Chile had been engulfed in an authoritarian period for years. This came to a halt in the 1960s, when social movements began to emerge prompting many to question existing social and political policies. The US had previously been involved in funding political campaigns, but relations turned sour in 1970. Salvador Allende won the presidency under the platform that more would be given to the citizens of Chile, as opposed to foreign investors. After becoming a socialist state, many of the reforms under the newly elected president began to loosen the American stronghold of the Chilean economy.
In 1973, the US supported and aided a military coup that removed the democratically elected president. This leads to the question: why were the internal affairs in Chile, that lead to the 1973 coup, significant enough to constitute US involvement? The US placed itself in the heart of the new government and created a strong, influential, yet not widely publicized, relationship with Chile. This can be explained by the policies implemented by Chile, US connections to the Chilean economy, as well as the US foreign policy with other Latin American countries amid the Cold War.
Chile was known to form alliances with strong foreign nations to improve its international position. Throughout WWI and WWII, Chile and the US strengthened their relationship. Presidents from both sides had worked together to reduce tariffs, although this worked more in favor of the US. American goods could be found everywhere across Chile, as the market imported in great numbers (Stallings 1978). US investment in Chile’s large-scale copper industry gave rise to “a huge network of linkages” between both nations (Falcoff 1987). This made the US a favorable ally to the Chilean elite who promptly benefited from the influx in copper sales.
Not only was the US a powerful economic ally, it also influenced Chilean international policies. As the US turned anti-communist, so did Chile, by “outlawing its local Communist party” (Falcoff 1987). However, when the US began to focus on restoring Western Europe and the Red Scare, attention in Latin America deteriorated. During this time, Chilean politicians realized that major changes were needed to restore the economy that had begun to fail due to the loses in the Korean War (Falcoff 1987). They looked to nationalizing the copper industry to bring in more domestic revenue and help restore damages.
This would weaken the American monopoly in the south and quite possibly hurt the American economy as well. In 1962, to prevent major policy changes, the US implemented the Alliance for Progress, a program to financially aid countries and steer them away from communism. The thought of a potential threat to lose an ally made the US act quickly, yet the US has a habit of interpreting “local events according to their own needs” (Falcoff 1987). Chile wanted to reform policies to recuperate the economy, but the US saw this as a gateway move towards communism.
To maintain control of the copper mines, the US invested money in Chile to please the elites, however, this was not enough to control the uprisings by the impoverished majority of Chileans. For years leading up to the 1970 presidential election, social movements gained momentum with the focus of social justice and nationalistic pride. Previously, in 1964, the CIA had successfully funded Eduardo Frei’s campaign for the presidency because of his strong American-like ideals (Falcoff 1987). The same outcome was expected to occur in 1970, but there was a rising fear of the possibility that the socialist party could win.
One of the main objectives of the socialist party, was to turn over large land estates and some factories to the workers themselves to supply its county with its own goods instead of benefiting other counties. The implementation of these new reforms, would privatized the copper industry in Chile and threatened to force out several American companies. Landowners and elites turned to the CIA for assistance. On June 27, 1970, during the meeting of the 40 Committee, Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State, voiced his strong desire of stopping Salvador Allende from getting office.
When speaking to the committee, Kissinger said “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves (Marks and Marchetti 1974)”. Chilean’s are entitled to their sovereignty, unless it meant the US loss capital. This was just the beginning of US intervention in the 1970 election. On September 15, 1970, there was a meeting between the CIA director Richard Helms and the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, in which they discussed the need to enforce a coup, if the socialists won.
Although there was a 1 in 10 chance that Allende would get voted in to office, Nixon believed that to save Chile it was worth spending upwards to $10,000,000 (Helms 1970). Their plan was to “make the economy scream” by reducing the money flow into the country by major banks (Helms 1970). Additionally, they hoped a coup would successfully work in preventing Allende’s victory. Unfortunately, for the US, there was a three-way split between the parties running. This was a regular occurrence in Chilean politics, which led to congress taking a vote to decide who to appoint to the presidency.
Salvador Allende’s election was surrounded with illegitimate claims, many claiming that the victory was not valid because Allende had not received the majority of the votes. Nevertheless, Allende was sworn into office on November 3, 1970. Wealthy landowners were afraid to get their land taken away. President Allende, who for years campaigned for social reforms to allow the economic gap to close, nationalized mines owned by Anaconda and Kennecott, US companies, in 1971 (Allende 1988).
Previously, Latin American countries welcomed in foreign investors to help structure their economies, but built resentment because they were not benefiting from the deals. Due to the US agenda of preventing the Soviet Union from gaining stronghold positions in other counties the US simply classified this action as communistic. The US painted Allende as a threat to democracy and a potential foe. Chile aspired to be like communistic Cuba in the sense of being self-reliant through a revolution without an armed conflict. This target could not have come a worse time.
The US was involved in the Cold War with the USSR. The end of WWII gave rise to a new world order, one full of uncertainty and doubt. As states began to rebuild themselves and set forth new policies to avoid another international catastrophe, a growing threat to American ideals began to grow behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. The two superpowers began to battle it out for political influence. Communism was seen as a risk to the US’ democratic way of life. The US was already vigilant with its southern neighbors. Growing unrest and the implementation of reforms on economic policies put the US on edge.
Throughout Latin America, countries had begun to move away from their usual American standards. In Nicaragua, the “Marxist regime allied to the Soviet Union and Cuba” was a constant danger (Falcoff 1987). US foreign policy in Latin America began to shift in a way that benefited the US through opening trade, lower tariffs and political allies. Knowing that countries needed to reconstruct themselves and were in grave need of economic assistance, the US manipulated the situation to persuade counties to adopt policies (Schoulz 2014).