Mourning Chile’s coup, ignoring Egypt’s

The fortieth anniversary of the slaying of Allende has exposed some double standards among human-rights groups.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics

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Forty years ago today, on 11 September 1973, the newly re-elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was holed up at La Moneda Palace in Santiago. As the AK-47 in his hand indicated, he knew what lay ahead. Senior military figures, with Major General Javier Palacios to the fore, were coming to kill him.

At about four o’clock that afternoon, the 64-year-old Allende was busy fighting back, by all accounts, shooting Palacios in the hand; but the officers were soon to overwhelm him. Once they had killed Allende, they riddled his body with bullets and beat his face in with a rifle butt.

The Chilean coup d’etat, backed by the Commie-fearing US, which clearly didn’t want a socialist nation near its doorstep, had been brewing for some time. Originally, a military takeover had been planned in 1969 in the event of Allende, the leader of the socialist Popular Unity party, being elected to power in 1970. That Allende did win the election that September, and the generals did not respond, was due, in the main, to the balance of social forces. Simply put, the Chilean middle classes and bourgeoisie, who might have been expected to support a coup, were benefiting at the expense of foreign capital. And this, as it happened, was a result of the newly elected government’s decision effectively to repatriate and nationalise lucrative industries, especially copper. In such circumstances, a coup would have proved deeply unpopular.

But by the next election, in September 1973, the terrain had shifted. A long-term US-led blockade – payback for Chile’s expropriation of foreign capital – and internal agitation from the Christian Democrats and the right-wing National Party, had led Chile near enough to the brink of a civil war. Allende’s victory in the presidential elections on 4 September 1973, something which he was almost surprised by, pulled the trigger. The generals executed their long-standing plot. And a democratically elected leader was deposed.

Forty years on, there has been no shortage of melancholy commentaries to mark this dreadful anniversary. And no wonder. The reign of General Augusto Pinochet, Allende’s successor, represented the bloody, brutal continuation and consolidation of the coup. This involved purging Chilean society of Allende supporters, a practice that has left many in Chile with no idea of what happened to friends and family. On the eve of the fortieth anniversary, Amnesty International released a statement to remind people of this: ‘Thousands of torture survivors and relatives of those disappeared during General Augusto Pinochet’s brutal regime are still being denied truth, justice and reparation.’

For many in left-ish, liberal circles, the anniversary has also provided an opportunity to attack America. After all, America’s involvement in the Chilean coup is now largely accepted as fact: the CIA backed the generals financially, strategically and militarily. For the legion of critics of the US, the date of the coup is just too serendipitous too ignore. This coup, ‘the other 9/11’, indeed the first 9/11, exposes just how nefarious America’s own foreign policy has often been, they say. ‘Forty years on, we should not forget the bloody birth pangs of neoliberalism that serve to underline capitalism’s violent streak’, writes one radical. Another says: ‘As we approach 40 years since the devastating events in Chile, and a dozen since the horrific attacks of 2001, we must remember that to truly honour the memory of all those who lost their lives in the fight for democracy, we must uphold the principles of freedom and equality that democracy represents.’

Yet here’s the big fat fly in the righteous ointment – the principles of democracy are not only demeaned by Western leaders; they are demeaned by those in liberal circles, too. Because while it’s all very well drawing out an arbitrary, date-based analogy between the Chilean coup and 9/11 to expose the American state’s selective attitude to atrocity, a more pertinent parallel is to be drawn between the Chilean coup and one of rather more recent vintage: the Egyptian coup d’etat on 3 July of this year. And on this, too many who have been quick to recall the anti-democratic iniquity of the Chilean coup have remained ambivalent at best.

The double standards are striking. Like the coup in Chile, in Egypt an elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was deposed by the military (he wasn’t shot to death like Allende, but he is being detained in a ‘secret location’ awaiting trial on trumped-up charges). Like the coup in Chile, the military is now purging the upper echelons of Egyptian society of Morsi supporters, with many of his ministers now under house arrest. Also like the coup in Chile, the army has killed many hundreds of Morsi supporters in an effort to quell opposition.

And yet, from the left-ish and liberal media and campaign groups… not very much. Amnesty International, which has made great play of the fortieth anniversary of the Chilean coup, has proven itself reluctant to condemn outright the Egyptian coup and has even spent some time demonising the protesters against it as armed and dangerous. From others, at best there has been criticism of the excess of the Egyptian military, but very little on the usurpation of a democratically elected ruler.

Indeed, it is revealing that in all the worthy commemorations on the anniversary of the Chilean coup, few if any have drawn attention to the current situation in Egypt, absurdly described by US secretary of state John Kerry as an attempt to ‘restore democracy’. Genuine supporters of freedom and democracy ought to recall with anger what happened in Chile four decades ago. But we also need to recognise that those ideals are being debased in the present, too. Some coups are definitely not better than others. Remember Chile, yes, but let’s talk about Egypt as well.

Tim Black is deputy editor at spiked.

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Topics Politics


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