Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another Leftist Myth

In writing a story last week about "the Hugo" inviting the Russians to participate in military exercises with the Venezuelan military, I thought about the possibility of having to deal with el presidente para vivir much like what happened in Chile when Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende in the coup of 1973. I decided to do a little research, a bit of a refresher on the subject, so I didn't go off half-cocked, and what I found was more than enlightening.

For as long as I can remember the Pinochet coup has been a favorite topic of criticism among the left regarding US "imperialism", American foreign policy "bully tactics", and the CIA providing covert aid to minority right-wing militias in overthrowing popular, democratically elected foreign leaders in order to further US interests abroad, thereby subverting the will of the people. The purpose of this discussion is not to defend, justify, or otherwise address the ethics or agendas involved in US foreign policy which has admittedly been flawed in certain cases; that is a matter for another discussion. What I will tell you is that concerning the Chilean coup of 1973, there is more myth than fact surrounding the circumstances of what led to the coup and the actual level of involvement of the US and the CIA in that coup.

Normally I would not cite Wikipedia as an authoritative or scholarly source on most subjects, but here it does provide with many outside sources a fairly factual overview of the history and events leading up to the coup and fairly good background discussion on both Allende and Pinochet. The real "meat and potatoes", however, can be found in this accounting which, presented in outline form, cites multiple sources from both right- and left - wing perspectives giving what can be as close to an objective analysis as reasonably possible (although it can be stated from the author's commentary that, while maybe not far-right, he is at the very least not sympathetic to the left or Marxist view).

So, what are some of the myths?

Myth: That the US supported a right-wing policy in Central and South America.
Fact: Not initially.
In the later years of President Jorge Alessandri's rule (1958-64) and even more under "Christian Democratic" President Eduardo Frei (1964-1970), Chile was an intended showcase of US President John F. Kennedy's "Alliance for Progress." Supposedly, if the US supported democratic left-wing reformers with generous foreign aid, potential supporters of Communist movements could be bought off.
Does this policy of appeasement and bribery sound familiar? Think of the similarities in how both the Clinton and Bush administrations have used the lure of greater foreign aid with North Korea's Kim Jong Il to not develop nuclear weapons. Also, consider Obama's proposal of negotiating with Iran's President Ahmadinejad.

Myth: Allende won the election in 1970 by a majority of votes cast.
Fact: Allende won the three man race with a plurality of 36.3%, barely edging-out right-wing candidate Jorge Alessandri (34.9%), and the remainder of votes went to the other leftist candidate, Radomiro Tomic (27.8%).
Frei was Constitutionally barred from succeeding himself in 1970, and the Right-moderate-Left coalition that had supported him fell apart. The Right nominated former President Jorge Alessandri, while the Christian Democrat Left stuck with Radomiro Tomic, who sounded almost as Left-wing as Allende. Alessandri had been favored to win the 3-man race; Allende's plurality (Sep 1970) was a surprise.

The Left's actual popularity was higher than Allende's 36.2%. The 27.8% vote for Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic cannot be considered anti-socialist, since Tomic ran a Left-sounding campaign.

Under Chilean law, Congress (who had the final say) were not required to elect Allende President with only a plurality. Nevertheless, Congress had not previously challenged a plurality, and moderate Christian Democratic deputies were not ready to start now. Congress elected Allende on conditions (Oct 1970), the most important of which turned out to be the Army's autonomy (de Vylder, p. 233--note 8 on chapter 3).

Myth: The CIA was largely responsible for the coup and Pinochet's rise to power.
Fact: While the CIA was involved in undermining Allende's rise to power and supporting Pinochet's subsequent reign, there was clearly no mandate by Nixon to put Pinochet into power.

One must understand that, since the 1950s, Allende had been backed by and had been receiving payment and aid from the USSR and was actually a KGB operative, codenamed "Leader". That is something the left conveniently fails to disclose or acknowledge. It was classic Cold War activity, so the US had every right to counter such foreign influence. That is something that the left refuses to acknowledge. Following the election of 1970 (but prior to Allende taking office), a botched kidnapping of Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief Rene Schneider, who opposed a coup, resulted in his death. The group of Chilean army officers to which the CIA had given guns returned those guns and reportedly another group of officers carried out the final action. That is where the situation gets a bit murky, but that is about the greatest extent of direct CIA involvement. Pinochet's coup in 1973 could not have been foreseen at the time of Allende's election in 1970, and Pinochet did not come onto the scene until just prior to his seizure of power which was the result of many other factors. In fact, Allende himself was arguably directly responsible for his own demise which will become evident under further examination.

During the first year of Allende's rule the economy did OK as he seized foreign controlled mining interests, paying only a fraction of the total worth, thus enabling him to pay down some of the previously accrued debt:
from a book value of $663.7 million, Allende's accountants deducted enough "excess profits" and other items to offer a laughable compensation of $28.3 million (De Vylder, p. 127). In any case, however, US economic pressure was only one of many unfavorable factors (de Vylder, p. 106); Allende's Chile continued to get credit from other sources, and engaged in substantial foreign trade to the end.
From then on the economy began to fall apart due in large part to "selective" wage increases and increased government spending. There were strikes and lockouts, street fighting between left and right wing militant groups, and property seizures. On top of that, Allende could not shore up support on any front: He was too moderate for the radical left, and too leftist for the opposition-controlled Congress who found him in violation of the Chilean Constitution and issued a declaration stating such.

Now, here's where the Leftist argument falls apart in glorious irony:
In the final weeks before Pinochet's coup, the Army used a 1972 gun-control law to conduct numerous searches for weapons in Leftist-controlled factories (Roxborough et al., p. 216). Apart from disrupting the formation of Leftist militias, this enabled Army commanders to collect intelligence on who their likely enemies were in each factory, and who among their own troops might be unreliable (Loveman, p. 306). General Carlos Prats, considered too sympathetic to Allende, was forced by other officers to resign as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Allende appointed General Augusto Pinochet, a man without a political record, as Gen. Prats's successor (24 August).(emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? Allende himself appointed Pinochet, the man who would bring him down in just over two weeks from the time of his appointment - August 24 - to the date of the coup - September 11!

The aftermath was, unfortunately, mired in systematic violence and torture against Allende supporters. Of course, leftist "human rights" groups like Amnesty International inflated the numbers in their initial evaluations. The official numbers obtained by the center-left government after 1990 when Pinochet retired were found to be much lower. Regardless, the resulting violence and bloodshed would have been unavoidable given Allende's complete mis-management of the country during his three years in charge.
Pinochet's supporters replied that a bloody collision was inevitable after Allende's coalition had so thoroughly wrecked the economy, polarized society, and destroyed respect for law. The radical Left had begun to mobilize for civil war, and Pinochet simply hit them before they were ready. (emphasis mine)
It is hoped that in debunking these myths of direct US involvement in the Chilean coup of 1973 I have also provided a prime example for the reader to perhaps understand more clearly the dangers of Marxist/Communist doctrine and socialist (communism "light") policies which may look good at first, offering at best only short-term solutions, but are unsustainable in the long run, inevitably leading to economic ruin, social unrest, and ultimately civil war or worse - totalitarian dictatorship.

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Blogger Oldcatman said...

As you know, not a big fan of 'political' history--
but haven't WE supported many leaders of middle east countries only to have them ousted with some kind of coup and replaced by a 'leader' that we end up have MANY UGLY WORDS with?

4:06 AM GMT+12  
Blogger Joe Ramen said...

Iran. 1979. The Shah, friendly to the US and the West. Ousted in popular "student" uprising. The Ayatollah Khomeini, religious fanatic, takes over, supporters take US embassy hostage. Ahamadinejad, part of that uprising now runs the place. And the new "student" generation wants to oust him, but they're scared.

6:12 PM GMT+12  
Anonymous Joe Russo said...

Excellent post - I completely agree - Joe -

4:58 PM GMT+12  
Blogger Joe Ramen said...

Glad you like it, Joe. I don't necessarily seek agreement, but I always strive for clarity. Thanks for stopping by and hope you come back often!

10:17 PM GMT+12  

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