The end of the “second Cuba”. Nikola Krastev – on the 50th anniversary of the putsch in Chile

My peers well remember the advertising stands near the vegetable store on Rakovska Street in the center of Sofia. In the early 1970s, the prevailing theme was American aggression in Vietnam. From large black-and-white photographs, infantrymen from Texas, stuck in the swamps of the Mekong, looked at us. Next to them hovered the “Cobra” helicopters, which a few years later we saw in Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Today”. However, in the fall of 1973, Chile – a distant country that snakes like a snake on the map – began to dominate not only the billboards, but also the news broadcasts of Bulgarian radio and television. A real drama unfolded on the TV screen, which the propaganda department of the Bulgarian Communist Party ordered to cover as a matter of priority. Tanks in the center of Santiago fired to defeat nearby buildings. Entire floors were scattered with clouds of white dust, and quickly advancing soldiers in helmets and machine guns drove the frightened people out into the street. Machine guns led, corpses lay under the trees. Then, for several months, we were followed by footage from the national stadium, where the junta led by Pinochet drove the supporters of the former president Salvador Allende and everyone who disagreed with the new regime. Rumors began to spread about the severed fingers of folk singer Viktor Hara.

Later it turned out that the fingers were not actually severed, but one of the guards in a rage stomped on the guitarist’s hands with his boots and broke his knuckles. After that, the guards put a revolver to Khara’s temple and started playing Russian roulette. The third click was fatal. Only the other day, at the end of August 2023, the Supreme Court of Chile issued the final verdict in the case of the murder of Hara, whose bullet-riddled body was thrown into the street and after whose name the same stadium is now named.

The fall of the Allende government put an end to the idea of ​​a second Cuba in Latin America – an idea on which the USSR made a big bet

At that time, a photo of General Augusto Pinochet made an indelible impression on me. The fixed gaze of the 58-year-old head of the junta pierced the soul. Chekannye cherty faces, resolute posture – everything spoke of the fact that this man will stop at nothing. The image of Pinochet sharply contrasted with the tired, haggard face of the ousted 65-year-old Allende, who did not expect the betrayal of the general. After all, just two weeks before the coup, after three hours of face-to-face talks, Allende appointed Pinochet as commander of the ground forces.

The fall of the Allende government put an end to the idea of ​​a second Cuba in Latin America – an idea on which the USSR made a big bet. A deep split in Chilean society and the work of American special services bore fruit.

GDR stamp with portrait of Allende

GDR stamp with portrait of Allende

Allende was in the center of attention of the CIA long before his election as president in 1970. His “Chilean Road to Socialism” was considered a direct threat to American interests in the region. It should be noted that, despite the shades of Marxism-Leninism in his political credo, Allende tried – at least at the beginning of his presidency – to maintain balanced relations with both the Soviet Union and the United States.

Fidel Castro, who visited Chile immediately after the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1971, gave an interesting description of Allende. According to Castro, “Marxism is a revolution of production, and Allende’s program is a revolution of consumerism.” El Comandante was critical of Allende’s social programs, as he considered them not radical enough. The recognition of the Castro regime by the Allende government was a serious political step, since the decision was made within the Organization of American States not to recognize Cuba. At that time, only Mexico and Canada among the American states recognized Castro’s government. The Cuban leader flew in for a week, but he liked it so much in Chile that he spent a whole month there. At that time, Allende energetically promoted social programs to improve the well-being of the poor. These programs include the provision of free milk for students up to 14 years of age, and then free meals for students and pregnant women; the introduction of free health care and education, the minimum wage, the indexation of pensions, which practically tripled them, the acceleration of the nationalization program of farms with an area of ​​more than 80 hectares. Housing construction on an unprecedented scale began in the country, and the policy of nationalization of large industrial sectors, including the mining (copper) and banking industries, was actively pursued, which greatly affected the interests of American companies in Chile.

Although these social reforms gave positive results in the first year of Allende’s presidency, the galloping inflation of the Chilean peso and the increasing imbalance in various sectors of the economy quickly led to an increase in social tension. In October 1972, Chile was paralyzed by m strikes, and the president entered into an open conflict with the parliament, where his socialist experiments were perceived far less enthusiastically than in the slums of large cities. By the end of the year, inflation had exceeded 200 percent.

the middle cl and landowners met Allende’s reforms with bayonets

In December 1972, Allende arrived on an official visit to the USSR, but despite verbal support and the awarding of the Lenin Prize for strengthening the world, the Politburo in Moscow treated Allende with caution. The President of Chile requested a loan of 300 million dollars. They refused to provide him with cash, but offered Soviet equipment and material istance for the same amount.

The first months of 1973 were marked by a deepening split in Chilean society, where the middle cl and landowners met Allende’s reforms with bayonets. In the summer of the same year, a constitutional crisis broke out in Chile, inflation and a split in society reached catastrophic proportions. Together, these factors created a favorable environment for a military coup. Allende was aware that such an option was possible, but he had no idea how real the danger of a putsch was. On September 9 – exactly two weeks after the appointment of Pinochet as commander of the ground forces – Allende invited him together with General Orlando Urbina to the presidential palace “La Moneda”. The President ordered to prepare an action plan in case of a coup d’état. Pinochet promised Allende that the plan would be ready in a day, and in his own way kept his word.

General Pinochet shortly after the coup

General Pinochet shortly after the coup

On Sunday, September 11, 1973, at 6 o’clock in the morning, the naval forces of the rebels seized the important port of Valparaiso and silenced the local radio and television stations. When this was reported to Allende, he immediately went with his security to the presidential palace. Ego’s attempts to contact key generals were unsuccessful. Allende was firmly convinced of the reliability of Pinochet and umed that the conspirators had arrested the general. However, at 8:30 in the morning, the guards left the presidential palace, and only then did Allende realize the scale of what had happened. At 9:00 – just three hours after the start of the coup – the military controlled the entire territory of Chile with the exception of the presidential palace. The rebels offered Allende to announce his resignation on the radio in exchange for a guarantee that he would be able to leave the country with his family. The president refused, referring to his constitutional obligations. The palace was surrounded, and then bombed by aircraft. Allende gave a farewell speech on the radio and committed suicide.

Almost 40 years after Allende’s death, the commission investigating his death refuted the version that the president was killed by conspirators. In fact, after his farewell speech, he switched the Kalashnikov trigger (a gift from Fidel Castro) to automatic fire, put the muzzle under his chin and pulled the trigger.

In connection with the tragic events in Chile, it is worth mentioning the situation with the qualifying matches for the World Cup in 1974. According to FIFA’s drawing, the Soviet team was to play in Luzhniki against the Chilean team on September 26, 1973 – exactly two weeks after the putsch. Miraculously, the South American team managed to prevent a goal into their own net, 0:0. The return match was supposed to take place at the stadium in Santiago, but as a sign of protest against the coup, the Soviet team refused to go. The Chilean national team entered the field without an opponent and won a technical victory, 1:0. You can watch the video of this “game”.

General Pinochet in caricature

General Pinochet in caricature

In the first months after the coup, the junta arrested tens of thousands of Allende’s supporters. More than three thousand disappeared without a trace. The National Stadium in Santiago turned into an open-air prison, the locker rooms under its stands were used as cells for interrogations and torture. Viktor Hara, the communist singer who was killed there, is one of the victims of the so-called “Caravan of Death” – a special military unit that dealt with its victims with particular cruelty.

The investigation of the junta’s crimes was paralyzed by the law adopted in 1979, which granted amnesty for human rights violations in the country between 1973 and 1978. Only in 2000, the courts suspended the application of this law and began to investigate these crimes under a separate procedure.

In 1987, Sting released a song They Dance Alone (“They dance alone”), dedicated to the Chileans who died under Pinochet, whose wives dance the traditional “Kueka” dance with photographs of their spouses, sons, and fathers. (“Mr. Pinochet, you have raised a bitter seed, you are supported by foreign money, but the day will come when the flow of money will dry up. Who will pay your executioners, who will load your guns, have you thought about your mother, how she will dance with his invisible son?”)

Pinochet remained president until 1990 and commander-in-chief of the armed forces until 1998. Although he managed to protect himself from prosecution in Chile after retiring, a Spanish judge issued a warrant for his arrest while he was receiving treatment in Great Britain in 1998. After two years of legal proceedings, the retired general managed to return to his family, but he no longer risked leaving Chile and quietly died in 2006.

The period of junta rule remains a painful topic in Chilean society. Despite the crimes of the military regime and mive violations of human rights, part of the country’s population believes that Pinochet saved the nation from Soviet-style communism. The junta’s economic policy was based on the principle of neoliberalism. By the mid-1980s, the “Chilean miracle” was increasingly mentioned, and the country turned into one of the most prosperous in South America.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the most tragic events in the history of Chile, the country’s president, Gabriel Borich, approved a national plan to search for the remains of victims of the junta’s repressions, and a commemorative ceremony is planned for September 11 in the capital, Santiago, in which the 37-year-old president, members of the government, and representatives of all parties will take part.

Nikola Krastev is a Bulgarian journalist who lives in the USA

Opinions expressed in the “Blogs” section may not reflect the editorial office’s point of view

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