This article will appear in issue 37: Oppression and Resistance

In the wake of Salvador Allende’s victory in the 1970 Chilean presidential election, an enraged President Nixon called CIA director Richard Helms to the Oval Office. Having seen his attempts to influence the results of the election fail, Nixon ordered Helms to take a new approach in Chile – to ‘make the economy scream’. 

Three years later, Allende committed suicide  as Chilean military forces descended upon the presidential palace in the coup of September 11, 1973. His replacement as leader of Chile was the commander of the armed forces, General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s US-backed military junta embarked on a 25 year-long neoliberal dictatorship, characterised by extreme repression and economic despair. 

Despite not involving themselves militarily, as they had done previously in Vietnam, Korea, and Cuba, the United States had achieved their aim of destroying the democratic socialist government of Allende and replacing it with one more suited to their interests in Latin America. They had done this through a precise economic blockade; by stifling Chile’s economy, dependent largely on copper exports to the US and other major partners. As a result the US had succeeded in turning popular opinion in Chile against Allende and sowing discontent among the country’s influential armed forces. 

Chile is not the only nation that has felt the full force of America’s economic might. As the US tussled with the Soviet Union for ideological influence in the decades following the second world war,  the economic blockade became an increasingly popular strategy among America’s key policy-makers. 

Military interventions were costly and ran the risk of harming public opinion due to their highly visible nature. In Vietnam, the US had been sucked into a lengthy conflict that cost thousands of American lives and destroyed support for leaders at home. They were also largely unsuccessful; Vietnam was an abject failure, and the 1963 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba did nothing to impact Fidel Castro’s control of the island.

Economic embargoes provided a very different approach. Thanks to their position on the global stage, and the importance of the American dollar in international trading, the USA has been able to wage economic warfare against governments who do not align with their interests. Without the images of American soldiers invading and dying in a foreign land or the dramatic rise in defence budget needed to sustain a hot war, American economic blockades have been able to avoid the domestic backlash most military conflicts have caused.

By Zachary Macpherson

Image: Cuban addresses a threatening Uncle Sam, “Mr. Imperialists, we have absolutely no fear.” By Idobi, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3484499