September 11? Chile 1973, Chicago 2013: 40 Years of Neo-liberal Attacks on Our Societies

What do you think of when you hear the term “9-11”? A date. Does it remind you of the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, or the attack on the Pentagon, or the attack that was frustrated by passengers in Pennsylvania?

It reminds me of all of these things but, more importantly, it reminds me of the FIRST 9-11, September 11, 1973, when the US helped overthrow the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. This wasn’t the first time in the post-World War II period that the US Government had helped overthrow a democratically-elected government—the US had done that in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Brazil in 1964, plus had supported dictators in a number of countries in the Caribbean and Asia by that time—but it was the first one that many of us who came to political consciousness in the “1960s” experienced directly.

Salvador Allende was an experienced Chilean politician who worked to gain the presidency. He won in 1970 with a plurality, and according to the Chilean Constitution was put into power legally. He was no radical; politically, he could be described as a social democrat, someone who sought some form of “socialism” but wanted to achieve it through electoral politics.

Allende realized that Chile was being raped of its natural resources—most importantly, copper—by US multinational corporations such as Anaconda. These multinationals had invested something like $800,000 in Chile, yet had taken over $5 billion out—and climbing. Allende realized that he could not successfully address the development problems in Chile—the poverty, the lack of nutrition for children, the slums—without nationalizing the US facilities, and using the profits from the copper operations for the good of the Chilean people. When he nationalized the US investments, he put himself on a collision course with the US Empire.

President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger were personally involved in developing a strategy and providing resources to members of the Chilean military high command to help overthrow President Allende. [Also involved, unfortunately, was the leadership of the AFL-CIO, who were operating behind the backs of American workers and without their knowledge through an organization they had created for such purposes, AIFLD (American Institute for Free Labor Development).] Nixon and Kissinger did all they could to cut off development aid to Chile, both by the US government, but also by multilateral development institutes like the Interamerican Development Bank and the World Bank, while increasing aid and training to the Chilean military.

When the military attacked on September 11, 1973, it was very carefully planned and resolutely followed out. La Moneda, the Presidential Palace in Santiago, was bombed, shelled by artillery and then invaded by troops. President Allende was found dead, with a weapon by his side.

Initial reports were that over 30,000 people had been killed in the first few days, although current estimates are that between 3-5,000 died. (Many bodies were hidden, buried in mass graves, or flown out over the Pacific where they were dumped out of aircraft and were fed to the sharks, never to emerge.) Thousands “disappeared,” some after being confined in the National Stadium, or were killed while in the stadium. (Two Americans—Frank Teruggi and Charles Horman—were among those killed. The movie “Missing,” starring Jack Lemon, was an account of Horman’s father’s efforts to find out the fate of his son.)

The military took over after the coup, and later General Augusto Pinochet became the “main man.”  Pinochet invited a group of economists trained at the University of Chicago to advise on reviving the economy. They implemented a program that would later go by the name of neo-liberal economics to remove any government regulation of the economy that had been implemented by the Allende administration. The only value they projected positively was profit-making; if something made a profit, it was good—if not, it was bad—and it didn’t matter at what cost to the people the profits came. And trade unions and any pro-workers organizations were disbanded, and their leaders tortured and killed. And social programs that fed the poor, provided services to the mentally disabled, or supported working class families were ended at first opportunity.

Pinochet also smashed anyone or any organization that challenged the coup or his rule. His rule was all-but-absolute, and was not overturned until the early 1990s.

Although we’ve yet to have the violence of the Pinochet dictatorship in the United States, our leaders—beginning particularly with Ronald Reagan and continuing today under Barack Obama—have been carrying out neo-liberal economic policies since the early 1980s and, just like in Chile, they have been a disaster for most of the people. The United States is the most economically unequal of all of the so-called “developed” countries—in fact, we are more unequal that some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Vietnam—and we have the highest imprisonment rate in the world. I could go on and on. When profitability is the only acceptable value, it empowers the wealthy and those who operate for them, while devastating then social reality we call “society.”

At the same time, the US Government has put massive amounts of money into building its war machine; over $10 trillion dollars, conservatively, between 1981 and 2010. We spend more money each year than our 14 closest military competitors combined! This is money than cannot be put into education, health care, rebuilding our infrastructure, addressing global climate change, or taking care of our people. We can try to dominate the world, or we can try to take care of our people, but we cannot do both.

(For an in-depth look at the changes in the US economy since World War II, and the social impact of these changes, please see my 2009 article, “Neo-liberal Economic Policies in the United States: The Impact of Globalization on a ‘Northern’ Country” at www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/21584. The developments I report are prior to the Great Recession and, thus, were not caused by the recession.)

This brings us to Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel is on a “mission from god,” to destroy the Chicago Public Schools, and replace them with charter schools. Besides any ideological animosity to public education that might come from this graduate of one of the most expensive private colleges in the country, Sarah Lawrence—and his kids are in the private, and very expensive, University of Chicago Lab School—Emanuel wants to turn public education into a “for profit” venture. Key to doing this is to break the Chicago Teachers Union.

Now, Emanuel will complain about the high cost of a unionized work force—and they do get paid more than non-union teachers, for sure—but the real issue is power. Emanuel wants no one to challenge his plans, and certainly wants no one to have the power to stop them and tell the public that the Emperor is naked, which the CTU did in the 2012 teachers’ strike. He cares not for the students, the parents, the teachers, or Chicago: it’s his way or the highway. Ultimately, he has this delusion of becoming the President of the United States, and he’ll throw anyone necessary under the bus to get his shot.

I’m sure, in his private moments, he wishes he could use the Pinochet option.

Think I’m exaggerating? Guess who closed down much of the South Loop in May 2012, and mobilized over 3,000 police—including state troopers—to defend a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the greatest war-killing machine in the history? (Wait until you see the new movie, “Four Days in Chicago,” which can be found at http://www.fourdaysinchicago.com.)”I didn’t get the Mayor’s last name, but it sure sounded like Pinochet.

Kim Scipes, Ph.D., is a former Sergeant in the US Marine Corps, who now is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, IN. He lives in Logan Square, Chicago. He focuses on the coup in Chile as a case study in his recent book, AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010 hardback; 2011 paperback.) His web site is at : http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes. 

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