Wednesday 11th September 2013 marks the fortieth anniversary of what in Latin America is referred to as ‘El primer 11 de septiembre’(the first 11th September). It is the fortieth anniversary of the bloody coup which paved the way, and is said to have been deliberately staged to pave the way, for the introduction of the very same neoliberal reforms that, later at a global level, are shown to have benefited from the measures adopted post 9/11/2001. 9/11/2001 marks the third 11th September following the one in Chile and later the coup in Turkey, for similar reasons (paving the way for a neoliberal market economy), which was staged a day later, that is on the 12th September, this time in 1980.
That attack on the presidential palace (La Moneda) in Santiago, Chile, of Tuesday September 11th 1973 brought an end to one of the longest parliamentary democracies in the region and paved the way for the policies and blueprints developed by the Chicago Boys, Chilean economists , who were sold on Milton Friedman’s principles, to start being implemented against the backdrop of a reign of fascist terror. This reign led to the execution of thousands of declared or suspected leftists. Among the victims were intellectuals such as the major nueva canción composer, Victor Jara,i who was killed by death squads in a sports stadium that is now named after him. A belated trial regarding his execution started this year. In fact, on 28 December 2012, Judge Miguel Vazquez accused Pedro Barrientos Nunez (who resides in the USA), a former lieutenant, and Hugo Sanchez Marmonti, an ex-colonel, of involvement in Jara’s murder. There have been calls to the US government, notably by Jara’s widow, Joan Turner, to extradite Barientos.ii
The national football stadium (not the one where Jara was executed), due to host a qualification decider for the 1974 World Cup (soccer), between Chile and the USSR (ironic, given the alleged links between the Allende government and the Soviet union), became a veritable concentration camp where people were interrogated, tortured or threatened to be shot. The USSR refused to turn up for the qualifier affirming its refusal to play on a field associated with events leading to the demise of several victims of the military regime, thus granting Chile an automatic qualification to the W. Germany World Cup. Thousands were killed, tortured or simply ‘disappeared’ in the first months of the regime.
Survivors such as UK citizen, medical doctor, Sheila Cassidy spoke of the horrors of torture carried out by DINA the Chilean secret police. This is a common feature of the Monroe Doctrine meant to protect US ‘security’ and economic interests in the region. The Chile coup was to be followed by other equally terrible coups leading to similar situations of terror such as that in Argentina which led to several arrests, killings and disappearances, the 1980 Turkey coup Turkey in 1980 ( a Madres movement still makes its presence felt every Saturday at Galatasary Square, Istanbul). These events constituted the bloody presage for the onset of US driven neoliberal policies in these countries – policies which are liberal only insofar as market economics are concerned but which sit comfortably with a range of fascist conservative policies that lead to clamp downs on any form of dissidence and critical thinking.
In many respects, the notion of a ‘September 11’ is inextricably linked with the onset of neoliberal policies, ushered in Chile as a form of trial run against the backdrop of a ruthless fascist deposition of a democratically elected government, in a country which, until then, boasted the longest parliamentary democratic tradition in the region. It is also inextricably linked with those very same neoliberal policies that were attacked, on the same date but different year, by Muslim fundamentalists in a manner that shows that the reaction to Neo-liberalism and hegemonic globalization stems not always from progressive leftists (for example the Ejercito Zapatista in Chiapas on 1 January 1994, marking the coming into effect of NAFTA) but also from religious fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda.
Deaths, torture and destruction are a common feature of the post September 11th aftermaths. This is what the Pinochet regime would mainly be remembered for despite any economic growth the country might have registered in terms of its Neoliberal capitalist development. The notorious Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Villa Grimaldi (formerly a centre for progressive meetings during the Allende rule, occupied by the military and turned into a torture chamber) centers stand as stark, chilling reminders of these nefarious policies.
Recent reflections on the USA’s September 11 lead us to focus on what is valued in society, who is deemed worthy of living or of being disposed of, what is it that is fundamentally unsavory about western imperialist politics and what is it that breeds so much resentment against western imperialist powers in many parts of the world to lead to such a barbarous and callous attack on ordinary civilians as happened on that particular day in 2001. But it should lead us to reflect on the first September 11 of 40 years ago, and that in Turkey of 1980, and what they represent in terms of the way western economic interests are safeguarded at the expense of so many innocent lives as was the case in Chile, with the creation of the right (if you can excuse the pun) conditions (toppling an elected government which had been nationalizing services), and the rest of what we call the ‘majority world’ including Africa, Asia and Latin America – the tri-continental world.
These infamous September 11/12ths and their immediate aftermaths lead us to reflect on how critical thinking, dissent and the construction of plausible democratic alternatives, that certainly figured in the dreams and narratives of the many persons, young and old (including high school children in Argentina), who disappeared and lost their lives in Chile and Argentina, not to mention East Timor and, once again, Turkey later, become the first casualties in these situations - when economic interests, at the expense of human rights, occupy centre stage in the foreign policies of western nations. This makes a mockery of the exaltation of these very same democratic virtues in these nations’ discourses regarding the basis of a democratic education.
The connection between the Pinochet regime and the destruction of any semblance of a democratic education was reinforced in recent years as a result of massive student protests in Chile which earned the support of other sectors of the population.iii As I argued in my 2012 book, Politics of Indignation,iv the Chilean coup d’etat brought to an end not only a long democratic tradition in the country but also the idea of education as a human right. At all levels, including state provision at elementary and secondary schooling, education was rendered a consumer good and has remained so till the time of writing.
Students together with a host of other sectors of society, social organizations and trade unions, such as the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Chile (CUT), came together to clamor for the right to a free education in a country where one must pay for public education and where university fees are quite steep, leading families into huge debts, legacies of the Neoliberal restructuring occurring since the time of the Pinochet dictatorship. Chilean students have been clamoring for an end to this most undemocratic of measures calling for the right of every citizen to an education, irrespective of means, to be enshrined in the constitution and therefore putting an end to a shameful legacy of the Pinochet rule. This represents the case of stretching the neoliberal thinking with regard to service provision to its extreme. Not that other countries fare much better since any free provision is often poor, underfunded and often of despicable quality which renders the whole issue of choice into a farce. Either pay or be fobbed off with a poor quality service.
My revisiting of a piece I published in 2011 as a reflection on the 10th anniversary of the attack on the twin towers, tweaked to take on board more recent developments and reference to the Turkey situation, is intended as a means to commemorate the victims of numerous courageous men and women who perished in the wake of one of the most horrendous episodes that occurred during my lifetime. 40 years on, we should not forget the bloody birth pangs of Neoliberalism that serve to underline Capitalism’s violent streak.
i. History Today, Vol 62, issue 5, 2012, http://www.historytoday.com/ramona-wadi/victor-jara-victim-prince A few years ago, Edwin Dimter was identified as El Príncipe, the actual executioner. See the article ‘Chile: seven former members of the Armed forces face trial for the murder of Victor Jara in 1973’ in Panoramas, http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/content/chile-seven-former-members-armed-forces-face-trial-murder-v%C3%ADctor-jara-1973
ii. BBC News 3 January 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-20897545
iii. See Polin So (2011) “The Fight to Make Education a Guaranteed Right: Chilean Students vs. the Nation’s President,” in Truthout, 29th August, http://www.truth-out.org/fight-make-education-guaranteed-right-chilean-students-vs-nations-president/1314638583.
iv. Peter Mayo, Politics of Indignation. Imperialism, Postcolonial Disruptions and Social Change, Winchester: Zero Books (John Hunt), 2012. http://www.zero-books.net/books/politics-of-indignation-imperialism-postcolonial-disruptions-and-social-change