Chile’s September 11

(This will be a long post because this is an important day for Chile.) 

In Chile: The Other September 11: An Anthology of Reflections on the 1973 Coup, Ariel Dorfman (Argentinian author and advisor to Salvador Allende), wrote, “very few of the eight billion people alive today [after Sept 11, 2001] could remember or would be able to identify what happened in Chile.” Chile’s Sept. 11 may be unknown to most of the world’s people. But the memory is everywhere in Valparaíso—denunciations of dictatorship painted in murals on walls, in posters, in slogans, in theater (like a performance last night just around the corner from our apartment). The dictatorship is deeply embedded in the consciousness of the country and etched into the memories and bodies of women and men who suffered and lost so much, and in their children and grandchildren. And it is imprinted into the neoliberal regime it gave birth to and which has sold off and privatized nearly everything—education being a prime example—and stripped the masses of working people of support for their social welfare. 

Wall mural, Santiago—Tribute to a fallen martyr

On Sept. 11, 1973, the first democratically elected socialist government in Latin America—Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity coalition of Chile—was brutally overthrown in a military coup that was actively supported by then-US President Nixon, Secretary of State Kissinger, and the CIA. The coup cleared the way for the world’s first experiment in neoliberalism, under the leadership of economists trained at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago boys”) and University of Chicago neoliberal economist Milton Friedman himself. In fact, Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream” in Chile to “prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him” [1] 

The coup brought in a brutal dictatorship that rounded up, tortured, and assassinated thousands of workers, students, and community members and their families. The dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet suspended human rights, outlawed popular organizations, privatized national industries, and created a reign of terror that lasted until 1990. The new government “…dissolves Congress, and goes on to end all democratic institutions… Pinochet abolishes elections, makes strikes and unions illegal, and imposes strict censorship of books, the press and school curriculums. Entire university departments (such as sociology) are shut down.” [2] (We recommend Patricio Guzman’s incredible 3-part film, La Batalla de Chile [The Battle of Chile], a powerful documentary of the preparation for the coup, the coup itself, and popular power under Allende—available online.)

Mural on wall of the FECH (Chilean Student Organization) in Santiago. “It is prohibited to think.”

Before the coup, US corporations had deep roots in the Chilean economy, as they did throughout Latin America. “When Allende assumed office, more than 100 US corporations had established themselves in Chile. Among these were some of the top US-based multinational corporations. These included the major car manufacturers, oil companies, Dow and DuPont chemicals and International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) among others. Their collective investment in Chile was nearly $1 billion, with ITT’s investment ranking the highest, at $200 million, according to Business Week, April 10, 1971.” [3] The interests of US imperialism no doubt led Kissinger in 1970 to declare, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” [4]

Poster on Valparaíso wall

In its three brief years in power, despite sabotage by the US government, the Popular Unity (UP) government of Allende began moving moved toward an economy and a system of political power that would be run by and benefit workers, farmers, and marginalized people. Popular action of the people themselves, and a flourishing of critical thought, creativity, and art would create a new Chile. In the words of Marta Harnecker, Chilean revolutionary theorist, UP envisioned a new kind of “democratic socialist society rooted in national popular traditions.” In Allende’s words, “so­cialism with red wine and empanadas.”

The UP education program was an integral part of creating a new reality. Its 1970 program said, in part: 

  • The profound changes which have to be undertaken require a socially conscious and united people, educated to exercise and defend their political power, and scientifically and technically prepared to develop the transitional economy towards socialism, and a people wide open to creativity and the enjoyment of a wide variety of artistic and intellectual activities….
  • This new State will involve the whole population in intellectual and artistic activities not only by means of a radically transformed educational system but also through the development of a national system to promote popular culture…
  • Furthermore, the new Government will implement an emergency plan for the construction of schools, relying on contributions of national and local resources mobilized by grass roots organizations. Luxury buildings which are needed as premises for new schools and boarding schools will be expropriated…
  • To make the new teaching system a reality, new methods are required which put emphasis on the active and critical participation of students in their teaching, instead of perpetuating the passive attitudes they are expected to adopt at present…
  • The transformation of the educational system will not only be the task of technically qualified people. It is also a task requiring study, discussion, decision and implementation by teachers,’ workers,’ students,’ and parents’ organizations within the general framework of national planning.” [5] 
Posters from around the world in support of the Chilean people. From the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago.

Today, we are also learning a lot about the impact of the dictatorship.  We have been talking to people who grew up under it. Went to school under it. The impact is profound. We told one of our Alto al SIMCE comrades it feels like the whole country is suffering from PTSD. But he said no, there is also PTG, Post Traumatic Growth, a term some survivors of torture are using here and this is the way he described Alto Al SIMCE, the campaign against neoliberal education we are working with. Something good and new coming from the trauma. He said PTG is made possible by collective support—for survivors, it may be their church, their family, their community that allows them to turn PTSD into growth. For him it’s the collective work of Alto al SIMCE and their fight to undo the marketization of education in Chile. More about Alto al SIMCE soon.

“It is possible they will smash us, but tomorrow belongs to the people! …. History is ours, and the people will make it.” From Allende’s last speech, Sept 11, 1973, on radio, from the presidential palace before it was bombed and he was killed.

Wall mural of Salvador Allende, from the FECH building, Santiago


[1] Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup, September 11, 1973, By Peter Kornbluh. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 8.

[2] James D. Cockcroft and Jane Canning (eds.), Salvador Allende Reader: Chile’s Voice of Democracy, Ocean Press, Melbourne & New York, 2000.

[3] Dorfman, Ariel. Chile: The Other September 11: An Anthology of Reflections on the 1973 Coup (Radical History). Ocean Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] The Kissinger Doctrine. Anthony Lewis, NY Times, February 27, 1975. 

[5] The Róbinson Rojas Archive.- Allende – CHILE: THE POPULAR UNITY’S PROGRAMME – 1970

One thought on “Chile’s September 11

  1. excellent piece. I recall the overthrow of Allende and the dark days that followed. It was a big part of my political education and taught me about imperialism. It was a radicalizing experience for many north Americans. It is certainly worth looking at the brief socialist experiment in Chile . We desperately need to revisit the vision it embodied and now is the time to learn from it before we have destroyed all hope of having any future at all.


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