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Chile’s 9/11: 40 Years Since Pinochet’s U.S-Backed Coup

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Posted on Sep 11, 2013
permiegardener (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, right, shakes hands with Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Sept. 11 is not just the anniversary of the fall of the twin towers in 2001. Decades before, despotic Gen. Augusto Pinochet led a coup against democratically elected Salvador Allende on the same date. With the support of the United States military, Pinochet began a bloody regime that lasted 17 years, killing thousands and torturing nearly 40,000 people. Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish lawyer who is known for his involvement in Pinochet’s arrest in 1998, urges readers to remember the deaths of the 2001 attacks as well as those inflicted by the despicable dictatorship, while acknowledging that the dangers of the imperialist mentality that caused both continue to prevail. Garzón writes in The Guardian on Monday:

...the attacks of 2001 were an indiscriminate massacre by foreign terrorists, and America’s response was as swift and powerful as one might expect from the world’s most potent military superpower. The message was clear: actions against the US have dire consequences.

But the reactive “war on terror” has had many consequences of its own, ushering in an era of great restriction on rights and civil liberties, and making commonplace the use of torture, renditions, and other perverse tactics. Far from contributing to safety, these actions have jeopardized the manifold achievements in international human rights laws and norms from the last century that serve to protect the global public.

This same two-dimensional mentality was evident 40 years ago in the US government’s support of the Chilean coup d’etat. Salvador Allende was brought to power with the vision of an inclusive and egalitarian democracy in Chile, one that would fight against social inequality, poverty, and wealth disparity. His overthrow was co-ordinated by those who feared his socialist ideals above all. Their preferred alternative was a violent dictatorship, driven by economic interests, and an expansionist ideology that favoured militarism and fascism.

For two decades, Chile’s authoritarian rule dashed the hopes of the millions who had supported Allende’s vision, through repression, a complete lack of justice and accountability, and the relentless persecution of pro-democracy advocates. Yet, throughout the reign of terror, Chilean human rights advocates persisted, and resisted, pressing the international judicial community to act in accordance with their responsibilities to uphold the rights of the people, to stop standing idly by in the face of injustice.

Their dedication came with heavy costs, but it did eventually pay off. In 1998, Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London on charges of genocide, torture and terrorism against his people. When he was returned to Chile, new investigations began there, as well.

And as became clear to the world during the course of the investigations, the US-backed dictator had broken every possible ethical code. In addition to his violent criminality, he was an economic predator as well, having used his mandate and position to launder tens of millions of dollars into secret bank accounts in the US while many thousands of Chileans suffered from poverty.

Garzón also explains that although some things have shifted—“the CIA no longer runs amok in South America”—the American approach is still tied to its Cold War mindset, evident in its persecution of whistle-blowers and propagation of mass surveillance systems. “The security state tightens its grip [and] the war purportedly waged in defence of democracy now finds itself as the foremost contributor to the erosion of democratic ideals,” he writes.

The lawyer believes if we are truly to honor those who died in the name of democracy, both in Chile and the United States, the most important thing we can do is “uphold the principles of freedom and equality that democracy represents.” And those principles have nothing to do with the violence America continues to unfurl, in the Middle East and beyond, in the name of 9/11.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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