Daughter of The Revolution
Carmen Aguirre, the Author of, Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, recalls the CIA lead coup d’etat against President Salvador Allende on 9/11, 1973
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Salvador Allende was the first Marxist to become a president of a Latin American country through open elections. He was president from November 4, 1970, to September 11, 1973. While for most of us 9/11 is now associated with the downing of the twin towers in New York, prior to that the world remembered Salvador Allende and the CIA-sponsored coup d’etat on 9/11, 1973. Allende died later that day in circumstances that remain controversial, though in 2011 an autopsy confirmed that Allende died by his own hand. If you accept that, the issue still remains: was he forced to kill himself?
Following Allende’s deposition, army general Augusto Pinochet came to power when he declined to return authority to the civilian government. Chile then became ruled by a military junta that remained in power from 1973-1990, ending almost 41 years of Chilean democratic rule. The military junta that took over dissolved the congress of Chile and began the persecution of dissidents, in which thousands of Allende’s supporters were murdered.
Today we are joined by a child of that Chilean resistance who then became one herself, Carmen Aguirre. Carmen is an accomplished author and playwright, who wrote Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, which is a memoir of her childhood in which he spent moving around regularly with her parents who were a part of the Chilean resistance against Augusto Pinochet. Carmen, thank you for joining us today.
CARMEN AGUIRRE, THEATER ARTIST AND AUTHOR: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: So Carmen, in Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter you recount your political awakenings around this period. Describe to us what your parents told you about that day, September 11, 1973.
AGUIRRE: Well, they didn’t have to tell me much because even though I was only five years old I remember it perfectly. I remember waking up in the morning and realizing that it was kind of late to go to school, and wondering why my parents hadn’t woken me up to get ready to go to school. I could hear them crying in their bedroom, which was unheard of. And I knew that something terrible had happened, just before I even got to their room. And when I got to their room they were listening to Allende’s final address to the country.
So I heard that address live on the radio with them, and I remember it perfectly. And they explained to me as Allende was addressing the country that something terrible was happening, that a lot of people were probably going to die, including Allende. That he was an example to follow, because he was defending the country and not stepping down. And that, from that–that I would never forget that moment, and that I should be very present for that moment, because it was a historical moment that I was lucky enough to be a part of.
PERIES: Carmen, describe for us the socialization project that Allende was involved in that actually led to this contestation of his presidency.
AGUIRRE: Well I mean, when he took power as you said at the beginning, through elections, one of the first things that he did was he nationalized the copper mines in Chile. And the biggest copper mine in the world, which is called Chuquicamata, is in Chile. At that time, copper was a big deal on the international market. So when he did that is when the coup started to be planned and organized by the local bourgeoisie, by the Chilean bourgeoisie, and with the help of Nixon and Kissinger in the United States. This is not my opinion, this is a fact, this can be checked out by anybody who wants to go and look at the CIA declassified documents on the internet.
It took them three years to actually get the coup done, because whenever they would approach a commander in chief of the military to actually do the coup, and that person would say no, they would have to murder that person. So they murdered two commander in chiefs before General Pinochet said yes, I will do it. So General Pinochet was the commander in chief of the armed forces appointed by Allende.
That’s what was happening in terms of why the United States was so interested in overthrowing Allende. Inside the country there was a literacy campaign, there was an agrarian reform which saw some, a lot of the land that belongs to the indigenous Mapuche people in the south of Chile going back to them. There was a lot of funding for arts which had not been the case before, as–I mean, arts had been funded before in Chile by the state. Not as much as Allende. A lot of people would say that there was almost going to be a civil war in Chile because almost immediately after Allende took power the local bourgeoisie started to try and topple him.
So for example, they bought over the truckers’ union. So the truckers basically went on a strike against Allende and refused to move food through the country, so there were food shortages. There was also an international embargo against Allende as soon as he took power. All of this led to a critical situation, and the day that the coup happened I think that a lot of people, including people on the right, didn’t realize it was going to be as violent as it was, and did not realize that it was going to last for 17 years.
PERIES: Now, this is a first Marxist-socialist president of Chile. Now, he was obviously, in the accounts that you just described, trying to socialize the country. And very similar to what had happened when President Chavez took control and became president and tried to actually enact the socialization of the oil industry. So the resistance that Allende was experiencing at this time, you said there was an international embargo as well. What were, from your, what you remember and what you know now from the disclosed documents, led to what happened later that day, which is that we find that President Allende was killed? So describe what you know of that day and what happened, and of that period.
AGUIRRE: Yes. Well, Allende along with many members of his government went to the presidential palace on the day of the coup and resisted the coup. That is to say, they took up arms against the coup.
So what’s interesting about Allende is that yes, he was trying to enact a peaceful road to socialism. You have to remember, this is shortly after, I guess about ten years after the Cuban revolution had won. So what he was doing was, I want to do exactly what the Cuban revolution did without the revolution. So in other words, he was a peaceful man, quote-unquote, but on the day of the coup he did take up arms and he saw no problem with that.
It has been revealed that he did–he did commit suicide I think that is a moot point. He believed that he would rather die by his own hand than be arrested and put in a concentration camp when the military finally were able to storm the doors of the presidential palace and go in there and consequently arrest everybody else. But he did resist for a few hours. The presidential palace was bombed pretty severely, to such a point that the new government, Pinochet’s junta government, could not use the presidential palace for years. It had to be refurbished before they could go in there.
So that’s what I know in a nutshell about what happened on that day.
PERIES: And how do you reflect, now that you are an adult and you’ve been yourself a part of the resistance against Pinochet, how do you reflect back on that period, and what are some of your takeaways?
AGUIRRE: I don’t really know what could have been done differently. That is to say, I do know. I do know what could have been done differently. However, I understand why Allende did not take a different route.
What I’m referring to is that shortly before the coup happened, there were other–there were coup attempts. For example, there was a coup attempt in July of 1973, before it was successful on September 11 of 1973. The months leading up to the successful coup, for example Cuba, sent a large shipment of arms to Chile on a boat and basically said, we’re giving these to you. We think that you should arm yourselves, because a coup is coming and you’re going to all be murdered. And Allende sent that boat back to Cuba, because he said he did not believe in armed struggle. So there’s a lot of people who believe that that was a huge mistake, that he should have armed the people, because the people did go out into the street and did try and fight the military with rocks and with slingshots, and a few guns here and there. For example, the indigenous Mapuche people in the south of Chile were able to resist the military for a few days with very few arms that they had.
So some people believe that if Allende had accepted those arms and had armed the people there might have been a chance. Who knows, it might have been worse, right. Maybe those arms would not have been enough to fight a CIA-backed military coup. So maybe the murder would have been even more intense. It’s impossible to know.
PERIES: And what do we know from the CIA’s disclosed documents about their involvement? How involved were they in planning the coup?
AGUIRRE: They were–around 100 percent. They were–I haven’t looked at these documents in years, by the way, so forgive me if I get the numbers wrong or the dates wrong. But there are, for example, Kissinger sending–they weren’t called faxes at that time, but messages to the U.S. Embassy, literally naming, for example, these ten union leaders who are currently being held in Chacabuco concentration camp. Please send them to the firing squad and murder them tomorrow. That’s how involved the United States was, literally naming people that had to be executed in the concentration camps.
PERIES: Tragic times. Carmen, I want to thank you so much for joining us today, and we look forward to having you back on the Real News.
AGUIRRE: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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