After another couple of months off, I post a blog entry I read this morning, in observance of the 45th anniversary today of the other 9/11 — the Chilean military coup of 1973. Its author, Fernando Mires, is Chilean and a professor emeritus of political theory at the University of Oldenburg (Germany).
As I did in a previous post of mine about the event, I dedicate this entry to Steven Volk, a historian and witness to the coup whom I had the chance to meet personally several years ago in Ohio, through my dear friend and fellow Latin Americanist Tom Walker. Volk was close friends with Charles Horman, an American journalist who also witnessed the coup but, unlike Volk, did not live to tell the tale. (He died in military custody.)
Mires’ blog entry will be presented here in its entirety (except for two minor edits) and has been translated by me from the original version in Spanish. All parentheses appear in that version. Brackets have been added for clarification.
This is a very, very long post, but worth reading. It will be followed by my own thoughts, to be posted separately.
No murderer will ever say that he kills because he likes it. Humans try to legitimize their evil deeds; it is in their nature. Those are the traps of reason that Kant told us about. With larger reasons when it comes to mass murders, genocides, or great massacres like those committed throughout the universal history of infamy. Even Chile – so far away from the world, a peaceful and relatively democratic country – witnessed one of the bloodiest tragedies in the continent.
The tragedy that began to take place starting on September 11, 1973 is documented in photographs, films, testimonies. It is undeniable. And the more it is, the larger has been the effort of the perpetrators and those who cheered them (and still cheer) to give it historical legitimacy. Most of those legitimizations utilize the coup alibi under the guise of “historical necessity”, as if history followed a pre-determined logic and reasoning.
The dictatorship looked for its legitimization from the first days of the coup. It was carried out, said the generals, against a Plan Z, destined to assassinate non-Marxists. The UP [Unidad Popular, Salvador Allende’s governing coalition] had secret weapons caches and a clandestine army was ready to take the state by force and declare a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. And many believed those lies not because they were credible, but because they needed to believe them. Today, there are still some who argue that Chile has a historic debt [of gratitude] with “its” army. Pinochet, despite making “mistakes” here and there, had saved Chile from becoming a second Cuba.
45 years after the coup, the myth of “Pinochet, defender of the Fatherland” has increased in intensity, among other reasons, because of the political helplessness of the victims of three Latin American dictatorships: Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. There is no shortage of people in those countries that yearn for the appearance of a Pinochet – someone that can expel the communists, impose discipline and order, and above all steer their nations to prosperity. These, and others, are reasons to ponder once more about those events that happened 45 years ago.
THE HIDDEN REASONS FOR THE COUP
Let us go back in history. Since mid-1973, Allende’s government had reached its decline phase. In fact, it lost the support of the middle class. Students protested in the streets. The SOFOFA (Sociedad de Fomento Fabril), the SNA (Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura) and CONFECO (Confederación de Comercio) – that is, the three pillars of the economy [industry, agriculture, and trade, respectively] – declared war on the government and negotiation with them was no longer possible. Even worse: the UP lost the copper and steel unions. The internal elections of the CUT (Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores), traditionally a communist-socialist redoubt, were objectively won by the Christian Democrats [center-right]. Without the two chambers [of the Chilean Parliament, meaning no legislative majority], Allende was ruling by decree.
All polls gave the government less votes than those it obtained in the 1970 presidential election. To appear having the force it lacked, Allende appointed generals to ministries, so the government was in fact taken over from the inside by the military. Sure enough, the coup started before the coup. The military carried out searches without judicial warrants and armed soldiers were seen everywhere in the streets by mid-August, while jet fighters crossed the skies on “drills”. The navy was being purged and pro-Allende sailors, accused of plotting, were arrested and tortured. In all, Allende lost power before losing it.
These facts must be taken to account when making a judgment, for the September 11 coup was not carried out against a triumphant revolution, but against a weak government on the verge of collapse. Why was it so bloody, then? The official version of Pinochetism was unanimous: to prevent Chile from becoming another Cuba.
However, one of two conditions was required for Chile to become a new Cuba: a loyal army and/or strong international support. The army was already won over by the right, especially amongst commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and Allende knew it. The second condition was international: a new Cuba would be possible only with the support of the Soviet Union and it is a fact – not speculation – that it denied its support to the Chilean process.
From the economic standpoint, Chile could not advance an inch if it did not pay its foreign debt. Almost humiliatingly, in December 1972, Allende went to the Soviet Union to request a line of credit that would allow him to pay off some of the debt (in practice, to suspend the $350 million that Chile paid to the Soviet Union), but he returned home empty-handed. Under Brezhnev, the Soviet Union was suffering a period of economic stagnation. Cuba alone cost more than a million dollars every day. Also, détente with the US was coming and [Secretary of State] Kissinger demanded that the Soviet Union should not intervene in South America in exchange for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. That was the reason why Chilean trade with the Soviet Union, under Allende, was lower than Soviet trade with Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Colombia.
The Soviet Union did not want another Cuba. That is a geopolitical fact explaining why the Soviets maintained shortly afterwards trade and – above all – political relations with the Argentine military junta. Indeed, where geopolitics dominate, there is no politics. Pinochet knew about this; after all, he was a geopolitics professor. In all, Chile could not be another Cuba and, although the Cubanization of Chile served as propaganda, Pinochet decided to carry out the coup for reasons that had little to do with Cuba. What did they have to do with?
Remember that Allende, after his failure in the Soviet Union, met with all UP leaders and crudely stated the situation. His government was isolated nationally and internationally. Only one possibility would prevent total capitulation: a plebiscite. He was correct. If Allende won, his government would be strengthened. If he lost, there had to be new elections. If the Christian Democrats won then (and that was the most likely outcome), it would not be by absolute majority and, consequently, the new government would have to rely on UP support, inverting the relationship that materialized in October 1970 and allowed Allende to be elected president after intense negotiations with the Christian Democrats. Even with a plebiscite loss, UP could keep some positions for the future.
Allende’s good plan faced, however, two obstacles. The first was well known: his own Socialist Party blocked the plebiscitarian alternative. The second was known later: the army (actually, Pinochet) saw in the plebiscite a threat to a military solution to the conflict. Hence, precisely in the days that Allende was preparing to announce a plebiscite, Pinochet decided to hurry up with the coup. Therefore, Pinochet not only carried out a coup against UP, but against a political solution that, given the conditions in September, could not be anything but plebiscitary. In some way, the struggle against “Marxism” was Pinochet’s pretext to seize all state power.
Shrewd like few, Pinochet established a tacit alliance with the dominant faction within the Christian Democrats, led by Eduardo Frei Montalva [Allende’s predecessor]. That way, Pinochet neutralized supporters of the plebiscitarian option within the Christian Democrats […] in exchange for the promise to carry out a brief transition and later support a center-right government led by Frei. But that “Bonapartist” solution, as we know, was not in Pinochet’s plan. On the contrary, his objective was to establish a long-term military government that would create a new republic without political parties. It was not about a change in government, but to carry out a revolution under an army of liberation led by Pinochet. The coup, seen from this perspective, was a declaration of war to all the prevailing political and social order.
Only in this way can we explain the bloody character of the military coup. It was a coup that was not just a coup; it was the outbreak of a war against politics, its institutions, and – of course – its people. It was a war waged by the best-armed army in the continent against unarmed citizens. Because seriously, the few armed groups in the Chilean left, in comparison with Argentina’s Montoneros and ERP or the Uruguayan Tupamaros, were a joke. Not to mention [Peru’s] Shining Path, against which Fujimori fought; or the FARC, which was unable to destroy the pillars of the Colombian republic despite controlling large swaths of territory.
Pinochet’s war would last throughout his government. The so-called uprising of September 11 was the start of a revolution against all of the Chilean political class, of which the physical extermination of the left was only the initial stage. The right, in open complicity, did not resist and dissolved itself. The March 1975 plot to kill General Óscar Bonilla, Frei’s man inside the army, was a turning point. Frei was no longer needed, and his subsequent assassination [in 1981, allegedly by poisoning] would only be the logical consequence of Pinochet’s revolution, which was carried out not only against the left and its parties, but against politics as a form of citizen life. Pinochet himself said so when derisively referring, whenever he could, to “the political lords” [señores políticos]. In that struggle against politics, the left “only” provided the tortured, the raped women, the prisoners, the exiled, and the dead, above all.
The disproportionate massacres – unnecessary from the military point of view – are not explained only by the sadistic inclinations of Pinochet and his circle, characteristic of all dictators. They were part of the logic of the military revolution: to reach the point of no return. The bloodier were the hands of Pinochet’s followers, the closer the complicity of pinochetistas with death, the more impossible the return to democratic life.
Under Pinochet, Chile became a nation-garrison: no debates, no parties, no politics. That is why Pinochet, unlike other dictators, did not create his own party. It was already formed — it was the army. Nevertheless, he briefly attempted to create a new association: an alliance between the military state and the unions. It was the golden period of his then-son-in-law, fascist Pablo Rodríguez. The alliance did not last long. Pinochet would soon understand that alliances work on compromises and he quickly got rid of Rodríguez and his union power. His place as éminence grise was taken by Jaime Guzmán.
With Guzmán’s advice, Pinochet began to forge his historical project: an anti-political state “in form”, placed above institutions but with a margin of deliberation between former politicians selected from the top. In other words, the members of the Army High Command would become a sort of uniformed ayatollahs, seconded by “notables” faithful to the regime.
THE “CHILEAN ECONOMIC MIRACLE”
What Pinochet did not think about was that he was creating, in the name of the struggle against Marxism and under different ideological forms, a political system very similar to that of Cuba. In the same way the European regimes of Hitler and Stalin were similar to one another, those of Pinochet and the Castro Brothers were marked by signs of similarity. The difference is that the Chilean political class proved to be more resilient than the Cuban political class. But it is inevitable to think that, with Cuba’s violent opening to foreign capital under Raúl Castro, the perfect alliance between market and military state that Pinochet and Guzmán once imagined for Chile was able to materialize. Both of them died without knowing it. And pinochetistas, although they knew about it, accepted it in the name of – according to them – the miraculous economic policies of the dictatorship. Few things have been more fallacious than referring to some numerical successes as an “economic miracle”, itself an wretched expression by Milton Friedman.
Friedman knew the German origin of that term and, by the way, also knew that it referred to a process that was not only different from but also the opposite of what occurred during the Chilean dictatorship: the recovery of [West] Germany’s postwar [post-WWII] economy thanks to an alliance between the state, the business sector, and union-organized workers. The latter gave a Keynesian character to the process and would also originate another term: social market economy (Ludwig Erhard [West Germany’s economics minister from 1949 to 1963 and main promoter of the term]). In turn, Pinochet’s was an anti-social market economy. Or to put it this way: while Allende tried to implement a policy of equity without growth, Pinochet would implement a policy of growth without equity.
To cite one of the most authoritative voices in Chilean academic economics, Ricardo French Davis: “It is true that modernization occurred during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Without doubt, some of it became permanent basis for economic development strategies, but others constitute a heavy burden. Economic growth under Pinochet’s neoliberal regime, between 1973 and 1989, averaged only 2.9% per year, poverty reached 45% and wealth distribution deteriorated notably.”
We then ask, can an economy that, despite showing positive numbers on paper, takes a nation to unprecedented inequality – some of the highest in the world – be characterized as successful? If the objective of an economic policy are not human beings, we wonder what else could it be.
Pinochet’s economic miracle is, if not a myth, one of the biggest lies of neo-Pinochetism. As French Davis himself posits, Chile’s economic growth became more vigorous from the moment the governments of the Concertación [the center-left political alliance that replaced Pinochet in 1989] incorporated public and social policies to their programs. “The Concertación achieved better rates of economic growth, job creation, and income for the middle and poor sectors. Growth between 1990 and 2009 was of 5% (5.3% if we exclude the 2009 recession). (…) This growth plus active public policies reduced poverty from 45% to 15.1% of the population. Regarding the social dimension, poverty was not reduced with public policy alone. In fact, average salaries were 74% better in 2009 than in 1989 and the minimum wage multiplied by 2.37 — a sharp contrast with salaries under the dictatorship, which in 1989 were more reduced than in 1981 and 1970. (…) Hence, Chile grew faster than the rest of Latin America and shortened the gap with developed nations significantly. GDP per capita expanded to an annual average of 3.6%, compared to 1.3% between 1974 and 1989″ […].
Lastly, we must add that there was no single political economy under Pinochet. There were at least four: shock policies between 1973 and 1979 (price increases, budget cuts, reduction of demand, massive unemployment); classical neoliberalism between 1979 and 1982; a neo-statist political economy between 1982 and 1986, motivated by the shrinking of the export system and including expropriations, price controls, and an monetary emissions; and a pragmatic policy that combined free markets with Keynesian monetary boosts. In the end, the only thing that connects these four policies is the constant widening of cuts in social benefits [la tijera social] and an equally constant but low rate of numerical growth.
Having reached this point, here is a thought: if in any case his political economy would turn out to be as successful as his supporters of yesterday and today say, would Pinochet be legitimized, then, on the altar of history? Not at all. Even if Chile was today the wealthiest country in the world, there is no reason to justify state crimes. But some do. Devoid of all ethics, they reduce history to a cost-benefit calculation, despite paying the former in human lives, tortured bodies, destroyed families, broken biographies, and systematic violations of human rights.
According to this sacrificial notion of means and ends, these people could indeed justify the most monstrous regimes in modern history. With the same criteria employed to justify Pinochet, they could have justified Hitler before. Did Hitler not end the disorder generated by the Weimar Republic? Did he not end inflation and unemployment? Did he not build the best roads in Europe? Did Germans not have access to a VW? Did the retirement system not improve? And lastly, did Hitler not impede the advance of communism inside Germany and from abroad? And the Holocaust? Yes, that was a “small mistake”. And is Putin not initiating, at this precise moment, a vindication of Stalin? Did not Stalin turn a country of agrarian serfs into a world economic and military power? And the millions who died in the gulags? Yes, maybe it was “something” hard. And [Spain’s] Franco? Did not he provide stability and disciplined a country that fought a fratricidal war? Did not he save his country from communism? And Fidel Castro? Did not he liberate Cuba from imperialism? Did not he eliminate illiteracy? Do Cubans not have free healthcare? And so on and so forth.
The defenders of tyrants, be they left-wing or right-wing, will still be found everywhere, willing to bow to those from the past and those who will come in the future. Without them, no dictatorship would have been possible.
Damned be all of them!