On September 11, 1973, Pinochet and his military and government proponents ousted democratically elected President Salvador Allende by force. Tens of thousands were arrested, tortured, and “disappeared,” and hundreds were executed in the process — which was made possible with notable aid from both the Nixon administration and the CIA.
At issue was Allende’s fondness for socialist policies. The U.S. had been attempting to squelch this political shift in the region since Allende was elected in 1970 — but it had begun to manifest in the nationalization of several industries of keen interest to the U.S., including majority U.S.-owned International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT). To counter the general shift, Nixon authorized $10 million be allotted “to make the economy scream.”
There have been contradictory accounts of the violent coup, as rumors persist that the U.S. role wasn’t as significant as has been portrayed. Documents declassified years later prove this to be untrue, such as a CIA memo from October 1970, which states, according to the Guardian: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by coup.”
Pinochet rose to the top seat of power within a year of the coup, but his 17-year stint as Chile’s leader bears numerous black marks for an atrocious record on human rights. According to the Latin Times, “Various reports and investigations claim that between 1,200 and 3,200 people were killed, up to 80,000 people were interned, and as many as 30,000 were tortured.”
Over 300 criminal charges were pending against Pinochet at the time of his death on December 10, 2006, including human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement — almost all related to his 17-year rule.
Allende shot himself with a rifle given to him by Fidel Castro after his last radio address, as the air and ground troops that had turned against him began to bomb the presidential palace and storm the grounds. In his final speech, Allende stated:
“Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seeds which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shriveled forever. They have force and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested by neither crime nor force. History is ours and people make history […] The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled by bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.
Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!
These are my last words and I am certain my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, there will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.”