The real tragedy of September 11th
While I’m here I am taking a course in Contemporary Latin American Politics. I have really enjoyed it so far. Almost everything I have learned has been new knowledge, and totally riveting. Before now, the only knowledge I had of Latin American Politics was from the cultural lessons in the Spanish classes I have taken in the US. These included short lessons on: colonial Mexico, Chile in the 70’s, and the political evolution of Venezuela that led to Hugo Chavez.
My professor for this class is named Mario Toer, and he is a pretty incredible guy. He wrote the book we are using for the class, called “De Moctezuma a Chavez (From Moctezuma to Chavez), and I recommend it if you can read Spanish and enjoy political history. Things in class have been getting really interesting lately, as we have begun to talk about political changes in the 60’s and 70’s in Latin America. We finished talking about the influences of the Cuban Revolution, and began talking about the special case that Chile experienced between 1969 and 1973.
The history, while too complex to completely divulge here, can be laid out in a pretty cut and dry way for the purposes of this post. In short, Chile narrowly elected a ruling government made up of a coalition of Socialists, Communists, and Radicals (‘Unidad Popular’ was the name of the party) that took power in 1970. The leader of this movement, and the man legally and peacefully elected to president, was named Salvador Allende. He put into action a plan of reforms to create the first peacefully created, popularly elected socialist republic/society. Some of these things included the nationalization of Chilean copper mines, and the dividing up of large tracts of farmland to be redistributed to the working class. He was a champion for the lower class working family. He wasn’t just another Leninist, or just another Marxist, or just a disciple of Fidel Castro; he was truly one of the great political thinkers of the 20th century with study and influence that spanned hundreds of years of political thought. He had his political roots in the French Revolution, just as in the writings of Karl Marx, and the lessons of the Great Depression. Needless to say, the Cold War US view of any socialist or communist government, peaceful as it might have been, was negative, if not hostile.
By 1973, the economic changes made by the Allende government were facing challenges from conservatives supported by big business in the congress. There were also serious threats of a military coup d’etat. Even so, the popularly elected government had broad popular support among the people, and, all the while, Allende never incited them to protest or take part in violent demonstrations. Richard Nixon was not a fan, and told the US ambassador and the CIA that he wanted to, quote, “…Squash that SOB, Squash that bastard!” As history has shown, Nixon was a real champion for democracy.
After three years of undermining on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency, with support from the Chilean military superiors, and Multi-national corporations, the government and economy were in crisis. Almost 2.7 million dollars was spent by our government in 1970’s US dollars, in a propaganda and economic “terrorism” campaign smear against the Allende government. Finally on September 11, 1973, there was a military coup in which the house of government was bombed and fired upon. Allende said the only way he would leave the post he was elected to by the people was as a dead man, and that day, after his last radio message to the people, in which he said his government had never been anything but peaceful and stood for liberty, justice, and equality, while the building around him was burning, he put a bullet in his head. This led to some of the most painful years in the history of Chile, in which the military dictatorship took prisoner and killed thousands of peaceful residents and political activists. I felt ashamed to be an American, knowing that it wouldn’t have happened without the help of the government of my country.
At the time of the military coup, my professor Mario Toer had been teaching at a university in Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile. Luckily, he had been out of the country visiting his family in Argentina on September 11th. His memories of the protests and riots in the streets days before are vivid. Ex-pats with-in Chile at the time were taken prisoner. The national soccer stadiums were filled with political prisoners, many of which would never see the outside again. Mario opened his home in Buenos Aires to Chilenos that couldn’t go home, but sadly, not long after that there was also a military coup in Argentina after the death of Juan Domingo Perón and the failure of his government. Because Mario had opened his home to the Chileno exiles, all of them were put in jail. My professor spent 6 years in an Argentine prison, and strangely he considers himself one of the lucky ones. He told us he could have had it worse, because he was in a legal prison, and not one of the kidnapped. During this period thousands of people were kidnapped, killed, and dumped in the Rio de la Plata in Argentina. It was one of the darkest times in the history of Latin America, and it’s strange to think that I had to wait until I came here to really learn about it.
Alice and I were in awe of the man sitting before us. I had so much admiration for the fact that he was able to sit down and give us a play-by-play of the events of the history of this era with out interjecting anger, bias, or even personal opinions. I couldn’t help thinking that if it were me who spent six years as a political prisoner in my own country, I would be mad as hell at the US, the CIA…I’d probably be an anarchist. Mario wasn’t mad when he was telling us, he was just telling us what happened. The man is just continuing his life as a political scientist, doing his work, thinking about the implications of government actions, and showing how these actions contribute to the bigger picture of the story of our society. He is my hero.
So, when you’re watching the news today, hearing about what our nation is doing in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and a thousand other places around the globe, think about what September 11th really means to you. I can tell you that, for me, it means there is no difference between a falling tower and a falling bomb on the president’s home in Chile in 1973. There is no difference between a bomb in Baghdad and a bomb in my own home- a gun sold illegally in Minneapolis or in Afghanistan. In the age we live in violence everywhere, for any cause, must end, and it starts with you.