Turning America into Chile

Dropping Democracy Bombs
Dropping Democracy Bombs

Crushing socialism, dismantling the welfare state, “freeing” the markets, privatizing social security-the economic policy changes in Chile following the U.S.-sponsored coup by Augusto Pinochet sound like a far-right wet dream. And how did that work out?

The “other 9/11” was September 11, 1973 when a right-wing military dictatorship overthrew the government of democratically-elected leftist Salvador Allende. Declassified documents show that Henry Kissinger encouraged Nixon to subvert Allende by covertly destroying the Chilean economy, stirring up division and supporting the right-wing opposition.

The most dangerous move a Latin American leader can make is to insist on using his country’s natural resources to benefit the people of his country. Nationalizing Chilean copper mines (owned by Anaconda and Rio Tinto) and redistributing land from wealthy autocrats to starving peasants are sure to catch the attention of the foreign owners.

Niall Ferguson in the PBS special “The Ascent of Money” (episode 3) wonders aloud if the atrocities in Chile were all worth it:

Was it worth it? Was it worth the huge moral compromise that the Chicago Boys and the Harvard man (Milton Freidman) made when they got in bed with a torturing, murderous dictatorship? The answer to that question very much depends on whether you think their reforms paved the way back to a sustainable democracy in Chile. And I think they did.

Of course, Chileans who had 3,000 relatives murdered, 30,000 tortured and “disappeared,” and lived in abject fear and repression for 17 years, may not agree with Ferguson. While Ferguson sees economic progress in shiny buildings “When you look down at Santiago’s shiny new financial district you can see why the Chilean pension reform has been imitated right across the region and indeed around the world,” it is safe to assume that bereaved family members are less enchanted with the skyline of Santiago.

When Pinochet died in 2006, there were over 300 charges of human rights violations and embezzlement outstanding against him.

According to the New York Times the marvelous private pension system is not working out as well as the Chicago Boys said it would:

Middle class workers who contributed regularly are finding that their private accounts – burdened with hidden fees that may have soaked up as much as a third of their original investment – are failing to deliver as much in benefits as they would have received if they had stayed in the old system.

In addition, workers in the informal economy are not covered at all (up to 50 percent of the workforce) and $21 billion of the pension investments were lost in the crash of 2008.Although Chile was hailed as an economic miracle in the early days, two questions arise: 1). Is GDP the only measure of a successful economy? Especially when compared with preceding years of deliberate undermining by the U.S 2). If an economy grows into the pockets of a very few at the top of the food chain, is that a healthy economy?

The moral questions are seldom addressed in the hot pursuit for wealth, but the moral question that screams out from this whole sad story is: Are shiny financial buildings in downtown Santiago worth the life of even one innocent Chilean? I wouldn’t ask Henry Kissinger, he has answered this hundreds of thousands of times already.

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