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Another 9/11 Anniversary: September 11, 1973, When US-Backed Pinochet Forces Took Power in Chile

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While memorials were held across the US for the ninth anniversary of 9/11, we remember another 9/11: September 11th, 1973, when Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile, died in the palace as US-backed Pinochet forces rose to power. We speak with Juan Garcés, a personal adviser to Allende. He was the sole adviser to survive the coup and its aftermath. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This past Saturday, there were memorials held across the United States to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. But the 9/11 attacks were not the only September 11th remembered that day. In Chile, many people spent the day reflecting on another 9/11: September 11th, 1973, when a US-backed coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. He died in the palace on that day.

Our next guest, Juan Garcés, was a personal adviser to Salvador Allende. Juan Garcés was with the president when revolting troops bombed the presidential palace and found himself the sole survivor among Allende’s political advisers when the coup had run its course.

More than twenty years later, Juan Garcés has led a legal effort to sue Augusto Pinochet for crimes against humanity in the Spanish courts. Juan Garcés is now focused on getting the Spanish courts to investigate for the first time the crimes against humanity committed under General Franco’s dictatorship.

Juan Garcés won the Right Livelihood Award in 1999 and so is here in Bonn.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JUAN GARCÉS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Well, let’s start on the September 11th. In fact, on Democracy Now!

, on the day that the planes attacked the Trade Center towers, we were just blocks from Ground Zero, and we were doing the broadcast at that moment, as we did every day. At the time, we did it at 9:00 in the morning. And we were doing a special that day on the connection between terror and September 11th, 1973, when Salvador Allende died in the palace. Tell us about that day. Where were you, Juan Garcés, 1973?

JUAN GARCÉS: Well, we should remember that Chile was, in the '70s, beginning of the ’70s, the most democratic country in the Spanish-speaking world — Latin America and Spain and Portugal included. And this day, for the first time in history, of the Chilean history, the army revolted against the legitimate government. That was unexpected. And this army overthrew the government and changed the regime and established, in place of the parliamentarian democracy, a dictatorship, and through force, through massive arrests, through killings, [inaudible] — the president was Salvador Allende, a Democrat for forty years in the public life of Chile, a convinced Democrat, that fought until his last moment of life for defending the law and defending the freedom of all the Chilean citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you were in the palace.

JUAN GARCÉS: I was inside the palace.

AMY GOODMAN: You were with Allende.


AMY GOODMAN: The last adviser to be with him. You left, though. Why?

JUAN GARCÉS: Well, two hours after the attack, the president asked me to leave the palace in a moment in which fifteen minutes of truce. Before the airplanes attacked the palace, the army was put back. And in this moment, he ordered me to save my life. That is why we can speak now.

AMY GOODMAN: It's always been debated whether President Allende killed himself or was killed by Augusto Pinochet’s troops. What do you think?

JUAN GARCÉS: I think that it’s irrelevant. President was — the President Allende was willing to fight against the putschists, the revolter, the troops. He was a commander-in-chief. He didn’t accept to surrender to those revolters, army men. And he fought. What happened in the last minutes, last seconds, he was killed by the revolters, the soldiers, or he killed himself with his last bullet, is indifferent. What is important is that he fought for preserving the freedom of his people.

AMY GOODMAN: So you left Chile. You ultimately ended up in Spain, and you have made world history for trying to hold Augusto Pinochet accountable over all of these years. You are a crusading lawyer who, when Augusto Pinochet went for a medical appointment in Britain, succeeded in having the Spanish government demand his arrest, and hopefully — you wanted extradition to Spain, where he would stand trial for crimes against humanity. On what legal grounds were you able to do this in Spain?

JUAN GARCÉS: Let me explain that. World War II ended in '45, 1945, and was a victory of democracies against fascism. And the [inaudible] international law that has been developing since 1945 is the law of the victors, the law of the democratic powers. And according to this law, crimes against humanity — genocide — should be punished, should be first prevented, or punished, if not prevented in time. So, Spain is my country, and what I have been looking for is to implement this law. And that is not easy, because sometimes courts of justice are not ready to apply the law as it is in the Constitution or it is in the law. Democracy as law is a fight for every day. If you don't fight for that, it’s just a piece of paper. So we are trying to help to exercise — to the people to exercise their rights and making accountable of their crimes, big crimes, to the highest levels of government that are implicated in making those crimes possible.

AMY GOODMAN: It is now well known, Juan Garcés, that President Nixon, that the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were deeply involved with the support of Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power and the overthrow of the democratically elected president. But it was you who pushed, under developing this case against Pinochet, for the Clinton administration to declassify thousands of documents that proved this. What did you learn about our role, the US role, in Chile?

JUAN GARCÉS: Well, I justified what was already known to me, that without the decisive backing of the Nixon administration to the coup d’état in Chile, this coup d’état would not take place or will be defeated by the Chilean Democrats. So, I thank the US Congress and the US executive, under Clinton administration, to decide to put those classified documents, available now via our internet, as a clear message that this should not be done. And I hope that the message is understood, because we are now living in a period of trouble, economic, social trouble. We know that that will mean challenge for democracy in every country in the world, including inside the United States. There will be people ready to sacrifice freedoms and liberties under the message of the order in the economy, and people are ready to organize massive killings under this pretext. That has happened already in history, and we should prevent that that happens again. And for that, we will — we should alert the population.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had the good luck of coming before a judge, when you first made your case in Spain, also, like you, a crusader, Baltasar Garzón, who did issue the indictment against Augusto Pinochet. He has now been suspended, though he gained world fame for pursuing Pinochet, among others, and is under siege in your own country, in Spain. Ultimately, Pinochet did get back to Chile, on the grounds that he was, what, suffering dementia or he was too sick, but do you still feel it was a victory, what you did, keeping him in Britain for over a year?

JUAN GARCÉS: There was a legal battle in the courts of justice in Spain and the United Kingdom. And the outcome of this judicial battle was that the extradition was granted by the House of Lords, the highest court in the United Kingdom, to Spain. So the legal case was won by those that asked for implementing the international law against crimes for genocide and against humanity.

Now, this is a fight, a universal fight, where we have coalitions, informal coalitions or formal coalitions that are against impunity or for impunity. When Pinochet was arrested in London, people as the Pope, the Catholic Pope, as Kissinger, the other people in the world, were mobilizing to put pressure over the courts and the government of the United Kingdom to put Pinochet in a plane and send him freed for Chile. And there was another informal coalition, universal, that was — wanted to put him on trial. These coalitions are still — are always acting. And even now, you can see how, around the attack against Judge Garzón in Spain, there’s an informal coalition that wants to punish this judge that dared to apply the law. And another one that said, well, the law is there for to be implemented. So we need judges ready to apply the law. And this is the current fight inside Spain, with a difference, that the Spanish judiciary are under the judicial authority, jurisdiction, of the European Court of Human Rights, that has a constant jurisprudence saying that the states are under the obligation to inquire and to put on trial the people that are responsible for crimes of genocide. So, this is a permanent fight, and that will continue, because both — tendency is that both coalitions always in fight, one against the other.

Remember, this year of 1939. That was the beginning of the World War II. A few weeks before, Germany, the Third Reich of Germany, invaded Poland. During the war, Hitler asked his generals to be ready to invade Poland, and not only to occupy the territory, but to exterminate the population in those territories, because German population should replace this population. Some generals say, “My Führer, there will a provoking of cry in the world. Thousands of people will be killed, and there will be blame for us.” And the answer from Hitler was, “Why? Twenty years ago was a massacre of Armenians. More than one million Armenians were massacred by the Turkish, in the Turkish Empire. Who remembers now the Armenians?” So, the forgiveness of the first big massacre in the twentieth century was the pretext for encouraging a second wave of massacre that was in World War II.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, many saw the ascendancy of the fascist General Franco —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- as head of Spain as being a precursor to Hitler, that if Hitler saw that Franco could do it —-

JUAN GARCÉS: In fact, it’s not exactly -— Hitler took power in '33, 1933. Franco revolted, General Franco, against the legitimate democratic government of the Spanish Republic, with Hitler's help and Mussolini fascism help, and those two powers, the Axis powers, helped Franco to establish a dictatorship in Spain that was alive until 1977. And around 2,000 — more than 2,000 people — 200,000 people — more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. But simultaneously with their killings, the courts of justice were being closed to investigate those crimes. Then the — and since '36, all the courts of Spain are closed for —

AMY GOODMAN: For investigating the crimes of Franco.

JUAN GARCÉS: For investigating crimes of the Franco regime, until two years ago that Judge Garzón opened his court to an investigation. And the whole judicial system wanted to crush the judge there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's talk about this, because you’re very involved in trying to go after the crimes at that time, as is Judge Baltasar Garzón. And he has been suspended as a result. You actually fear for his life right now. Why?

JUAN GARCÉS: Well, Judge Garzón is very well known in Spain, because he has been the most active judge applying the law against the most dangerous gangs of terrorists, Spanish terrorists and international terrorists, against gangs of drug trafficking and gangs of armed burglary and corruption networks inside of Spain and other countries, so — for more than twenty years ago. And that is real power, those gangs, what is behind that. And those people that have been arrested by him, put on trial by him, want him. And now he’s in a very vulnerable situation, because the highest level of the Spanish judiciary want to crush this judge. And this, I fear for him.

AMY GOODMAN: And for yourself?

JUAN GARCÉS: I fear for him. Well, I talk about the others.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to follow this case. Just in thirty seconds, if you could say, what are the crimes against humanity that you feel General Franco committed that you want pursued right now?

JUAN GARCÉS: Those crimes — these kind of crimes are indescribable.


JUAN GARCÉS: Indescribable. And there are still people in Spain alive that were a participant in those crimes. And what we want to show to the Spanish population is that if they want to build in a strong democracy that could be — with a possibility to resist any wave of crimes of this nature, they should know what happened during the dictatorship and become conscious of that, in order to not only to punish the people that are still alive of committing the crimes, but also preventing. That is the most important, to prevent new crimes of this order.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan Garcés, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Juan Garcés is a Right Livelihood Award laureate. He won it in 1999. He is a crusading attorney in Spain, the sole surviving personal adviser to Salvador Allende, who died in the Chilean palace in Santiago, September 11th, 1973.

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