This Sept. 11 marks the violent United States-backed overthrow of an icon of Latin American socialism, Chile’s Salvador Allende. The end of his short presidency marked the beginning of a bloody 17-year-long military dictatorship that claimed the lives of thousands.
Allende’s democratic ascension to power represented the possibility for popular and socialist movements throughout Latin America to reach state power through electoral participation rather than guerrilla warfare. His government proved it was possible to reclaim the country’s natural resources from transnational corporations and to redistribute wealth for the many.
Chileans were economically punished for choosing the first socialist president through a well-documented economic war that sought to destabilize the country. "Make the economy scream," President Richard Nixon ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When that failed, Allende and Popular Unity, the political coalition that backed him, had to pay with their lives for daring to reaffirm Chile's national sovereignty.
“Workers of my homeland, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this sad and bitter moment when treason seeks to impose itself,” Allende said in his last address as president.
This year’s commemoration of the victims and survivors of Chile’s military dictatorship is marked by the controversial release of seven of Augusto Pinochet’s agents, who were convicted for crimes against humanity by the Supreme Court.
On Sunday, thousands in Chile marched in Santiago to pay tribute to Pinochet's victims.
A day prior, Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, whose supporters proudly carry images of the convicted criminal against humanity, Pinochet, said that during Allende’s presidency Chile’s democracy was already “deeply sick” and that the country was in “absolute chaos.”
In an interview with local media Piñera also expressed his optimism: "I am sure the left learned the lesson on how important it is to care for unity (and) democracy. ... The center-right also learned the lesson on how important the total commitment to the respect of human rights is."
Detractors claim his statements amount to a justification of the coup.
Alicia Lira, president of the Group of Relatives of Executed Politicians also criticized the Piñera administration arguing that “the campaign of impunity that Sebastian Piñera has promoted with some Supreme Court justices offends the memory of thousands of murdered Chileans.”