Q&A with Tulia Falleti

The other 9/11: The U.S.-backed Chilean military coup against President Salvador Allende.

Tulia Falleti
Tulia Falleti, director of Penn’s Latin American and Latino Studies program, the Class of 1965 Term Associate Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences, and a Senior Fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics. (Photo: Eric Sucar)

Penn political science professor Tulia Falleti sheds light on the events of the “other” 9/11, the coup of 1973 that displaced the democratically elected president of Chile and instated a military dictator. Falleti is the director of Penn’s Latin American and Latino Studies program, the Class of 1965 Term Associate Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences, and a Senior Fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics

Falleti co-edited “Latin America Since the Left Turn,” “The Oxford Handbook of Historical Institutionalism,” and “Decentralization and Subnational Politics in Latin America.” Currently, Falleti is working on a comparative research project on indigenous people’s demands regarding territorial claims and rights.

Penn Today interviewed Falleti about the Chilean coup of 1973.

What happened in Chile on Sept. 11, 1973?

 The three branches of the Chilean armed forces staged a coup d’état against the first democratically elected Marxist leader in Latin America, President Salvador Allende, who was killed in the process. Dictator Augusto Pinochet assumed power.

What led to the Chilean military overthrowing its government?

Unlike many other Latin American countries, Chile had a long history of democracy with very strong parties, so this was a big shock institutionally. To me, it’s a very sad day. Many people were incarcerated and tortured. Some were killed. Others went into exile. It’s a sad period in Latin American history.

Historians and political scientists alike attribute the U.S.-led international backlash against Allende’s economic policies, which devastated the Chilean economy, as the primary reason for the coup. In 1973, Chileans faced inflation, labor strikes, violence, and food shortages. But, behind-the-scenes, President Richard Nixon had authorized $10 million for the Central Intelligence Agency’s three-year-long covert operation against Allende, who was viewed as a threat to democracy in Chile and Latin America.  

What impact did the 1973 military coup have on Chilean society?

It ended the only experiment of a socialist regime coming into power via popular elections. 

The coup completely shifted Chilean society. The power shifted toward those who opposed the socialist regime and wanted the military to intervene. This was also the first time that neoliberal economic policies, the kind of policies and reforms that are market-friendly and seek to take the state out of the economy, were implemented.

Are there any parallels between the state-sanctioned violence around the world today and what happened on Sept. 11, 1973?

It’s important to keep in mind the differences between a military and a democratic regime. There are lots of shortcomings under democratic regimes, but it’s not quite the same as what we experienced when living under military dictatorships. The state violence under the military regimes in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s were states of terror: curfews at 9 p.m., no one could gather in large groups, repression. Torture was systematic, as were disappearances. These were regimes that acted with complete impunity and without any checks whatsoever by political institutions or the law. It’s different in democratic regimes. Even though we do have a problem of state violence, there is at least room to denounce it and hopefully, investigate it.

Why is the LALS program drawing attention to Chile and “The Other 9/11”?

The 45th anniversary is a fantastic opportunity to bring awareness to campus about the recent political history of Latin America and the threats to democracy at that time, as well as the many problems it’s facing today, such as violence and corruption. 

At a time when immigration is part of the public debate, it’s essential to reflect upon the role that democracies have had in hosting people who were in exile. Some of the artists whose work will be showcased during “The Other 9/11--Memories: Geography of a Decade, Chile 1973-1983,” were exiles living in Paris. It’s another way the exhibit links to current-day debates, as we discuss refugees and immigrants arriving on U.S. soil.


Sept. 11 1973 Chile
Photo: LALS, University of Pennsylvania

Chile is the focus of this year’s Penn Model Organization of American States High Schools program, which brings underserved high school students from Philadelphia and Norristown, Pa., to campus each Thursday. With support from LALS, the School of Arts and Sciences, Fox Leadership International Program, the Andrea Mitchell Center, and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Penn MOAS students will participate in a weeklong conference and debate simulation in Washington, D.C., in November.

Related events include: 

  • “The Other 9/11 – Memories: Geography of a Decade, Chile 1973-1983”

Curated and owned by Priscilla Gac-Artigas, a Latin American literature professor at Monmouth University and a Fulbright Scholar, “The Other 9/11--Memories: Geography of a Decade, Chile 1973-1983,” features more than 100 works of art, including poster-sized photographs and original paintings that document the terror and suffering during the Chilean military coup and the regime that followed. Its grand opening is at Penn’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St., Sept. 11, at 6 p.m., during which Priscilla and her husband, Gustavo Gac-Artigas, a Chilean-American writer, will present a contextual and historical foundation for the works. 

Funded by the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, an organization that provides grants and other forms of strategic support to artists, faculty, cultural centers, students, and other art advocates at Penn, “The Other 9/11” is free and open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 18.

  • “Testimonios: Voices Against State Repression”

Sponsored by LALS, along with its undergraduate advisory board, students and other members of the Penn community will share their stories of state-sponsored violence and abuse, Friday, Sept. 28, at 3 p.m., at Perry World House. The event is free and open to the public.