Story of a Death Foretold
Posted on Dec 13, 2013
By Marie Arana
Allende immediately nationalized the copper and nitrate industries, which until then had been controlled largely by the United States and Great Britain. He challenged American business with his “doctrine of excess profits,” arguing that the wages of Chile had been paltry compared to extravagant gains by big U.S. corporations. Latin America, the argument went, had been reduced to a mere colony of the United States. Though Spain had leeched the continent from 1492 to 1824, the axis between North America and Britain had done so ever since.
Allende’s goal was not so much “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” says Guardiola-Rivera, as the creation of a new kind of Latin America, free of predatory “multinational vampires” (which is how the novelist Julio Cortazar characterized the north). Relying on the input of a new generation of intellectuals—among them socio-economist Fernando H. Cardoso, the future president of Brazil—Allende and his like-minded colleagues set out to complete the project of independence begun two centuries before. Henceforward, he said, he wanted a Chile free of foreign intervention, one with a narrative all its own.
But by 1970, as Guardiola-Rivera chronicles, anti-communism in the United States had reached a state of religious dogma. The war in Vietnam was at full throttle, and Allende’s politics were seen as another festering boil. Would the Chilean brand of socialism spread? Would his anti-capitalism cost U.S. markets billions of dollars?
Even as Allende’s presidential campaign gained traction in 1970, corporations with interests in Chile—PepsiCo, Chase Manhattan, ITT, Anaconda, Kennecott, Ford—made their panic known to the U.S. government. Once Allende was elected, Kissinger advised Nixon to mobilize “quietly and covertly ... to oppose Allende as strongly as we can and do all we can to keep him from consolidating power.” Kissinger quickly implemented Track I and Track II (also known as the CIA’s Fubelt), which would employ subversive means, even violence if necessary, to provoke a military coup and install a more palatable leader. Nixon instructed his foreign, security and intelligence services to “make the [Chilean] economy scream.”
“All’s fair on Chile,” Nixon told Kissinger. “Kick ’em in the ass. OK?” Later, he said to Treasury Secretary John Connally, “We’re going to play it very tough ... we’re going to give Allende the hook.”
Perhaps we have reached such a level of permanent crisis—with CIA surrogates pulling Saddam Hussein from a spider-hole, with the spectacle of Moammar Gaddafi’s mutilated corpse in a freezer, with Navy SEALs descending on Osama bin Laden, with drone attacks so much in evidence in Pakistan and Afghanistan—that a Sept. 11 attack on a remote Latin American country 40 years ago just doesn’t provoke the collective outrage the author hopes for. In such a state of disconnect, can Secretary of State Kerry’s recent address to the Organization of American States, promising the end of U.S. intervention in Latin America, have any meaning?
Reading this sometimes meticulous, sometimes maddeningly erratic chronicle of how America trained its sights on a pacifist president makes for a bracing tonic. As Guardiola-Rivera tells us: Look at the reality. Forget what you’ve heard about Allende mismanaging the Chilean economy. Forget your natural, red-blooded aversion to the idea of nationalizing anything. Forget the quixotic, even naive nature of Allende’s utopian vision. Were the air-raids, the bombs, the executions, the Caravan of Death necessary?
By this time 40 years ago, Allende was in his grave; his widow was in panicked exile in Mexico. Pablo Neruda had expired of heart failure, Pinochet was in power, the Chilean purges were in high gear, and—for another reason entirely—Nixon was yelling to the U.S. media, “I’m not a crook!”
Arana is a writer at large for The Washington Post and the author, most recently, of a biography of Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar.
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