Chile: The First 9/11
Articles by Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein
Note: This week, on September 11, 2017, I sent out an article entitled "Chile: First 9/11" regarding the September 11, 1973 coup in Chile and the assassination of the Chilean president Salvador Allende. In the article, I did not go into the details about what happened in Chile years after the assassination; the installation of the dictator, Augusto Pinochet, as president; and the largely disastrous results of attempting to implement the U.S. directed neoliberal economic plan to privatize virtually everything in Chile. Below are two articles about the aftermath of the Allende assassination. One by Noam Chomsky, written in 1994, with more details about the Chilean coup in 1973; and a later article, in 2010, by Naomi Klein, about the devastating impact of the economic neoliberalism on the Chilean people.
As we explore economic systems in America and as Trump and others are also wanting to privatize virtually everything, in their economic neoliberal style in America, such as education, healthcare, social security, etc., we should take heed and learn lessons from happened, for one, in Chile. Chomsky and Klein, in particular, refer to the importance of the democratic "public sphere" funded largely by "nationalized" institutions, as Allende had planned for his country. As Klein notes below:
.... (in Chile) by the early 80s, Pinochet's Friedman-prescribed policies had caused rapid de-industrialisation, a tenfold increase in unemployment and an explosion of distinctly unstable shantytowns. They also led to a crisis of corruption and debt so severe that, in 1982, Pinochet was forced to fire his key Chicago Boy advisers and nationalise several of the large deregulated financial institutions. (Sound familiar?)
September 13, 2017
Henry Kissinger said in his eulogy: "The world is a better place, a safer place, because of Richard Nixon." I'm sure he was thinking of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. But let's focus on one place that wasn't mentioned in all the media hoopla - Chile-and see how it's a "better, safer place." In early September 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile in a democratic election. What were his politics?
He was basically a social democrat, very much of the European type. He was calling for minor redistribution of wealth, to help the poor. (Chile was a very inegalitarian society.) Allende was a doctor, and one of the things he did was to institute a free milk program for half a million very poor, malnourished children. He called for nationalization of major industries like copper mining, and for a policy of international independence-meaning that Chile wouldn't simply subordinate itself to the US, but would take more of an independent path.
Was the election he won free and democratic?
Not entirely, because there were major efforts to disrupt it, mainly by the US. It wasn't the flrst time the US had done that. For example, our government intervened massively to prevent Allende from winning the preceding election, in 1964. In fact, when the Church Committee investigated years later, they discovered that the US spent more money per capita to get the candidate it favored elected in Chile in 1964 than was spent by both candidates (Johnson and Goldwater) in the 1964 election in the US!
Similar measures were undertaken in 1970 to try to prevent a free and democratic election. There was a huge amount of black propaganda about how if Allende won, mothers would be sending their children off to Russia to become slaves-stuff like that. The US also threatened to destroy the economy, which it could-and did-do.
Nevertheless, Allende won. A few days after his victory, Nixon called in CIA Director Richard Helms, Kissinger and others for a meeting on Chile. Can you describe what happened?
As Helms reported in his notes, there were two points of view. The "soft line" was, in Nixon's words, to "make the economy scream." The "hard line" was simply to aim for a military coup.
Our ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, who was a Kennedy liberal type, was given the job of implementing the "soft line." Here's how he described his task: "to do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty." That was the soft line.
There was a massive destabilization and disinformation campaign. The CIA planted stories in El Mercurio [Chile's most prominent paper] and fomented labor unrest and strikes.
They really pulled out the stops on this one. Later, when the military coup finally came [in September, 1973] and the government was overthrown-and thousands of people were being imprisoned, tortured and slaughtered- the economic aid which had been canceled immediately began to flow again. As a reward for the military junta's achievement in reversing Chilean democracy, the US gave massive support to the new government.
Our ambassador to Chile brought up the question of torture to Kissinger. Kissinger rebuked him sharply-saying something like, Don't give me any of those political science lectures. We don't care about torture-we care about important things. Then he explained what the important things were.
Kissinger said he was concerned that the success of social democracy in Chile would be contagious. It would infect southern Europe-southern Italy, for example-and would lead to the possible success of what was then called Eurocommunism (meaning that Communist parties would hook up with social democratic parties in a united front).
Actually, the Kremlin was just as much opposed to Eurocommunism as Kissinger was, but this gives you a very clear picture of what the domino theory is all about. Even Kissinger, mad as he is, didn't believe that Chilean armies were going to descend on Rome. It wasn't going to be that kind of an influence. He was worried that successful economic development, where the economy produces benefits for the general population-not just profits for private corporations-would have a contagious effect.
In those comments, Kissinger revealed the basic story of US foreign policy for decades.
You see that pattern repeating itself in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Everywhere. The same was true in Vietnam, in Cuba, in Guatemala, in Greece. That's always the worry-the threat of a good example.
Kissinger also said, again speaking about Chile, "I don't see why we should have to stand by and let a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."
As the Economist put it, we should make sure that policy is insulated from politics. If people are irresponsible, they should just be cut out of the system.
In recent years, Chile's economic growth rate has been heralded in the press.
Chile's economy isn't doing badly, but it's based almost entirely on exports-fruit, copper and so on-and thus is very vulnerable to world markets.
There was a really funny pair of stories yesterday. The New York Times had one about how everyone in Chile is so happy and satisfied with the political system that nobody's paying much attention to the upcoming election.
But the London Financial Times (which is the world's most influential business paper, and hardly radical) took exactly the opposite tack. They cited polls that showed that 75% of the population was very "disgruntled" with the political system (which allows no options).
There is indeed apathy about the election, but that's a reflection of the breakdown of Chile's social structure. Chile was a very vibrant, lively, democratic society for many, many years-into the early 1970s. Then, through a reign of fascist terror, it was essentially depoliticized. The breakdown of social relations is pretty striking. People work alone, and just try to fend for themselves. The retreat into individualism and personal gain is the basis for the political apathy.
Nathaniel Nash wrote the Times' Chile story. He said that many Chileans have painful memories of Salvador Allende's fiery speeches, which led to the coup in which thousands of people were killed [including Allende]. Notice that they don't have painful memories of the torture, of the fascist terror-just of Allende's speeches as a popular candidate.
Milton Friedman did not save Chile
Ever since deregulation caused a worldwide economic meltdown in September '08 and everyone became a Keynesian again, it hasn't been easy to be a fanatical follower of the late economist Milton Friedman. So widely discredited is his brand of free-market fundamentalism that his admirers have become increasingly desperate to claim ideological victories, however far fetched.
A particularly distasteful case in point. Just two days after Chile was struck by a devastating earthquake, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens informed his readers that Milton Friedman's "spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile" because, "thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse ... It's not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick - and Haitians in houses of straw -when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down."
According to Stephens, the radical free-market policies prescribed to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by Milton Friedman and his infamous "Chicago Boys" are the reason Chile is a prosperous nation with "some of the world's strictest building codes."
There is one rather large problem with this theory: Chile's modern seismic building code, drafted to resist earthquakes, was adopted in 1972. That year is enormously significant because it was one year before Pinochet seized power in a bloody US-backed coup. That means that if one person deserves credit for the law, it is not Friedman, or Pinochet, but Salvador Allende, Chile's democratically elected socialist president. (In truth many Chileans deserve credit, since the laws were a response to a history of quakes, and the first law was adopted in the 1930s).
It does seem significant, however, that the law was enacted even in the midst of a crippling economic embargo ("make the economy scream" Richard Nixon famously growled after Allende won the 1970 elections). The code was later updated in the 90s, well after Pinochet and the Chicago Boys were finally out of power and democracy was restored.
Little wonder: as Paul Krugman points out, Friedman was ambivalent about building codes, seeing them as yet another infringement on capitalist freedom.
As for the argument that Friedmanite policies are the reason Chileans live in "houses of brick" instead of "straw", it's clear that Stephens knows nothing of pre-coup Chile. The Chile of the 1960s had the best health and education systems on the continent, as well as a vibrant industrial sector and a rapidly expanding middle class. Chileans believed in their state, which is why they elected Allende to take the project even further.
After the coup and the death of Allende, Pinochet and his Chicago Boys did their best to dismantle Chile's public sphere, auctioning off state enterprises and slashing financial and trade regulations. Enormous wealth was created in this period but at a terrible cost: by the early 80s, Pinochet's Friedman-prescribed policies had caused rapid de-industrialisation, a tenfold increase in unemployment and an explosion of distinctly unstable shantytowns. They also led to a crisis of corruption and debt so severe that, in 1982, Pinochet was forced to fire his key Chicago Boy advisers and nationalise several of the large deregulated financial institutions. (Sound familiar?)
Fortunately, the Chicago Boys did not manage to undo everything Allende accomplished. The national copper company, Codelco, remained in state hands, pumping wealth into public coffers and preventing the Chicago Boys from tanking Chile's economy completely. They also never got around to trashing Allende's tough building code, an ideological oversight for which we should all be grateful.
Thanks to CEPR for tracking down the origins of Chile's building code.