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Double-Blind: Predicting the Pinochet Coup

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When it comes to writing good history, it is often hard to overcome the power of a good story. There is no better example of this than the rise and fall of Chile's elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. It is clear, both at that time and now through historical records, that the US foreign policy team of President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger disliked and feared the pro-Cuban government of Salvador Allende, and sought through diplomatic means to isolate the country. Nixon also curtailed US government lending to Allende's government, and there are widespread accusations (recently shown to be entirely false) that the US established a global 'invisible blockade' against the Chilean economy. Perhaps worse still, the CIA had a hand in the assassination of the Chilean military Commander-in-Chief General RenĂ© Schneider, shot days before Allende's inauguration. All these circumstances – plus liberal amounts of supposition and conspiracy theory – seemed sure proof of American complicity in the overthrow of Allende, and this belief has gone unchallenged since the coup. It is not uncommon to read both in popular and academic press the belief that the US 'guided Pinochet and his cohorts in their takeover' or were responsible for 'orchestrating the 1973 overthrow'. The journalist, Samuel Hersh, who 'outed' US involvement in Chile, wrote that 'no document will ever be found…to describe CIA plans or White House directions to murder Salvador Allende…[but] why else would [the CIA] be there?' Perhaps because of some emotional or political need to maintain a successful example of non-capitalist (and non-American) governance in Latin America or the West in general, the common 'story' suggests that Allende was a successful ruler whose career was cut short by the CIA, who supported General Augusto Pinochet and led him to carry out his vicious coup. This is, for many, a compelling story. But the story is wrong. The simple fact is that the US government had no significant input into the coup that killed Allende on 11 September 1973. One can take the argument even further, for recent evidence shows that not only did the US not help in the Chilean coup, but they also barely knew it was coming.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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