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Home | Friday 12th September 2008 | Issue 646

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In case you forgot, yesterday was the anniversary of the day etched in everybody's minds - September the 11th... yes, exactly 35 years since lefty Chilean democrat Salvador Allende was overthrown in a bloody coup led by Thatcher's best buddy General Pinochet, leading to mass state murders and many thousands of 'disappeared'.

What followed was Chile's 'lost decade.' In the immediate days after the coup over 13,500 civilians were arrested - and soon after bodies began appearing all over the country. These measures ensured that opposition to the government were halted and the state was free to impose the policies that it wanted. By the time Pinochet was kicked out 3,000 people had been murdered by the state and thousands more imprisoned and tortured.

Elected in 1970, Salvador Allende had dared to bring about fairly innocent sounding social reforms aimed at undoing some of South America's gross inequalities. This was too much for the US, who paid and trained the Chilean army to 'take care' of him. Allende was something of a rarity amongst politicians, he was prepared to risk his own well-being for the people who elected him. He died as Pinochet's death squads invaded the presidential palace.

By September 12, the final details of the nation's new economic policies had been drafted into legislation. The newly installed leader of the junta, General Augusto Pinochet, faithfully followed the ideas of Nobel Prize Winner Milton Friedman, the acknowledged godfather of neo-liberalism. Until that time Friedman's economic theories had been confined to universities and right-wing thinktanks, but the coup afforded him the opportunity to test his ideas out on real people.

Friedman advocated the privatisation of state run companies, removal of social spending, “liberalization” of the economy and removal of trade barriers (all sounding a bit familiar?) which protected Chilean manufacturers. As regards Chile's economic success, these policies didn't work but, as far as US business interests were concerned, things couldn't have gone better. US multinationals (chief amongst them ITT) made a mint out of the exploitation of Chile's people and resources.

By 1974, inflation had reached 375 percent, the highest in the world, and twice that ever reached under Allende. Families had to spend three quarters of their income on bread alone. By 1982, despite (read, because) of Chile's strict adherence to Friedman's theories the economy collapsed. Hyperinflation ensued and unemployment hit 30 percent. Ultimately, Pinnochet was forced to re-nationalise many companies and the financial legacy of The Chicago School policies still haunt Chile.

Pinochet was eventually ousted (to a comfortable life in the UK) in a period of mass protest and resistance to the dictatorship, which resulted in a compromise that removed the death squads but left globalisation intact. Since then, as Latin Americans have struggled for justice and equality, Chile has slowly and painfully shifted further leftward. The country once infamous for rightist dictatorship is now part of the 'pink tide' of Americas that's seen socialist and socialist-leaning parties in government in some two thirds of the region.

Their new president, Michelle Bachelet was herself a victim of Chile's torture chambers and she's a symbol of a movement that's slowly un-doing the damage of the Pinochet years. Her achievements to date include liberalising contraception and abortion laws (the morning-after pill is now legal thanks to her), strengthening intra-Latin American links (i.e. sticking up for radicals Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales) and reforming the country's healthcare and welfare programmes (although this last one has more than a touch of Blair to it). After a 30 year intermission, Chile's become a fairly tame liberal democracy, but then, it's not just about where you're at but how far you've travelled.

Oh, yeah, and on the same date 28 years later, in another of the world's other most economically unequal countries, a bunch of government-funded black-flagged reptilian aliens flew holographic missile-planes into a couple of skyscrapers already primed with explosives.

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