Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chile on September 11

In the United States of America, September 11, 2001 (aka 9/11) is remembered as the day terrorists hijacked several aircraft and crashed them, most famously into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. While those events were tragic, it's sometimes easy to forget, particularly in this political climate, that the US is not the only country of the Earth. There is a whole world out there for whom the date may or may not have special significance.
Chile is one country that remembers something similar for September 11.

[Disclaimer: Although I am currently living in Chile, I am not Chilean and did not live through the tumultuous times I describe below. This is a summary of the situation, as I understand it, from quick reads on the subject. No political commentary is intended.]

In Chile, on September 11, 1973, general Augusto Pinochet led a military coup, backed by the United States, against the socialist president Salvador Allande.
Allende had been democratically elected back in 1970 and quickly set forth a program of nationalizing industries, administrating the health and education systems, and improving the socio-economic conditions of the poorest Chileans. Despite increasing wages, the country suffered from high inflation, the falling price of copper (Chile's most important export), and foreign economic pressure. Allende's radical policies and ties to Cuba also put him at odds with the Chilean congress. This led to a series of strikes and eventually the September coup. Allende was overthrown, committing suicide, and Pinochet was installed as a dictator for the next 17 years.

Pinochet implemented many free-market policies in order to stop inflation and economic collapse. These greatly favored corporations and the GDP eventually rose, but the lower clases suffered and economic inequality grew. Pinochet's regime committed many human rights abuses by killing or 'disappearing' thousands and torturing tens of thousands of dissidents and their families. This was all done in the name of battling communism. Pablo Neruda, the famous Nobel prize-winning poet and a staunch supporter of Communism and Allende, died of cancer 12 days after the coup, though many accuse the Pinochet regime of poison, an investigation that is still on-going to this day.
I was surprised to learn that Pinochet peacefully stepped down from the 'presidency' in 1990, but he eventually died (in 2006) without ever standing trial for his crimes.

In the United States, September 11, 2001 served as a wake-up call reminding many Americans of the world beyond their borders. In the aftermath of the attacks, the government instituted policies to monitor and detain suspects as well as increase airport security. Also begun was the so-called War on Terror, a military struggle against organizations that host and support terrorists. This was all done in the name of battling terrorism (sound familiar?), but the cost was decreased liberties and an invasion of privacy.

Who is right and wrong in these situations? Should government control or regulate the market? What is the right balance between security and liberty?
Such complex issues are likely to be discussed for generations to come and are beyond the scope of a simple post like this. However, I think that studying and visiting other countries is an excellent way to experience the different ways people see the world and can shed new light on these sorts of questions. Despite the very different circumstances in 1973 and 2001, I hope we can still learn something by looking at Chile's past 40 years.

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