Evandro Teixeira. Chile 1973
The Other September 11
"It rains on Santiago". When the military leaders receiving this message, at dawn on September 11, 1973, they knew that it was not a matter of information about the weather in the Chilean capital; this was the password for action. Soon the marines occupied the coast of Valparaíso, just over 100 kilometers from the capital, and cut off the city's communications with the rest of the country.
Shortly before 8 a.m., the president informed the population of the uprising in Valparaíso. He said the situation in the capital was calm and urged workers to go "to their factories" and remain "calm and collected". Less than an hour later, the military-controlled radio stations Minería and Agricultura broadcast a statement from the Armed Forces in which announcing the formation of a Junta composed of the commanders of the three armed forces and demanding Allende's resignation.
Allende made his last speech, at 10:10 a.m., on the only radio station still loyal to the government. He said that he would not resign and that his sacrifice would be a “moral lesson that will punish perfidy, cowardice and betrayal". His last words became historic: “Know that, sooner than you think, the great avenues will open again, where the free man will walk to build a better society".
At 11:15 a.m., the bombing began with rockets fired at the second floor of the Palacio de la Moneda, which housed the president and 70 aides. Two hours later, after learning that the military was in control of the country, Allende ordered the surrender of those who were resisting with him in the destroyed building. As the military entered to take over the seat of government, they heard two shots. The socialist president, elected in 1970, committed suicide. The long dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet began.
The coup d'état that destroyed the socialist experiment is a Chilean tragedy. It was the accidental result of decisions made by leaders and parties forged in political struggles that expressed interests rooted in society and guided by divergent visions of the country’s destiny. Nevertheless, Allende's overthrow was also an event that bore the marks of its time – the international context in which the tumultuous experience of Popular Unity unfolded.
In South America, Chile was the fifth nation to join what the American political scientist Samuel Huntington called the reversal of the democratic wave that had reached the region at the end of the World War II. The first country in this trend was Brazil, in 1964. Here, political radicalization – important, but far from the intensity seen in Chile – opened the doors to the military coup that ended the government of João Goulart and with it the attempt to combine economic development and social inclusion under a democratic regime. Like dominoes, the democratic governments of the region fell, each in its own way: Bolivia (1964, 1969, 1971), Argentina (1966, 1976), Peru (1968), Ecuador (1972), Uruguay (1975).
In Chile, the actions of CIA agents preceded the inauguration of Allende, in the conspiracy that ended with the assassination of General René Schneider. The covert Yankee intervention – through all kinds of support to the conspirators, starting with the financial one – does not explain the Chilean tragedy alone, nor that of other countries, such as Brazil, where it also occurred, although on a smaller scale. Nevertheless, it was important for the end of the UP experience, which would hardly have been different under these circumstances. For this reason, the record of the actions of U.S. intelligence agents cannot be omitted from an honest reconstruction of the Chilean coup, a milestone carved by fire and sword in the turbulent history of democracy in Latin America.
Beginning in the second half of the 1960s, many South Americans, especially Brazilians, went to democratic Chile in search of a safe refuge from the dictatorships imposed on their countries. Those who disembarked in Santiago soon learned the refrain of the hymn that Chileans often and proudly sang, according to which their country was "either the tomb for the free / or asylum against oppression". During the Popular Unity government, the asylum was welcoming and generous. It all ended on the rainless morning of September 11, 1973.
This text gathers excerpts from the article "The Other September 11", by Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, published in the catalogue of the exhibition Evandro Teixeira. Chile 1973. São Paulo: IMS, 2023.