Sept. 11, 1973: a day that the empire struck back, with a vengeance. If there is a single image representing the end of the post-WWII rebellions for sweeping social justice, perhaps it is the photo of a helmeted Chilean President Salvador Allende staring upward at his own Air Force jets bombing the presidential palace.
The election of democratic socialist Allende seemed to pose a serious menace to a world order dominated by major corporations which owned much of Chile's resources. Allende rapidly began to provide rising wages, free milk to nutrition-deprived poor children, quality health care and education for all, land reform, and to promote an expansive conception of democracy which encompassed economic and social institutions as well as the traditional political arena.
The US response: a coup, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, that was the product of the extensive preparations of President Nixon and adviser Henry Kissinger who oversaw, as one CIA official put it, a gradual "accumulation of arsenic" for Chilean democracy.
Pinochet predictably followed through with mass slaughters and torture combined with the introduction of government policies nakedly serving Chile's elites and transnational corporations.
Marc Cooper, who as a 21-year-old served as Allende's translator and narrowly escaped capture by Pinochet's forces, provides in Pinochet and Me a concise, riveting account of the past quarter century. Rarely does one find a book that is simultaneously so gripping, politically insightful, and thoroughly humane in spirit.
As Cooper notes, what eventually emerged from Chile was the first and most advanced model of what some have called "savage capitalism," pre-dating and to some extent inspiring the achievements of Thatcher and Reagan. Pinochet, guided by Milton Friedman and other "Chicago School" economists, atomized social organization and pulverized a well-organized and highly conscious working class opposition. He rammed through a radical program of export-driven production, privatization, deregulation, and of course the massive upward re-distribution of wealth.
"A century-worth of Chile's accumulated democratic and social advances would be bloodily dismantled overnight, and a new radical capitalist order was built in its stead," grimly states Cooper. The post-coup Chilean economic "star" hailed by the New York Times and other corporate media shines much more brightly for some than for others. Cooper cites damning evidence of a new Chile re-configured to heap more wealth upon the wealthy while spreading more misery through the growing shanty-towns:
* "The richest 100 people in Chile earn more than the state spends on all social services," as one opposition senator points out.
* Of 65 nations studies by the World Bank, Chile ranks 7th worst in unequal income distribution.
* Real wages for Chilean workers are still 18% below where they were when Allende was overthrown.
In sum, the Chilean economic blueprint conforms closely to the formula laid out in 1892 by banker Eduardo Matte Perez, whose descendants still rank among Chile's permanent rulers: "We, the owners of land and capital, own Chile. The rest, the masses, do not matter."
Ultimately, those "who do not matter" finally have managed to find some measure of justice, with Pinochet being charged in Chile with the disappearance of some 76 people (a small fraction of those butchered at his direction) during his reign of terror. Significantly, though, the impetus for these charges came from outside Chile, beginning with Pinochet's arrest in Britain on human-rights charges due to the dedication of Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon.
Pinochet and Me is an unforgettable, lucidly-written work that tells a tragic tale of the destruction of a remarkable experiment in social justice at the hands of Pinochet and his US tutors. Although Pinochet and his most fervent backers have now been marginalized due to Judge Garzon's tenacity and courage, the voices of Chile's poor and working class remain unheard and their dreams of justice unrealized due to the legacy of Pinochet and an ever-harsher corporate-run global order.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and activist. He reviewed Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir, by Mark Cooper, Verso Books, London and New York, 143 pages, $22 hardcover