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Latam Brief: Fifty years after the coup, The U.S. role in Chile’s coup (Sept. 11 2023)

Latin America Daily Briefing
Latin America Daily Briefing

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the military coup against Chile’s democratic, leftist President Salvador Allende, which ushered in 17 years of dictatorship and savage human rights violations. More than a thousand people remain disappeared, more than 40,000 people were subjected to physical and psychological torture. (New York Times)

The Boric administration had hoped the anniversary could be a moment of national unity, and called for a broad political declaration condemning the coup and celebrating democracy. But the president’s efforts at what he labelled a “reasonable and minimal consensus” failed, “exacerbating both the country’s extreme polarisation and political paralysis,” and a reflection of a wider political stagnation, reports the Financial Times.

Boric and four of his predecessors signed a commitment “for democracy, forever” last week, the agreement the country’s political parties failed to reach. The five, including Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera called for democratic concordance in a context of disenchantment and CRISPACIÓN in interviews with El País.

The Chilean government recently formally admitted responsibility for the disappearance, and presumed deaths, of over two thousand people at the hands of the Chilean military and associated paramilitary groups, and made a groundbreaking commitment to search for and identify the remains of those disappeared by the dictatorship. But these moves have also highlighted polarization in Chile regarding the Pinochet legacy, reports Jacobin: “Major sectors of the Chilean military and Chilean society in general oppose this move and continue to extol … Pinochet’s dictatorship. The controversy over the government’s admission of guilt highlights the divisions that still rend the country.”

The vast majority of human rights violations under the dictatorship remain untried, and Boric’s efforts at truth and justice have brought pushback from conservative opposition leaders, reports Al Jazeera. “As in other countries in the region, so-called “dirty war denial” is growing in Chile, sowing anger and division on all sides.”

Ariel Dorman writes: “How our nation remembers, 50 years later, the historical trauma of our common past could not be more important than it is now, when the temptation of authoritarian rule is once again on the rise among Chileans, as it is, of course, across the world. Many conservatives in Chile today argue that the 1973 coup was a necessary correction. Behind their justification lurks a dangerous nostalgia for a strongman who supposedly will deal with the problems of our time by imposing order, crushing dissent and restoring some sort of mythical national identity.” (New York Times)

The U.S. role in Chile’s coup — Fifty Years On

Fifty years after the coup, a fierce debate over U.S. contributions to the overthrow of Allende continues — though “Chile is one of the best-documented cases of covert US intervention for regime change. Nonethless “there are still top secret documents on the US role that must be declassified,” writes Peter Kornbluh in The Nation.

The National Security Archive posted “Countdown Toward the Coup,” a chapter of Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File, which records U.S. government actions, internal debates and policy deliberations as conditions for the coup evolved between March and September 1973.

Al Jazeera recognizes Kornbluh’s decades of work on sifting through declassified documents detailing US foreign interventions in general, and in Chile in particular. The goal is to set the record straight, Korbluh told Al Jazeera.

“At a time when numerous nations, including the United States, are confronting the dire threat posed by authoritarianism to the survival of democratic institutions, access to the complete historical record on what happened in Chile remains critical to us all,” writes Kornbluh in The Nation.

The U.S. role in Chile’s coup also had an effect at home, galvanizing activists and lawmakers to give human rights concerns more priority in U.S. foreign policy, reports NPR.

More Chile

  • Today Chile’s Museum of Memory will transmit in real time the minute by minute of the coup, reconstructed from radio archives that form part of its collection, reports El País.

  • The Washington Post has a photoessay of the coup.

  • The Guardian profiles the survivors of dictatorship victims, who fifty years on “fear the brutality of the death squads will be forgotten.”
  • El País profiles Judge Carlos Cerda, one of the few members of the judiciary who investigated human rights abuses during the dictatorship, and who in the years afterwards ordered the detention of members of the Pinochet family in relation to misuse of public funds.

  • El País analyzes why Chile’s regime avoided a cult of personality around Pinochet — except of a massive statue that was commissioned before the end of the dictatorship, never installed, and is now, allegedly, hidden in pieces in Army installations.

  • Polls show that Chile’s latest effort to rewrite its constitution is heading toward a rejection in December’s referendum, despite recent concessions by the far-right Partido Republicano, which has the largest representation on the constitutional council. Earlier this month the party withdrew four of its most controversial proposals, including a clause to “protect the life of the child about to be born,” reports Americas Quarterly.

Petro Proposes LatAm alliance against drugs

Colombian President Gustavo Petro proposed a Latin American alliance against drug trafficking that counters the failed “war on drugs” paradigm and recognizes drug consumption as a public health problem.

Petro spoke Saturday at the Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs, which was held in the city of Cali. The conference was convened by Colombia’s government in order to push for a shift in the global effort to combat drug-trafficking, reports El País.

The countries participating in the conference said in a joint statement that demand for illicit drugs must be reduced by educating the public and combating inequality, poverty, lack of opportunities and violence, reports Reuters.

They also agreed on the need to break the harmful links between drug and firearms trafficking, transnational organized crime, illegal logging, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, money laundering and corruption.

More Drug War

  • The increasingly trendy idea among some U.S. Republican leaders to deploy the U.S. military against Mexican cartels would fail — just as Plan Colombia failed, argue the Cato Institute’s Justin Logan and Daniel Raisbeck in Foreign Policy.

Lula invites Putin to Brazil

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is welcome to attend next year’s G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro without fear of arrest.

The international criminal court (ICC) issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest for alleged war crimes in March. As a signatory of the Rome statute, Brazil is required to cooperate with ICC investigations and activities, including arresting the court’s targets, reports the Guardian.

Putin was absent at the G20 meeting in New Delhi this weekend, and from the BRICS summit in Johannesburg last month.

Lula has sought to position himself as a peacemaker between Ukraine and Russia, and his efforts at a third-way diplomacy have ruffled feathers in the West.

In a recent letter to Lula regarding Brazil’s candidacy to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch celebrated the administration’s defense of rights and called for Brazil to play “a greater role in the promotion of human rights worldwide … regardless of the ideology of any particular government and not driven by geo-political interests.”

More Regional Relations

  • India formally handed over the G20 presidency to Brazil at the closing ceremony of the annual summit of the grouping, that was held in New Delhi this weekend, reports Reuters.

  • The BRICS expansion raises “new questions about the relevance of an institution like the G-20, which may no longer be the principal forum for the major powers of the developing world,” write Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post.

  • “Welcome to the a la carte world,” writes Alec Russell in the Financial Times. “As the post-cold war age of America as a sole superpower fades, the old era when countries had to choose from a prix fixe menu of alliances is shifting into a more fluid order.” (via Washington Post WorldView)

  • U.S. progressive lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez situates Latin American efforts to avoid a Cold War diplomatic framework within the region’s desire for sovereignty, in an interview with Jacobin. “I do not think that interventionist stance serves our country. It perpetuates instability, and it perpetuates a greater skepticism that would drive any of these countries away from alignment with the United States, which is still important to advocate for on human rights grounds, on ecological grounds, in building global consensus.”

  • Lula welcomed France’s candidacy to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization after meeting with President Emmanuel Macron this week. France has territory in the Amazon through its overseas territory of French Guiana, reports Reuters.

  • Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament extended economic sanctions against Haiti on Friday. (Caribbean Media Corporation)


  • A former Colombian soldier charged in the 2021 assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse pleaded guilty to three charges last week in a U.S. court. A fourth charge was dropped as part of a plea deal, reports the Financial Times.
  • “Even among a population facing daily depredations, (Haiti’s)abandoned and disabled children stand out,” reports the Miami Herald. Gangs have singled out children for threats, and bureaucracy has prevented them from accepting a Jamaican charity’s offer to take in disabled children requiring specialized care.


  • Former FARC fighters who laid down arms after the 2016 peace deal are now under threat from dissident FARC groups, and many have been forced off the land they were allowed to settle after they demobilized, reports the Conversation.

  • Legislation aimed at protecting animal rights could ban almost all science and education using live animals, provoking backlash among scientists who say it should be reformulated. (Nature)

Culture Corner

  • “Instead of being hailed as a triumph of design” Brazil’s iconic orelhão public phones “are now decaying and virtually unused,” according to the Brazil Report.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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