9.11.2013

the other september 11, why "they" might hate "us", and the right to live in peace

For many people in the world, especially people in South America, the date September 11 was significant long before 2001. On that date in 1973, Augusto Pinochet, with the help of the United States government, overthrew the democratically elected, socialist government of Salvador Allende. Allende was either murdered or forced into suicide. Pinochet then installed a military dictatorship that ruled Chile until 1990, and was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, tortures, and disappearances, along with right-wing economic policies that were equally brutal.

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.

* * * *

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.

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.'
Read this eye-opening story here.

3 comments:

David Heap said...

Thanks Laura. For those who are interested, the version on Rabble.ca (now also picked up on Z communications http://www.zcommunications.org/the-right-to-live-in-peace-by-david-heap.html, I learn from twitter) has a bunch of links.
One link I was not aware of until after it came out is this one, supporting extradition (from the U.S., of course...) for the officer accused of being responsible for Víctor Jara's killing: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/727/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14162
Jara's widow Joan is in the U.S. this week to file a civil suit to build pressure for extradition. But USian authorities don't seem too keen to act on extradition, go figure. They are happy to keep anti-terrorists from Cuba locked up though
http://www.canadiannetworkoncuba.ca/Documents/CubaFive.shtml

Ron Waller said...

Yes that Sept 11 kicked off the past 40-year free-market counter revolution (to the centrist post-war Keynesian revolution that created modern living standards.)

The free-market revolution wreaked havoc around the globe and culminated in a second global economic meltdown in 2008. It's the root of all our present economic and environmental problems -- which are obviously severe.

South America was not only a laboratory for libertarian economics, it's also the birth place of modern methods of torture.

Naomi Klein weaves the two parallel real-history narratives together in an incredibly well-researched book: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

laura k said...

Hey David, thanks for the links.

Ron Waller, thanks for filling in more context that I wasn't able to include in this post.

Shock Doctrine is an excellent book, although I found it extremely depressing, especially the section on South Africa.

Klein is a great analyst, but she appears to see her job (as a writer, not as an activist) as descriptive, rather than prescriptive. I wish she had included some nugget of remedy, of hope, of organizing, the way she does at speaking engagements.