30th Anniversary of the Coup in Chile

30th Anniversary of the Coup in Chile
This is an edited version of a talk presented in Radio National, Perspective, September 11, 2003. Find the original source at: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/perspective/stories/2003/944012.htm
11 September 2003

Thursday September 11th, 2003 is the 30th anniversary of the military coup in Chile. The coup was instigated and directly supported by the United States Government. This terrorist act led to the overthrow of the Popular Unity Government and the death of the President of Chile, Salvador Allende Gossen.

Whilst joining in world outrage at the atrocities perpetuated on September 11th 2001, we should not forget what happened in Chile. Unfortunately, September 11th, 1973 has been conveniently ignored. As a consequence of the military coup in Chile and the consequent 17 year of military dictatorship supported by Britain and the US, more people were killed than on the September 11th 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and on The Pentagon in Washington.

It is important to note that while Chileans suffered immensely because of human right abuses and assassinations, they have not sought avenge this injustice by launching a "war on terror". Under its own definition, the US could be nominated a terrorist state, with Henry Kissinger, Former President Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush (who directed the CIA from 1975 to 1977) as perpetrators.

Prior to and after the democratic election in Chile, the US government had resolved to overthrow President Allende. The CIA, H. Kissinger and the Nixon regime implemented a campaign of destabilisation at all levels, including economical and of social unrest through aggressive fear campaigns.

It is extremely difficult to counterbalance the consequences that these actions can have on a country. While the elected government had the support of the majority, as was proven a month before the coup, this was not enough to prevent the destabilisation effect that these "evil" campaigns had against the economy and people's resilience. However, in the midst of all this, there was optimism. Committed workers took control of the factories and production continued, more health centres were constructed, more resources were poured into education. Workers could now enjoy to holiday in decent facilities at tourist locations along the country—for many this was the first time.

People believed that as a society, they could shape the nation for the common good, by practicing the best of their political aspirations, humanistic or religious beliefs and principles. This was not a society driven by individual greed.

The current Chilean President Ricardo Lagos is the living proof that bombs cannot destroy ideas. Ricardo Lagos was one of the ministers in the President Allende's cabinet. He is a socialist and person with vision - dreadfully lacking in most countries- who has, once more, placed Chile as the leading country in America (non-Anglo) for welfare, education, economic development, transparency and justice.

Chile is today a source of inspiration, and this is due to the efforts and struggle of many Chileans that gave their lives to achieve the restoration of democracy. It is important to note that democracy was re-established by Chileans. While international campaigns against human right abuses in Chile were important, Chileans did not seek, nor would they have accepted a yet another violation of their sovereignty by the US, on the pretext of "rescuing them from a ruthless dictator" that that they had helped to install, as we saw it happening in Iraq with the obvious tragic consequences.

In 1973, Australia had a humane and flexible immigration policy. Many Chileans came to Australia after the military coup having been forced into exile and while some returned to Chile after a democratically elected government came to office in 1990; more than 20,000 Chileans have made Australia home—in a not too dissimilar situation as the one experience by the asylum seekers today.

Chileans are part of the Australian society; of these, I met a former CEO in one of the city councils, engineers, doctors, and a stonemason that laid the paving at Federation Square. It is the experience with a dictatorship, with US's terrorist international policies, with immigration and with a legacy of participation that make Chileans sympathetic to the suffering and struggle of other nations in their search for justice and dignity. Chileans are committed to the prevention this type of terrorism by exposing the perpetrators of past crimes by seeking and seeing justice based on the principles of participatory democracy not an eye for an eye.

It is easy sometimes to dismiss the experience of other countries such as Chile, on the belief that this is not relevant to Australia. The dictatorship, after the initial shock, was more or less sophisticated in the manipulation of opinion and the implementation of control. Repression after a while does not need imposition by the regimen—it is more effective when self-imposed through fear, resignation and apathy. There was no fighting on the streets or guerrilla's attacks on daily basis. Repression was the norm and the society shrivelled.

The acceptance of a regime that does not consider the opinion of the citizens, that can kill with impunity—inside or outside their own country—and can deceive the public, makes the entire society ill. This was the case of Nazi Germany, the case of Chile (27 years later) and I believe it can be the case of any democratic nation in which citizens are left without the power to participate and shape the events that shape their country.

Beatriz Cristina Maturana
Architect and Urban Designer Founder of Architects for Peace

Maturana, Beatriz C. "30th Anniversary of the Coup in Chile." In Perspectives. Australia: ABC Radio National, 2003.


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