Chile: 48 Years after the Military Coup, Allende’s Star Still Shines Brightly

September 11, 2021

Photo: Memoria Chilena

The political and human thought of Salvador Allende continues to be valid for the people of Latin America and the world, who struggle today for a more just and equitable society.

Salvador Allende is one of the most important and remembered personalities in the history of Chile. He was elected president of that country in 1970 to serve until 1976, but on September 11, 1973, Augusto Pinochet – in complicity with the United States – led a civilian-military coup against his government. That morning, President Allende died in the palace of La Moneda defending “the mandate of the people”, as he said in his last words.

Portrait of a leader

Salvador Allende was born on June 26, 1908, into a middle-class family in Valparaíso. As a child he traveled around the country because of the work activities of his father, a lawyer who held several political positions in Chile.

In 1924 he entered the University of Chile to study medicine. Driven by his deep social vocation, in 1929 he joined the university political group “Avance”, being an important student referent. At the age of 25 he became the first regional secretary of the Socialist Party of Chile.

After obtaining his degree as a surgeon, Salvador dedicated himself to social medicine, leaving as his legacy several works on public health. Before he was 30 years old, he was elected Deputy for Valparaíso and Quillota.

Under the government of Chilean President Pedro Aguirre Cerda, he served as Minister of Health. In 1945, he was elected Senator, becoming president of the upper house of Congress.

In 1951, together with communists, doctrinaire radicals and the socialist left, he participated in the founding of the National People’s Front (FRENAP), an alliance described as a “conscience on the march”. A year later, he ran for president for the first time.

After three attempts, on September 4, 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, supported by the historic coalition of left-wing parties called “Unidad Popular” (Popular Unity).

History is made by the people

That event marked the country and Chilean society, becoming to this day, for many of the followers of his legacy, the most joyful day in the nation’s history. However, his triumph would also mean the beginning of a political persecution that not only ended the mandate of the people, but also deeply damaged several generations, to this day.

His conviction that socialism could be built on the basis of democratic traditions, in what would be defined as the Chilean way to socialism, promoted important political, economic and social reforms that transformed the country, such as the nationalization of large copper mining and the deepening of the agrarian reform.

During the Popular Unity, Chilean culture flourished profoundly in political and artistic references such as the singer-songwriter Victor Jara (assassinated by the dictatorship on September 16, 1973) or the poet Nobel Prize for Literature 1971, Pablo Neruda, who died on September 23, besieged by an illness that was accelerated by the sadness of the coup d’état, twelve days before his death.

His speech and his revolutionary measures were openly opposed to the order established by the United States in the region and affected the interests of the oligarchy and the right-wing sectors of the country, who began a campaign of economic destabilization against the government.

The United States and Pinochet

The U.S. empire used all available resources to put an end to Allende’s Popular Unity. The North American country promoted and financed the Chilean opposition which, in turn, promoted actions such as transport strikes, induced food shortages and general strikes.

In the report “CIA Activities in Chile”, one can read: “The CIA also provided assistance to extreme right-wing militant groups to weaken the President and generate an atmosphere of tension”.

On September 11, 1970, the Chilean armed forces, under the command of the then commander-in-chief of the army, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, and with the help of the United States, carried out a civilian-military coup against the government of Salvador Allende.

The violence generated that Tuesday morning was so aggressive that it practically set the tone for the next few years for Chile: a country subjected to one of the bloodiest dictatorships in Latin America.

On that September 11, the government palace, known as “La Moneda”, was bombed by planes and tanks, leaving it absolutely destroyed and whose subsequent reconstruction took years.

President Salvador Allende was inside the palace. Despite the attempts of his family and his closest friends and political circle to take him to a safe place, the president did not want to leave his place. He also refused Pinochet’s offer to “surrender” and board a plane out of the country. (Later recordings would give away the true intentions of the military man, who intended to shoot down the aircraft in mid-flight).

“I am not going to resign. I will pay with my life for the loyalty of the people” he said in his last words, recorded forever in a historic speech broadcast by Radio Magalles.

He took refuge in La Moneda, and mounted on his shoulder the rifle that his friend Fidel Castro had given him months before. He died, weapon in hand, fighting the military who betrayed the homeland.

His death is still girded with doubts. The theory that he committed suicide with his own rifle when he was surrounded by the coup perpetrators is the most popular theory, however, there are versions that indicate that he was assassinated in his presidential office while repelling the attacks.

The end of his government meant the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted 17 years and left more than 3,000 people disappeared and politically executed, in addition to thousands of others tortured, exiled and exonerated.

To this day, the Chilean people pay tribute year after year to his life, his work, his legacy and his teachings, a flag of struggle for popular causes. Many national and international artists have dedicated heartfelt tributes to him, remembering him in their creations.

Some of them are the poet Mario Benedetti with “Hombre de la paz”, the Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodríguez, “Santiago de Chile” or the Venezuelan singer-songwriter Alí Primera with “Canción para los valientes”.

“Workers of my homeland, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this gray and bitter moment in which betrayal intends to impose itself. Keep on knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where the free man will pass, to build a better society.

Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!

These are my last words and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice and treason”.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano