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The "Invisible Blockade" and the Overthrow of Allende

A striking aspect of the world reaction to the military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende as President of Chile in September 1973 has been the widespread assumption that the ultimate responsibility for the tragic destruction of Chilean democracy lay with the United States. In a few quarters, the charge includes an accusation of secret U.S. participation in the coup. However, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, headed by Senator Gale McGee, has just investigated this accusation and concluded that there is no evidence of any U.S. role whatever.

More commonly, however, the bill of particulars relies on what President Allende himself, speaking before the United Nations in December 1972, called the "invisible financial and economic blockade" exercised by the United States against his government. Articles taking this line have appeared, for example, in The Washington Post, the National Catholic Reporter and The New York Review of Books. On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal has been critical of what it calls a "simplistic plot" theory espoused by members of the academic community-that "Washington by simply turning off the spigot of low-interest loans" was able to bring down Allende.

Was there in fact an undeclared economic war between the Nixon administration and Salvador Allende-to use Allende's own words, "an oblique underhanded indirect form of aggression . . . virtually imperceptible activities usually disguised with words and statements that extol the sovereignty and dignity of my country"? Did this warfare have a direct relationship to the bloody events in Santiago? A critical examination of the considerable evidence on this subject available in this country and in Chile can help to answer these questions, and possibly suggest whether wider conclusions are in order about the relations between capitalist nations and a democratic Socialist regime.

II

Even before Allende won a 36.2 percent plurality in a three-way popular election for the Presidency on September 4, 1970, American business interests in Chile, including the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT), which owned 70 percent of the Chilean Telephone Company,

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