This is an IMAGINARY STORY . . . aren’t they all?
History is ours, and it is made by the people.
On the night of September 9, Manuel Contreras Valdebenito wakes up screaming in his bed. Something spoke to him in his dreams: treason, life imprisonment, dishonor. An expression traveling through time. On the road to Damascus.
The next day, he picks up the phone and makes a call.
Augusto Pinochet Ugarte and Gonzalo Leigh Meza are arrested under the charge of sedition on the evening of September 10. Aimless and uncoordinated uprisings sparked by different regiments around the country are swiftly subdued by troops loyal to the government of Salvador Allende.
On the morning of September 11, Air Force Hawker Hunters led by Commander Bachelet bomb the Tacna and Maipo regiments. This uncharacteristically violent attack is a show of force which the rest of the battalions in the country understand, and the disturbances abruptly end.
Later on in the evening, the president announces his intention of calling a referendum on his continuation in the government.
That same night, an armed commando of Patria y Libertad assassinate Jaime López, Camilo Escalona, and Miguel Enríquez. A mob of protestors take to the streets the next day. They attack the headquarters of the Osorno Bank, stone the US Embassy, and hurl Molotov cocktails, setting fire to the ambassador’s car. Neighborhood groups block access to the surrounding area while union members of the Industrial Belts of Vicuña Mackenna declare themselves on alert. The MIR immediately launches a manifesto of combat and popular uprising. A state of siege is imposed.
The headline in La Tercera from September 20 reads: “Twenty Killed in Night of Terror. The Insurrection Has Claimed 230 Victims to Date.”
Salvador Allende appears in Congress flanked by the four commanders-in-chief (Benavides, Bachelet, Merino, and Mendoza, the recently named head of the Carabiniers) in order to bring forth a plebiscite for September 30. The ballot contains only one question: Do you agree that the government of Salvador Allende should continue presiding over the country? The voting slip has the words YES and NO printed in 18-point Helvetica and a horizontal line next to each option.
The advertising campaign for the NO camp focuses on two central narratives: 1) the fear of becoming a Soviet satellite state; and 2) the promise to put an end to hunger, scarcity, violence, and hatred by ushering in a new era of general contentment after the national nightmare of Allende’s government. “Happiness is coming,” says the hymn performed by Claudio Millán, Pedro Messone, and Gloria Simonetti.
On the night of September 30, the victory of Unidad Popular is overwhelming. President Allende addresses the nation on Radio Magallanes and proclaims, “Sooner rather than later, the workers of Chile will set out along the great avenues, advancing free from oligarchic threats and coercions.”
The following night an armed commando of the newly formed ultra-right-wing group “Iron Fist” kidnaps three professors and members of the Communist Party, decapitates them, and abandons their bodies on the road to Pudahuel Airport. The director of the Carabiniers is forced to resign when the pro-government press discovers that officers had tampered with evidence which would have incriminated the son of a prominent executive at the Anaconda Mining Company in the murders.
The transportation stoppage brings the country to the brink of collapse. Assaults on houses in well-to-do neighborhoods become all too common. The first social justice protestors (called Commandos de acción obrera directa, CAODI) begin to appear. They are groups of six to eight hooded individuals with machine guns and small arms of Soviet origin, who assault supply trucks and warehouses.
The night of November 20, an executive of the Banco de Santiago shoots and kills a twelve-year-old boy who, dressed as a protestor, was trying to enter his home.
The judicial authorities let the executive go free, citing self-defense, and the funeral of the minor, whose initials were PPV, turns into an orgy of uncontrolled violence and looting which lasts three days. The Ministry of the Interior sends military personnel to the streets as confrontations ensue.
On November 30, President Richard Nixon declares that democracy and human rights in Chile are in danger, and that the United States government is prepared to help the Chilean people and safeguard democratic principles in the region.
On December 10, an unusually powerful delegation of the US Navy arrives at the Valparaiso port for the UNITAS joint training exercises of the current year. The headline in the newspaper El Siglo reads, “They Will Not Intimidate Us!”
After much hesitation, Salvador Allende finds no other alternative but to seek help once again from the Soviet Union. He sends Volodia Teitelboim who is received rather coldly by the members of the KOMINTERN on December 25. The Kremlin knows it is not desirable for a democratically elected Socialist government to succeed. Its line of action consists of seizing total power through arms, not the ballot box. Publicly, the Soviets pledge all of their support to Salvador Allende’s government, but in an off-the-record meeting, they demand that Teitelboim define his Marxist stance: is he in favor of or against a dictatorship of the proletariat? The message to the Chilean government suggests the Soviet Union would only grant its immediate and unconditional support to the Unidad Popular if Allende were to carry out a self-coup, dissolve the parliament, and declare Chile a Marxist republic. The naval blockade would be implemented by three Soviet aircraft carriers stationed in the Pacific, four destroyers, and two nuclear submarines dispatched from Angola. The withdrawal of American naval vessels from Chilean waters would be formally requested and strategic border points would be occupied with the help of a Cuban contingent and helicopters.
A US Marine captain is detained by the Investigations Police of Chile. He is accused of inciting sedition. Evidence is presented of his numerous meetings with high-ranking officials of the Navy in preparation for a coup d’état backed by American warships positioned in Chilean waters. Douglas C. McKean invokes diplomatic immunity, but it is denied despite furious complaints from the US Embassy. The Nixon administration uses this impasse to intensify its criticism and to directly threaten the Chilean government. “We must go anywhere, and do everything to protect the integrity of any American citizen in danger around the world,” the American president declared in an interview broadcast by CBS.
January 1, 1974: The President of the Republic, Salvador Allende Gossens, appears on national television and radio flanked for the first time by the four commanders-in-chief of the Armed Forces—Forces of Order, plus two members of MIR.
February 20, 1974: After three months of trial and interminable bilateral meetings, Douglas C. McKean is sentenced to death for inciting rebellion during a state of emergency. The ruling is based on the fact that the accused had entered the country as a tourist without making use of his diplomatic or military privileges. The ambassador shares with the public a communiqué from Richard Nixon’s government in which he requests the release of the American citizen by executive decree as a gesture of friendship on the part of Salvador Allende toward the US. It is a pardon that is quite obviously illegal. Allende is trapped in a corner.
February 28, 1974: Douglas McKean is murdered in the Penitentiary of Santiago during visiting hours. Washington orders its ambassador to leave Santiago. Apparently, a CIA agent, Michael Townley, had been responsible for the crime. The objective: precipitate American intervention.
The Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier offers a public apology to the international community for the death of Douglas McKean, and presents evidence implicating foreign agents. Through this action, the government buys time and solicits help from the FBI in solving the crime.
March 15, 1974: Chilean Military Intelligence, naturally infiltrated by the CIA, convinces Salvador Allende that the invasion of Chile by the United States is imminent.
March 16, 1974: A secret commission departs on an Aeroflot flight bound for Moscow.
March 20, 1974: Pressured to its limits, the Chilean government decides to accept Moscow’s conditions in order to receive aid. Salvador Allende Gossens shows up to the plenary session of Congress surrounded by the four commanders-in-chief of the Chilean Armed Forces and a contingent of armed and hooded members of the MIR. In a show of early support for the self-coup, senators loyal to the government, who had been informed of the maneuver, rise and tear up their official credentials. Carabiniers encircle the opposition legislators as Salvador Allende addresses the nation through Radio Magallanes. “In this historic juncture, I will pay with my life for the loyalty of the People. I tell you that I am certain that the seedlings that we have planted in the dignified consciousness of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be cut short forever. They have the force. They can subdue us. But social change will not be held back by crime or by force. History is ours, and it is made by the people.”
Immediately thereafter, Allende signs the supreme order granting him full control, dissolves Congress and hands the decree to the Armed Forces while declaring a state of siege and suspending civil liberties until further notice. He reports that there are friendly nations who in these precise moments are coming to the aid of the country to protect her from the imperialist American invasion.
March 21, 1974: The Soviet Union declares before the UN that it has no intentions of meddling in the internal affairs of Chile and diplomatic issues between this country and the United States need to be resolved through the usual channels, but that it would understand a forceful response on Washington’s part. “The world needs to be calm,” says the representative before the assembly. “The Soviet Union will not drag the world into another global crisis like the one in Cuba in 1962; conflicts between free nations are resolved between free nations. The Soviet Union would like to say to the world that a third way is not possible. The liberation of the worker from the capitalist yoke can only be achieved through the struggle of classes, a fact that has been demonstrated by the failed bourgeois attempts to politicize the desires for freedom of the working class for their own triumphs in the ballot boxes of shame.”
Orlando Letelier, the Chilean Foreign Minister, stands up and walks out of the assembly hall, his face ashen.
March 23, 1974: President Allende calls up all of the reserves and opens up recruitment stations for voluntary enlistment in public squares. During a mass gathering at night, he symbolically hands over an AK-47 rifle to Commander Mauricio, spokesman of the MIR. That same night he receives a call from Fidel Castro who explains to him that the sacrifice will not be in vain. Allende takes this to mean the Soviet Union has reached a deal on the Chilean situation in return for some type of benefit for Cuba and Castro. He hangs up the phone with a profound bitterness.
March 28, 1974: Peru and Bolivia issue a joint statement condemning Chile’s handling of the regional crisis. The ambassador of the United States in Lima meets with the foreign ministers of both countries and makes it clear that any invasions of Chilean territory will not be tolerated, that the war is already won before it has even been declared, and that any intervention on Chilean soil will be considered an attack on the United States of America. In addition, he stresses that Washington does not wish to see the splitting apart of Chile, but rather its reconstruction and recovery in the near future.
April 1, 1974: The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz leaves Pearl Harbor and heads south.
April 2, 1974: The American UNITAS fleet abandons its positions in the early morning hours and converges on the coasts of Valparaiso. It imposes a firm maritime blockade and declares that any vessel who tries to enter or leave Chilean waters, military or private, will be considered hostile and will be destroyed.
April 6, 1974: The trials and summary executions of journalists from El Mercurio and business leaders of the transportation sector for seditious activities begin. Borders are closed and classes are suspended; a curfew is in effect beginning at 3PM. Early on, the troops focus on securing Santiago and its surroundings, leaving the residents of the outlying areas of the country to their own luck. Allende feels out the Argentines. They maintain their neutrality.
April 12, 1974: The country is on edge. Quilapayún, Víctor Jara, Inti Illimani, among others, tour the land giving free concerts to lift the spirits of the people.
April 20, 1974: Carlos Altamirano becomes the third political leader to flee the country, after Chonchol and Gustavino. He is later surprised at the border near Bariloche and summarily executed for treason to the homeland.
April 21, 1974: A group of member nations of the Non-Aligned Movement reads a declaration of support for the Chilean situation. They compare it to Vietnam. The US ambassador to the UN walks out of the assembly hall.
April 22, 1974: The international press is following closely the Chilean situation while mass protests are organized in London, Paris, Rome, Mexico City, and Washington to halt the imminent invasion.
A Chilean sets himself on fire at the entrance of the US Embassy in Stockholm.
During the afternoon, the US ambassador to the UN declares that the situation in Chile is unsustainable for its people; that the government of Salvador Allende is a danger to democracy and stability for the region; that the United States affirms its strong commitment to the liberty and rights of the people and will not hesitate to come to the aid of Chileans if Allende does not resign his post and hand over control to a peace commission of the United Nations to oversee the stabilization of the country and administer elections in the short term.
April 23, 1974: At night a surface-to-surface missile lands squarely on the Regional Government Offices of Valparaíso and destroys it in an explosion which leaves a crater that is a hundred meters in diameter. The residents run to the hills causing at least fifty deaths due to falls and trampling.
April 24, 1974: Chile declares war on the United States of America first thing in the morning. In the early hours of the following day, hundreds of bombs fall over Valparaíso, mainly in the government and administrative center of the city. The missiles destroy specific targets and a group of Navy SEALS embark on a mission to take out four particular political leaders. The attack ends at the break of dawn and the sunlight reveals the charred remains of what was once a World Heritage Site. From the mountains, the inhabitants of Valparaíso could see how, at ten in the morning, a torpedo shelling exploded the training ship Esmeralda, which was taking refuge inside the breakwater of the port, as a dramatic epilogue to the operation.
April 29, 1974: Allende orders a general blackout commencing at 6PM and the nationalization of all the newspapers and radio stations of the country.
May 11, 1974: A swarm of American fighter jets enter the Santiago valley from the south. The fire alarms sound and the mobilizations begin. But the planes pass by quickly without dropping any explosives, disappearing before the anti-aircraft artillery can fire a single shot.
June 11, 1974: A shortage of oil and natural gas is felt after two months of the naval blockade. An Argentine emissary secretly arrives in the capital, meets with Salvador Allende and offers the discrete help of his government in exchange for a solution to a dispute regarding the sovereignty of three tiny islands south of Chile. After heated discussions, Allende agrees and the laborious transfer of oil begins by way of the southern borderland crossings not under surveillance by American air patrols.
July 11, 1974: Foreign Minister Letelier, who has conducted countless visits, meetings, conferences and protests the world over to denounce the humanitarian crisis which is about to take place in Chile because of the American blockade, speaks at the UN and halfway through his speech, suffers a fainting spell brought on by exhaustion. This image is worth more than all the weaponry, diplomacy, and solidarity marches for Chile that have occurred until then. This image spreads worldwide sparking a wave of sympathy without precedent for the Chilean cause.
August 11, 1974: After a month of massive demonstrations in various cities in the world, the creation of an alliance of friendly nations of Chile, and three benefit concerts entitled “Chile Resist!” (organized by Roger Waters with the participation of Pink Floyd, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, Elton John, Wings, Arlo Guthrie, more local artists and Quilapayún, in Hyde Park, London; Central Park, New York; and next to the Bois de Boulogne in Paris), the United States decides to speed things up and declares a no-fly zone in Chilean airspace due to a confusing incident in which a Bell Huey helicopter ends up crashing into the cliffs of Laguna Verde in Valparaíso.
September 1, 1974: The Americans lose patience. Something does not appear to be working since the country is on its knees, famished and begging for a gringo intervention like it should have already occurred. Groups of international militants from Argentina and all over the world entering the country by the Lonquimay Pass have even been detected.
September 11, 1974: At 9:45AM, an F-4 Phantom squadron of the US Marine Corps storms the sky above Santiago behind the mountain range near Cajón del Maipo. The Chilean Armed Forces are surprised on the only front they were assured was covered, the Argentine one. The response is slow and in a few minutes the jets fly over the capital heading north. Three of them make their way toward Pudahuel Airport, three toward the Escuela Militar and three descend suddenly toward La Moneda Palace, the seat of the President of the Republic.
At exactly 10AM, three Sparrow missiles advance through Zenteno Street, cross the Alameda and explode against the southern façade of the governmental palace. The F-4 jets execute an ascending parabolic maneuver producing a noise that shatters the windows of the neighboring buildings. A rain of glass particles falls and a pillar of smoke rises from the old building. Later on, the cameras will capture the precise instant in which the blazing Chilean flag is consumed by the flames and smoke of the raging fire.
September 11, 1974: At the same moment of the explosion, US Marines get unexpectedly out of four vehicles camouflaged as passenger buses crossing the Alameda. They enter through a gap in the wall and take the scant military contingent of Carabiniers and Investigations Police by surprise. Allende attempts to use the rifle Fidel Castro had given to him, but it jams and he is captured. They block the entrances to the building and prepare to hunker down until the arrival of the occupation forces.
Total confusion reigns throughout the country. The armed forces are out of control. Generals loyal to the government seize certain cities and others, who were aligned with the coup plotters, put up a resistance through small garrisons and regiments. In Santiago confrontations between Carabiniers and members of the military are reported. The Buin regiment revolts and unleashes coordinated attacks on the central offices of Investigations and the Telecommunications Command. A tank of the Tacna regiment enters the Congress building shooting its canon and killing the administrative staff who have barricaded themselves to resist in the name of the People’s government. Four Hawker Hunters fly over the city center and bombard the army building across from La Moneda; the anti-aircraft artillery positioned on the roof brings one of them down and it drops in a ball of smoke in the Mercado neighborhood entering through the ceiling of Mapocho Station. The explosion kills everyone inside. The army helicopters begin to fill the Santiago sky, hovering at a low altitude and shooting at anything that moves. Three of them are shot down by the machine guns of the Hawker Hunters conducting a new sweep of the city’s downtown.
Bell Huey helicopters establish landing zones in the four principal access routes to the capital. They are supported by tanks and heavy artillery which had arrived from Valparaíso during the night. The Chilean Navy had joined the coup in the previous days.
The F-4 Phantoms soar in from Pudahuel Airport. They deploy heat-seeking missiles, knocking down the three remaining Hawker Hunters, which fall in flames over the Santa Lucía Hill, the National Bank building, and the third one, attempting a crash landing, plunges in Providencia. It destroys commercial establishments and cars, causing a massive fire at the base of the Tajamar Towers. Two squadrons have already destroyed the landing strip and the air force’s hangar, limiting their action to taking out air defense systems and a handful of helicopters which they could not eliminate from land.
Commander Bachelet, loyal to the government, speaks on national radio and urges the citizens to remain in their homes. He says, “The people should defend themselves, but not sacrifice themselves. The People should not let themselves be bullied or shot to pieces, but they also cannot let themselves be humiliated. Whoever feels this in their hearts should present themselves to any departmental office of the Armed Forces immediately.”
The Industrial Belts of Vicuña Mackenna mobilize armed working-class picketers who set off toward La Moneda in an attempt to recapture a symbol. They are obliterated like flies by the helicopters of the army who have already switched to the American side.
Bombers burst into the Santiago sky and launch two hundred tons of explosives on different targets, among them Air Force facilities and a few strategic sites which could eventually prove troublesome for the ground troops. The bunker of Peñalolé, where Commander Bachelet has taken cover, is destroyed completely. They never find his remains.
The MIR withdraw, sensing the battle is lost and that their true role will be one of guerrilla resistance after the occupation. In spite of this, a group of MIR militants confront Chilean soldiers in the foothills of San Cristóbal. The military makes them retreat to the top of the mountain. Modern, German-made Leopard 1 V tanks parade through the Alameda flying an American flag with a procession of troop transport vehicles accompanied by helicopters. Not a single shot is fired until they position themselves in front of the old Congress and a delegation of officers of the occupation enter the building.
On the peak of San Cristóbal, five members of MIR continue to put up a fight. Two of them die after being hit by machine-gun fire and a third is captured after losing his balance and falling on the steps that lead to the sculpture of the Virgin Mary. With the situation as it is, the siege is tightened around Andrés Allamand and Iván Moreira, the last two surviving combatants of the MIR contingent who went out to defend the Unidad Popular government.
At Congress which is now occupied by American troops, the only radio authorized to transmit, using equipment donated by Radio Agricultura, is installed. Michael Aguada, leader of the occupying troops and ultimate authority in the city of Santiago, speaks to the nation in a confusing Spanish, inviting all Chileans to join the reconstruction of the country at the same moment in which an American flag is hoisted on the façade of the old Congress. Meanwhile on the mountaintop, shielded behind the corpse of Andrés Allamand, Iván Moreira fires his last rounds with his back to the base of the Virgin of San Cristóbal. Surrounded, he yells “before you know it, fucking traitors, we will open up the streets so that the free man may pass again . . . you sons of bitches.”
Right after, he takes out a curved knife, stands up and runs over to the troops yelling something nobody understands. Forty bullets are extracted from his body during the autopsy. The photograph taken by the correspondent in the moment in which Moreira runs toward the troops is spread the world over and becomes the symbol of what had occurred that morning in Chile, the first democratically elected socialist republic in Western history.
“El sueño de Contreras” © by Jorge Baradit. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Gabriel T. Saxton-Ruiz. All rights reserved.