The Buried History of the U.S. and Latin America

Matthew Miles is a student at The Ohio State University, and an ISA Featured Blogger. He studied abroad with ISA in Valparaiso, Chile.

A typical history course in the United States recounts major events in the nation’s past—from insurrectionist roots, slavery and the Civil War, the emergence of industrialism, involvement in the two World Wars, to the Civil Rights Movement and forward—all leading up to it’s current status as a world power. However, what an American education typically fails to focus on is the nation’s intermittent intervention in Latin American politics during the 20th century.

Like more recent involvement in the Middle East, the U.S. similarly has had a history of undermining communist, socialist, or regimes deemed unstable, and supplanting them with militaristic leadership. Some prime examples of this type of U.S. intervention in Latin America are the Nicaraguan Occupation from 1912-1933, Rafael Trujillo’s reign in the Dominican Republic, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba in 1961.

In the case of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, President Richard Nixon, in an effort to overthrow communist dictator Salvador Allende,  General Augusto Pinochet in the surge of the nation’s Capital, Santiago, and Allende’s removal.

The presidential palace where Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973.

Allende would be found inside La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, gun in hand (a gift from Fidel Castro), in what pointed to a suicide of resignation. Augusto Pinochet supplanted the democratically-elected socialist, and would go on to lead the militaristic government for 17 years. In this time, the government systemically murdered and tortured any signs of rebellion, in a period that has been described by older generations as fearful, yet remarkably orderly.

 At first, it was argued that there was no evidence that the U.S. had backed the 1973 coup. But as time went on, the CIA finally admitted to having provided DINA, the Chilean national intelligence organization, with financial and organizational assistance to dismantle Allende’s socialist government. In an era of spies and secrecy, it’s no wonder that these events slipped through the cracks of time, and that it doesn’t appear in mainstream history textbooks.

When examining history, to assume an overly nationalistic point of view, that is, to look on each U.S. decision to intervene in foreign countries with an attitude of righteousness, is an egregious perspective. In these cases of foreign intervention, it is not easy to declare it absolutely righteous or not. For instance, my host parents here in Valparaiso (a mere hour and a half from Santiago) affirm that Pinochet’s reign was apprehensive, yet without any sign of delinquency. They say, in fact, that they preferred it. Then again, they were one of the majority that hesitated to involve themselves in communist revolution after 1973.

La Plaza de Armas, where modern structures stand beside ancient ones.

What is important to realize from this incident, as well as previous U.S. interventions in other nations, is that history-that is to say, the collective memory of humanity-is gradually buried with the passage of time. Yet we can still try to unearth the lost pieces, examine them, and go forward with them in mind.

The world awaits…discover it.

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