Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Death of Salvador Allende

All this Pinochet getting arrested stuff has reminded me of a book I read a while ago on the overthrow of Allende. So I thought why not do a blog-post on it?

It's still commonly believed that Salvador Allende, President of Chile committed suicide during the coup de etat which put Pinochet and his military junta into power in September 1973. This however, is false - and it's based on the propaganda/lies circulated by the military Junta in the days after Allende's overthrow. Allende actually went down fighting in a gun battle with the fascist soldiers who stormed into the Palacio de la Monada (the Presidential Palace). Here's how Rojas Sandford describes the death of Allende:

Six or seven minutes past 2pm on September 11, 1973, an infiltration patrol of the San Bernado Infantry School commanded by Captain Garrido burst into the second floor of the Chilean Presidential Palace, Santiago's Palacio de La Moneda. Charging up the main staircase and covering themselves with spurts from their FAL machine guns, the patrol advanced to the entrance of the Salan Rojo, the state reception hall. Inside, through dense smoke coming from fires elsewhere in the building and from the explosion of tear gas bombs, grenades, and shells from Sherman tank cannons, the patrol captain saw a band of civilians braced to defend themselves with submachine guns. In a reflex action, Captain Garrido loosed a short burst from his weapon. One of his three bullets struck a civilian in the stomach. A soldier in Garrido's patrol imitated his commander, wounding the same man in the abdomen. As the man writhed on the floor in agony, Garrido suddenly realised who he was: Salvador Allende. " We shit on the President!" he shouted. There was more machine-gun fire from Garrido's patrol. Allende was riddled with bullets. As he slumped back dead, a second group of civilian defenders broke into the Salon Rojo from a side door. Their gunfire drove back Garrido and his patrol who fled down the main staircase to the safety of the first floor, which the rebel troops had occupied.

Some of the civilians returned to the Salon Rojo to see what could be done. Among them was Dr. Enrique Paris, a psychiatrist and President Allende's personal doctor. He leaned over the body, which showed the impact of at least six shots in the abdomen and lower stomach region. After taking Allende's pulse, he signaled that the President was dead.

Robinson Rojas Sandford, The Murder of Allende (Harper and Row, 1976).

42 men and women defended La Moneda for 5 hours until they were finally overcome. As Rojas Sandford says, 'this small group[of civilians] held off a seige of eight Sherman tanks... two recoilless 75mm. cannons mounted on jeeps, and two hundred infantry men from two Santiago regiments, and bombardment from a pair of Hawker Hunter fighter jets'.

When the rebels had taken the Palace they telephoned Pinochet, who told them not to let anyone see Allende's body. Military Intelligence then set about fabricating evidence of Allende's 'suicide'. Rojos Sandford explains how the 'suicide' was staged:

... the SIM [Servicio de Intelligencia Militar] men seated him [Allende] on the red velvet sofa against the wall... propped him up against the back of the sofa, placed in his hands the machine gun he had been using... and pressed the trigger just once. Allende's head split in two.... The scene was now set. Because the body was already stiff from rigor mortis, it had not been easy to arrange on the sofa; the SIM men had to use force to straighten the President's legs, leaving them wide apart to stabilize the body.

They then called in police detectives from Santiago's Homicide Squad. As Rojo Sandford says, the staged suicide was so unconvincing that any third-rate detective would see through it - but the Homicide Squad weren't interested in finding out who really killed Allende. They sympathised with the Generals. Had Allende really shot himself he would have slumped over on the sofa (especially so as the force from a bullet at close range from a machine gun would have been extremely powerful) - however, as Rojo Sandford describes, the detectives found Allende sitting up straight on the sofa with his feet resting firmly on the floor. For some reason the detectives did not find it strange that Allende's body had become rigid immediately after death.
Rojos Sandford goes on to list a number of other obvious inconsistencies in the Junta's story of Allende's 'suicide'.

OK, so the left loves martyred heroes - and I have to confess that Allende is a big hero of mine - but the manner of Allende's death really does impress me. They just don't make them like that any more do they (political leaders I mean)? Can you really see Blair or Chirac or Bush acting with that kind of personal courage and with that kind of conviction? (Allende didn't have to stay in La Moneda). Blair's very good at the tough guy act when he's talking about the War on Terror - you know, sticking out his chin, looking 'resolute' - but can you really see him picking up a machine gun and defending 10 Downing Street against an attack from two hundred soldiers? No, didn't think so.

Of course, Allende wasn't perfect - he committed great errors. Rojas Sandford is clear that Allende vascillated and hesitated in power - he saw the coup attempt coming, but didn't prepare his supporters for it. As Rojas Sandford says;

When the 'document' of the purported Plan Zeta [this was an account - fabricated by the Junta - of secret left-wing plotting] was later displayed by the rebels, it was rather suprising to read that the Chilean working classes "had assembled an irregular army of 100,000 men", "had infiltrated whole regiments", had arms enough to supply "several divisions" for a "self-coup" that would take place on September 19. On September 11 it was abundantly clear that there had been no such preparation, that the workers' forces were meagre, incoherent, and disorganised, and that the "infiltration" in the armed forces was less than one per cent.

In some ways, Allende did effectively commit suicide through his suicidal policy of preventing the workers from organising. However, despite these political faults, Allende remains a figure that the far-left should regard as a hero - a courageous man who wouldn't surrender, even when confonted by three military divisions, and who died fighting for the poor of Chile.

Sandford Rojos sums up Allende's (tragic) heroism:

Allende once said: "Let them know this. let them hear it very clearly. let it make a deep impression on them: I will defend this Chilean revolution and I will defend the Popular government. The people have given me this mandate; I have no alternative. Only by riddling me with bullets will they be able to end our will to accomplish the people's program."

So they riddled him with bullets.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?