"Thirty years ago in Chile, we had a political earthquake."

The man said that with the detachment of an amateur history buff. There was not a trace of rancor or bitterness in his voice.

It was a pleasant autumn afternoon in Chile's Central Valley. Our friend was chatting with his companions in the courtyard of the Museo O'Higgiano in downtown Talca. They offered us coffee, with profuse apologies for having nothing but "instant." A perfectly amicable setting.

Yet my inner seismograph instantly jumped off the charts at this geologic reference. For I am an American in Chile, and the recent history between our countries had not been pleasant.

The original September 11

On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected government of Chile was overthrown in a bloody coup d'état. The coup plotters, led by Augusto Pinochet, were supported by the CIA, under orders from the American President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. Here are the minutes of a meeting at the CIA on Sept 16 1970:

2. The [CIA] Director told the group that President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States. The President asked the Agency to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him. The President authorized ten million dollars for this purpose, if needed. Further, the Agency is to carry out this mission without coordination with the Departments of State or Defense...

5. The Director said he had been asked by Dr Henry Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

Following the coup, thousands of Chileans were murdered. Some of the victims were tortured before being killed. Many vanished without a trace. They became known as los desaparecidos, "the disappeareds."

Terrorism, by our own definition

According to US Code, the 1973 coup qualifies as an act of state-sponsored terrorism:

... the term ''international terrorism'' means activities that involve violent ... acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States, [and] appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

(Source: the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.)

Arrogance with a capital "K"

The reason for all this bloodletting was summed up in an oft-repeated quote, attributed to Kissinger:

"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

Kissinger's statement was quoted by Victor Marchetti and John Marks in their book, ''The C.I.A. and the Cult of Intelligence.'' Or rather, it was quoted in their manuscript. C.I.A. censors cut that passage, and 167 others, before the book was published in 1974.

The statement came out in other ways later and was printed widely in the press. But the C.I.A. still refused to let Marchetti and Marks publish it. As recently as last winter, when the censors withdrew their objections to some of the 168 items cut from the book, they still said no to the Kissinger quotation.

(Source: "Abroad At Home The Price Of Secrets," by Anthony Lewis, The New York Times, August 21, 1980, Thursday, Late City Final Edition, Section A; Page 27, Column 5.)

The tragic irony of this statement is that Allende was elected with a larger voter turnout than the man who sought to destroy him. In the 1972 US presidential election, voter turnout was 55.21%. In the 1970 Chilean presidential election, voter turnout was 83.5%!

(Sources: FEC, US Federal Election Commission, and IDEA, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.)


Considering the historical context, this graffiti, in the town of San Clemente, Region Maule, seems like a mild reaction.

Trivia: the sign on the school in the background says "Colegio San Andres IV, San Clemente." Nixon's California residence was in the town of San Clemente.

More information on the coup, Allende, and Chile:

Escuela Mexico

Home : More travels Updated: 3 September 2004