50 years ago: coup in Chile


September 11 is a historic date not only because of the terrorist attack on New York and Washington, but also because of the coup in Chile in 1973, i.e. 50 years ago.

It was an important event in the context of the Cold War. While South America’s states today almost all have left-wing governments with socialist leanings, the 1970s were the time of right-wing dictatorships in this continent, often with approval or at least acceptance by the US.

Although the coup at the time and the long-term rule of Augusto Pinochet are condemned today from all quarters due to the accompanying human rights violations, few know what gave rise to it and that the government enjoyed considerable support among the population.

The cause of the coup was the socialist government of Salvador Allende, one of the icons of international socialism such as Ho Chi Minh and Ché Guevara (in East Berlin, for example, there is an Allende center).

Allende did come to power through an election, but only with a relative majority for his socialists and as part of a shaky coalition. He ran the country chaotically and attempted to overturn its foundations, such as property rights, through company nationalization and land expropriations. To increase his support, he offered many free services for the poor, where free only means through debt and tax increases.

However, high inflation and a scarcity of daily food were the consequences of socialist economic policy. Demonstrations and resistance against his rule flared up almost immediately and the moderate parties such as the Christian Democrats, who initially supported his rule long-toothed as the lesser evil, now withdrew their support. New elections did not produce any decision, nor the appointment of new ministers.

The resistance against Allende’s rule shot on a broad front and the army, starting with the navy, rebelled. a Junta consisting of the heads of the four military divisions (navy, army, air force and police) demanded the government to resign and when Allende refused the seat of government was bombed. Allende, when the situation became hopeless, shot himself.

Augusto Pinochet, the head of the ladder, soon became the strongman within the junta crystallized out. Pinochet’s rule lasted 17 years and after the initial violent phase of dealing with the socialists, he later led the country into economic progress. His liberal economic policy, advised by American economists, was in everything the opposite of Allende’s socialism, and bore fruit: low inflation, economic growth, job creation, general prosperity, so that in the late 1980s Chile became the richest country in South America has.

It was also one of the few dictatorships that precisely reduced the power of the state through economic liberalisation. His rule also later became more moderate, although no opposition was still tolerated. In 1988, Pinochet called a referendum on the continuation of his rule, in which the majority (56%) voted for the return to democracy.

Pinochet stepped down as president two years later, but exercised influence for another 10 years as head of the army and later as senator. However, Pinochet’s legacy is overshadowed by the heavy-handed suppression of the opposition and associated human rights violations.