Regime Change: 1973 and 2003

by Mickey Z.

Dissident Voice
March 13, 2003


On Monday, March 10, I was invited by the MIT Western Hemisphere Project ( to give a talk entitled, "The Other 9/11: Henry Kissinger and U.S.-sponsored Terror in Chile." Thirty years after the September 11, 1973 coup in Chile, I discussed information made available in some 5,000 documents declassified in 1999.


While the evening focused, for the most part, on Chile, it was necessary to place the toppling of Salvador Allende within the context of today's struggles. After all, what the U.S. did by replacing Allende with General Augusto Pinochet would today be termed a "regime change." While activists in the mid-70s were prevented from knowing all the sordid details of the Chilean coup until 1999, can the same be said of us in 2003?


Would Bush and Powell follow the same path Nixon and Kissinger did in 1973 if Allende were elected this year? What would be different? Would the U.S. bother denying any knowledge of or complicity in the coup as they did in 1973? Ten days after the Allende government was overthrown, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jack Kubisch told the House Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs: "Gentlemen, I wish to state as flatly and as categorically as I possibly can that we did not have advance knowledge of the coup."


The documents declassified in 1999, of course, told a different story. A CIA document from the day before the coup stated bluntly, "The coup attempt will begin September 11." Ten days later, the Agency announced, "severe repression is planned." A Sept. 26 CIA document noted that, "twenty-seven cadavers were recovered from the Mapocho River in Santiago, some of which showed signs of torture and mutilation. The victims were low-ranking and working-class members of Popular Unity parties."


Opponents of the new regime who were not killed were gathered in soccer stadiums. A Sept. 28 State Department document detailed a request from Chile's new defense minister for Washington to send an expert advisor on detention centers because Chile was planning to hold 3000 people for at least a year.


That was Nixon and Kissinger behind closed doors in 1973. But, again, what if Allende were elected in 2003?


Based on their public posturing vis--vis Iraq, one might safely assume that Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the rest would impose sanctions and announce the need for a "regime change" in Chile while brazenly threatening to "shock and awe" Santiago with 3000 cruise missiles in the first two or three days. The people of Chile would be told, candidly, that America was acting in their interests. Every man, woman, and child paying attention would be aware of the U.S. plan to occupy Chile with General Tommy Franks as de facto ruler. Finally, a $900 million US government contract for the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed by US bombs and missiles will set American construction firms into furious competition.


In other words, the era of classified documents is over.


In today's heavily conditioned American society, our ruthless leaders needn't worry about something they say in private one day coming back to haunt them. Today's architects of war would merely paint Allende as the "next Stalin," Pinochet would hire a PR firm, and CNN would design a nifty "Showdown with Salvador" logo. A new moniker would be needed for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Cartoon character Chilly Willy might become Free Willy.


In 2003, the policies of the U.S. government (and the corporations that own it) are carried out overtly, in plain sight...complete with press releases.


At my MIT lecture, I talked about the 1973 coup in Chile, an event cloaked in secrecy and obscured by Cold War paranoia. In 30 years, will others be holding meetings in an attempt to comprehend how we in 2003 tolerated a society that made the Freedom of Information Act superfluous?


Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet ( and an editor at Wide Angle ( He can be reached at:


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