Remembering the First 9-11

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This week, the first decade of the terrorist attack on the twin towers (those veritable symbols of American economic power and of triumphal capitalism), has been commemorated in the United States, and around the world.

About 3,000 people lost their lives, when airplanes were hijacked and then flown into the twin towers and the Pentagon, many of them from different countries around the world. 9-11 was the Pearl Harbour of the generation which suffered the terrorist crime.

The whole world was alarmed by the criminal attack on the United States. There was a world-wide movement of sympathy for the United States and genuine outpouring of grief around the world. If the most powerful country in human history can suffer the attack, then nobody or nowhere was safe!

The Neo-Conservative regime of George W. Bush, launched a “War on Terror”, in response and the underlining  emotion of revenge, flowed into an ideological crusade which led to the attack on Afghanistan; the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq as well as the world-wide rounding-up of suspected Islamist militants around the world.

The United States earned opprobrium for the torture centres of Bhagram in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the Guantanamo Detention centre in Cuba, water boarding torture technique and the outsourcing of illegal detention and torture, in a process known as extraordinary rendition.

The “War on Terror” demystified the United States, just as the Neo-Conservatives frittered the sympathy in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.

In a recent article, “The True Cost of 9-11”, the Nobel Laureate Economist, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, argued that the ‘War on Terror’, carried “the conservative tally (of) $3trillion to $5trillion”,  and about 50 per cent of returning troops were “eligible to receive some level of disability payment”, while “more than 600, 000” were already treated in veterans’ medical facilities.

The estimated “future disability payments and health care costs will total $600billion to $900billion”. In the meantime, “the social costs, reflected in veteran suicides (which have topped 18 per day in recent years) and family breakups, are incalculable”. George Bush’s ‘War on Terror’, according to Professor Stiglitz, “was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit….

Unemploymentand deficit
Today, America is focused on unemployment and deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”. Other notable American intellectuals, like Professor Noam Chomsky and Phillis Bennis, have also underlined the consequence of the ‘War on Terror’ on the perception of the United States  in the world.

But today’s piece is actually in remembrance of the FIRST 9-11;  I guess that most readers may not have the foggiest idea of what I am talking about. The first 9-11, was the CIA-supported military coup against the Democratically-Elected government of President Salvador Allende, in Chile. Allende was the first democratically-elected Marxist president in history.

Allende immediately launched far-reaching reforms in the interest of the Chilean people. He nationalized US copper firms, banks and other large industries. The government sped up land distribution to the peasantry. Total expenditure on social programs increased under Allende, according to WIKIPEDIA, reaching $828.5million from $562.8million; this included health, education, housing, child and social assistance.

Problems began to mount for the government, with sections of the middle classes and the rich building up conspiracies and resistance as well as a movement of strikes. The most infamous was the truckers’ strike, which at its peak, saw 23, 000 trucks taken out of circulation, with dire consequence for the economy.

The truckers’ strike triggered others. Yet, despite the economic difficulties, President Allende’s Popular Unity coalition increased its vote to 43.2% in the March 1973 parliamentary election. The working people and the poor,  direct beneficiaries of the social programmes of the government, rallied around it.

But United States Imperialism had opposed Salvador Allende from the onset. Declassified documents during the Clinton administration showed that the CIA inserted covert operatives in Chile to prevent Allende from winning power. Henry Kissinger, leading imperialist thinker and Nixon’s Secretary of State, on the eve of the Chilean vote, arrogantly stated clearly that “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.

The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves”. Yet the Chilean people ignored imperialist intimidation, and voted for Allende. Upon hearing of Allende’s election, the American Ambassador to Chile, Edward M. Korry said in response that “not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende.

Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty”. President Richard Nixon directed CIA director Richard Helms, to “make the economy scream [in Chile] to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him”.

And a directive to the CIA stated unambiguously that “it is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to October 24 [1970] but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure towards this end, utilizing every appropriate resource.

It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG (US Government) and American hand will be well hidden”. And when the coup was finally staged, Henry Kissinger in a conversation with President Nixon said: “We didn’t do it. I mean we helped them. [Garbled]created the conditions as great as possible”.

President Allende had planned to nationalize the Chilean telephone system, 70 per cent of which was owned by the American giant, ITT. ITT eventually contributed $1million for actions against Allende. This will resonat
e with Nigerians who remember Fela’s classic song ITT (International Thief Thief and a famous Nigerian multimillionaire!).

On Tuesday September 11, 1973, President Allende was overthrown in a military coup by a junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet, with the backing of the United States. Ground attacks and air raids on the Moneda presidential palace preceded the coup.

Allende gave a last speech, during which he vowed to stay in the presidential palace. They have continued to state up till today that he committed suicide, and was not killed by the plotters. Thousands of people were rounded up by the junta and thousands were shot, including famous artists like the Chilean folk artist, Victor Jara.

But more significantly for us today, is that Chile under the military dictatorship became the laboratory for the economic doctrines of neo-liberal economics imposed on countries around the world. Military rule in Chile was characterized by systematic suppression of all political dissidence; some in fact described the situation as “politicide”.

Steve J Stern described it as “a systematic project to destroy an entire way of doing and understanding politics and governance”. The worst violence occurred in the first three months following the coup, with suspected leftists being killed and thousands disappearing.

It was this cauldron of oppression that the disciples of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics entered to implement their neo-liberal reforms. They received financial and ideological support from the United States and the international financial institutions and the “Chicago Boys” as usual, advocated free market, neo-liberal, conservative fiscal policies.

Market forces became the central determinant of economic decisions and many of their reforms have remained to this day. Chile today is regarded as the 11th most economically free nation in the world, often presented as the success card of neo-liberal policies. Margaret Thatcher used to laud Chile, especially Pinochet, for bringing a thriving free-enterprise economy, while ignoring the appalling human rights record of the junta.

Chilean model

The same policies were then rammed down the throats of countries around the world. But other economists have argued that too much myth was made of the “success” of the Chilean model, because the short-term effects of the reforms proved very harmful to the Chilean economy, with inflation at a point reaching 375 per cent.

The first phase of the reforms, between 1973 and 1982, saw high unemployment with a large proportion of the banking sector going bankrupt. It was instructive that between 1982 and 1990, Pinochet did a volt-face  on his free market policies, carrying out nationalizations of many of the industries which Allende had previously nationalized as well as sacking the Chicago Boys.

But more significantly, was that the neoliberal policies caused severe distress to the working people and the poor. Between 1970 and 1989, there were large cuts in incomes and social services, with wages decreasing by 8%. Family allowances in 1989, were 28% of what they were in 1970, while the budget for education, health an
d housing dropped by over 20% on the average, according to statistics quoted by WIKIPEDIA.

Chile was in a very fundamental sense the ideological battle field between the forces of reaction and progress, between imperialism and the forces of freedom. President  Allende represented the progress which imperialism did not want replicated around the world, and as the quotations from the leading imperialist politicians show, they did everything to halt the progress he represented.

In its place, they imposed the ideology of the free market and neoliberal policies, which is rampaging in Nigeria at the moment, with dire consequences for our people. The September 11, 1973 coup in Chile was the FIRST 9-11; the one they would rather we did not remember or commemorate, in the din of the commemoration of the 9-11 of 2001!

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