If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Allende and Pinochet in Chile

Outline of the 1973 Allende Coup in Chile and Pinochet's Junta (this video under CC-BY-SA). Created by Sal Khan.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

Male: What I'm going to talk about in this video is one of the darker periods in Chilean history and depending on your point of view, also one of the darker periods in American history. What I want to make clear in this video, and it applies to every video I'll make in history, is be skeptical of everything that I'm telling you. I'm going to do my best attempt to give a reasonably accurate series of events and draw connections when they're clear and also make it clear where there might be connections and no one is sure. But you should be skeptical and frankly you should be skeptical of anything anyone is telling you. I encourage y'all to kind of use this as a scaffold for your own research, for you to look up these names and these events and figure out what actually happened. Now, with that said, let's rewind back to 1970 when Chile was having an election for president. And they have their election and it's considered a fairly free and fair election, and one of the candidates in that election was this gentleman over here, Salvadore Allende, who was a known Marxist. A known Marxist. He has communist ideologies here. He's known to be sympathetic to what has happened in Cuba, sympathetic to the Soviets. So you can imagine in this context America is concerned. It's in the middle of the cold war. You have Richard Nixon President. You have Henry Kissinger is his Secretary of State. They're actively watching this election. They clearly do not want Salvadore Allende to become president. All of a sudden a major country in Latin America being controlled by a Marxist. Unlucky for them, Salvadore Allende actually does get more votes than everyone else. He gets 36% of the votes, which is a plurality. Just so you know what plurality means, it means that you got more of the votes than anyone else but not necessarily the majority of the votes. If he'd gotten 51% of the votes that would be a majority. In this case, he didn't get a majority and the standard procedure in Chile is that if no one gets a majority it goes to Congress and Congress picks who's president. The usual thing that they would do is they would pick whoever has the largest amount of votes. They normally didn't do a runoff. So, you can imagine Nixon and Kissinger they're worried. So they kind of get into let's mess with what's going on in Chile mode. And this part is well established that they had this what they called a track one strategy of actually trying to get the Chilean congress to not do what they normally do, to not pick the guy with the largest number of votes. So, they were trying to mess there, didn't seem like something they would be able to pull off. The other thing that it looks like they started to kind of get involved with through the CIA is they started to at least interface, it's not clear how much they actually supported, they actually started to talk to people in the military and see how likely is a coup to happen. How likely is Allende to be overthrown if he becomes president? They were looking for people who could I guess keep this known Marxist from becoming president. And the number one problem was this guy right over here, the number one problem was this guy right over here. In this whole video I would say that Rene Schneider was the only unambiguously good guy in this video. He was the commander in chief of the Chilean military. He said, "Look, I don't care who becomes president. I don't care how much I disagree with him. I don't care how much pressure the Americans put on me or how much pressure the rest of the military puts on me, the role of the Chilean military is not to mess with politics." The called him the constitutionalist. "The role of the Chilean military is not to overthrow people when we don't like them. The role of the Chilean military is only to defend Chile. It's only to literally do ..." I guess you know what militaries are supposed to do what constitutions say the military is supposed to do. So, you can imagine that the people who wanted to overthrow Allende, now that it looks like he's coming to power. They said this guy is not a convenient guy to have in power. He doesn't like to play the way we play, even though maybe there were other elements in the military that did want to do that. So, this is what's a little bit unclear. You have this former general in the Chilean military who is clearly anti Allende, and he's also anti Schneider because this guy right here Roberto Viaux, he thinks that the military should be I guess actively overthrowing dictators and so there is some contact between him and the CIA. It seems like the CIA may have supplied some support to him and then maybe got a little bit freaked out that ... At least Kissinger might have gotten a little bit freaked out that this guy seemed a little bit extreme. But remember we're in this period where Allende was, he got 36% of the votes, Congress is trying to figure out what they do about it and during this period there are some people who say Well look, if Rene Schneider is not going to do, what's in their mind, the right thing and depose the eventual Allende then we'll have to depose Rene Schneider. So, you have this plot that's worked up by Roberto Viaux to essentially kidnap Rene Schneider. And that would essentially depose him from being head of the military and maybe they could put somebody in his place who is more likely to have a coup, more likely to want to overthrow Allende. Unfortunately, when this guy's people tried to kidnap Schneider, Schneider he's got a gun, he sees these guys kidnapping, he takes out the gun and then the kidnappers shoot him several times and he eventually dies. So, this kidnapping turns into an assasination of Rene Schneider and they wanted to kill him or remove him or whatever just because he essentially wanted to do his job. So he's the only person in this whole narrative where I'll say he was an unambiguous good guy. Now, what's not clear is how much involvement the Americans or the CIA had in supporting this kind of assassination or this kidnapping of Scheider. It does look like they kind of knew that something was going on. This is a quote from Kissinger. Seems pretty well substantiated. Where he told Nixon a few days before Schneider was assassinated when Nixon said hey what's going on in Chile? Are we working on any ways through the military and are we doing anything about potentially maybe about Schneider. I don't know look that up for yourself. I don't know how much Nixon may or may not have known. Kissinger told Nixon, "This looks hopeless. I turned it off. Nothing could be worse than an aborted coup." So this quote is interesting because it looks like they thought about it. I turned it off. Which implies that at one point he had it turned on. So at one point they were actively thinking about working with Roberto Viaux maybe to kidnap Schneider, maybe to orchestrate a coup against Allende, but they turned it off. So, they're not morally above doing this kind of thing, but they decided that this guy was a little bit ... Was not as competent as maybe they thought he should, and at least according to Kissinger he's saying we turned it off because nothing could be worse than an abortive coup. It turned out that's exactly what happened because as soon as this guy got killed everyone was like oh my God you have all these shady elements who are trying to overthrow democracy and that actually put more pressure on Congress to say hey we have to let Allende become president. So, in November he gets inaugurated president. November Allende becomes president. There's a bunch of different stories here how much the CIA was involved. The counter argument is look the CIA would not have wanted to assassinate Schneider because this would have only made Allende all the more popular. They would have only maybe wanted to remove him and put someone else there who was more likely to have a coup against Allende later. Who knows. If you believe Kissinger's words here it looks like maybe they provided some initial support to Viaux and then they backed off a little bit. Who knows. Well, regardless to say by November of 1970 Salvadore Allende became president, and he started implementing his kind of Marxist ideology and it didn't go that well. Chile's economy especially if you fast forward to 1972, 1973, not doing so well. He started price-fixing. He tried to do the fairly naive approach of raising salaries while keeping prices fixed, which will obviously lead to shortages. So, all around he wasn't the most popular president. It didn't look like it, especially his economic policies wereworking out that well. People who were pro Allende would say well look just like what the United States did to Cuba they started doing to Chile as soon as they had a Marxist in charge, someone they didn't like. The United States started swinging its huge economic power around to kind of hurt the Chilean economy so that this guy would come out of power. I'll let you decide that. You fastforward all the way to 1973 so now Allende has been in power for about three years, things are not going well for him. There are strikes going on. He tries to clamp down on the media a bit. There is unrest. There are people who definitely don't want him to be president anymore, and the people who don't think much of the United States will say hey but the United States the whole time was kind of actively undermining Allende and that's probably true. The United States will say no look we were trying to keep the press free. This guy was clamping down on free press. We were trying to keep things so that there will be another election so that this guy won't turn into another Fidel Castro and essentially just turn Chile into a totalitarian communist regime. Regardless of which side you take, on September 11, 1973, Allende is deposed. The military surrounds the presidential palace and it is said that he commits "suicide." I put that in quotes because once again some people believe that he really did commit suicide. Some people believe that he was assassinated, and some accounts say that he committed suicide with an automatic weapon and well I guess you could commit suicide with an automatic weapon but it doesn't seem like the weapon of choice for many peoples, but I'll leave that once again for you to decide. Whether or not he committed suicide or whether he was killed, but regardless to say September 11 he gets thrown out of power and once again it's not clear what role the CIA played. They clearly were sympathetic to the people that wanted to overthrow him. Clearly were providing indirect support throughout Allende's regime to all of the people who were anti Allende, and you can look up. There actually are some declassified documents that hint at what the level of CIA involvement might have been. Regardless to say, Allende deposed and this gentleman, this gentleman comes to power right over here, Augusto Pinochet. And he comes to power and he says look you know this democracy thing is silly. I am the president. I am the commander in chief. Chile will be run by military junta. Let me write that down. Chile will be run by a junta. A junta just means a government that's run by the military. It's a military dictatorship. The military is now in charge of Chile. We don't need people to do silly things like voting anymore. And you can imagine Nixon didn't care so much that this guy didn't like democracy but he was happy. Let me see if I can put a smile on his face. He was happy that at least Pinochet was not a Marxist, that at least we had stopped the spread of communism in Latin America. And Nixon, with that said, and this is explicit, he wanted everything in his power to make Augusto Pinochet successful especially from an economic point of view. So, the United States does start supporting Pinochet. He's viewed as kind of an American friend. Unfortunately for America and unfortunately for Chile, this guy is one of those big time tyrants in history. So, he is a tyrant. He starts rounding up people. He starts killing people. He's one of those people that anything anyone...there was a whiff of communism, a whiff of political opposition he would round them up, he would round their family up. He would torture people, and just to kind of put some ... This is another picture of him when he's older. It's amazing how gentle some fairly evil people can look in the world. So I'll put some unambiguous horns on him. He killed many, many people and many, many people disappeared. Just to give an idea, these are some of the people who disappeared. It was anyone from people who were critical of him, people who were perceived to be left-leaning, whatever it was. He tortured including women and children and all the rest. So, all around bad guy. He stuck around in Chile as president until 1990. So, that's 17 years, and he really stayed in power until 1998 where he was commander and chief of the army. You can imagine if the military is in control President isn't that important of a title. Commander and chief is. So for 25 years he hung around Chile and continued to be this totalitarian guy, although he liked free markets. He was a capitalist in the traditional sense and the one I guess silver lining if you had to throw a silver lining on Pinochet's regime was that the Chilean economy actually did well during his regime. Chile is considered one of the success stories economically over that time period. So, I'll let you decide, and some people would say oh that's because Pinochet understood economics, he didn't try to do all this price fixing stuff that Allende tried to do. Regardless of the fact that he was a tyrant, at least the economy was doing well. The other side of the equation would be well look of course the economy did well, now you had the United States doing everything in its power, this huge the largest economy in the world, doing everything in its power to make sure that Chile's economy thrives while one of its buddies are in power. So, I'll let you decide who's right, who's wrong, what was the actual involvement of the CIA and Nixon and Kissinger and all of this mess over here. But I think needless to say that this was a not so pleasant chapter in I guess world history.