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This Day in History: Four decades have passed since Chilean coup

On Sept. 11, 1973, the combined Chilean Armed Forces overthrew Salvador Allende, the president at the time. Allende was the first Marxist leader elected in South America through open elections.

Before his time in office, Allende received close to $500,000 from the Soviet government to help him secure his position as president.

After he was victorious, he continued contact with the Soviets and worked secretly with the Soviet government. Political support came mostly from the Communist Party and he even received the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union the previous year. However, most Soviets believed he would not be able to hold power for very long, because Allende was unwilling to use violence against his opponents, which the Soviets believed to be the only way to truly secure power.

The United States, on the other hand, saw the victory of a Marxist as a complete disaster. During this period of the Cold War, the United States tried to do whatever they could to ensure that countries all over the world would not fall under communist control, which would link them with the Soviet Union.

In 1970, United States President Richard Nixon authorized $10 million to stop Allende from coming to power or unseat him when he did by giving money to support other candidates he was running against.

Allende’s political life in Chile spanned 40 years and he held many positions, including senator and cabinet minister. Before he was elected in 1970 he had run for president three other times in 1952, 1958 and 1964. As president, Allende adopted policies that would move his country closer to socialism, such as collectivization of farms, nationalization of large-scale industry and governmental administration of the health care system. A key part of his plan to socialize Chile was to drop unemployment completely by giving jobs to those in need in the nationalized work force. Because of this, between the years of 1970 and 1971 inflation dropped close to 15 percent and worker wages rose close to 25 percent.

The coup that occurred on Sept. 11, 1973, involved an artillery bombardment on the presidential palace in which Allende was killed. The coup was led by the military commander at the time, Augusto Pinochet, who used his role as military general to coordinate the three branches of the military to overthrow Allende.

A document released in 2000 by the CIA revealed that the agency actively supported the military government after the coup, and it made many of Pinochet’s officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military, even though some were involved in human rights abuses.

Matt Bair is a junior studying history, political science and classics and a columnist for The Post. Feeling historical? Chat history with him at

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