Sep 21, 2023
In the midst of a constitutional crisis, Chileans are also at odds over the legacy of one of the darkest days in their past. Fifty years ago, in September 1973, a military coup, welcomed but not directly instigated by the CIA, toppled the democratically-elected, socialist president Salvadore Allende. Army Gen. Augusto Pinochet took power and ruled Chile with an iron fist for nearly 17 years. Pinochet’s regime was notorious for murdering, torturing, and imprisoning thousands of its opponents, canceling elections, and destroying labor unions. Yet, according to polls, significant numbers of Chileans today believe the military coup was justified because of the economic chaos and Marxist drift brought on by Allende’s management of the country. Today's conflict over drafting a new constitution (to replace the Pinochet-era constitution) is a reflection of Chile’s complicated history of political strife between left and right. In this episode, historians James Lockhart and Kristian Gustafson dissect the CIA’s role in opposing Allende’s rule after 1970. President Nixon hoped U.S. operatives could somehow block Allende’s inauguration by covertly working with his domestic opponents in the Chilean military, Congress, and media. These efforts failed, but the country was embroiled in such chaos by 1973 that the military may have needed no such U.S. encouragement to ultimately dispatch Allende’s government.