Wednesday (9/11) was also the 40th anniversary of the murderous overthrow of Salvador Allende’s elected, socialist government in Chile.
Thousands of miles to the north, the violent coup had a profound impact on Dave Barrett, then head of B.C.’s first socialist administration. He ordered flags flown at half-mast and began to wonder, darkly, about the fate of his own government, given the supportive role of the CIA in toppling Allende.
Remembered former Province reporter Peter McNelly, who subsequently went to work for Barrett: “He was very upset about Allende’s overthrow. It brought home how governments could internally manipulate events in other countries. If they could [get rid of] Allende, what could they do here?”
The NDP had already aroused shock and anger south of the border with such radical measures as the Agricultural Land Reserve, nationalization of auto insurance, buying up pulp mills, and, particularly, boosting the export price of B.C. natural gas. There were dire mutterings that Communists were in charge.
Fresh in Barrett’s mind was an editorial in the influential U.S. financial weekly, Barron’s, entitled: “Chile of the North?” The writer suggested the NDP’s first premier was moving ahead “with a Socialist program rivalling that of the Allende government in Chile.”
At the same time, there was circumstantial evidence that U.S. operatives really were nosing around Victoria. Observed cabinet minister Ernie Hall: “The CIA is everywhere else. Why not here?” By 1975, Barrett’s concern had reached the point of discussing privately who should take over if he were assassinated. “If they want to get me, they will,” he told confidantes.
Barrett’s outrage over the coup, itself, had been intensified by Canada’s unseemly swiftness in recognizing Chile’s new military government, helped along by cables from our ambassador that dismissed Allende supporters as “riff-raff”.
Here’s what he told the legislature:
HON. MR. BARRETT: Mr. Speaker, we are releasing today a letter sent on October 5 outlining our caucus position opposed to recognition of the military junta in Chile….[and] what must be considered a fascist regime…Regardless of anyone’s political philosophy, there is no question that it was purely an illegal uprising against a democratically-elected government…
It is a matter of fact that it is a military illegal act against the Chilean government – a violent overthrow, with murder accompanying it.
It is obvious to us that the federal government acted in haste… it is a question of consulting one’s conscience. It was obvious after the examination of the facts that that government is tyrannical, anti-democratic, and should not have been recognized by the federal administration.