Chile 1964-1973

A hammer and sickle stamped on your child's forehead

excerpted from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum


When Salvador Allende, a committed Marxist, came within three percent of winning the Chilean presidency in 1958, the United States decided that the next election, in 1964, could not be left in the hands of providence, or democracy.

Washington took it all very gravely. At the outset of the Kennedy administration in 1961, an electoral committee was established, composed of top-level officials from the State Department, the CIA and the White House. In Santiago, a parallel committee of embassy and CIA people was set up.

"U.S. government intervention in Chile in 1964 was blatant and almost obscene," said one intelligence officer strategically placed at the time. "We were shipping people off right and left, mainly State Dept. but also CIA, with all sorts of covers." All in all, as many as 100 American operatives were dedicated to the operation.

They began laying the groundwork for the election years ahead, a Senate investigating committee has disclosed, "by establishing operational relationships with key political parties and by creating propaganda and organizational mechanisms capable of influencing key sectors of the population." Projects were undertaken "to help train and organize 'anti-communists"' among peasants, slum dwellers, organized labor, students, the media, etc..

After channeling funds to several non-leftist parties, the electoral team eventually settled on a man of the center, Eduardo Frei, the candidate of the Christian Democratic Party, as the one most likely to block Allende's rise to power. The CIA underwrote more than half the party's total campaign costs, one of the reasons that the Agency's overall electoral operation reduced the U.S. Treasury by an estimated $20 million-much more per voter than that spent by the Johnson and Goldwater campaigns combined in the same Year in the United States. The bulk of the expenditures went toward propaganda.


The operation worked. It worked beyond expectations. Frei received 56 percent of the vote to Allende's 39 percent. The CIA regarded "the anti-communist scare campaign as the most effective activity undertaken", noted the Senate committee. This was the tactic directed toward Chilean women in particular. As things turned out, Allende won the men's vote by 67,000 over Frei (in Chile men and women vote separately), but amongst the women Frei came out ahead by 469,000... testimony, once again, to the remarkable ease with which the minds of the masses of people can be manipulated, in any and all societies.

What was there about Salvador Allende that warranted all this feverish activity? What threat did he represent, this man against whom the great technical and economic resources of the world's most powerful nation were brought to bear? Allende was a man whose political program, as described by the Senate committee report, was to "redistribute income [two percent of the population received 46 percent of the income] and reshape the Chilean economy, beginning with the nationalization of major industries, especially the copper companies; greatly expanded agrarian reform; and expanded relations with socialist and communist countries."

A man committed to such a program could be expected by American policy makers to lead his country along a path independent of the priorities of US foreign policy and the multinationals. (As his later term as president confirmed, he was independent of any other country as well.)


"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people."

Thus spoke Henry Kissinger, principal adviser to the President of the United States on matters of national security. The date was 27 June 1970, a meeting of the National Security Council's 40 Committee, and the people Kissinger suspected of Imminent Irresponsibility were Chileans whom he feared might finally elect Salvador Allende as their president.

The United States did not stand by idly. At this meeting approval was given to a $300,000 increase in the anti-Allende "spoiling" operation which was already underway. The CIA trained its disinformation heavy artillery on the Chilean electorate, firing shells marked: "An Allende victory means violence and Stalinist repression." Black propaganda was employed to undermine Allende's coalition and support by sowing dissent between the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, the main members of the coalition, and between the Communist Party and the [communist dominated]CUTCh.

Nevertheless, on 4 September Allende won a plurality of the votes. On 24 October, the Chilean Congress would meet to choose between him and the runner-up, Jorge Alessandri of the Conservative National Party. By tradition, Allende was certain to become president.

The United States had seven weeks to prevent him from taking office. On 15 September, President Nixon met with Kissinger, CIA Director Richard Helms, and Attorney General John Mitchell. Helms' handwritten notes of the meeting have become famous: " One in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile! ... not concerned with risks involved ... $10,000,000 available, more if necessary ... make the economy scream.

Funds were authorized by the 40 Committee to bribe Chilean congressmen to vote for Alessandri, but this was soon abandoned as infusible, and under intense pressure from Richard Nixon, American efforts were concentrated on inducing the Chilean military to stage a coup and then cancel the congressional vote altogether.' At the same time, Nixon and Kissinger made it clear to the CIA that an assassination of Allende would not be unwelcome. One White House options-paper discussed various ways this could be carried out.


Meanwhile, the Agency was in active consultation with several Chilean military officers who were receptive to the suggestion of a coup. (The difficulty in finding such officers was described by the CIA as a problem in overcoming "the apolitical, constitutional-oriented inertia of the Chilean military.) They were assured that the United States would give them full support short of direct military involvement. The immediate obstacle faced by the officers was the determined opposition of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Rene Schneider, who insisted that the constitutional process be followed. He would have to be "removed".

In the early morn of 22 October the CIA passed "sterilized" machine guns and ammunition to some of the conspirators. (Earlier they had passed tear gas.) That same day Schneider was mortally wounded in an attempted kidnap (or "kidnap") on his way to work. The CIA station in Santiago cabled its headquarters that the general had been shot with the same kind of weapons it had delivered to the military plotters, although the Agency later claimed to the Senate that the actual assassins were not the same ones it had passed the weapons to.

The assassination did not avail the conspirators' purpose. It only served to rally the army around the flag of constitutionalism; and time was running out. Two days later, Salvador Allende was confirmed by the Chilean Congress. On 3 November he took office as president.

The stage was set for a clash of two experiments. One was Allende's "socialist" experiment aimed at lifting Chile from the mire of underdevelopment and dependency and the poor from deprivation. The other was, as CIA Director William Colby later put it, a "prototype or laboratory experiment to test the techniques of heavy financial investment in an effort to discredit and bring down a government."

Although there were few individual features of this experiment which were unique for the CIA, in sum total it was perhaps the most multifarious intervention ever undertaken by the United States. In the process it brought a new word into the language: destabilizatlon.

"Not a nut or bolt [will] be allowed to reach Chile under Allende", warned American Ambassador Edward Korry before the confirmation. The Chilean economy, so extraordinarily dependent upon the United States, was the country's soft underbelly, easy to pound. Over the next three years, new US government assistance programs for Chile plummeted almost to the vanishing point, similarly with loans from the US Export-Import Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, in which the United States held what amounted to a veto; and the World Bank made no new loans at all to Chile during 1971-73. US government financial assistance or guarantees to American private investment in Chile were cut back sharply and American businesses were given the word to tighten the economic noose.

What this boycott translated into were things like the many buses and taxis out of commission in Chile due to a lack of replacement parts; and similar difficulties in the copper, steel, electricity and petroleum industries. American suppliers refused to sell needed parts despite Chile's offer to pay cash in advance.

Multinational ITT, which didn't need to be told what to do, stated in a 1970 memorandum: "A more realistic hope among those who want to block Allende is that a swiftly deteriorating economy will touch off a wave of violence leading to a military coup."

In the midst of the near disappearance of economic aid, and contrary to its warning, the United States increased its military assistance to Chile during 1972 and 1973 as well as training Chilean military personnel in the United States and Panama. The Allende government, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, was reluctant to refuse this "assistance" for fear of antagonizing its military leaders.

Perhaps nothing produced more discontent in the population than the shortages, the little daily annoyances when one couldn't get a favorite food, or flour or cooking oil, or toilet paper, bed sheets or soap, or the one part needed to make the TV set or the car run; or, worst of all, when a nicotine addict couldn't get a cigarette. Some of the scarcity resulted from Chile being a society in transition: various changeovers to state ownership, experiments in workers' control, etc. But this was minor compared to the effect of the aid squeeze and the practices of the omnipresent American corporations. Equally telling were the extended strikes in Chile, which relied heavily on CIA financial support for their prolongation.

In October 1972, for example, an association of private truck owners instituted a work-stoppage aimed at disrupting the flow of food and other important commodities, including in their embargo even newspapers which supported the government (subtlety was not the order of the day in this ultra-polarized country). On the heels of this came store closures, countless petit-bourgeois doing their bit to turn the screws of public inconvenience- and when they were open, many held back on certain goods, like cigarettes, to sell them on the black market to those who could afford the higher prices. Then most private bus companies stopped running, on top of this, various professional and white-collar workers, largely unsympathetic to the government, walked out, with or without CIA help.

Much of this campaign was aimed at wearing down the patience of the public, convincing them that "socialism can't work in Chile". Yet there had been worse shortages for most of the people before the Allende government-shortages of food, housing, health care, and education, for example. At least half the population had suffered from malnutrition. Allende, who was a medical doctor, explained his free milk program by pointing out that "Today in Chile there are over 600,000 children mentally retarded because they were not adequately nourished during the first eight months of their lives, because they did not receive the necessary proteins."

Financial aid was not the CIA's only input into the strike scene. More than 100 members of Chllean professional associations and employers' guilds were graduates of the school run by the American Institute for Free Labor Development in Front Royal, Virginia-"The Little Anti-Red Schoolhouse". AIFLD, the ClA's principal Latin America labor organization, also assisted in the formation of a new professional association in May 1971: the Confederation of Chilean Professionals. The labor specialists of AIFLD had more than a decade's experience in the art of fomenting economic turmoil (or keeping workers quiescent when the occasion called for it).

CIA propaganda merchants had a field day with the disorder and the shortages, exacerbating both by instigating panic buying. All the techniques, the whole of the media saturation, the handy organizations created for each and every purpose, so efficiently employed in 1964 and 1970, were facilitated by the virtually unlimited license granted the press: headlines and stories which spread rumors about everything from nationalizations to bad meat and undrinkable water ... "Economic Chaos! Chile on Brink of Doom!" in the largest type one could ever expect to see in a newspaper ... raising the specter of civil war, when not actually calling for lt., literally ... alarmist stories which anywhere else in the world would have been branded seditious ... the worst of London's daily tabloids or the National Enquirer of the United States appear as staid as a journal of dentistry by comparison.


The government contingency plans were presumably obtained by the Agency through its infiltration of the various parties which made up Allende's Unidad Popular (UP) coalition. CIA agents in the upper echelons of Allende's own Socialist Party were "paid to make mistakes in their jobs" In Washington, burglary was the Agency's tactic of choice for obtaining documents. Papers were taken from the homes of several employees of the Chilean Embassy; and the embassy itself, which had been bugged for some time, was burgled in May 1972 by some of the same men who the next month staged the Watergate break-in.

In March 1973, the UP won about 44 percent of the vote in congressional elections compared to some 36 percent in 1970. It was said to be the largest increase an incumbent party had ever received in Chile after being in power more than two years. The opposition parties had publicly expressed their optimism about capturing two-thirds of the congressional seats and thus being able to impeach Allende. Now they faced three more years under him, with the prospect of being unable, despite their best and most underhanded efforts, to prevent his popularity from increasing even further.

During the spring and summer the destabilization process escalated. There was a whole series of demonstrations and strikes, with an even longer one by the truckers. Time magazine reported: "While most of the country survived on short rations, the truckers seemed unusually well equipped for a lengthy holdout." A reporter asked a group of truckers who were camping and dining on "a lavish communal meal of steak, vegetables, wine and empanadas" where the money for it came from. "From the CIA," they answered laughing.

There was as well daily sabotage and violence, including assassination. In June, an abortive attack upon the Presidential Palace was carried out by the military and Patria y Liberatad..

In September the military prevailed. "It is clear," said the Senate investigating committee, "the CIA received intelligence reports on the coup planning of the group which carried out the successful September 11 coup throughout the months of July, August, and September 1973."

The American role on that fateful day was one of substance and shadow. The coup began in the Pacific coast port of Valparaiso with the dispatch of Chilean naval troops to Santiago, while US Navy ships were present offshore, ostensibly to participate in joint maneuvers with the Chilean Navy. The American ships stayed outside of Chilean waters but renamed on the alert. A US WB-575 plane-an airborne communications control system-piloted by US Air Force officers, cruised in the Chilean sky. At the same time, American observation and fighter planes were landing at the US air base in Mendoza, Argentina, not far from the Chilean border.


Washington knows no heresy in the Third World but independence. In the case of Salvador Allende independence came clothed in an especially provocative costume-a Marxist constitutionally elected who continued to honor the constitution. This would not do. It shook the very foundation stones upon which the anti-communist tower is built: the doctrine, painstakingly cultivated for decades, that "communists" can take power only through force and deception, that they can retain that power only through terrorizing an brainwashing the population. There could be only one thing worse than a Marxist in power-an elected Marxist in power.

Killing Hope