<%@ Language=VBScript %> <%response.buffer = TRUE%> Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir by Marc Cooper
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Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir by Marc Cooper

If any lingering post-election doubts remain that the American government believes more in peace through democracy than power through capitalism, they can be alleviated with a reading of Marc Cooper’s Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir

by Michael Gutierrez


Cooper, a contributing editor for The Nation and former translator to Chilean President Salvador Allende, chronicles his journey through Chile. Cooper begins with the CIA-backed military coup of Allende’s democratically elected socialist government by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 and follows through to Pinochet’s arrest in London for crimes against humanity in 1998. Along with the publication of Christopher Hitchens' "indictment" of Henry Kissinger in Harper’s, we can reexamine the scariest parts of America’s pursuit of world power through free market ideology and the backing of terrorists by American intelligence agencies.

Since the Monroe Doctrine, the American government has always lent a "helping hand" to its Western Hemispheric brothers -- whether it meant sending troops to Mexico in the 19th century, attempting to assassinate Castro in the '60s, providing arms to the Nicaraguan contras in the '80s, freeing Panama of a dictator who was no longer a friend of the US after the Cold War, and currently aiding Columbia in its fight against drugs. The US has always been there for its Southern friends, and overthrowing governments that the US knew to be bad was just part of its duty -- even if those same Southern friends had the support of a majority of their own citizens.

While Allende was elected in 1970 with less than a majority (38 percent), he was elected democratically. His popular legitimacy was further affirmed in 1973, when Allende’s coalition party gained seven percentage points in the congressional elections despite the US government’s successful attempts to cripple Chile’s economy and subvert its military. The US grudge against Allende stemmed from his attempts to nationalize many private enterprises -- including several US holdings -- and Allende forming an elected socialist government in the Western Hemisphere in the midst of the Cold War. Cooper quotes Henry Kissinger in a meeting of then-President Richard Nixon’s foreign policy experts, the Committee of 40: "I don’t know why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

Allende redistributed land to peasants and nationalized private enterprises to make them more accountable to the people without a single political murder. But this was Allende’s sole mistake, he should have brought guns; Pinochet's military junta in 1973 certainly did.

Despite reports after Pinochet’s coup, Allende (according to Cooper and most current sources, including The Economist) was not building an army to overthrow Chile’s democracy and institute himself as a dictator. Allende had no guns, he had lost the military’s support, and the US was against him for bringing socialism to the west. Allende had only an unarmed population at his side.

Cooper knew the Allende government had no chance even before the fight was over saying, "Those of us who worked in the Allende government knew the sad truth: that in spite of the right-wing chorus that Allende had formed a 'parallel army' we had no such units. Allende had been scrupulous in his commitment to a constitutional, legal, and peaceful transition to socialism. The only guns in the country, he vowed, would be in the hands of the armed forces. ... This war was going to be a short, one-sided massacre."

Barely 20, Cooper arrived in Chile in 1971 after being expelled from the California State University system for anti-war protesting by then Governor Ronald Reagan (who Cooper thanks in his acknowledgements for pushing him toward Chile). He was searching for a liberal refuge from an increasingly reactionary Republican government. Soon he was working for Allende, which nearly cost Cooper his life after the coup.

Living in an apartment complex housing various left-wing refugees, his apartment stacked with Marxist readings and as an American working for the Allende government, Cooper barely made it out of Chile alive. He escaped only with the aid of the Mexican government, which allowed him on a flight to Argentina -- the US embassy refused him and all other unconnected Americans any assistance, preferring to show support for a junta eventually responsible for over 1,100 murders.

After the coup, Pinochet consolidated his power, threw out Habeas Corpus, and instituted the most far-reaching free-market reforms in modern history. With the tutorage of the University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, Chile became the poster child for capitalist experimentation, eventually pushing Chile into an economy dependent on debt and export. Nothing could have realized Nixon’s dream country more -- a citizenry without free speech, or any freedom to question the government, an economy based solely on market forces with exceptions for the occasional corporate subsidy, and a Presidency never up for election.

A relatively small and unimportant country -- Kissinger called it the dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica -- the US played Gepetto to Chile’s Pinocchio. By the time the '90s rolled around, the Chilean population had become so immersed in staying economically afloat that political protest was not a consideration.

By the early '80s, the US was protesting Pinochet’s human right’s violations and the disappearance of democracy in Chile, but Pinochet could still count on the US as an ally. As Pinochet eased himself out of office, our government and press pointed to Chile as the little banana republic made good, despite Chile's disparity in wealth far surpassing our own.

Cooper returned to Chile several times after his escape. Once in 1975 where he witnessed Allende’s reforms abandoned like the housing projects he built. In 1983, as the crowd at a national soccer game chanted for the dictatorship’s ouster, and several times in the late '90s, with Chile fully immersed in the capitalist experiment and Pinochet, a Chilean "Senator for Life," arrested in England by a Spanish judge.

Pinochet has since been extradited to Chile; in jail now, he waits on a trial he may not live to see, and many of his countryman and co-collaborators hope he never does. In 1988, after Pinochet lost his first contested presidential election, he and the military constructed a deal with the incoming civilian government for a peaceful transition of power that gave him full immunity. That has now been quashed and many collaborators have been indicted.

Cooper writes of the country’s collective memory disappearing over the years, with much of the middle class choosing to rationalize the violence with the justification of the eventual financial rewards. And the free market has done well by the middle class, but the middle class has shrunk with capital and income migrating to the top 10 percent.

Despite this amnesia, Cooper does see hope for reevaluation of what the coup meant to Chile. A new generation of Chileans that does not remember Allende’s overthrow, and doesn’t have the scars from years of Pinochet’s nightly curfews and military rampages has begun to question the official version of a past that produced the present.

Cooper portrayed Salvador Allende as the pinnacle of a Latin American socialist ideal that began many years before him. He was not the first democratically elected president of his country, to the contrary Chile was a democracy decades before Allende. What Allende attempted was to end poverty through democracy. What the US and Pinochet did was end democracy with a bullet.

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