September 11, 2023
By Marc Cooper
I begin this link-laden note to you with a heartfelt explanation. I am fully aware that many of you who have subscribed and supported the Coop Scoop did not do so because you were interested only in Chile and its political history and yet you have been showered with a lot of related content over the past months. Bear with me a moment.
Fifty years ago today the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a brutal military coup that led to a 17 year long dictatorship. It took many lives and changed Chile forever.
It also changed me forever and that is why I ask your indulgence in producing so much content about Chile in this period. I was 22 years old. I was working as translator to Salvador Allende. My office was in the Palacia Moneda that was bombarded and rocketed by the Chilean Air Force. I went into hiding and was able to escape Chile 8 days after the coup thanks to the Mexican embassy and the United Nations.
I share with everybody else who survived those times a certain lingering and permanent trauma. For us, September 11, 1973 is the seminal day of our lives. We divide our lives in two. Before the Coup. After the Coup. And the publication of all this content definitely has a cathartic aspect.
With the 50th anniversary of the coup falling this year, this week, today, many of us felt compelled to get as much of this story out into the world as possible. As some of you know I have been compiling a “dig” — a collection— of Chile content on Truthdig.com and sharing some of it here.
Today I am going to post all the links in I can here from my work and others regarding this 50th anniversary. Indulge me this one time. I might very well post another piece or two here in the coming days about the fall out from the anniversary but as of tomorrow I shift my focus back to domestic politics and will not overwhelm you much more with Chile content. I promise.
That said… here is everything you need to read and know about Chile as it marks the 50th anniversary of the coup in Chile. Thanks for your support and indulgence.
Chilean Coup 1973: An Eyewitness History An hour long intimate interview with me done this week by British journalist Michael Goldfarb.
Talking Chile with Suzi Weissman. Podcast with me recorded this week.
Chile’s Utopia Has Been Postponed. This is the home page of my web package on Truthdig.com. This page aggregated MOST of what I produced this year on Chile and is almost a one-stop resource.
You can search thru the above link for individual stories but here I will break some out for you.
If Neoliberalism Was Born in Chile, Will It Die There? A podcast interview with me conducted earlier this year.
50 Years After His Coup: The Ghost of Pinochet Still Stalks Chile. The dead weight of Pinochet’s legacy on contemporary Chile. This story was published 10 days ago.
The First Year of leftist President Gabriel Boric and How the Right Has Become Ascendant. Deeply reported this year during a month in Chile, I look at how the political situation in Chile has become inverted. A general uprising in 2019. A leftist government elected in 2021. And in 2023 the Right starts calling the shots.
Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Memoir. An excerpt from my book of the same title. This chapter details how I survived the coup itself and got out.
Two Allende Supporters, Two Nights in Jail and a Gun An essay detailing how I and writer Ariel Dorfman on separate occasions were arrested briefly during the last days of the Allende government and how we were treated by police. Not what you expect.
The Radical Walls of Santiago A photo/essay about the political murals of Santiago photographed by yours truly.
Suggested Books and Readings:
Before I list some books I STRONGLY recommend reading the latest essay by Ariel Dorfman in the New York Review of Books. If you are not a subscriber it’s well worth the 1$ to open it.
The below piece by my long time colleague John Dinges is also worth your time.
— First Person Singular: An Internationalist in Chile Fifty Years Ago By John Dinges, The Progressive
Now.. some books.
— Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir by Marc Cooper
— The Pinochet File by Peter Kornbluh
— The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. By John Dinges
Marc Cooper: What The Final days of Allende Felt Like
I don’t have a link for this piece yet as it is being translated into Spanish for publication in Chile and Latin America. But I am going to further abuse the space offered by my newsletter to publish the entire (unedited) text. Here it is. And, yes, after this week we resume normal coverage of Donald Trump’s assault on reason and democracy.
Chile 1973: The Final Days
By Marc Cooper
A couple of weeks before the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende, who I was working for as his translator for publication, an Argentine friend who had earlier been my room mate came over to visit. His nome de guerre was Django. He had been a guerrilla fighter in the Argentine ERP and was exiled in Chile. His sister, who also wound up in Chile, had been one of the more celebrated Argentine political prisoners and she also had roomed at my apartment for a while.
Django sat, gazing out rather ruefully, over the sprawl of Santiago from my 17th floor living room window. “Esto se va a la mierda,” he told me. “Son los ultimos dias.” And with that he pulled a Browning 9mm semi automatic out from his jacket and said, adamantly: “They are not taking me alive. I have already checked out the Swedish Embassy and if I have to I will shoot my way into it when the coup comes.”
It was not a great shock at that point to hear anybody discuss the possibility or probability of a coup. It’s just that nobody, at least nobody I knew, had any idea when it would come or what it would it look like. I was among the naïve and the romantic who on the one hand believed an armed confrontation was probable and I assumed –or at least wished—that the Armed Forces would split and that a good number of the working class recruits would join the other side of the barricades and defend the democratic government against fascists.
As it turned out, there were never any barricades to join and while some pockets of the Army and Navy were ready to resist the coup, they were extinguished with great dispatch and never got any traction.
It seemed to me at the time, to many others and to the Armed Forces that the die was cast for the overthrow of Allende some weeks earlier. On June 29 1973, one small tank regiment, backed by a neo-fascist civilian group, staged a Keystone Kops attempted coup that went nowhere fast but did manage to kill 22 people. While the movement to crush the attempt was underway, Allende took to the airwaves and called upon workers to seize and occupy their workplaces. Allende no doubt meant this as a temporary defensive measure, but the Chilean workers didn’t. In the days and weeks following they refused to give back any factories and the political opposition was talking more openly about the coup. Chile’s productive forces were in the hands of organized but unarmed workers.
Then there was the faction of the Popular Unity government, the most moderate faction, led by the Chilean Communist Party, who seemed to believe that a coup, or a civil war, could be prevented by a chorus of slogans. So for weeks we were inundated with Communist propaganda repeating No No No a La Guerra Civil, No! This reached some rather tragicomic proportions when the CP organized a petition campaign against civil war (though I am not sure who those pleas were addressed to). Then the CP organized a TV marathon on Channel 9 of the University of Chile, again calling on people to oppose civil war. It made little sense to me.
Around that time, I paid a lunch visit to the legendary exiled Peruvian revolutionary Hugo Blanco to get his view on the impending clash. He was direct and simple, “If you think it is going to rain,” he said. “It’s probably a good idea to get some umbrellas.”
President Allende and his divided cabinet did have a strategy to de-escalate. After the failed June 29 coup attempt, Allende called upon the center—right (but moving ever rightward) Christian Democratic Party to commence a dialogue with the left with the aim of eventually entering as a minority partner in the government to broaden its base and stabilize the situation. Allende pushed hard for this. So did the Communists. But the left wing of Allende’s Socialist Party, another party called MAPU and the extra-parliamentary MIR opposed any dialogue and any compromise and instead called for re-enforcing organs of “popular power” or self-government and self-defense. I was solidly in this faction and to be clinical about it, the only firearm I possessed was an Argentine .22 six shooter that I paid $6 for and probably would have blown up I had ever pulled the trigger.
In the end, the debate over compromise was all moot. After a sputtering beginning, the Christian Democrats broke off talks. A few days later, in August 22nd, they signed a a joint public declaration with the extreme right National Party calling upon the military to take out the Allende government. When the pro-democracy Commander in Chief of the Army, Carlos Prats, was forced to resign after he lost confidence of the corps of generals, it was obvious that a coup was right around the corner.
But what to do?
On September 4, 1973 –the third anniversary of Allende’s election and one week before the coup—the left made its last great public appearance. As many as a million Chileans paraded for hours on end late into the night to the Moneda Palace as Allende waved from a balcony as they passed by. The chants were almost uniform: Allende, Allende, El Pueblo Te Defiende! El Pueblo Armado Jamas Sera Aplastado! Queremos Armas!
It was both a heroic and a pathetic scene. Heroic because here was Chile’s organized and massive left more than ready to fight and, yet, everybody knew there were no guns and no way to arm tens of thousands of workers. A week later the coup crushed the life out of the previous three years of the Chilean Revolution and the previous century of democratic rule.
Allende was not a fool. He was not indifferent to the risk he was taking. Nor was he naïve about what the consequences of failure would mean. Those who don’t live in Chile have often been quick to slam Allende, asking why he did not arm the workers. I am usually dumbfounded by such an enormously stupid question that generally comes from U.S. based café revolutionaries. None of these critics could ever tell you three important details about such a “plan:” 1) Where were those million guns supposed to come from? How was the government supposed to acquire them without the military noticing? 2) How do you distribute and train those you armed. 3) And how do you defeat a professional and highly trained Army, Air Force, Navy and national militarized police especially when they know you are arming up and they want to strike first?
More to the point: peaceful revolution was not a tactical choice for Allende. It was his life’s work and commitment. He first ran for president in 1958. The parties that brought him to power had spent decades working and supporting the system. And so it was for the two mainstays of his coalition – the Communists and the Socialists (even if the latter took on a more radical pose in the final year). Allende functioned inside the parameters of the Cold War so he was not about to come out publicly and criticize the then-Stalinist states for being anti-democratic. But he made his own commitment to democracy an absolute value. And he should be admired, respected and celebrated for that as there are far too many leftists willing to condone the oppression and repression that was not only a trademark of the Soviet Union and China but also of Cuba and Vietnam.
After 50 years of reflection I have arrived at the same conclusion of many of my former friends and comrades who shared my no compromise view of 1973. Allende had it right. He was elected with 35% of the vote. Almost three yrs later in bi-elections he won an amazing 44% in the midst of hyper inflation and political chaos. But the Left was still a minority. And it meant that if guns had magically appeared, the only path to victory and stability would have been one more left wing dictatorship –something alien to Allende’s character and desires. The only way out in 1973 was some sort of compromise with the Christian Democrats to broaden the base of the government and de-escalate. Those of us who argued against were naïve. The Communists supported dialogue and while Allende was programmatically en sync with the CP he was not aligned with them ideologically and, frankly, they were a tough and sectarian group to get along with. Also. I, for one, am not willing to vouch for what kind of post-revolutionary society they aspired to as it was probably not quite the same as Allende’s.
One can say that Salvador Allende was the veritable father of revolutionary democratic socialism, long before the emergence of its current, more moderate incarnation. For that he should be center stage in the pantheon of Great Leftist Statesmen.
P.S. Ten years after the coup I found myself in Stockholm for a few days. I checked the phone book and there was Django’s number and address. He had made it. -++++