Part two of the four-part epic series “Battle for Chile” was screened last Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Food for Thought Books in downtown Amherst. Titled “The Coup d’etat,” the screening covered the armed forces’ actions, plotting measures, and the fatal bombing campaign staged against Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile on September 11, 1973.
“Coup d’etat” opens with gunshots fired and utter chaos on the streets of the capital city. The U.S. and the Chilean opposition have failed to unseat the democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, through constitutional measures. The only way to preserve U.S. interests in Chile – such as gathering continued revenue from the newly-nationalized copper mines – is to take Allende out with a coup.
The shots fired in the opening scene were from a breakaway regiment of the armed forces, part of a preliminary coup attempt in the early summer of 1973.
Due to uncertainty and poor planning, the assault on the presidential palace is quickly quelled by loyal troops, led by General Araya Peters. Peters is later assassinated for accidentally discovering the final coup plot. Meanwhile, members of the fascist “Homeland and Freedom” front, funded by the CIA, reveal their compliance in the coup by taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Following the unsuccessful coup attempt, Allende rejects calls from his party members, the Popular Unity party, to temporarily close Congress. At this time in Chilean history, the military is primarily a right-wing organization; Allende and the Popular Unity party are far on the left. The lack of armed forces is distressing to the socialists on the left, and their only weapon to combat the mounting opposition is the nationalization of key industries.
A Chilean official was quoted saying, “Seizing lands and factories is a proper response to rightist sedition.”
The socialists in Chile represented the masses – they carried out the will of the middle and lower classes, which comprised most of the population. Chilean government is structured similar to the U.S. with executive, legislative and judicial branches. Within Chile, the right represented the wealthy and powerful classes, as well as the interests of the U.S. Due to an economic blockade much like the one the U.S. imposed on Cuba during the height of the Cold War, there is a shortage of key items and food that hampered the efforts of the socialists. This was put in place as a response to nationalization of copper mines and the election of a socialist president.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted shortly after the election of Allende saying, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”
This reflects where U.S. interests lay, and America’s fervent intolerance of communism around the world.
In response to the mounting opposition, Allende worked to garner support from loyal officers in case of civil war. He established a new cabinet to gain some stability and incorporate opposition voices into his policies.
Meanwhile, the armed forces were busy performing raids on towns and villages, searching for any weapons that could be used against opposition forces organized by the right. The military, fearing that armed factions might resist a coup, set forth to prevent their formation by any means necessary.
Eventually, Allende was forced to incorporate top military officers to key cabinet posts as a compromise. Ultimately, this sealed his fate – officers he thought were loyal turned out to be quite the opposite. He elected Augusto Pinochet – later the leader of the successful coup and one of the most brutal dictators in history – to head the army’s branch.
Part two of “The Battle for Chile” ends with the air force bombing of the presidential palace. Jet fighters demanded Allende’s resignation, but he refused. Fire in the windows of the palace left viewers with a spine chilling scene. The next scene showed Augusto Pinochet and his generals’ television address announcing the formation of a ruling military junta. His dictatorial first speech was riddled with “re-establishment of order” and “our patriotic duty” in reference to unseating President Allende.
Screenings of the “Battle for Chile” series take place at 7 p.m. at Food for Thought Books on Main street, Amherst.
Brendan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]