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Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973

Lindsey Churchill
p. 189-190
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Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973, New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013, 496 p.

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1In the last few decades many scholars have examined the rise of Chile’s President Salvador Allende and the subsequent coup against the democratically elected socialist. In the context of the Cold War and revolution, Allende’s notion of resistance or la vía chilena represented a departure from conventional Cold War models. Within the confining definitions of the Cold War, the global community viewed Latin Americans as having to choose between U.S. capitalism and Soviet communism. To many Latin Americans neither of these alternatives provided true democracy. While Marxism undoubtedly offered Latin Americans a framework to critique U.S. imperialism, the left in Latin America consistently created their own definitions of revolution and democracy. Indeed, in 1970 Allende became the first Marxist in history elected as the president of a democracy. Allende’s and his way of, as Guardiola-Rivera claims, “divorcing democracy and law from coercion, force, and privilege” moved beyond stifling Cold War binaries. Allende’s election remains one of the most significant examples of homegrown revolution in Latin America. It threatened the dichotomous world view of many in the U.S. by creating a unique form of change inspired by particular historical processes within Chile and the experiences of Salvador Allende. Despite the exceptional character of the revolution, the U.S. government and the CIA viewed Allende and his Popular Unity party as a dangerous challenge to U.S. hegemony and capitalism. In his well-researched monograph, Guardiola-Rivera provides one of the most detailed and extensive analysis of Allende’s rise to power, the coup against Allende, and the results of this tragic event within Chile.

2Guardiola-Rivera’s work tells the story of Allende in three parts. The first concerns precedents and causes of Allende’s rise to power. Guardiola-Rivera explores the intellectual influences of Allende and how this inspired him to become a “true representative for the people” (12). This inspiration came from both theoretical influences and real life interactions with political repression and revolutionary violence. These life experiences inspired Allende to envision a different kind of “revolution from below”. These varied influences reflect the hybrid and creative character of Latin American politics and revolution. In this section, Guardiola-Rivera also links Allende’s ideological influences with the greater political climate within Chile. This offers a comprehensive view of what Allende experienced within his lifetime and also another layer to what could have been a standard biography. The book is particularly strong when Guardiola-Rivera references Allende’s relationship with Cuba and Che Guevara.

3In part II, the Coup, the author focuses on the events leading up to Allende’s election and the 1970 vote between right wing candidate Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez, a progressive centrist party, and Allende. In the beginning of this section Guardiola-Rivera looks at agrarian reform in Chile and Allende’s Popular Unity party in the larger context of the Cold War. He also explores Allende’s work with Chile’s indigenous Mapuche population. As president, Allende promised the people he would “change the regime and system and construct a new society” (158). Indeed, Allende planned to nationalize resources owned by U.S. capital, nationalize utilities, establish a minimum wage, stop unemployment, and implement true agrarian reform. This promise within the context of the Cold War proved much too threatening to U.S. hegemony. Soon after Allende’s election the CIA began to contact Chilean military officers with the hope of orchestrating a coup. Guardiola-Rivera uses CIA documents and communiques to show how deeply involved the U.S. was in subverting Allende’s democratic election. In this section, which in some ways parallels Greg Grandin’s work in Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (University of Chicago Press, 2004) Guardiola-Rivera explores ideologies about human rights that emerged out of global post-war politics. Guardiola-Rivera argues that so-called developed nations during the Cold War agreed to respect human rights but only within the narrow context of “civilized nations”. According to both Grandin and Guardiola-Rivera the non-Soviet left in Latin America offered an alternative and a valid path for democracy. Therefore, in spite of claiming to support democracy, the U.S. government consistently attempted to overthrow Allende even after a second election reinforced his legitimacy. The author argues, correctly, that a coup against Allende was a coup against “law and democracy” (238). Indeed, human rights did not matter when the nation was not considered part of the so-called civilized post-war world. Section II is most emotionally powerful when Guardiola-Rivera offers a detailed description of the events leading up to the coup and the Junta’s subsequent take over.

4Section III, Aftermath and Consequences, which is shorter than the other sections, analyzes political action in Chile up to the present. It examines the ruling Junta and General Augusto Pinochet’s “destruction of the popular movement, and popular legal politics” (340). Guardiola-Rivera explores the two types of “emergency” ordinances the Junta used for control and the subsequent destruction of human rights. The author compares the legal significance of Nuremburg to events in Latin America during the Cold War. He argues, “such legal precedent lets no one off the hook – whether soldiers, civil servants or multinationals. It means the individual liability of human rights violators cannot be easily shed in an emergency” (352). This powerful statement, like others in Guardiola-Rivera’s work, connects the coup against Allende to larger historical events and violations of human rights in the 20th century.

5Though the book at times turns into a hagiography of Allende, Guardiola-Rivera’s passion for his subject is evident. This book is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to go beyond a general Allende bibliography and examine more significant philosophical and political influences within the complex history of Chile.

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Lindsey Churchill, « Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973 »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 118 | 2014, 189-190.

Référence électronique

Lindsey Churchill, « Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973 »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [En ligne], 118 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2015, consulté le 23 avril 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/temoigner/1016 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/temoigner.1016

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Lindsey Churchill

University of Central Oklahoma.

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