the blame on Allende's supporters.
But Schneider opposed military intervention against the government. The generals shot him dead. This lead to a wave of outrage across Chile, which ensured Allende was installed as Chile's president. Over the next three years there were five more attempts to overthrow Allende. The US also used its economic might to put pressure on Allende. General Pinochet succeeded in getting rid of Allende's government in September 1973.
Pinochet's forces unleashed six months of bloodshed to impose his rule. The US backed him throughout his 17 years as dictator. Kissinger met him in June 1976 in Santiago, three years into his brutal rule. He told Pinochet, 'In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. I think that the previous government was headed towards communism. We wish your government well.'
He even added, 'My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left wing groups around the world.' Pinochet became a leading figure in Operation Condor, which the CIA helped set up in 1974.
It involved the assassination and murder of trade unionists and those opposed to the repressive regimes in Latin America.
Films and books
There are some excellent films and books available on the coup in Chile.
Missing Gripping film starring Jack Lemmon telling the story of the murder of US citizen Charles Horman and his father's battle with the US authorities to get the truth.
The Battle of Chile Brilliant film showing the final three months before the coup. It shows workers discussing what they should do as the military prepares for the coup.
Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Chile By Mike Gonzalez Accessible pamphlet-an excellent place to start reading about the political importance of the events in Chile.
Victor: An Unfinished Song By Joan Jara Moving story of the life of the Chilean folksinger Victor Jara, who was murdered by the military in 1973.
House of the Spirits By Isabel Allende Novel by Salvador Allende's niece which includes a very powerful description of the coup.