This week marks 40 years since the infamous military coup that bombed the Chilean “White House” on Sept. 11, 1973, leading to the death of the democratically elected President Salvador Allende, whose government was replaced by the Pinochet military dictatorship. During the next 15 years, thousands of young people, professors, artists, and others — many of them shining stars of Chilean society — were detained, tortured and executed outside the legal process.
One of the those who died after the coup was the renowned Chilean musician and theater director Victor Jara. But for his murder while in custody a few days after the coup, Jara might likely today join his colleagues Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez playing his guitar for the millions of his admirers worldwide. One of the Chilean officers accused in the shooting death of Jara now resides in Florida, and a lawsuit against him has just been filed in federal court in Jacksonville.
President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger notoriously covertly intervened to try to prevent Salvador Allende’s election in 1970 and later to effect “regime change.” Their encouragement of disloyal elements in the Chilean military led to the violent overthrow of Allende on Sept. 11, 1973. The Pinochet dictatorship was also responsible for a well-known act of terrorism on U.S. soil — the assassination of Orlando Letelier, a lawyer, senior economist and former member of Allende’s cabinet.
After the coup Letelier was imprisoned but later allowed to leave the country. I was living in Washington, D.C., and had the opportunity to hear Letelier speak to a group of economic development professionals. Then, on Sept. 21, 1976, Letelier was assassinated along with a young American woman, Ronni Moffitt. It was determined by U.S. investigators that the car bomb had been planted by agents of the Chilean dictatorship.
What is the lesson of Sept. 11, 1973? U.S. foreign policy must be shaped by support for democratic principles and transparency. U.S. support for the military coup and the Pinochet dictatorship is the darkest of stains.
Linda Friedman Ramirez
The writer owns the Feathered Serpent Gallery in downtown St. Petersburg. On Saturday the gallery will honor Victor Jara at a special event.