Allende's Chile and the Inter-American Cold War

Allende's Chile and the Inter-American Cold War

Allende's Chile and the Inter-American Cold War

Allende's Chile and the Inter-American Cold War


Fidel Castro described Salvador Allende's democratic election as president of Chile in 1970 as the most important revolutionary triumph in Latin America after the Cuban revolution. Yet celebrations were short lived. In Washington, the Nixon administration vowed to destroy Allende's left-wing government while Chilean opposition forces mobilized against him. The result was a battle for Chile that ended in 1973 with a right-wing military coup and a brutal dictatorship lasting nearly twenty years.

Tanya Harmer argues that this battle was part of a dynamic inter-American Cold War struggle to determine Latin America's future, shaped more by the contest between Cuba, Chile, the United States, and Brazil than by a conflict between Moscow and Washington. Drawing on firsthand interviews and recently declassified documents from archives in North America, Europe, and South America--including Chile's Foreign Ministry Archive--Harmer provides the most comprehensive account to date of Cuban involvement in Latin America in the early 1970s, Chilean foreign relations during Allende's presidency, Brazil's support for counterrevolution in the Southern Cone, and the Nixon administration's Latin American policies. The Cold War in the Americas, Harmer reveals, is best understood as a multidimensional struggle, involving peoples and ideas from across the hemisphere.


On 5 November 1970, thousands of people crammed into Chile’s national stadium to mark the beginning of Salvador Allende’s presidency and what was being heralded as the birth of a new revolutionary road to socialism. For some, Allende’s inauguration two days earlier had been a cause for mass celebration. Along the length of Santiago’s principal avenue, musicians, poets, dancers, and actors had performed on twelve open-air stages specially erected for the occasion, and crowds had partied into the evening. Now, on a sunny spring afternoon, along with foreign journalists and invited dignitaries from around the world, they flocked to hear the president’s first major speech. As Allende rose to the podium to deliver a message of national emancipation and rebirth, he looked out on a sea of flags in optimistic anticipation of what was to come. He then proclaimed that Chile was ready to shape its own destiny.

The way foreigners in the audience interpreted his speech depended largely on where they came from and what they believed in. Delegates from Havana, Brasilia, and Washington respectively watched in jubilation, horror, and disdain—uncertain what the future held but conscious that Allende’s inauguration had significantly changed the way it would unfold. Indeed, right there, the seeds of what would develop into a new phase of a multisided inter-American Cold War battle were already firmly in place. And although the roots of this struggle lay in previous decades, its outcome would now be decided in a bitter contest over the course of the next three years.

What follows is the story of those years, the people who lived through them, and the international environment they encountered. On one level, this is a history of Chilean foreign relations during the country’s shortlived revolutionary process that ended with a brutal right-wing military coup d’état and Allende’s death on 11 September 1973. Yet, it is also an examination of Chile’s place within what I call the inter-American Cold War. Rather than a bipolar superpower struggle projected onto a Latin . . .

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