September 11 is a day burned into the consciousness of many. On that day a democratically elected government woke up to a violent act committed by a foreign power. These terrorists succeeded in bringing about the tortuous death of 3,200 citizens. These acts against humanity occurred in 1973.
Yes, 1973. Most Americans connect 9/11 with the terrorist attacks that occurred on U.S. soil in 2001. But for many in Latin America, 9/11 refers to CIA participation in overthrowing the democratically elected Allende government of Chile to install the brutal military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
When our 9/11 happened, we walked around in a daze wondering why we are hated so much around the world. Few made the connection between the 9/11 of 2001 with 9/11 of 1973. And while no Latin Americans were involved in 2001, the United States’ hegemonic foreign policy as conducted in 1973 is still responsible for creating events in the Arab world that led to the 2001 attacks.
U.S. policy in Latin America, such as in Chile, became the model by which the U.S. conducted its foreign policy worldwide. In reality, our foreign policy toward the world is a repackaging of the U.S. foreign policy during the first half of the 20th century within Latin America.
The president (then McKinley, today Bush) declared war on a nation that posed no threat to U.S. security (then Spain, today Iraq) over an act of terrorism (then the sinking the battleship Maine, today the attack on the World Trade Center) to which no proof was ever provided linking that country (then Spain, today Iraq) with that terrorist act.
That war 100 years ago introduced the U.S. to imperialism, with the acquisition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines–an act justified by the president because it “educated, uplifted, civilized and Christianized” them.
The succeeding president, Theodore Roosevelt–whom Bush has publicly admired and hopes to emulate after reading his biography Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris–perfected the “first strike” and “regime change” doctrine. At that time, this doctrine was known as “gunboat diplomacy, encouraging us to “speak softly but carry a big stick.”
During the last century, every country bordering the Caribbean (the American Sea?) and several countries in South America have been invaded by U.S. forces, or covertly subverted by the CIA, to bring about “regime changes,” when those countries chose to follow their own destinies which conflicted with the economic interest of the U.S.
In some cases, brutal dictatorships and military juntas behind the facade of democracy were installed after we deposed the democratically elected president of those countries (not just Chile, but Guatemala come to mind).
Millions of peasants, students, church leaders, and intellectuals were tortured, disappeared or simply killed, while opposing the U.S. backed leaders installed due to the “first strike” and “regime change” strategy.
The Bush Doctrine in reality is expanding the heavy-handed imperial policies toward Latin America as practiced in the first half of the last century to the entire world, only because we have the military power to act unilaterally.
My thoughts today go back to that first 9/11 in 1973 when the U.S. was the foreign terrorist power. Maybe it is because Pinochet died this past Sunday.
It is easy for me, and many others, to condemn him to hell for his brutal repression and human-rights violations. It is easier to forget the role the Nixon administration, especially Henry Kissinger, played in destabilizing the Allende government so as to usher in Pinochet. But they, like Pinochet, also have blood on their hands.
And because they created the atmosphere that fostered these atrocities, we too, as a nation, have blood on our hands. I am not making a direct connection between the terrorist actions we committed on 9/11, 1973, with the terrorist actions committed against us on 9/11, 2001.
Still, as Malcolm X once so eloquently stated, “The chickens have come home to roost.”
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.