That Other September 11, That Other 3,000
It was on September 11, 1973, 40 years ago, that democracy died in Chile. A CIA backed coup, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende and began a repressive, 17 year military dictatorship. Some say that Allende committed suicide during the coup; others, that he was murdered. This event preceded the phrase "regime change" but embodied it.
The BBC put it this way in 1973:
President Salvador Allende of Chile, the world's first democratically-elected Marxist head of state, has died in a revolt led by army leaders.
Air Force planes attacked the presidential palace with rockets and bombs and tanks opened fire after President Allende rejected an initial demand for his resignation.
According to military sources, Dr Allende asked for a five-minute ceasefire in order to resign. But the armed forces said that was impossible because snipers loyal to the president were operating from buildings near the presidential palace.
At least 17 bombs were dropped in an attack on the palace, one of which scored a direct hit. Martial law has been declared throughout the country, a curfew has been imposed and the carrying of guns has been banned.
Although Dr Allende called on his followers to support him, there appeared to be little organised resistance.
Troops blasted buildings in the city centre around the presidential palace in an attempt to dislodge pro-Allende snipers. Helicopters repeatedly machine-gunned the top floors of buildings near the British Embassy. Bullets ripped through the windows of the embassy - but no-one was reported hurt.
Thousands of workers are said to be marching on Santiago from the north, despite a warning any resistance would be met with air and ground fire.
Opposition to President Allende has been growing for months. He was elected to power in 1970 with only 36% of the vote. He has not held a majority in Congress and gradually his authority has been eroded.
His attempts to re-structure the nation's economy have led to soaring inflation and food shortages. A prolonged strike by lorry drivers who opposed his plans for nationalisation has recently been joined by shopkeepers angry they have nothing to sell.
President Allende brought senior army officers into his government last month in an attempt to head off a revolt.
But the final crunch came three days ago when the two major opposition parties called for the President's resignation. ***
After President Allende's death, General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean Commander-in-Chief and a leader of the military junta, appointed himself President. His Cabinet was made up almost entirely of military men. Martial law remained in effect. Troops patrolled the streets. Dissenters were disappeared. Bodies piled up in the streets and the soccer stadium.
President Allende's widow and a number of his other supporters were granted political asylum in the Mexican Embassy and flew to Mexico five days later.
Pinochet's regime was characterised by brutal repression and more than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during his 17 years in charge. He was arrested in London in 1998 for human rights abuses but after a protracted legal battle he was ruled unfit to stand trial.
And so, in Chile, a different, sad 9/11, one which our Government would just as soon have us forget. But it's a 9/11 I hope you will pause today to remember, as I do.
I think of Allende and Neruda drving around Chile campaigning. Allende sleeps between the frequent stops. Neruda stares out the window and scribbles. After Allende speaks of politics to small groups of villagers, Neruda, who had by then won the Nobel Prize, reads his poems to them. I imagine that Allende and Neruda are weary but happy. I imagine that they smile and are thankful that they can bring economic justice to their country. I prefer to dwell on these optimistic images of hope than the violent bombing of the presidential palace by Pinochet's colleagues. I prefer to think of Chile (and the world) like this: