Allende lives

A series of activities have been organized over the past week in honor of the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état against then Chilean President Salvador Allende

September 13, 2023 by Zoe Alexandra

Thousands of people partook in a candlelit vigil in the National Stadium to honor the victims of the dictatorship. Photo: Frente Fotografico

Tens of thousands of people gathered with candles at the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile on the night of September 11 to honor the victims of the military dictatorship that was installed on September 11, 1973 with the coup against the government of Salvador Allende. The National Stadium was one of the largest centers of torture and detention during the dictatorship — an estimated 20,000 people were sent there. During the candlelit vigil, people displayed photos of the more than 40,000 victims of the dictatorship, including the more than 3,000 killed and 1,200 disappeared.

This year marks 50 years since the coup against the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. Local and national authorities in Chile, as well as social and progressive movements and organizations, have organized an array of activities to commemorate the crime.

Earlier in the day on September 11, Chilean President Gabriel Boric held an official ceremony “Democracy Always” (Democracia Siempre) in the presence of several leaders from the region such as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Colombian President Gustavo Petro, Bolivian President Luis Arce, and former president of Uruguay Pepe Mujica. Renowned Argentine human rights defender Estela de Carlotto, president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, and Senator Isabel Allende, Salvador Allende’s daughter, addressed the gathering before the head of state.

In his address, Boric declared: “Today we have the responsibility to face what happened in those years with truth, justice and reparation, and only by assuming the debts of the past and really healing those wounds…will a harmonious coexistence and the construction of a society that projects itself humanely towards the future be possible.”

He emphasized that “The Coup d’état, profoundly changed the lives of all Chileans, not only of those who were members of the political parties of the Popular Unity or who believed in the project represented by this political alliance. And it was a project headed by a man of impeccable democratic trajectory, who was the interpreter of great yearnings for justice, who pledged his word that he would respect the Constitution and the laws and he did so, that man, Salvador Allende, for that commitment and consequence, 50 years later, the world continues to pay tribute to him and respects him.”

Days earlier the Chilean head of state had signed a document with former presidents Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera, titled ‘Commitment: For Democracy, Always’. In the document, they commit to overcome political differences in order to care for and defend democracy, face the challenges of democracy, defend and promote human rights, and strengthen spaces for collaboration among states.

“On the 50th anniversary of the violent breakdown of democracy in Chile that cost the lives, dignity and freedom of so many people…we want, beyond our legitimate differences, to jointly commit ourselves to taking care of and defending democracy, respecting the Constitution, the laws and the rule of law,” reads the document.

International solidarity

The coup against Allende was a dramatic turning point for the country, and during the nearly 17 years of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial, bloody government, a violent, neoliberal economic order was imposed on Chile, reversing the gains of Allende’s government in social justice.

However, the impact of the coup was felt far beyond Chile’s borders. The violent overthrow of Allende’s Popular Unity government sent a shockwave across the world. It was a clear message from Washington, that they would not hesitate to put their intellectual, financial, and military resources behind the subversion of democracy, massacres, and the mass violation of human rights in order to quell the rising, rebellious third world projects that threatened their interests. Many countries even opened their doors to the hundreds of thousands of Chilean leftists fleeing the country and joined hands with them to organize and fight against the dictatorship. As the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research put it, the coup in Chile, was a “coup against the third world.”

In this spirit, left organizations, intellectuals, and movements from across the world joined the people of Chile in commemorating the anniversary and highlighting the bravery and leadership of Salvador Allende.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who traveled to Chile for the anniversary, his sixth time leaving Mexico during his time as president, participated in a ceremony with his Chilean counterpart on the eve of the anniversary in honor of Allende and the 50 years of Chilean exiles in Mexico. AMLO remembered the tradition of solidarity of his country and people that showed “with words and with actions, our support to the defenders of democracy in Chile, victims of a coup d’état that caused the death of President Salvador Allende, exceptional statesman and human being.”

He added that Allende made a tremendous contribution to political life in the region as he “opened the way to carry out transformations by peaceful means, by electoral means” a path that AMLO says that his project of Mexican Humanism and the Fourth Transformation has taken to carry forward the “revolution of consciences” which is needed to sustain such changes.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who himself has faced an assassination attempt, as well as several attempted coups, also expressed his solidarity on the anniversary and wrote, “Fifty years ago, the constitutional president of Chile, Salvador Allende, physically departed, victim of a cowardly coup d’état, sponsored by the Yankee empire and perpetrated by traitors. Allende went to immortality fighting, rifle in hand, for the right of Chileans to rebuild a peaceful homeland. His courage and consistent character are values that live eternally in the hearts of the peoples of our continent.”

Peruvian revolutionary and intellectual Héctor Béjar, during his intervention in the Dilemmas of Humanity Conference held in Santiago a week before the anniversary, recalled the coup and its victims from Chile, and countries across the region. He stated “Those are sad, terrible episodes and they are just part of a bigger and more tragic story, which is the story of extermination. Back in the 1970s, the government of the United States and the Latin American oligarchies tried to exterminate us.” However, the story doesn’t end there, he emphasized: “We are here, the children, the grandchildren, the new generations are here. This proves that the extermination policy failed. And this September 11, we will all celebrate the failure of the extermination policy.”

Reflecting on the intrinsically internationalist nature of the anniversary, Daniel Jadue, the mayor of the Recoleta commune in Santiago and a member of the Communist Party of Chile, told Peoples Dispatch, “We are not commemorating an exclusively Chilean milestone. What we are commemorating is the Chilean expression of an imperial policy of the United States that has had the luxury of the last 100 years and will continue to do so in the next 100 years of destroying any attempt by any people in Latin America and the world to build an alternative to the hegemonic power of its empire.”

The coup

50 years ago, on September 11, 1973 the Armed Forces of Chile occupied the capital city of Santiago. They announced that “The Armed Forces and the Carabineros [National Police] of Chile are united, to initiate the historic and responsible mission to fight for the liberation of the Homeland from the yoke of Marxism, and the restoration of order and institutionality.” As Allende and his closest allies defended the presidential palace, armed forces surrounded the presidential headquarters, La Moneda Palace, and began to attack it with tanks and bombed it with British Hawker Hunter jets.

A contingent of soldiers stormed the door of the presidential palace, and Allende, who had sworn that he would not surrender, was killed.

Salvador Allende was elected by popular vote in 1970 as the candidate of the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity – UP) alliance, made up of diverse left parties. In his less than three years in office, Allende’s Popular Unity government carried forward important policies to better the lives of Chileans such as the nationalization of copper mining, nationalization of the bank, agrarian reform, construction of public housing, and health, education and social reforms. Allende was also fundamental in leading the global dialogue about the creation of a new more just international economic and trade system, which in 1974 became the New International Economic Order — a direct threat to US financial hegemony.

The coup against Allende was backed by the United States government as part of its Operation Condor to combat leftist and Marxist political projects in Latin America.

Before he was killed on September 11, 1973, Salvador Allende spoke in one last broadcast on Radio Magallanes, which was closed following the coup. As the city and the presidential palace were under siege by the Armed Forces, Allende gave his last speech to the Chilean people. He ended his speech by saying: “Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again and free men will walk through them to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!”