Politics | The ‘other’ 9/11

As the US marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Chileans commemorated their own similarly-dated tragedy: Pinochet's CIA-assisted 1973 coup against president Salvador Allende. Ceasefire's Sebastião Martins reflects on the meaning of the 'other' 9/11.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Monday, September 19, 2011 14:58 - 0 Comments

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By Sebastião Martins

‘Don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment […]’
Martin Luther King Jr.

Last Sunday marked a decade since the US’ 9/11, when ‘a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people’ in history, as President Obama put it, a few weeks ago, when announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Thousands of people gathered on the streets of New York, Washington and Shanksville, PA and the world seemed to join with them in grieving this most gruesome tragedy, ‘when morning turned into the blackest of nights’, as the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, stated in remembrance of the planes that crashed against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields of Pennsylvania (allegedly bound for the White House).

In New York, a large American flag was stretched at the Ground Zero Memorial, followed by a soprano rendition of the National Anthem, while President Obama and former President Bush pressed their right hands against their hearts and held their heads high; there was a back pipe parade, and after that a moment of silence at 8.46 am– when Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center -, marking ‘the start of something unimaginable for the United States’, as one BBC reporter put it during live coverage of the ceremony.

Not even Hollywood could have provided a more solemn and touching production. Throughout the day came Presidential speeches in the three cities:

‘We will not fear,’ Obama declared in New York, quoting Psalm 46. ‘There is a river’ and its ‘stream shall make glad the city of God.’ ‘The Lord of hosts is with us,’ he added, in typical ‘Manifest Destiny’ rhetoric that presumes US Foreign Policy enforces the will of God, while being in clear contradiction to the above excerpt from one of the iconic figures Obama frequently enjoys quoting and voice-mimicking, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Shanksville, PA, where Flight 93 crashed upon an open field, former President Bush said that ‘9/11 will never feel like history’ and ‘[we] did nothing to provoke or deserve the deliberate act of murder that al-Qaeda carried out. One of the lessons of 9/11 is that evil is real and so is courage.’

In Washington, Obama stated that ‘today it is worth remembering what has not changed: […] our timeless ideal that men and women should govern themselves.’

Also in Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared that ‘by these memorials to each victim, we pledge never forget the enemy that made this happen, why we fight them and why we will never stop fighting them to make sure that what happened here […] never happens again.’

So long as one is talking about Hollywood, it should also be said that it could not have provided a more one-sided production.

For, some 5,000 miles away, a nation of 15 million had the selfishness not to join hands with much of the world in lighting a candle for the Americans, but to remember its own 9/11 and the death and destruction it wrought – we speak of course of Chile and of Latin America’s most infamous military takeover by none other than Augusto Pinochet… and the CIA (1973).

Thousands of people took to the streets in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the military coup, which ended in clashes with government authorities, resulting in 12 arrests and at least one person injured.

Perhaps Chile may be forgiven for yet another flash of 9/11 egocentrism. Remembering Obama’s quoting of the Bible, surely the ‘Lord of hosts’ was with Americans and Chileans alike in remembering that tragic day, sharing His children’s separate grieves. After all, omnipresence must count for something…

Did Chileans do anything ‘to provoke or deserve the deliberate act[s] of murder carried out’ by Pinochet during Chile’s 9/11 and the terrorising 17-year regime which ensued, causing the deaths of an estimated 3,200 people?

Indeed they did – they had the effrontery of electing a President, Salvador Allende, who thought it was a good idea to fight epidemic poverty in his country by socialising the economy, enacting agricultural reforms and nationalizing industries such as copper mines and banks.

The US were most distraught, ‘not only about the loss to the copper companies [like Kenecott and Anaconda], but also about the precedent that the Chilean action would set for the nationalisation of other big American interests throughout the developing world’, as US ambassador to Chile Nathaniel Davis (1971-1973) put it at the time.

Allende’s political platform was evidently quite popular during the elections and, in that ‘timeless ideal that men and women should govern themselves’ as Obama said, he came to power, despite the CIA’s “sustained propaganda efforts, including financial support for major news media, against Allende and other Marxists”, as its own website recalls.

The Agency also acknowledges that it “funneled millions of dollars to strengthen opposition political parties” and “provided assistance to militant right-wing groups to undermine the President and create a tense environment. “

By electing Allende, Chileans made a dreadful mistake: the US’ ‘timeless ideal’ of self-determination is all very well, so long as the US approve, and they quite frankly did not in this case.

There was only one option left for US President Richard Nixon – to “make the economy scream” and “unseat” Allende by any means necessary, as a CIA declassified cable runs. He even offered US$10m for that purpose. And. indeed, Chile’s economy had been screaming and did scream even louder when Allende took power, much to the CIA’s credit in manipulating inflation (surpassed 200% by 1972).

By 1973, the time was ripe for a military coup and martial law. “Chile was on a dead end street,” runs another CIA cable. “Their rate of inflation was the worst in the history of the world”, it adds in almost self-congratulatory tone. Pinochet now had a second, more solid, pretext for deposing Allende.

The first – planned with the help of the CIA to several plotting groups – had allegedly been to “pose” an assassination attempt of General ´René Schneider (who staunchly opposed a coup) and pin it on Allende’s supporters. The plan did not work out as planned, but the major obstacle to the coup was nonetheless removed as Schneider was mortally wounded after being kidnapped by one of the groups.

On 11 September, ‘morning turned into the blackest of nights’ as the country was taken by stages. The port of Valparaíso was captured by the navy, while two other major cities fell to the police and the army who had also mobilised against the government. Tens of thousands of people were corralled into stadiums and islands, which worked pretty much like concentration camps where they were interrogated, tortured and several of them executed. In some places communications were cut to prevent any interference. Later that morning tanks besieged the Presidential Palace in Santiago, where Allende had moved.

Having refused an offer by military aide-de-camp General von Schowen to leave the country by plane, at 11.55 two Hawker Hunter jets fired rockets at the palace. At 1.30, the white flag of surrender was being waved. Allende allegedly committed suicide with an AK-47 between his legs, the roof of his skull flying off, as one witness account of the event goes.

The US were virtually unilateral in their recognition of the military coup as legitimate, and financial aid to Chile (i.e. Pinochet) resumed after being suspended during Allende’s presidency.

Chile’s democracy was thus smashed to the brink of oblivion, ushering a ruthless era, the consequences of which may best be surmised by an article from The Washington Post when Pinochet died in 2006 (I shall leave out the article’s ringing praise of Mr Pinochet’s economic achievements and his undying efforts to bring about what the newspaper described as Chile’s “vibrant democracy”, a clear demonstration of the love the US had for this particular dictator):

“Mr. Pinochet was brutal: More than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured, mostly in his first three years. Thousands of others spent years in exile.”

This quote should be supplemented with further information from the CIA’s declassified cables, which covered the widespread public executions in Chile – proving that it was aware of the atrocities –, namely immediately after the military coup. Between 11-30 September, some 320 people were summarily executed by regime forces.

Also, by the end of Pinochet’s regime over 40% of the population was living in poverty, a clear indicator that the General did indeed bring about what The Washington Post called a “vibrant democracy.”

Nonetheless, The Washington Post saw as beneficial the overall rise of the country’s economy, which was much due to the “Chicago Boys” – a group of some 25 Chilean economists who had post-graduated from the University of Chicago and were quite versed in the US’ principles of free market and neoliberalism. They assumed positions of great power in Pinochet’s government, thus preventing any Allende-esque economic theories from taking root in such a poverty-ridden country.

The web of connections between the US and Pinochet and his crimes grows wider if we consider that the head of Chile’s intelligence agency Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) between 1973 and 1977 – the secret police which enforced suppression of dissidence and torture as a common practice – was General Manuel Contreras, a CIA asset and a graduate from the US-based School of Americas, infamously known as the “School of Assassins.”

As the US’ 9/11 fosters the remembering of the new axis of evil – rogue state terrorism – and its grave implications in the 21st century, one cannot help but ask: was Pinochet a terrorist?

According to the US Code of Federal Regulations, terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

According to all counts of this definition, Pinochet did engage in terrorist acts, so grave in fact that they would probably make Osama bin Laden blush in his maritime grave.

Concurrently, just by looking at Chile, we can say that from 1973 onwards the US sponsored and supported Pinochet’s government and its terroris acts, engaging in terrorism through General Contreras and state-terrorism by association in furtherance of ‘political or social objectives’: to prevent Allende from staying in power and, consequently, preventing ‘the loss to copper companies’ and a successful Marxist narrative in Latin America.

The real difference between the US’ 9/11 and Chile’s is that the latter offers a real justification for invading Washington ‘to make sure that what happened […] never happens again,’ whereas the former simply became a false pretext to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

If indeed ‘God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment,’ surely He condemns the US for its active support for Pinochet’s bloody regime. Chile’s 9/11 and the atrocities and repression it paved with the US’ backing – which ‘will never feel like history’ to Chileans –should prompt us to remember how ‘evil is real’, as President Bush said, but also to reflect on how self-defeating the war on terror is for the West; on how morally hypocritical its message of peace and democracy is when coupled with terroristic coercive actions (according to the US’ own definition of ‘terrorism’) against carefully selected countries in the Middle East like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving out Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Yemen, Bahrain and other strategic allies.

As Obama said in his Middle East speech on 19 May 2011, ‘we will keep our commitments to friends and partners in the region.’ It is tough to get any clearer than that.

Obama was indeed right when he said that the US’ ‘timeless ideal that men and women should govern themselves’ has not changed. That is, of course, so long as the US approve a country’s right to authentic self-governance.

Sebastião Martins is an MPhil student at the University of Cambridge and a journalist for www.pulsamerica.co.uk, www.irlandeses.org and The Cambridge Student.

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