«It is possible they will smash us, but tomorrow belongs to the people, the workers. Humanity advances toward the conquest of a better life.»
– Salvador Allende, from Last Words Transmitted by Radio Magallanes, September 11, 1973
Recently, I watched Coup 53, the 2019 documentary directed by Taghi Amirani, which depicts the story of Operation Ajax, the CIA/MI6 staged coup in Iran that overthrew the government of democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. The 1953 coup was a joint operation between the United States and the United Kingdom, which aimed to remove Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh from power and restore Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as Iran’s leader. The CIA played a leading role in this covert operation, which involved using CIA-funded agents to foment unrest inside Iran by way of the harassment of religious and political leaders and a media disinformation campaign. When such machinations failed, the US government, under Eisenhower, resorted to planning out a military coup, codenamed Operation Ajax, counterintuitively named after the popular cleansing detergent and not the mythological figure, according to historian Hugh Wilford.
The Eisenhower administration, noting «how easy» to execute the coup was, went on a spree from 53, cleansing Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Lumumba from Congo in 1960, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in 1961, the attempt to coup Castro at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Diem in South Vietnam in 1963. Goulart in Brazil in 1964, Sukarno in Indonesia in 1967, and Allende in Chile in 1973. And it didn’t stop there. The Mighty Whitey on his high horse was cleansing the world, «stronger than dirt,» as the 1965 TV commercial cheekily suggests. The Monroe Doctrine was alive and well.
The British government has always denied their role in the overthrow in Iran, but Coup 53, by means of the redacted then recovered testimony of MI6 operative Norman Darbyshire (re-enacted by Ralph Fiennes), tells a different story. The value of the recovered interview makes Coup 53 a far more compelling documentary and sings the value of declassifying primary documents that give the lie to official narratives from politicians delivered to the public by complicit journalists. The redacted Darbyshire material is now available online at the NSA Archives. It is also a reminder of the value of journalists like Julian Assange, who provided, at great risk to themselves, public access to unredacted documents that aired the dirty laundry of Empire’s White Knight.
More recently, I watched Chile 76, a 2022 film that sees a young Pinochet resistance fighter on the lam who, with a priest’s assistance, comes under the care of a comfortably numb middle-class woman in the aftermath of the Allende Coup. Directed by Manuela Martelli and starring Aline Küppenheim (Carmen), Nicolás Sepúlveda (Elías), and Hugo Medina (Padre Sánchez), Chile 76 is an understated depiction of the aftermath of the 9/11 1973 Allende coup and the subtle, but creepy sense of surveillance all around in the Pinochet years. No, nothing says fist-fuck like a Pinochet hand puppet up your democracy.
The film opens with a harbinger of the tensión ahead, when Carmen at a shop in Santiago, getting some paint mixed up that she’ll use as part of her renovation of a seaside property she’s to visit, is interrupted by a heard-but-not-seen act of violence in the street. A scream of protest, a fascist admonition («bitch!»), and a fast driveaway. There is some silence in the shop. They know what it means. Another desaparecido has been delivered to the punch-face factory for intellectual processing and complicity-extrusion. A shoe is left behind in the street. Carmen has a touch of blue on her own shoe. At her summer house, Carmen is visited by Padre Sánchez, who essentially begs her to look after Elías, a «common criminal» who is hiding from the Pinochet Machine. He has been shot in the leg and can’t immediately flit about in the shadows of the underground’s network of safe houses until he heals sufficiently. Carmen doesn’t reveal her name to the young man for fear that, if captured by the regime, he will be forced to give up her name and endanger her. Tension builds. People talk. Dissent, however mild-seeming, is removed.
The film gives the lie to the US-endorsed notion that things got better in Chile after the socialist Allende was couped. Nobody summed up the foreign policy mission of the US intelligence community back in the 80s better than the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Clarridge had set up the 1984 mining of Nicaraguan harbours, an act for which the United States was convicted in a 1986 World Court case at the Hague. He was unapologetic. Clarridge praised Pinochet while further denigrating Allende’s memory by referring to him as «what’s-his-name.» In an interview with John Pilger, he praised the CIA’s involvement in the 1973 coup.
Clarridge, in his later years, disgusted at what he perceived as a backsliding from the lessons of Triumph of the Will at the post-Church hearing Agency, started up his own CIA and recruited hombres to beat the snot out of nonsense in the world. He was «doing it” in @Afghanistan before illness forced him to return to his home in San Diego to die.
Lest we are tempted to save face by describing the ravings of Duane Clarridge as outlier stuff and beyond the coping mechanisms of more rational men, we need only look to the inspiration for his madness in the cool calculations of the Nobel Prize-winning criminal Henry Kissinger. It was Kissinger who uttered his notorious proclamation that summed up his view of democracy – any democracy:
«I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.»
This was said during the ascension of Allende’s career and lead up to his presidential victory in 1970 and became the sizzle-seethe of CIA operatives during his presidency—time to beat the snot out of nonsense.
The Mighty Whitey on his high horse was cleansing the world
The 50th anniversary of the Chilean coup is upon us. As with the latter-day revelations of Coup 53, the public is still coming to grips with the assault on its democracy in 1973, which ended with the suicide by gunshot of its democratically-elected leader. But as in that depicted, new documentation is always emerging about the clandestine doings of the US intervention in the sovereignty of another nation. These new findings and primary documents are available to those interested in the NSA Archives. For instance, Kissinger’s devious role is further revealed and analyzed. There’s a good critical assessment in Counterpunch magazine by former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman#; see: «More Evidence Regarding Henry Kissinger’s Lies About Chile.»
Another angle worth looking into is the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). It is the military version of the CIA and has even less accountability to the public. It was founded by US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1961 and participated in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. According to a report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the DIA was one of several US intelligence agencies that provided support to the Chilean military before and after the coup, including information on Allende’s government and left-wing political groups in Chile. The report also states that the DIA provided training and other assistance to Chilean military personnel.
The DIA’s role in the Chilean coup was not as significant as that of the CIA, but it was nevertheless important. The DIA’s intelligence support helped the CIA to plan and execute the coup, and its real-time intelligence on the day of the coup was essential for ensuring its success. However, it is important to note that the DIA’s role in the Chilean coup was not without controversy. Some critics have argued that the DIA should not have provided intelligence support to the CIA, as this amounted to complicity in the coup. Others have argued that the DIA should have done more to warn the Chilean government of the impending coup.
Chile 76 is a work of fiction. But it has the value, in this case, of depicting the fracturing aftermath of the coup and the society of secrecy, whispers, and surveillance that developed out of September 11, 1973. In this sense, it reminds one of another excellent film, The Lives of Others (2006), whose constant threat to free thinking manifests in the limitations placed on free expression. It’s a worthwhile film and one that may inspire a read of publicly available primary documents about the coup and who was responsible.