The Other September 11th

Posted by in September's Magazine

Whilst daundering along Duke Street my companion asked, “What is the flag in that second floor window?” I told him it was the flag of Chile and the picture to the left was of Salvador Allende. “Who is he?” My friend was young and I assured him it was a story that would make him angry as some of the villains still walked free

So I told him what I knew. “Salvador Allende faced powerful enemies even before he won the general election in Chile in 1970. Henry Kissinger, the then Secretary of State, headed up a forty strong White House committee who agreed on March 25th to prevent Allende’s ascendancy to the Presidency in Chile. Or, failing that, destabilise his regime until a military coup could overthrow him. Allende won the largest vote in the election and, according to tradition; he then had a run off against the runner up and was duly appointed President by the Chilean Congress, by 153 votes to 35, on October 24th 1970.


That US backed military coup finally reared its ugly head on September 11th 1973 when Allende was murdered in the Presidential Palace. September 11th is still a day of mourning for the people of the Chilean diaspora. Allende was aware of the dangers he faced. In a speech in Santiago on December 4th 1971 he remarked, “Let those who want to turn back the clock of history and ignore the will of the majority of the people realise that although I am not inclined to being a martyr, I will not retreat.”

Heroic resistance matched Allende’s earlier rhetoric as his personal bodyguard held off the enemy for seven hours. Even after being shot, Allende supported himself in a chair and kept shooting at the fascists. It was the second bullet to his chest that floored him, followed by a hail of bullets which brought an end to his resistance to the coup. In the midst of combat, members of his bodyguard took the body to the presidential office, there they sat Allende in the presidential chair, placed the president’s sash on him and wrapped him in the flag of Chile. The bodyguard returned to the fray and resisted for a further two hours.

Poet Pablo Neruda
Allende and his bodyguard were not the only victims, following the coup his self-appointed successor General Pinochet filled the Estadio Chile with prisoners. Over 3,000 people were tortured and ‘disappeared’ in the stadium. While the Red Cross were refused entry. It was here that Victor Jara – trying to rally the crowd in song – had his hands crushed before being executed. Elections were cancelled, books were burned, people disappeared and the Caravan of Death, supervised by US instructors, began the trail that saw the death of at least another 30,000 people. Actions which were said to have broken the heart of the poet Pablo Neruda

“Why is Allende remembered here?” Good question. Many political refugees fleeing the Caravan of Death found sanctuary in Britain – a few in Scotland – families such as the Leals, who were sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers. Most remain and their children, whilst born in Scotland, still remain proud of their heritage and history. Pursued by justice, Pinochet saw out his days in Chile. Henry Kissinger, unjustly, still walks this earth – a free man. That window on Duke Street is remembrance and testimony.

By Gordon Munro

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