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New Thoughts on Military Intervention in Latin American Politics: The Chilean Case, 1973*

  • Frederick M. Nunn


Every state must maintain constant control of its own development, in order to influence opportunely any situation affecting its growth. Its cultural objectives and its civilization, the increase in national power by way of augmenting the capacity of its citizens, and permanent regard for national security are the bases for harmonious progress of the state; in planning its growth it must be clearly established what is to be accomplished, always considering that every state should aspire to attain the greatest possible extension and capacity.



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1 These golpes are probably the most comparable to the Chilean golpe of 1973. Civil-military relations in Argentina, Brazil and Peru are comparable to those of Chile with regard to the development of the military profession. See my article ‘The Latin American Military Establishment: Some Thoughts on the Origins of its Socio-Political Role, and an Illustrative Bibliographical Essay ’, The Americas, xxviii, 2 (10 1971), pp. 135–51; and ‘Effects of European Military Training in Latin America: The Origins and Nature of Professional Militarism in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru, 1890–1940’, Military Aflairs, xxxix, 1 (02, 1975), pp. 17.

2 ‘Intervention’ may no longer be an appropriate term, owing to the frequency of military political action, increased participation of military offficers in government, and the realization that the military may be considered a legitimate political power group in developing countries.

3 Civilism implies strong, enduring or broad-based belief in, and acceptance of, civilian domination of political life, and an ability on the part of civilians to withstand military political action. For comments on the lack of civilism in Argentina, Brazil and Peru, see my ‘Notes on the “Junta Phenomenon” and the “Military Regime” in Latin America, With Special Reference to Peru, 1968–1972’ The Americas, XXXI, 3 (01., 1975), pp. 237–51.

4 There is still no comprehensive treatment of this bizarre civil-military episode, but see the recent treatments by Carlos, López Urrutia, Historia de la marina de Chile (Santiago, 1969), and Leonardo, Guzmán, Une episodio olvidado de la historia nacional: Julio-Noviembre de 1931 (Santiago, 1966).

5 On the Ariostazo and other manifestations of military anti-Marxism during the 1938–55 period, see Leonidas, Bravo Ríos, Lo qua supo un auditor de guerra (Santiago, 1955,) Horacio, Gamboa Núñez, En Ia ruta del 2 de abril Santiago, 1962,Ernesto, Würth Rojas, Ibáñez, caudillo enigmático (Santiago, 1958), and the following works by René, Montero Moreno, La verdad sobre Ibáñez (Santiago, 1952,) and (Confesiones politicas: Autobiografía civil (Santiago, 1959).

6 On PUMA and Linea Recta, see the works of Bravo, , Gamboa, and Würth, cited in notes 5, and Rúl, Silva Maturana, Camino al abismo Lo que no se ha dicho sobre el proceso de la linea rects Santiago, 1955), and Donald, W. Bray, ‘Chilean Politics during the Second Ibáñez Administration’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University, 1961).

7 Full title, Bases para una acción politica de contenido nacional y popular: Plan linea recta.

8 For data and early interpretations of the 4 March 1973 elections, see CER (Santiago), iii, 10 (03, 1973); and Chile Economic News, 16/38 (15 03 1973);Chile, 252 (6 03 1973); and Latin America, Nos. 10, II (9, 16 03 1973). These are the principal sources used in compiling Table I, below.

9 In his, ‘Toward Explaining Military Intervention in Latin American Politics,’ World l'Politics, xx, 1 (10 1967), 83110; Putnam classified Chile as a country in which civilian groups are pre-eminent, but in which the armed forces played a significant non-political role. Thus, Chile was compared with Mexico and post-1957 Colombia. As of 1967, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Bolivia (!) were classified as countries where the armed forces formed a minor pressure group. Over-reliance on quantification led Putnam to imply that Chile was an unlikely place for a golpe. He also stressed that a ‘tradition of militarism’ increased chances for military political action, and that ‘social mobilization’ increased prospects for civilian rule. Both of these points must be questioned in the light of Allende's fall to armed forces.

10 In his solid study, The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil (Princeton, N.J., 1971), Alfred Stepan notes that Chile is an ‘anomaly’, for despite having the ‘second largest military establishment in relation to its population’, it had a low ‘military intervention score’. Stepan continued, however, by emphasizing the importance of ‘factors stemming from the political system’ in considering propensity for military political action.

11 Nevertheless, comparisons of civil-military relations during the Allende regime and those of the 1920–4 administration of Arturo Alessandri Palma are striking. On Alessandri and his fall from power see my Chilean Politics, 1920–1931: The Honorable Mission of Armed Forces (Albuquerque, N.M., 1970).

12 Luis, Soza, ‘Papel de la industria militar en la movilización de la industria civil,’ MECH (05–June 1931), pp. 539–53. There are several errors in MECh volume numbers beginning in the 1930s. Therefore, to avoid confusion in notes from this point forward only months of issue will be given. Unless otherwise indicated (*) all authors are military figures.

13 Ramón, Cañas Montàlva, ‘Petróleo, el oro negro magallánico’,MECh (08 1931), 163–67.

14 Jorge, Carmona, ‘Hacia la economía í La racionalización de nuestra instrucción militar’, MECH, (11 1931), pp. 587–93;‘Reclutador’, ‘La educación militar del pais’, MECh (01 1932), pp. 3944.

15 MECh (01 1932), pp. 4553.

16 Cañas, Montalva, ‘Fuerzas morales’, MECh (10 1932), pp. 369–74.

17 Angel, Varela R., ‘La instrucción escolar en ci ejército’, MECh (0506 1935), pp. 395400. See also, Víctor, Molina Pino, ‘El ejército y su función social de acuerdo con la necesidad de capacitar al individuo en un oficio que Ic permita desempeñarse en forms más eficiente al ser restituido a la sociedad civil’, MECh (0910. 1935, pp. 833–41.

18 See Eduardo, Guerra, ‘Algo de to que significa la movilización civil y militar’, MECh 0708 1936), pp. 563–8;Guillermo, Barrios T. ‘Consideraciones generales sobre Ia movilización’, MECh (0708 1936), pp. 533–47; and (0910 1936), pp. 665–73.

19 Barros, Ortiz, ‘Apuntes y notas sobre la formación del oficial de hoy’, MECh (0102 1937), pp. 128. I refer to (Freiherr) Colmar von der Goltz, The Nation in Arms: A Treatise on Modern Military Systems and the Conduct of War (tr. Phillip, A. Ashworth, London, 1913). The first German edition appeared in 1883.

20 Germán, Reinhardt R., ‘La influencia militar en la formación y desarrollo del territorio de Magallanes’, MECh (0708 1937), pp. 655–67; (0910 1937), pp. 849–60.

21 Arturo, Fuentes Rabé (tr.), ‘Generlidades sobre movilización industrial’, MECH (0102 1938), pp. 527.

22 Maxime, Weygand, ‘Como educar a nuestra juventud’, MECh (0708 1938), pp. 453–67; (0708. pp. 585–602). I refer to Lyautey's, , ‘Du Ròlc Social de l'Officier’, Revue des Deux Mondes (15 03 1891), pp. 443–59, translated and published in Chile as ‘La función social del oficial’, MECh (1112 1939), pp. 851–67. That the idea that the military had an educative function (had always) appealed to Chilean officers was evidenced by the publication of Francisco Castillo Náera (Mexican ambassador to the United States), ‘El eérciro como instrumento de cducación’, MECh (0405 1940), pp. 271–76. This is a remarkable piece of pro-military propaganda presented by Castillo as an address to the American Legion Convention, Washington, D.C., 28 Nov. 1939.

23 Aldona, , ‘El ejército: Escuela de civismo e institución de equilibrio social’, MECh (0910 1940), pp. 687709.

24 MECh (0708 1941), pp. 489–93.

25 Toro, Concha, ‘Algunos aspectos de la misión militar y social de las fuerzas armadas de la república’, MECh (1112 1942), pp. 2021–8.

26 See Enrique, Bollmann Mora, ‘La iunstrucción escolar pre-militar’, MECh (0102 1943), pp. 51–6;Aniceto, Muíoz F., ‘El departamento de movilización económica y los problemas de la defensa nacional’, MECh (0304 1943), pp. 239–42.

27 MECh (0708 1943), pp. 555–7;Luis, Vargas Feliú, ‘Chile y Argentina’, MECh (0304 1944), pp. 305–6.

28 Joseph, J. Thorndike Jr,* ‘Geopolítica: La fantástica carrera de un sistema científico que un británico inventó, los alemanes usaron, y los americanos necesitan estudiar’, MECh (0912 1943), pp. 881901. This piece appeared in Life (12 21, 1942), and was translated and published in the Revista Militar del Perú before appearing in MECh. It is the first thoughtful work on geopolitics to appear in MECh.

29 Enrique, Alvarez Vásquez de Prada*, ‘El problema del fierro en la economía chilena’, MECh (0304 1944), pp. 225–91.

30 As examples see, Armando, Bueno Ortiz,* ‘Algunos aspectos geopolitícos del Perú y la defensa nacional’, MECh (0102 1946), pp. 7790;Bernardino, Parada Moreno, ‘El ejército potencial’, MECh (0304 1946), pp. 1126;Marcial, Delgado Lazcano, ‘La instrucción primaria en el ejército: Su evolución metodoiógica y pedagógica que hay que tener en cuenta para su desarrollo’. MECh (0304 1946), pp. 4156; and Cañas Montalva, ‘Zona austral antártica’ (in all 1945 issues).

31 A significant example would be Eduardo Saavedra R., ‘Aspecto geopolítico de Ia Antártica chilena’, MECh (september–october 1948), pp. 95–9. This brief essay included maps showing the center of the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica as center points, and emphasizing Chile's stritegic location in relation to both. To my knowledge, this was the first example of alternate cartographic projections used by Chilean geopoliticians to draw attention to Chile's national interests. See also Cañas, Montalva, ‘Reflexiones geopolíticas sobre el presente y el futuro de America y de Chile’, MECh, (1112 1948), Pp. 126. Cañas' approach here was much the same as that of Saavedra.

32 Benjamín, Videla V., ‘La intervención del ejército en obras de beneficio público’, MECh: (0910 1947), pp. 6480.

33 Montaldo, Bustos, ‘Ningún cuerpo armado puede deliberar’, MECh (0708 1953), pp. 7984. See also Horacio, Arce Fernández, ‘La fuerza armada y la seguridad nacional’, the prologue to Estatuto jurídico de las fuerzas armadas (Santiago, 1957); ‘Inquietud profesional’, an editorial in MECh (0506 1958), pp. 34; and, in the same issue, Luis, Valenzuela Reyes, ‘Misión de las fuerzas armadas y su participación en el desenvolvimiento normal de nuestra vida democrática’, pp. 2229.

34 Tomo xxv (Santiago, 1964).

35 Hernán, Hiriart Laval, ‘La política militar y la opinión pública’, MECh (0506 1964), pp. 1519.

36 Raúl, Poblete Vergara, ‘Recursos naturales de la provincia de Aisén’, MECh (0910 1967), esp. pp. 137–48. Nevertheless, in 1965 there appeared the book-length, René, Gonzales Rojas, Contribución de las juerzas armadas al desarrollo económico: Hacia una revisión de conceptos conveniente para países sub-desarrollados (Santiago, 1965). This is a general work.

37 Between 1970 and 1973 there were a few MECh articles depicting, perhaps, a change in attitudes on the part of the army. See Claudio, López Silva, ‘Las fuerzas armadas en el tercer mundo’, MECh (0708 1970), pp. 1151, in which the author seeks to explain the ‘internally oriented’ role of the military in developing countries; Gustavo, A. Díaz Feliú ‘El soldado alemán: El ejército chileno debe conservar su tradición prusiana’, MECh (0506 1971), pp. 126–7, a troubled little essay in which the author yearns for the ‘good old days’ and considers the army to be the ‘people in arms’ (pueblo en armas);Giancarlo, Fortunato,* ‘Sociología militar’, MECh (1112. 1971), pp. 4468. The translation from Italian and publication of this essay indicates, I believe, a resurgence of consideration for where the army should stand with regard to the society around it. MECh (1112 1970), devoted 148 pages to coverage of the funeral of René Schneider, and made no bones about the High Command's shock at his assassination.

38 In The Soldier and the State: The Theory and the Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), pp. 1118, Huntington viewed the characteristics of professionalism as ‘expertise’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘corporateness’. The professional officer, he posited, is responsible to the state and cannot impose his decisions upon it. This would appear to proscribe political action. However, responsibility to the state, even in Chile, is taken to mean responsibility to the nation and society as well. Therefore, malfunction of the state, threats to security and sovereignty, or social disintegration, as viewed from a military stand. point, can necessitate political action to avert disaster. Hence, ‘responsibility’ becomes a motivative factor, more so given the addiction of Argentine, Brazilian, Peruvian and Chilean officers to the ‘statist’ doctrines of geopolitics. General Pinochet, of course, is a specialist in geopolitics. Charles D. Corbett states that in contrast to Argentina, Brazil and Peru, the Chilean (and Colombian) armed forces have a ‘different perception of profession’. This ‘different perception of profession’ (a far more descriptive than explanatory conclusion), did not militate against political action in Chile in 1973, reinforcing the belief that professionalism, whatever its nature, is hardly a guarantee against political action, given certain political, social and economic conditions. See his, ‘Politics and Professionalism: The South American Military’, Orbis, XVI, 4 (Winter 1973), pp. 927–52.

39 Yet many readers of The Atlantic Monthly (02 1974), may have the impression that, ‘in this century juntas have come and gone in Santiago, some right-wing and some left-wing’, and that the army is, ‘more conservative’ in the 1970s than it supposedly was in 1932 when it opposed the air force in the latter's attempt at ‘vast social reform’. These misrepresentations of Chilean civil-military relations are as misleading as any based on the myths discussed in this essay. See Robert, F. Kennedy Jr, ‘Chile’, pp. 1420.

40 See Stepan's comments on the limitations of the Nun thesis and military-middle class ties, in The Military and Politics, pp. 4554. See also similar comments by Carlos, A. Astiz, ‘The Argentine Armed Forces: Their Role and Political Involvement’, Western Political Quarterly, 21, 4 (12 1969), pp. 862–78; and José, E. Miguens, ‘The New Latin American Coup’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 6, 1 (1970-1971). These and other recent literature on the Latin American military are reviewed in Richard, C. Rankin, ‘The Expanding Institutional Concerns of the Latin American Military Establishments: A Review Article’, Latin American Research Review, 9, 1 (Spring 1974), pp. 81108.

41 See Alain, Joxe, Las fuerzas armadas en el sistema politico de Chile (Santiago, 1970).

42 See Roy, Allen Hansen, ‘Military Culture and Organizational Decline: A Study of the Chilean Army’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1967).

43 I refer to Karl, Liebknecht, Militarism and Anti-Militarism (tr, Alexander Sirnis, Glasgow, 1917, and New York, 1972).

44 See Robinson, Rojas, ‘The Chilean Armed Forces: The Role of the Military in the Popular Unity Government’, in Dale, L. Johnson (ed.), The Chilean Road to Socialism (New York, 1973), pp. 310–22. This volume contains valuable essays on all facets of the 1970–3 experience.

45 According to Hansen's 1966 data, the social origins of Chilean army officers are beyond doubt ‘middle class’. Fully 35% of the officers he polled stated that their fathers were ‘white collar’, ‘professionals’ or ‘management’; 20% gave ‘business’ as their father's occupation; 26% gave ‘military’ as their father's occupation; and 20% responded, ‘agriculture’. A case could be made for even stronger ties using Hansen's data on the occupations of the fathers-in-law of the same sample group: 23% ‘white collar’, ‘professional’, and ‘management’; 31% ‘business’, 14% ‘military’, and 31% ‘agriculture’. These figures have been rounded off.

46 Writing in the New York Review of Books, Laurence Birns claimed what the Chilean armed forces did on 11 Sept. 1973 may have surprised or astonished ‘students of Chilean history and society’. I would reply that despite many indicators, no serious ‘student of Chilean history and society’ should be amazed at all. Birns' lack of expertise and his lack of credentials as a ‘student of Chilean history and society’ are manifested by his insistence that the Chilean military acted as a tool of the upper classes. ‘The Death of Chile’, in Ibid.., 1 Nov. 1973.

47 See my essay on Peru after the 1968 golpe cited in note 3 above.

48 An incomplete listing of Defense Ministers supplied by the Defense Ministry indicates that of 20 ministers since 1932, 12 have been civilians. General Arnaldo Carrasco served as minister under President Juan Antonio Rios; General Guillermo Barrios served under President Gabriel González Videla; and five officers (three generals, two admirals), served under Carlos Ibáñez in his second presidency: Generals Adrián Barrientos, Luis Vidal and Abdón Parra (promoted after appointment), and Admirals Francisco O'Ryan and Vicente Merino. General (r) Tulio Marambio served briefly under Eduardo Frei. The second Ibáñez presidency is the only time military figures dominated the ministerial scene, and they were not popular. Conclusions reached on the National Defense Ministry and the Commander-in-Chief are based on extensive interviews with General (r) Oscar Novoa Fuentes, Santiago, 12 Sept. and 24 Oct. 1962; with General (r) Bartolomé Blanche Espejo, Santiago, 10 Sept. 1969; and numerous interviews and conversations with Defense Ministry officials, both civilian and military, March-Dec. 1962, Sept. 1969, and May 1972. These last go unnamed for obvious reasons.

49 More often than not, Defense Ministers have come from the President's own party. Only Liberal Manuel Bulnes Sanfuentes, who served under the Radical González, Conservative Julio Pereira Larraín, who served under Liberal Jorge Alessandri, and Radical Alejandro Ríos Valdivia who served as Salvador Allende's first Defense Minister, did not come from the chief executive's party. Bulnes, of course, had a magic name for military men, and his political affiliation was secondary. Ríos was a one-time instructor at the Escuela, and had numerous friends and former students in the officer corps.

50 None of Jorge Alesandri's appointees from 1958 to 1964, for example, could be considered a major political figure when compared to his appointees in other ministerial positions.

51 For example, Juan de Dios Carinona, Eduardo Frei's first (and best) Defense Minister.

52 Emilia Bello is the best example of a civilian popular with military men. He was also noncontroversial and a capable administrator.

53 Cited in MECh (0709 1972), p. 19.

54 Apparent normalcy in executive-military relations during 1970–1 is evident upon reading various essays in MECh (0910. 1971).

55 Salvador, Allende Gossens, ‘Fuerzas armadas y carabineros’, in Nuestro camino al socialismo: La vía chilena (Buenos Aires, 1971), p. 128.

56 In a press conference, 5 May, 1971, Ibid., 125.

57 For examples, see note 37 above.

58 Cristián, Zegers Ariztía, ‘The Armed Forces: Support of a Democratic Institutionality’, in Tomás, P. McHaIe et al. , Chile: A Critical Survey (Santiago, 1972), p. 314.

59 For an interpretation of the army schism, see Pablo, Piacentini, ‘La doctrina Schneider-Prats y el gobierno de la unidad popularEstrategia, 3, No. 17 (07-08 1972), pp. 2428.

60 In the 2, 3, 4, and 5 March editions.

61 See Zegers, Ariztía, p. 318; and Ted, Córdova-Claure, ‘Las fuerzas armadas de Chile ante el proceso de cambio’, Estrategia, 3, No. 17 (07-08 1972), pp. 2023.

62 See note 19 above.

63 Much of my interpretation of the situation in 1972 is based on interviews conducted in Santiago, and on Santiago, Lima and Buenos Aires press coverage. See also ‘Las fucrzas armadas en 1972’, Portada, No. 35 (november–Decmber. 1972), pp. 36–38; Ricardo, Claro Valdés, ‘La participación de las fuerzas armadas’, in Jose, Garrido Rojas, et al., Participación para una nueva sociedad (Santiago, 1973?); and Bicheno, H. W., ‘Las fuerzas armadas en ci sistema político de Chile’, MECh (0506 1972), pp. 2637.

64 Cited in Córdova-Claure, , loc. cit., p. 20.

65 During March 1972, General Pedro Palacios served briefly as Minister of Mines, and rumor had it that General Orlando Urbina Herrera would be named Interior Minister in an attempt to show the administration's willingness to act against civil disorder. See the interview with Urbina, ‘Un hogar chileno para la humanidad’, MECh (0506 1972), pp. 7276. Urbina was actively involved in planning the 5972 UNCTAD meeting.

66 CER, III, No. 9 (Feb. 1973). Such ‘difficulties’ were the subject of a timely essay on Chile's socio-economic problems, heretofore uncharacteristic of MECh: Guido, Serrano,* ‘Economia internacional y desarrollo económico’, MECh (01.–04 1973), pp. 317.

67 El Mercurio, 3 12. 1972.

68 For an extensive treatment of Chilean military attitudes in the aftermath of the golpe of 11 Sept. 1973, see ‘Chile: Los sucesos del li de setiembre’, Estrategia, v, No. 24 (09. 10. 1973), pp. 49120.

* An earlier version of this essay was presented as a paper at the 22nd Annual Conference of the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies, Texas Tech. University, Lubbock, Texas, March 1974.

New Thoughts on Military Intervention in Latin American Politics: The Chilean Case, 1973*

  • Frederick M. Nunn


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