“Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny… Go forward knowing that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free people will walk to build a better society.” Last broadcast of President Salvador Allende
Today 11 September 2013 is a key anniversary in the international human rights calendar marking 40 years to the day from the coup d’état in Chile which overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government and replaced it with the regime of General Augusto Pinochet. After years of economic sabotage the CIA sponsored coup, which culminated in the bombing of the presidential palace and the death of Allende, ushered in an era of torture and slaughter.
Chile itself is still dealing with its past with former (and likely future) president Michelle Bachelet (who until recently headed up the UN gender equality agency UN Women and was herself tortured and exiled under Pinochet) called for an end to impunity full investigation into the human rights abuses committed under Pinochet. Family members of folk singer Victor Jara, tortured and killed shortly after the coup have also launched legal proceedings in the US to pursue his alleged torturers and killers.
There will no doubt be many commemoration pieces. Have just spotted this one in the Guardian from Baltasar Garzón the Spanish Investigative Judge whose extradition proceedings against Pinochet led to his arrest in London. Garzón himself ironically was unceremonially deposed from this role after he had begun to investigate Franco-era abuses in his own country.
Whilst there is plenty to reflect on regarding the past it is also worth noting that coups are not a thing of the past in the Americas, although the shift in regional power makes them less likely to succeed. There may be others to add but I can count at least six instances of coup attempts in the last 10 years, all against democratically-elected leftist presidents namely in Venezuela (2002)[i], Haiti (2004)[ii], Bolivia (2008)[iii], Honduras (2009)[iv], Ecuador (2010)[v] and Paraguay (2012)[vi]. Some notes on each are below.
[i] 2002 Venezuela: in April 2002 dissident Generals led a coup against Hugo Chavéz’s government. An opposition march was re-routed to clash with a pro-government rally where dozens of civilians were then massacred by snipers. The responsible dissident generals, supported by the Whitehouse, then issued a (pre recorded) statement blaming Chavéz and appointed a ‘respected business leader’ president. The dictatorship lasted only a few days following mass protests and refusals of rank and file soldiers to obey coup orders. Chavéz was reinstated.
[ii] 2004 Haiti following attacks by ‘contra’ sytle paramilitaries against the government, the US, France and Canada sent troops to Haiti. US personnel then effectively kidnapped President Jean–Bertrand Aristide and, arguing that he had ‘resigned’, sent him on military plane into exile in the Central African Republic. The Caribbean Community regional block CARICOM refused to recognise the subsequent regime and were joined by the 51 member states of the African Union. The US position was however adopted by the Organisation of American States (OAS – which the US has traditionally dominated) and latterly by the UN Security Council who deployed a Multinational Interim Force consisting of the troops already there who oversaw an interim government leading to the selection of a Counseil des Sages of ‘eminent persons’ tied to Haitian elites who promptly selected Gérard Latortue, a Miami talk show host, as head of government.
[iii] 2008 Bolivia: in September 2008 Latin American leaders in the UNASUR regional block held an emergency summit in Chile to support Bolivia which President Evo Morales denounced was facing a “civic coup d’etat” by the Governors of autonomous provinces. Amongst other matters on 11 September 30 pro-Morales demonstrators had been massacred in the opposition-controlled Bolivian department of Pando, which the government blamed on paramilitaries linked to the opposition governor of Pando. Bolivia also expelled the US ambassador for their alleged role in orchestrating the crisis. The UNASUR statement stated the region would not recognise separatist and ‘civil coup’ authorities in Bolivia
and Morales remained (and remains) in power.
[iv] 2009 Honduras: concerned that he might try and get re-elected on the 28 June 2009 President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped at gunpoint by the Honduran military and bundled out of the country. Unanimously adopted UN resolution 63/301 condemned “the coup d’état in the Republic of Honduras” demanded his return, and called on states to recognise no other leader. The coup regime held ‘elections’ in November (with the UN, OAS, EU and Carter Centre all refusing to send observers) offering a ‘choice’ of two pro-coup candidates. Brazil, Argentina and most of the continent refused to recognise the ‘elections’ but the US did, and blocked an OAS declaration condemning them.
[v] 2010 Ecuador in September 2010 elements of the police and armed forces occupied barracks, the parliament and airports and blocked roads. President Rafael Correa was later hit with a tear gas canister at police headquarters and hospitalised in the compound. His passage out was blocked by elements of the security forces who opened fire when soldiers tried to rescue him. Correa gave a televised address broadcast around the world. Civilians protested in support of Correa who denounced the events as an attempted coup declared a state of emergency and was ultimately rescued. Regional blocks the UNSUR and the OAS also referred to the events as an attempted coup.
[vi] 2012 Paraguay On the 22 June 2012 President Fernando Lugo was impeached and removed mid-term by the Paraguayan Parliament, 24 hours after a killing of 17 landless farmers by a police unit, blamed on Lugo by his opponents, and seen as a pretext to justify his removal by his supporters. Lugo argued the move was coup d’état, a view shared by the other states in the region who refused to recognise the successor president, and which resulted in Paraguay’s suspension from the both the regional political block UNASUR and the economic block MERCOSUR.