PETER FROST looks back 45 years to an all-too-brief period of socialism in Chile – and its swift, bloody end.
The US, police force to the world, has always thought it had the divine right to decide on how the peoples of South America should be ruled.
Even before Salvador Allende was elected as the first ever Marxist president of Chile the CIA and its Chilean right-wing puppets were planning a coup.
In 1969, a year before Allende’s election, three Pentagon generals dined with five Chilean military officers in a private house in the suburbs of Washington.
When one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if Salvador Allende, were elected, General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.”
So who was this man who terrified the US and its Chilean lackeys?
Allende was born in Valparaiso in 1903. While still a medical student he studied Marxism and became involved in radical politics. He was arrested several times while at university.
In 1933 Allende helped to found the Chilean Socialist Party. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1937 and served in the government as minister of health (1939-41). He was also senator between 1945 and 1970.
Allende stood for president in 1952, 1958 and 1964, gaining support but failing to win.
Then 45 years ago, in November 1970, he was elected president of Chile.
His new Socialist government faced huge economic problems. Inflation was running at 30 per cent and one in five of the male adult population were unemployed.
Half of Chile’s children under 15 suffered from malnutrition.
Allende introduced a radical socialist programme to redistribute wealth and land. He introduced wage increases of around 40 per cent. At the same time companies were not allowed to increase prices.
Chile’s main industry, the mining and refining of copper, was nationalised alongside the banks.
The government restored diplomatic relations with China and the German Democratic Republic.
Five thousand miles away in Washington you could hear the angry roars. Fidel Castro in Cuba was bad enough but a democratically elected socialist in South America was just too much to take.
The CIA moved into action. Top operatives were smuggled into Chile and local right-wing military officers were offered money and support.
A special task force was organised with only one order: remove Allende.
The CIA attempted to persuade Chile’s chief of staff, General Rene Schneider, to help. He refused and on October 22 1970 his car was ambushed.
Schneider drew a gun to defend himself, and was shot point-blank several times. He was rushed to hospital, but he died three days later.
Military courts in Chile found that Schneider’s death was caused by two CIA-sponsored military groups.
CIA documents now available show that as early as September, before the election, president Richard Nixon asked Henry Kissinger planned to organise a coup against any Allende government.
Another CIA document, written just after the election, said: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.
“It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the United States government and American hand be well hidden.”
Two CIA-backed groups — one calling itself Order and Freedom, another Common Protection and Sovereignty — started an arson campaign in Santiago. Carlos Prats, head of the Chilean army, resigned after a CIA-inspired smear campaign.
Allende and his socialist government struggled on until September 11 1973, when a CIA-backed and funded military coup removed his government from power.
He fought till the end. He died with an AK47 rifle, a gift from Fidel Castro, in his hands in the heroic fighting in the presidential palace in Santiago.
He would be replaced by the fascist dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Thousands of Chile’s democrats, trade unionists and socialists would be rounded up, imprisoned and executed.
Dictator Pinochet would become Margaret Thatcher’s darling. When he was finally placed under house arrest in Britain in October 1998, Thatcher got her public relations hack Patrick Robertson to lead the opposition to his being bought to justice.
Pinochet was eventually released in March 2000 on medical grounds by the home secretary Jack Straw without facing trial. Straw had overruled a House of Lords decision to extradite Pinochet to face trial in Spain.
He did come to justice in Chile but died during the trial. Evidence revealed not just human rights offences but also crimes including fraud, theft and money laundering.
Today the dream of a democratic socialist Chile that Allende started lives on but the fight continues. In January 2006 Chileans elected their first female president, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, of the Socialist Party.
In January 2010 Chilean elected Sebastian Pinera as the first right-wing president in 20 years. His election campaign cost nearly $14 million. Then in March last year socialist Michelle Bachelet returned to office. The spirit of Allende survives in Chile today.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 4 December 2015