Today In History: Chilean Coup Results In Political Disaster
Today in 1973, the armed forces and police of Chile overthrew Chilean president Salvador Allende, directly resulting in Augusto Pinochet’s bloody, dictatorial regime. After days of air and ground attacks, President Allende issued a final speech declaring that he would not voluntarily leave the presidential palace and accept exile. He then committed suicide.
After the coup, the military completely deposed the Popular Unity government and established a junta that suspended political activity. They also cracked down on the country’s vibrant Left, eventually banning most oppositional parties outright. Immediately following the coup, thousands of people were arrested and confined in the national stadium, where many of them were murdered. Within a year, Pinochet, the army chief, became the President (after first declaring himself “The Supreme Chief of the Nation”).
During his reign, Pinochet was responsible for roughly three thousand deaths, with an additional thousand reported missing. Pinochet’s government was also responsible for torturing about 31,000 people.
The coup was remarkably violent. Analysts suggest that this is probably a result of how effective Allende’s government, and the administrations preceding it, had been. Indeed, Chile was seen as an island of political stability in a region characterized by corruption and war. It is also generally accepted consensus that the United States played a prominent role in planning, executing and sustaining the coup.
A 1988 plebiscite successfully unseated Pinochet and his administration. Chile has since returned to government by elected civilians. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested for human rights violations, but was allowed to return to Chile. There, he was placed under house arrest – the extent of his punishment for decades of crimes.