Chile’s 9/11: President Piñera Speaks with TIME on 40th Anniversary of the Coup

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Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Sebastian Pinera speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2013.

Chile has its own reasons for marking September 11, 2013 as a somber anniversary. Forty years ago, the military putsch led by General Augusto Pinochet removed the leftist (and democratically elected) President Salvador Allende. The Air Force bombed the presidential palace and Allende committed suicide, sparking almost two decades of repression, disappearances, and dictatorship.

President Sebastian Piñera is the first conservative to lead the country since the end of the junta. The Harvard economics PhD who became a billionaire and then president met with TIME in La Moneda Presidential Palace to talk about Chile’s painful past and more hopeful future.

TIME: What does the 40th anniversary of the coup mean for Chile?
Piñera: This was a very dark part of our history. We should not forget it. But when we remember it, the question is what is the goal? To reproduce the same anger? Everybody has some lessons to learn. The only thing that [the left] would say is that nothing that happened before September 11, 1973 justifies what happened in terms of human rights abuses afterwards, and I fully agree with them. I was in opposition to the military government, from the first day.

I had left the country in August 1973 to go to Harvard. In my apartment there I saw things [on the television] I couldn’t believe. The Air Force bombing the palace… I had a girlfriend in Chile and I thought that my country had just gone mad, so I start calling her and I finally reached her late at night and we decided to get married. So for me this was a very personal time.

Chile had been a very stable democracy. [But] in the late 60’s President [Salvador] Allende, who was the leader of the leftist socialist Marxist coalition, won the election, with [just] 36 percent of the vote. Even though President Allende was elected democratically, my opinion is that he started by not respecting basic democratic principles. He didn’t have any respect for the law. This was a very dramatic situation for Chile because the Chilean people did not agree with transforming Chile to a socialist Marxist Cuban model. The situation started to become very controversial and very violent. At the same time he started to arm groups. A lot of people came from Cuba and other Latin American countries, the situation became very controversial, very violent on both sides. There was no dialogue.

At the end of the day since there was no democratic solution, my impression is that a lot of people started to think that the only solution was a military coup. Most people thought that was just going to be a short situation and the democratic party would resume afterwards. So the military came in not because they got crazy one day. It was not something sudden, it was not a surprise.

Is Allende’s growing popularity as a historical figure a danger to unity?
No. It is kind of romantic because he killed himself inside this palace. And people recognize that he was a romantic, a socialist, he tried to introduce more equality and more justice in Chile. But we have to remember that they wouldn’t want to go back to that period.

In this current election campaign, do people still associate the right with the coup d’etat in Chile?
Yes, yes. But the right has changed. Of course I can guarantee you that the right we have now is fully committed to the democratic system, with full respect of human rights. And I would also say that the left has learned from their own mistakes. Chile is a much better country than it was in terms of cohesion, in terms of unity, in terms of common values than it was in the 70s.

How is Chile’s economy doing these days?
The Chilean economy used to be growing faster than any other country in Latin America. One of our administration’s main commitments was to recover our leadership, our dynamism, our momentum. We have already created 830,000 jobs, more than 50 percent of which have gone to women, vulnerable sectors and middle class families.

[Center-left candidate and former president] Michele Bachelet is well ahead in the polls in Chile’s upcoming presidential election. Do you fear for your agenda in the next four years if she wins?
Candidates are very populist, they just promise everything. I hope that once they are sitting in this office, they will realize a president cannot say yes to everything. Michele Bachelet is [ahead] right now. But we still have 3 months and in politics, one week could be an eternity.

So Evelyn Matthei (the conservative candidate) has your full support?
Yes, yes. She is a very smart woman, very well educated with a very strong character, she has very clear commitment to democracy and human rights despite the fact that her father was part of the junta. He was a member of the junta in the last years, not in the first years. In any case, she has a clear commitment to democracy, to social market economy, to equality of opportunities, to human rights so basically the country is so different from what it was 40 years ago. I guarantee you if we repeated history nobody would behave the way they behaved 40 years ago.

Term limits are preventing you from running this time. Will you run again in four years?
I have to think about it. But then my wife tells me, don’t even think about it.

What is Chile’s view on the situation in Syria?
We fully agree that the Syrian government is not democratic and what they are doing with their own people is absolutely unacceptable. We prefer that any military action that takes place will take place within the framework of the UN.

Your neighbor Brazil is very concerned with the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying. Is Chile worried?
Of course we are worried. Who wouldn’t be worried if a friend is spying on you? We have asked the State Department to give us information: What are they doing? Why are they are doing it?

Are you satisfied with the answers?
We haven’t received a full answer, but if they are doing that, of course that is a problem. I mean, imagine if I were informed that the U.S. was spying on my emails, my phone conversations, or putting mics in my home… That is very unfriendly conduct and behavior.

92 comments
KarinaNicole
KarinaNicole

i dont want to sound mean but i always feel some kind of embarrassment when he is representing us abroad

areynaldos
areynaldos

Piñera states that Allende was elected "with [just] 36 percent of the vote"'. But forget to tell that after three years with incredible problems - in great deal result of the US government operations inside Chile- got in the election in March 73 44.1%.
For Piñera, who get now 44%  support and 44% rejection in most recent polls should be recent enough to be considered an undemocratic president ?
Further says that Allende "didn’t have any respect for the law". In which facts bases this arbitrary statement?

The ones who were from the start undemocratic were the right parties, a wing of Christina Democrats and big Chilean and American companies,  who were plotting under conduction of Dr Kissinger to overthrow the legitimate Chilean government.
Piñera don't say a word about the involvement of CIA and US brass in the plot (from the murder of Army commander in chief in 1970 by a group of terrorist financed by CIA, weapons smuggled in Chilean in US diplomatic pouch, til the terrorist action in Washington DC in 1976 were a former Allende minister was killed with a  car bomb).
Be forewarned, Piñera, American Big Brother not only is watching you, have a weapon by the hand to...

Anna Elvira Barcafer
Anna Elvira Barcafer

They basically went through the city and whoever would not cooperate, would get tourtured right there in front of their own chidren...

Milton Chow
Milton Chow

Even worse, the dictator Pinochet and how badly Chile degenerated after that. Not to mention other American puppets - Perón, the Shah of Iran, Park Chung-hee, Batista and of course, Israel. How quickly we forget. :(

Lee Trainor
Lee Trainor

Not BS Bob Miller. Clinton knew about the Jhiadists in New Jersey. Clinton had warning Feb 26 199r was going to happen. Clinton has said it himself- he screwed up and he knows it. "We tried to get that guy (bin Laden)". A direct quote from Clinton.

Bob Millar
Bob Millar

Nixon & Kissinger supported the coup. :(

Bob Millar
Bob Millar

Read some actual history. Easy to find facts.

Lee Trainor
Lee Trainor

if Clinton acted appropiately after Feb 26 1993 we wouldn't have had to go through this.

Gregg Grider
Gregg Grider

The CIA was probably the cause of both disasters!

Angelo Bustonera
Angelo Bustonera

and elvis is alive and well in a basement somewhere in New York.

AlejandroF.A.
AlejandroF.A.

Sebastian Piñera said above "he (Salvador Allende) tried to introduce more equality and more justice in Chile"


MarioMamaniQuispe
MarioMamaniQuispe

Pinochet and Allende were victims of the Soviet-American cold war. Although Pinochet was less than democratic he made sure Chile would become prosperous and democratic. Thanks to his years at the helm, today Chile is a beacon of justice, peace, prosperity and freedom, and human rights are respected. This cannot be said of any of Chile's neighbours. My take is that the thousands of Cuban "advisers" in Chile provoked confrontation and ultimately the coup. Today there are again thousands of Cuban advisers in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The US should press for their expulsion and the recovery of democratic institutions in those and every country in the Americas. 

Molly Kate Goss
Molly Kate Goss

Absolutely unbelievable. An article/interview to mark the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, and there is NO mention of the US government's involvement in the coup. Disgraceful.

juancabahamondes
juancabahamondes

Today is a sad day for Chile. We remember the coup in its 40th anniversary, but this is not the main reason to explain why it’s a sad day. It’s a sad day because there are still people who think it was the right choice and it was correct. That the horror and pain a lot of people suffered had sense, and was the best thing for our country. They argue about the problems of the socialism, and usually say the country was going through a really tough situation, with a huge lack of economic resources and political instability. Well, I think they are pretty wrong, not just because of their analysis regarding political and economical issues, but for mixing things up.

You cannot talk about human rights as if it were a political discussion. It doesn’t have to do with Marxism or liberalism; it has to do with the dignity of the human being. It doesn’t have to do with economic rates; it has to do with respect for other people’s life. If we want to talk about the problems of the UP, we could analyze them in many terms; also, if we want to examine the failure or success of the Military Government in this context, there are several ways of facing facts. But what we cannot accept is confusing those kinds of conversations with the debate about human rights, because there isn’t any plausible explanation to do that. So, when I hear every September 11th somebody trying to justify the horror by referring to the mistakes of Allende’s government, I can’t help thinking it’s still a sad, sad day.

Karen Holland
Karen Holland

I'm sure they mean it's relation of how their own people felt of that day of theirs.

mrhilliger
mrhilliger

In 1965, the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel) received my father (at the center of the photo) among the highest leaders of the Cooperative Movement in Latin America. After Pinochet's coup, Cooperativism was considered "leftist" and Pinochet began a military and economic intervention against cooperative stores and supermarkets, stealing millions of dollars from associate employees and customers i.e. One of the wealthiest families today bought a USD 50 million building (back then) with a USD 5 million government loan from Pinochet's regime.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10201426108147569&set=a.2706796582052.136366.1020907109&type=1&theater

dcsilvap
dcsilvap

Read Isabel Allende's today statement where she recognizes that the mistakes came more from the Socialist Party and the extreme left wing who thought that taking land and industries by storm could help accelerate change. Also, she claims that terrorist faction MIR and other extreme left wing factions were not fully aligned, nor convinced that change could be accomplished by democratic methods. Local Chilean press placed this news this afternoon.  This gesture proves a sincere intention to move ahead.  Would have loved this statement some years ago but, better late than never....

Nat Dargana
Nat Dargana

Motivated people are a powerful force for change.

Bob Millar
Bob Millar

Dr. Salvador Allende was murdered by a fascist military coup - with US government support. :(

Carlos Romero
Carlos Romero

And it has NOTHING to do with US Tragedy in 9/11

Carlos Romero
Carlos Romero

Ok... first of all its not 9/11. It is 11/SEP, only in the US they use MONTH(First) and then DAY

manquiberg
manquiberg

Piñera has no opinion of his own about almost anything. As we read here, he's parrotting every cliché non the smallest one that in politics a week is an eternity, which in Chile's pigheaded left, center or right  means nothing. His Presidency resulted from 20 years of anti Pinochet dictatorship backlash and he just was around there to pick the needs for a change. It's obvious he es a terrible intelectual example of what a Harvard Ph D can be. 

pescadormota
pescadormota

@Cacerolachilena a esos care raja y la concertacion o es decir la nueva mayoria hay que sacar a esos care raja del poderrrr marcel claude

TürkMëister
TürkMëister

Piñera has no moral fiber whatsoever to criticize President Allende. First of all, Allende always fought on behalf of the working class, the real architects of our nation. He is the last decent President our country had. Nobody after him has fought for the working class as he did while he was in office.

Regarding Piñera, he never said a word against the Pinochet dictatorship in defense of those whose rights were being absolutely disregarded. He never said anything at all. However, when Pinochet was under arrest in London (for his crimes against human rights during the dictatorship), he gave a public speech in support of Pinochet. However, according to himself, during the 1988 plebiscite (when the Chilean people finally got rid of Pinochet and embraced democracy after decades of abuses), he voted NO (“No to the Pinochet dictatorship”). Of course nobody believes him in Chile. It does not make sense to vote against Pinochet’s dictatorship, but then you give a public speech supporting him when he is under arrest for those crimes. Also, as it is explained in this interview, he fully supports right-wing presidential candidate Matthei. She is a widely known supporter of the Pinochet dictatorship. She thinks that those who were killed during the dictatorship “had it coming”. And to top it all off, she is the daughter of Fernando Matthei, a former Chilean Air Force General who fully supported Pinochet during his regime.

You can only find supporters of Pinochet within Chile (and growing smaller and smaller every year), while the rest of the world recognizes President Allende as a true democrat, whose regime was halted by means of a coup d'etat carried over by cowards in a uniform.

dcsilvap
dcsilvap

If the US or any other country/organization helped us get rid of a pro comunist government I'm fully thankful for that. Military coup didn't happen just because military wanted, as there were many irregular things things going on in Chile. We cannot travel back in time, but I'm pretty sure that if media had by then today's coverage and technology, military regime would have been maybe a "short-term" government. Personally, I feel no sympathy for President Pinera, but nobody can disregard the legacy of what the "post 1973" governments left in terms of economy, growth, health, education. Human rights violation are always wrong no matter the side you're on, but you cannot be digging into people's past, nor blame a young private or corporal on things he did under a "do or die" situation. Our problems didn't start on 9/11, they go way back to the late 60's.  

ManuelA.TejedaSotomayor
ManuelA.TejedaSotomayor

President Allende was a Democratic, he was a former Senator, former Minister of Health and former President of the Chilean Congress. He tried by all means to maintain the democratic system appointing even the highest Comanders of the Chilean arm forces as Ministers of the State to keep the order and democracy function against the U.S.A. intervention and the crimes committed on the Comander of the Chilean Army, the killing of the President's Navy Edecan and hundred of acts of terrorism.

I like that Mr. Pinera call for the reconciliation of the Chilean society, but this can not be done with lies.

Felinucho
Felinucho

@oceanosardiendo Sipo', es tan romántico que la única opción que te dejen es suicidarte... Viejo pelotudo.

KarinaNicole
KarinaNicole

@MarioMamaniQuispe  the hell are you talking about? i mean , no disrespect but  "he made sure Chile would become prosperous and democratic" ? he stole government money and hide it , and there were hundres of murders and tortures if someone disagreed with him , how that supposed to made Chile more prosperous and democratic??



areynaldos
areynaldos

@MarioMamaniQuispePinochet was "less democratic"?!?!
Saddam was a bit harsh, Assad , a little angry,
Kim Jong-un , a little disturbed ????
"thanks to years at the helm", more that 3000 Chilean were murdered, many more jailed, tortured, expelled of the country.

Chile has now a limited democracy, with the top rate of inequality, and yes, thanks to Pinochet crimes. 



areynaldos
areynaldos

@pablozegers A must to know the distorted mentality of the ones who benefited of years of crime and torture: the investors, who are now owner of companies and resources were property of Chilean people.

One thing is true: the Chilean Pinochet model was a model and experiment field of what now is the global economical order: big multinational entreprises and financial institution controls the worl economy.

If you want to call that "free market" is perhaps a subtle from of sarcasm.


areynaldos
areynaldos

@vivianag15 @cardenaldo @sebastianpinera Vivian tal vez la "poca hombría"está reservada a los militares chilenos, rasteros con los poderosos, crueles con los débiles, obedientes a sus esposas arribistas .

Maricones diplomados, en suma

areynaldos
areynaldos

@Carlos Romero Has ALL to do!!
US target of terrorism that CIA once funded, trained and supported.
US military/ security lobby has great control in US single party to keep interfering, plotting and acting overseas, while the US people are left unprotected from disasters and crime.

Flores
Flores

@ManuelA.TejedaSotomayor Chile and Chilenos will continue to be divided until there is understanding, respect and empathy for those that lost their lives [missing or exiled]. If we continue to ignore it or treat it like it never happened then we will never heal and those that don't want to deal with the truth will be left scarred for not coming to terms with the past. Great respect for all Chilenos and may we all be granted humbleness&humility on such a difficult day.

JanellaLamberti
JanellaLamberti

@Felinucho @oceanosardiendoComo dijo William Shakespeare: Todos aman la vida, pero el hombre valiente y honrado aprecia más el honor. Diferente fue el Dictador que a la hora de pagar sus crimenes se refugio en una demencia.

ibnkafka
ibnkafka

@MoAwada one ceases to have any delusions about the basic decency of the right and liberals after a while