The other 9/11

September 8, 2011

This week is already consumed with important and worthy remembrance and discussion about 9/11, what it means, and how far we might still need to travel.

But I want to take just a moment to acknowledge the very first 9/11, the one that took place in Chile in 1973, when the democratically-elected President Salvador Allende was deposed by a military coup that was heavily supported, with both intelligence and finance, by the U.S. government.

In 1973, an American-fueled coup in Latin America was, in many ways, nothing new. In the 20th century alone, there had been multiple coups in Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Panama, Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil...

The ouster of Allende inspired more coups in the years that followed: Morales Bermudez trumped democracy in Peru in 1975; in 1976 Videla led the dirty war in Argentina that killed thousands; Aparacio Mendez that same year took over in Uruguay.

At one point in the '70s, most of Latin America was ruled by dictatorships that were either the direct result of CIA intervention, or received covert U.S. help -- including military and police training at the School of the Americas for political leaders and security forces.

But there was nothing like the ouster of Allende, who had been democratically elected, and whose ambitious socialist agenda was a grand experiment. Thousands of people died under Allende's CIA-backed successor, Augusto Pinochet, thousands more disappeared, and even more thousands were jailed and tortured (including former President Michelle Bachelet). To date, Chile is still trying to get info from the U.S. about its role in those dark and terrible days .

The aftermath of that coup marked generations of Latin Americans. It should also make Americans, whatever our age, race, class or political party, pause to reflect about our role in the world, about our might as a force of good and evil.