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COSTS OF WAR: COUPS D’ÉTAT

Forty-six years ago, in 1973, Victor Jara was murdered after the military coup d’état in Chile that overthrew the country’s elected president, Salvador Allende. With the New Song movement, Jara was a popular Chilean guitarist and folk-singer who was rounded-up with thousands of others and imprisoned in the Chile Stadium. When Jara sang to keep up the spirits of the detainees, the military guards dragged him out and smashed the bones in both his hands, before shooting him dead.

In ‘Manifesto’, one of his last songs, Victor Jara sung about the essence of the New Song movement:

‘My guitar is not for the rich
no, nothing like that.
My song is of the ladder
we are building to reach the stars.
For a song has meaning
when it beats in the veins
of a man who will die singing,
truthfully singing his song.’

Last year the music magazine ‘Billboard’ published the following article:

‘Remembering Chilean Folk Singer Victor Jara 45 Years After His Murder Soldiers crushed his fingers to symbolically silence his guitar, and then shot him 44 times. They did not succeed in muting his music or his message. Victor Jara, was, in his words, a man “who will die singing the true truths.”

Jara was murdered in Chile on September 16, 1973. The 40-year-old folk singer was detained after the coup that placed dictator Augusto Pinochet in power, and, along with about five thousand university students, professors, activists and others was brought to Santiago’s Chile Stadium.

Soldiers crushed his fingers, stepping on his hands and smashing them with the butt of a gun, to symbolically silence his guitar, and then shot him 44 times. They did not succeed in muting his music or his message. His songs have been covered by numerous artists since his death, and he is an important influence on artists in Chile today, including Ana Tijoux and Gepe. Bruce Springsteen sang Jara’s song “Manifiesto” during a 2013 concert in Santaigo.

An estimated 3,200 people were killed and 28,000 tortured during Pinochet’s military rule, which ended in 1990. The details of Jara’s torture and death were revealed by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission created later that year by the new government of Patricio Aylwin. But it was not until July 2018 that eight former military officers were sentenced for killing Jara, to just 15 years each. The stadium where the artist was killed was renamed Victor Jara Stadium in 2004.

Victor Jara made a last statement in the stadium, which appeared, a year after his murder, in the album Manifiesto [Canciones Póstumas]. Joan Jara translated the statement and here the English poet Adrian Mitchell reads it:

Britain and the US have a long history of interfering in other people’s countries, often carried out by invasions and occupation. Direct colonisation, however, was often costly to carry out and then run, so a new form of control, neo-colonialism, emerged. This involved the coloniser interacting covertly with reactionary indigenous forces to create regime change, which results in a pro-West local elite taking control.

Post-WW2, anti-communist hysteria became widespread in the West. The US had come through the McCarthy era, when even liberals were subject to ‘anti-red’ purges and forced to take ‘loyalty oaths’. In the UK in the late 1960s and into the 70s the Labour PM, Harold Wilson, was subjected to treasonable covert activity – by a plethora of clandestine groups set up by ex-military brass and retired intelligence officers and from elements in the Security Services – which included plots to overthrow him.

Abroad, the Cold War became hotter during the Korean War, 1950-53, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, and the Vietnam War, 1955-75. In the 1960s, around the world there were over sixty attempts to engineer regime change that brought mainly reactionary regimes to power. There were more governments changed by military coups than by the ballot box.

The following are eight examples of British and US interference in other countries – in the twenty years from 1953 to 1973:

Iran
In 1953 the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was overthrown in a coup d’état. It was orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the UK and the US to protect their oil interests. Declassified documents in the US describe how some of the most feared mobsters in Tehran were hired by the CIA to stage pro-Shah riots that helped the constitutional monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to gain control. Backed by the military, under General Zahedi, the Shah then presided over an authoritarian pro-west regime until his overthrow in 1979.

Cuba
In 1960 the US unleashed Operation Mongoose against the Government of Cuba. It included economic warfare, psychological exercises and armed sabotage by CIA infiltrators. A number of assassination attempts were made on the life of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro by the CIA, including one with the collaboration of the mafia in the US. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 by CIA-trained Cuban exiles was defeated after three days. All these plots ended in failure and Castro remained in power.

Democratic Republic of Congo
In 1961, Patrice Lumumba, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first popularly elected Prime Minister, was deposed and later murdered in a coup organised by the CIA, with support from Belgium (the coloniser), France and the UK. Lumumba, like many of the other leaders deposed and murdered at this time, was a nationalist with leaning towards social justice, egalitarianism and human rights. To the US and others in the West, that made him a dangerous communist. The CIA station chief in the Congo urged that Lumumba be eliminated and channeled money and arms to the army Chief of Staff, Colonel Mobutu, who seized control as a military dictator and set up a totalitarian pro-West regime. His rule became notorious for corruption, nepotism and human rights violations that led to the country’s impoverished and war-torn state, which is still evident today – enabling the efforts of corporations in the West to plunder the republic’s abundant mineral assets.

Brazil
In 1964 the government of President João Goulart was overthrown in Brazil by the army Chief of Staff, General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, in a coup instigated by the US. General Branco declared a state of siege and arrested some 50,000 political opponents, which the US welcomed with approval and by re-instating aid and investment.

Indonesia
In 1967 President Sukarno was forced from power in Indonesia and replaced by General Suharto. Sukarno’s overthrow had been attempted two years before, with an attempted military coup organised by the CIA. But some junior officers and the palace guard thwarted it, by killing six senior generals thought to be behind the coup. The military, aided by civilian right-wing gangs, then went on a spate of massacres against moderates and leftists. It has been estimated that somewhere between 500,000 to three million civilians were murdered. The lists of names of many of those killed had been passed to the death squads by US officials who: ‘Then checked off from their lists those who had been murdered’. With his followers decimated Sukarno was then overthrown.

Greece
In 1967 a group of right-wing army officers overthrew the elected government in Greece and brought in military rule. Arrests were made of anyone thought to be hostile to the coup, from lists prepared in advance. In the US critics of the coup included a Senator, Lee Metcalf, who criticised the Johnson Administration for providing aid to a: ‘Military regime of collaborators and Nazi sympathisers’.

Bolivia
In 1971 the President of Bolivia, Juan Torres, was overthrown in a coup led by General Hugo Banzer. After jailing, torturing and killing thousands of dissidents, the General was given extensive military and economic aid by the US. Torres fled the country, but was tracked down and assassinated in 1976 under Operation Condor, the US orchestrated campaign of state-terrorism in South America.

Chile
In 1973 the democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown in a military coup d’état, organised by the CIA. It came after a period of economic and psychological warfare waged by the US, which caused political and social unrest. When the Chilean Army Chief of Staff, General René Schneider, indicated his loyalty to Allende, he was assassinated in a CIA operation. This left the way clear for General Augusto Pinochet to oust Allende and take control. Tens of thousands of political dissidents were rounded-up, imprisoned, tortured and many were ‘disappeared’.

After the coup in Chile, Adrian Mitchell wrote a poem to commemorate the life of Victor Jara. Arlo Guthrie then set the words to music, which are sung here by Dick Gaughan:

Victor Jara of Chile
He lived like a shooting star
He fought for the people of Chile
With his songs and his guitar
And his hands were gentle,
His hands were strong
Victor Jara was a peasant
He worked from a few years old
He sat upon his father’s plough
And watched the earth unfold
When the neighbours had a wedding
Or one of their children died
His mother sang all night for them
With Victor by her side
He grew to be a fighter
Against the people’s wrongs
He listened to their grief and joys
And turned them into songs
He campaigned for Allende
Working night and day
He sang, “Take hold of your brother’s hand
The future begins today”
The bloody generals seized Chile
They arrested Victor then
They caged him in a stadium
With five thousand frightened men
Victor stood in the stadium
His voice was brave and strong
He sang for his fellow prisoners
Until the guards cut short his song
They broke the bones in both his hands
They beat his lovely head
They tore him with electric shocks
After two long days of torture they shot him dead
Now the generals rule Chile
And the British have their thanks
For they rule with Hawker Hunters
And they rule with Chieftain tanks.

The last four lines of the poem / song – ‘Now the generals rule Chile / And the British have their thanks / For they rule with Hawker Hunters / And they rule with Chieftain tanks’ – highlights how dictators and despots, like Pinochet, are supported by the West with them being sold, or given, armaments and other military aid.

Victor Jara was only one of the hundreds-of-thousands of victims of coups d’état around the world, which were organised and supported by the UK and the US. These types of covert actions went on behind a curtain of radio, TV and newspaper misinformation, which was intended to justify the means, and obscure the reality, of what was happening. Similar events, and the accompanying media propaganda, are still going on today; but in the past Britain was a prime coloniser – now this country is a craven deputy to the US, who acts as the self-appointed world sheriff.


Information compiled by Veterans For Peace member Aly Renwick, who, in 1966/7, took part in the UK / SEATO Operation Crown in north-east Thailand, during the period of the US Operation Rolling Thunder mass bombings of North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

  • David Marchesi 12/07/2019, 12:28

    a timely reminder of the first “9/11” (Pinochet’s coup) which had the admiring support of Mrs Thatcher and her crew, with lower-key backing from the great majority of Tories, no doubt. British victims of the Chilean torturers, like Dr Cassidy, have been air-brushed out of the Establishment’s history. “Nil carborundum” – but desperately sad for Jara’s family and friends.

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