Chile seeks truth about deaths of Allende and Neruda

The body of former Chilean President Salvador Allende was exhumed in May in an attempt to determine whether the democratically elected socialist president was murdered by the Chilean military in the initial stages of the coup of September 11, 1973, or whether he committed suicide as coup leader General Augusto Pinochet claimed. The 65-year-old president had been in office for three years.

An official investigation has also been opened into the death of world-renowned Chilean communist poet Pablo Neruda, who died on September 23, 1973. His death, the junta reported, was from prostate cancer, but newly released military files indicate he too may have been murdered by the Pinochet regime. Neruda was 69 at the time of his death. Neruda’s driver has said the poet had been poisoned by Pinochet’s henchmen.

Judge Mario Carroza ordered investigations into both deaths. While most appear to support the investigations, some say they will “open up old wounds.” While Pinochet continues to have supporters in the Chilean right, most want to see the truth, and perhaps justice.

The wanton nature of Pinochet’s regime and their foreign backers, particularly U.S. President Richard Nixon and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, have caused many to call into question the true nature of the self proclaimed “greatest democracy in the world” and its foreign policy. Even prior to Salvador Allende’s election to the presidency in 1970, the U.S. government was at work interfering with Chile’s internal affairs and sovereignty. Nixon and Kissinger had funneled in several million dollars to candidates opposing Allende before the election and continued funding opposition figures after the election.

Allende’s first act as president was to make sure all school children had milk. This was done because he, as a medical doctor, saw developmental deficiencies in many poor children and he felt the inclusion of milk in their diet would greatly improve their health and wellbeing. Support for Allende and his Popular Unity coalition allies was prevalent among the copper miners, unionists and shantytown dwellers. The political right, rich and foreign corporate interests, particularly Kennecott Copper, Anaconda and International Telephone and Telegraph, were all set in opposition to Allende, particularly as he nationalized most major corporations in the belief that the revenue from a nation’s resources should be directed towards the common good, development and poverty alleviation rather than to enrich corporations.

Nixon and Kissinger were particularly active in attempting to manipulate Chile’s internal affairs immediately after the election of Salvador Allende. The first act of violent opposition to Allende’s government was the assassination of General Rene Schneider on October 22, 1970, who was sympathetic to Chilean democracy. The assassination opened the door for Pinochet to then lead the military.

60 Minutes aired an episode outlining the Schneider story just a few days before the second 9/11 occurred.

Throughout the Allende presidency, the U.S. ran constant interference with Chile’s trade and international banking relations. Because of the constant interference and ultimately, the violent U.S. led overthrow of the elected government, we were never allowed to see what a free, socialist Chile would have looked like.

After the coup, with Pinochet in power, Kennecott and Anaconda were free to extract Chile’s mineral wealth with no concern for the society or land they saw around them.

Chile’s willingness to take an honest look at her past is commendable and exemplary. Chile’s example has yet to be emulated by many other countries.

Suggested Reading:

Chile’s Road to Socialism by Salvador Allende
Salvador Allende Reader
The Black Book of American Intervention In Chile by Armando Uribe
Allende’s Chile by Edward Boorstein

Photo: President Allende. Jaume D’Urgell // CC 2.0