11 September 2013

Some Recent Chilean History

Las Fiestas Patrias are quickly approaching here.  It's a week of celebrations in relation to independence (1810 from Spain) and all things Chilean.  So I thought it would be fitting to discuss a little of this history, especially that which has so recently shaped the country.  

Like many other countries in the world, Chile was politically and socially restless in the 1960s.   Chile was not directly involved in the Cold War; however, the country definitely felt its affects in societal and political changes that came about during this time.  

In the presidential elections of 1964, the likely winner looked to be Salvador Allende, a socialist.  The U.S. could have none of this, so Lyndon Johnson, along with U.S. intelligence agencies, flooded a centrist candidate named Eduardo Frei Montalva with campaign funds.  Frei won the election going away.  

Both the CIA and the KGB had their hands all over the campaigns for the next election in 1970.  This Time, the CIA did not fund a specific candidate but worked to influence Chile's media and published anti-Allende propaganda.   The Soviets, were more direct in their funding, giving significant support to Allende during the popular election as well as during the congressional vote to ultimately select the president.  

Allende won the popular election on 4 September 1970.  There were 3 candidates, and he won over 36% of the votes.  Because he did not win an outright majority  (50% + 1 vote), the final decision was sent to congress.  

During the time between the popular vote and the congressional decision, the CIA began to plan a coup to overthrow Allende.  They assassinated the Commander and Chief of the Chilean Military (not the president like in the U.S.) René Schneider, in hopes to destabilize the country.  Schneider was a strong supporter of Allende, and with him in place, there could be no coup.  

The death of Schneider produced the opposite affect the CIA intended.  Congress finally voted in October 1970 to officially select Salvador Allende as president of Chile.  The people rallied around Allende in support and patriotism.  The man who replaced Schneider Carlos Prats was also a pro Allende man.  Like before, no coup could succeed with a pro-Allende military.  After significant pressure form the U.S. as well as growing political tensions in Chile, he resigned from the military in August 1973.  

An infamous name in Chile, Augusto Pinochet became Comandante en Jefe del Ejército de Chile in August 1973.  He was a conservative General and, therefore, opposed to Allende.  Less than a month after his promotion, he led a coup de'tat against the Allende government on 11 September 1973.  The Presidential Palace La Moneda was bombed and attacks by the military occurred throughout the country.  Official reports say Salvador Allende committed suicide, but this has been hotly contested by many leftist political parties; however, today, it's more widely accepted that he did commit suicide shorty after delivering his final speech to the Chilean people.  

11 September 1973 marked the beginning of a long, brutal dictatorship in Chile.  Augusto Pinochet set up concentration camps throughout the country, one of the biggest being Estadio Nacional (the national stadium) in Santiago which today is home to the Chilean National Soccer Team.  Many were executed - some on live TV, many were tortured, many simply disappeared.  

In the days immediately after the coup, the Chilean army went house to house (destroying, and tearing apart homes)  in search of weapons and any kind of dissenting material.  I've heard stories of families burning nearly every book they owned in order to try and save themselves. 

This long, dark dictatorship lasted until 1990, when Pinochet gave power back to a democratically elected government.  


Soldiers in el Estadio Nacional.  During the Pinochet dictatorship, the stadium was used as a concentration camp.  Scroll down to see the stadium today (photos from the football match).

Bombing of Presidential Palace La Moneda

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