Labor, Coalition block Greens motion outing Australia’s role in Salvador Allende coup

September 13, 2023
The Chilean Presidential Palace being bombed in 1973. Photo: CC by 3.0/Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional/Wikimedia

On the 50th anniversary of the military coup in Chile, Labor and Coalition MPs joined forces to block a Green motion acknowledging the role of Australia’s foreign secret service, ASIS, in the overthrow of socialist president Salvador Allende.

The motion, moved in the House of Representatives on September 11, also called on the government to “apologise to the people of Chile for the actions of the ASIS in supporting the coup and the harm caused by the dictatorship of General [Augusto] Pinochet”.

Speaking to the motion Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather said: “Allende was overthrown in a brutal, illegal military coup that was resourced, supported and partly organised by the United States, through the covert action of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Shamefully, the Australian government, through the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, or ASIS, assisted the CIA in engineering the coup against Allende” that “resulted in the rise of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and the murder, torture and disappearance of tens of thousands of Chileans”.

Heavily redacted US national security documents show that the CIA requested Australia’s aid in its subversive activities in Chile shortly after Allende’s election victory in 1970. Australia sent ASIS agents to Chile the following year.

While the CIA’s role in the coup is now clear, the full extent of ASIS’s activities before, during and after it is not. This is largely because in 2021 the Coalition government blocked the release of classified documents.

What is known, however, is why the US, with Australia’s support, went after Allende and his government. As Chandler-Mather said, it “refused to bow to the financial and military interests of the United States empire”.

During its three years in power, the Allende government not only nationalised the country’s copper mines but used that revenue to raise wages, expand public health care and education and deliver free milk to every child to reduce infant mortality and child poverty.

“Ultimately, the Allende government represented an existential threat to a world in which the United States pursued its financial and foreign policy interests with little regard for democracy or peace,” Chandler-Mather said.

“Here was a peaceful, democratic country openly challenging the power of the United States and large multinational corporations and pursuing economic-social reform that redistributed wealth and power to ordinary working people in a way that fundamentally improved Chilean lives. For the United States, this was unacceptable.

“If a country could take ownership of its own resources and use that wealth for the benefit of the many, if a country could forsake the interests of the United States and flourish, well then, other countries and their people may ask themselves a simple question: if Chile can pursue such a path, then why can't we? That’s what we call hope.

“For ordinary people, it is a powerful, transformative force. For the United States and its allies, it is a serious threat — not a threat to peace or prosperity but a threat to a system that puts enormous wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the vast majority of ordinary people …”

Chandler-Mather continued: “The Allende government and Chilean democracy didn’t fail because of some innate flaw in their program or policies; they were actively destroyed by forces who saw the potential success of Allende and the Popular Unity government as a threat to their financial and foreign policy interests.

“The Australian government and ASIS participated in that destruction. We should never forget that, no matter how hard the political and intelligence establishment tries to hide that fact.”

Chandler-Mather also called on the government to “apologise to the people of Chile for [ASIS’] role in destroying a vibrant, prospering democracy at the behest of the United States …

“Ordinary everyday Australians have far more in common with an ordinary Chilean than they do with the CEO of a large American multinational mining company. Both Australians and Chileans have so much to gain by using the enormous mining wealth for the benefit of working people.

“This is what Allende sought to do and it was the Australian government and intelligence agencies that helped destroy that.”

The Greens MP for Griffith expressed his solidarity with Chileans and apologised for “what the Australian government did to your country”.

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