There were planes on that other 9/11, but unlike those in 2001 they were designed for terror. These were the Hawker Hunters of the Chilean airforce, the year 1973.
The army surrounded La Moneda, the presidential palace, with tanks at 1400 and began firing in at staff, sheltered citizens, and representatives of the elected government. Sporadic shots were sent back, with President Allende taking potshots from behind the drapes. Their only hope lay in prolonging the siege. But as calls to the navy and the national guard rang out, they realised there was no one to hold out for.
They, in their work clothes. They with their desks and cabinets full of boring reports and dull charts, were it – the sole defenders of a democracy. Santiago’s fortress was crumbling and soon Chile would.
Those inside knew what was expected of them but military made it formal: Rendición incondicional, cabrones. Thoughts about exactly what Latin American troopers do to their quarry became whispers, and then the suicides began. (See a graphic timeline here.)
What exactly had these besieged bureaucrats done to deserve all this? In the words of a US Senator, Warren, who investigated the episode,
Like Caesar peering into the colonies from distant Rome, Nixon said the choice of government by the Chileans was unacceptable to the president of the United States
Allende’s popular government was carrying out long overdue nationalisations in land, health and natural resource (which had, up until that point, been almost the exclusive right of US corporations from the days of gunboat diplomacy). In schools they were increasing literacy and autonomy in universities.
All this sounds rather orthodox from a European perspective – bland even – but to the Nixon administration it was anathema. Chile was providing the Third World with a precedent so terrible it brought to mind the horror that was Vietnam. They were a good example.
They showed that a government could be elected – be aligned to neither the US or USSR – and successfully develop out of banana republicdom…
“NOT IN MY BACK YARD.”
And so Nixon sent his attack dog to the Andes to help along a coup. Perhaps more reptilian than canine, Kissinger did go and he did his thing. He put a hit on the uncooperative leader of the armed forces (a conservative figure who nevertheless was a constitutionalist); armed some fascist thugs to do the deed; and headhunted the ranks for someone less scrupulous. Pinochet – unintelligent, with a fondness for torture – was that man.
He [Allende] would have been 64 years old next July. His greatest virtue was following through, but fate could grant him only that rare and tragic greatness of dying in armed defence of the anachronistic booby of the bourgeois law, defending a Supreme Court of Justice which had repudiated him but would legitimise his murderers, defending a miserable Congress which had declared him illegitimate but which was to bend complacently before the will of the usurpers, defending the freedom of opposition parties which had sold their soul to fascism, defending the whole moth-eaten paraphernalia of a shitty system which he had proposed abolishing, but without a shot being fired. The drama took place in Chile, to the greater woe of the Chileans, but it will pass into history as something that happened to us all, children of this age, and it will remain in our lives for ever.
Gabriel García Márquez
On this day, September 11th, when thoughts turn instinctively westward, it would be wrong to overlook the people of Chile. For them, they do not need to placate their passions with never forgets. It’s still with them. There are brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, cousin, friend, neighbour-shaped holes in their Universe, and they haven’t the solace confirmed dead brings.
(To learn more about the Britian’s role in all this, the Guardian has a good article here. While the state bolstered reaction, the public didn’t.)