WASHINGTON — When the 30th anniversary of the overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende passed by recently, the myth that the United States was responsible was alive and well. The reality is otherwise. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a more self-destructive mode of governance than that implemented by the Allende regime.
In the span of three years (1970-73), Allende impoverished the country, tore apart the fabric of Chilean society, and brought the polarized populace to the brink of civil war. It was a predictable consequence of a Marxist agenda.
To blame the chaos on the United States is to ignore Allende's anti-democratic proclivities and his fantastically reckless economic policies. The US's principal actions during this period merely involved providing funding for opposition newspapers, radio stations, and political parties, as well as cutting off loan money to Chile (since it was highly unlikely a Marxist regime would pay the money back; and sure enough, it defaulted on its existing debts). The US had no involvement with the coup plotters. In his memoir "Years of Upheaval," then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is adamant about this point, while freely admitting the US helped fund the opposition. Historians' accounts of the Allende years back up those claims.
But wait. A new book called "The Pinochet File" is touted as making the case, through newly declassified documents, that the United States orchestrated Allende's downfall. Upon learning of the documents, I thought Kissinger might be exposed. So I went to the bookstore, grabbed a copy of book, and searched for the red meat. I found none.
In fact, the book makes clear that the US provided no strategic support, equipment, guarantees, or anything else that materially helped the 1973 coup plotters - just as Kissinger said. While there were some hardliners within the U.S. government who would like to have fomented a coup, they did not get their way. And to be sure, in 1970 the CIA did take part in a clumsy scheme to try to prevent Allende from taking office (which was already common knowledge long prior to the newly declassified documents), but once he was in office, the CIA ceased such activities.
"The Pinochet File," by Peter Kornbluh (editor), plays up the US funding of Chilean opposition groups and the anti-Allende sentiment among many in the US government, while completely ignoring the poisonous policies of the Marxists.
Certainly, the 1970 scheme was a blunder. I am tempted to say that US funding of the opposition groups also was a mistake, since this made the US a more convenient scapegoat. But it was not necessarily a mistake. After all, without the funding, the opposition could have been weaker, and Allende could have had a better shot at achieving his goal of "total, scientific Marxist socialism."
Yes, those were Allende's words. He said them early in his administration during conversations with French leftist RÈgis Debray. Allende added, "As for the bourgeois state, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it." Regarding his allowance of democratic guarantees, they were only temporary - a "tactical necessity" for "the time being."
The blame-America crowd invariably highlights the fact that Allende was democratically elected. But even tyrants can be democratically elected. The key is to observe what leaders do after they gain office. While the Chilean congress (barely) stayed intact and elections still went on, Allende's government closed some opposition newspapers and radio stations. He pardoned left-wing extremists imprisoned for terrorism and other crimes. He moved to gain greater leftist control of universities. He unveiled a plan - never implemented - to reorganize primary and secondary education in order to indoctrinate all students in Marxism. He also tried to replace the congress with a unicameral legislature to boost his control.
Take it from a former member of the Chilean Communist Students Organization. Roberto Ampuero wrote recently in The Washington Post, "the Chilean left's principal failing was to have mentally cast aside our democratic system in order to try to replace it with a system which, by any reasonable measure, had already failed in Eastern Europe."
Further evidence of Allende's ulterior motives was the arrival of 13 wooden crates from Cuba in 1972, which Chilean customs did not examine on the orders of Allende's interior ministry. It was among the first of many shipments to arm Allende's supporters. He did not openly advocate force but acquiesced to it - e.g., when unions forcibly seized major textile enterprises. By mid-1973, Chile had become an armed camp, ripe for civil war.
Allende's disastrous economic policies were what mainly did in the country - and himself. From his election in 1970 until his overthrow in 1973, the government increased the money supply by 3,400 percent in order to pay for massive programs it could not afford. Strict price controls radically disrupted commerce. Expropriations devastated whole industries. Hyperinflation thrust multitudes into poverty. Shortages of basic goods - that inevitable byproduct of Marxism - were widespread.
In the "March of Empty Pots," thousands of women protested the lack of food and rising cost of living - and believe me, they were not acting at the behest of the CIA. Weeks before the coup, hundreds of thousands of people went on strike in protest of the government. Law and order broke down, and violence proliferated. At that point, the military stepped in.
Perpetuators of the myth that the United States caused Allende's downfall are unable to see or refuse to see the utter devastation that Marxism inflicts on a society. It is every bit as bad as fascism; whereas fascists hate rich minorities, Marxists hate the rich in general. And any system fueled by hatred will not be long for this world.