I often think of the Chilean overthrow, as I do about another CIA overthrow 12 years earlier, of the equally democratically-elected and similarly leftist government of Patrice Lumumba, of the Republic of Congo. Lumumba was also assassinated. I think about the blinding frustration, the anger - no, the rage - I would feel if this had happened in my own country. If a people's candidate, a champion of the working class, had risen up through popular means and had been popularly elected... only to see a foreign power with great amounts of money and military power swoop in, kill that leader, and install a government more friendly to their own interests - a murderous dictatorship.
I think of this often when I hear that USians wonder, Why do they hate us? Of course, most Americans know very little about their country's foreign policy, and have even less control over it. Still, I think of Chile, and of the former Republic of Congo, when I read liberal journalists contemplating that "America may no longer be a force for good in the world".
I think of this when USians take offense that September 11 is not a day of mourning all over the world.
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The US's role in the 1973 Chilean coup d'etat is undisputed. Canada's response, however, is typically less obvious and a bit more ambiguous. David Heap writes at Rabble.ca.
Aerial bombings, tanks in the streets, widespread terrorizing of civilians by soldiers and secret police: this was the horror unleashed on September 11, 1973 by the military coup d’état in Chile. Led by Augusto Pinochet and other generals with U.S. backing, the coup overthrew President Salvador Allende's democratically elected Popular Unity government, and brought in a brutal military dictatorship that lasted for 17 years.Read this eye-opening story here.
Canada's official attitude towards the coup might be politely called 'ambivalent.' Some Canadian banks and mining interests openly supported the military take-over as a good investment opportunity. Our ambassador to Chile's rather sympathetic attitude toward the generals led to a rapid recognition of the military junta.
When embassy officials Mark Dolgin and David Adam allowed a handful of asylum-seekers to take refuge at our Santiago embassy, Foreign Affairs tried to shut the door on any more. The ambassador's classified cables, which called asylum-seekers 'riff-raff' and the military killings 'abhorrent but understandable,' were leaked by Bob Thomson, a federal CIDA employee in Ottawa.
Those leaks cost Thomson his job but helped build a public clamour in favour of offering refuge to those who needed it. At the time, Canada's lack of a formal refugee policy left these life-and-death decisions to ministerial discretion. Questions were raised in Parliament, church groups and unions called for more asylum, the media picked up the story, and solidarity activists occupied federal offices in four cities across the country: this growing groundswell in the fall of 1973 eventually led to 'Special Movement Chile' opening the doors for thousands of Chilean refugees fleeing Pinochet's terror to find safety in Canada.
That historic example of citizen action underscores the importance conscientious dissent. Whether high-profile whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden or rank-and-file war resisters who refuse to participate in war crimes, conscientious dissenters deserve honour and protection, rather than vilification and prosecution. Though their individual circumstances may be less dramatic, the same lesson applies to many conscientious scientists and researchers whose work is threatened or suppressed by the Harper government's ideological preference for evidence-free policy-making.
Many victims of military repression never reach asylum of course, but those who remember the tortured, murdered and 'disappeared' can take some comfort in the knowledge that there is no statute of limitations for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The renowned Chilean folk-singer Victor Jara was among those tortured and killed in the early days of the coup, and this year several military officers deemed responsible for his death are finally coming to trial. Some of the accused trained at the infamous School of the Americas (aka School of Assassins: they put Pinochet’s ceremonial sword on display) at Fort Benning Georgia, where human rights vigils continue to call for closure every year.
. . . .The poignant title of one of Jara's most famous songs and albums (El derecho de vivir en paz, 1971) is still relevant today as it sums up the deepest wishes of so many people. A film about his life and an exhibit of rare historic materials from the Chilean resistance against the coup both bear the name of the same song, inviting us to remember and reflect on those ideals for today and tomorrow: 'The right to live in peace.'