In honor of the victims of 9/11
A short story
The classroom was loud and rambunctious as the students awaited the untimely arrival of their history teacher. Sofia was not talkative like the others. She was sitting quietly in the back of the class. This was her first day at a new school since her family moved to Caracas. Both of her parents worked in a factory, but due to low production and the economic crisis, the factory had to make job cuts, and her mother got laid off. The family had moved closer to the city, hoping to find more job opportunity.
As the door swung open, the noise in the room swiftly descended into a muffled whisper. Following the collective greetings between the students and the teacher, he announced the subject for the day: the Chilean military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet. As the teacher would teach the details of the events leading up to the coup d’état, Sofia couldn’t help but allow her mind to wander. It’s not that the subject was uninteresting, but that with every passing sentence, she could not keep her mind from finding analogies to the recent developments in her own country of Venezuela.
“On November 3rd, 1970, Salvador Allende was inaugurated as the thirtieth president of Chile. Once in power, he pushed for policies which favored the poor and marginalized of Chilean society,” said the teacher. Sofia was reminded of how Hugo Chávez was elected to office on a campaign of social justice, helping the poor and oppressed, under his model of “socialism of the 21st century.”
Sofia thought of all the stories she had heard from her parents as they crowded into city streets with fellow members of the working class to celebrate their electoral victory in 1999. It was as if a new era of Venezuelan history had been ushered in, not by the demands of wealthy oligarchs, but by and according to the common people of this great nation. “These pro-poor and working class policies included the nationalization of the copper and banking industry and the state distribution of healthcare and education, in addition to large public works projects to provide employment opportunity to Chile’s unemployed,” continued the history teacher.
The faces of many of the students in the classroom lit up, remembering the joy experienced by their elders and community figures as the Bolivarian Revolution progressed, expanding public works and social aid and more fully integrating the national oil company, the PDVSA, to the state, a more complete nationalization, placing it under the supervision of the Venezuelan people, rather than some oligarchs subservient to US imperialism.
However, Sofia’s joy turned to confused sadness as the teacher continued to discuss how segments of the Chilean military abandoned the Chilean people, preferring to serve the interests of oligarchs and US capital. It really didn’t make sense to her why the entity intended to protect Chile would become Chile’s greatest enemy.
The boy in front of Sofia raised his hand, and the teacher indicated to him that he may ask his question. “Wait, isn’t that like what happened here in Venezuela 16 years ago?” “Yes,” the teacher replied. “On September 11th, 1973, the CIA and the Chilean military led a coup against its own government, much like how segments of the Venezuelan military attempted to oust our president in 2002 at the behest of US imperialism.
A sense of pride began to emerge from several of the students, grateful that their people were able to repel the ill-intended meddling of the United States. Sofia was among those thankful in that moment to be Venezuelan. Little did she know that that pride would soon turn into terror over the course of the next few hours.
The teacher began to ask the class a couple of questions. “What methods do you think the US likely used to coerce Chile to abandon its progressive advances?” Sofia raised her hand, “I imagine the US imposed sanctions on Chilean goods, seeking to cripple the economy?” “That’s absolutely right, Sofia,” replied the teacher, “and the vulnerability of the Chilean economy created by the sanctions led to the economic crash following Pinochet’s re-privatization of the major industries.”
Sofia wondered why it is that this tremendous day in Chilean history, when the democratic government was overthrown, a military dictatorship established, and the beginning of the largest economic crisis in Chilean history could somehow be less significant than the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. There will be endless discussion on social media about the attack on New York seventeen years ago, discussion which will likely both reinforce racist stereotypes about Arabs or Muslims and uphold the propaganda put out by US imperialism, whereas little time will be granted to the imperialist attack on Latin America and on Chile in particular. It seemed evident to her that the only reason that the attack on Chile is forgotten, but the attack on New York is not, is because the US was culpable for the first attacks, and because the first attack happened in a poor country. The global media is usually a protector of the imperialist status quo.
The economic warfare was meant to target the people of Chile in order to shift public opinion against the leftist, progressive reforms pushed by Allende and his political allies. As this became more apparent to Sofia, she came to some startling conclusions concerning US interference in Venezuela. The media is always reporting about how the economic crisis is the fault of the government’s mismanagement, but maybe the US is more to blame for the crisis today.
The teacher interrupted Sofia’s contemplation to bring to the class’ attention that, although Venezuela’s first coup was unsuccessful, that US policy didn’t give up. After the failure of the coup in 2002, the United States changed its plans and adopted a policy of a softer coercion against the Venezuelan nation. Rather than funding repeated military coups, it decided to fund right-wing media outlets and right-wing political parties and leaders, in addition to the economic warfare that the US has since waged against the country. Over the past few years especially, there have been violent clashes between far-right rioters and the police. These rioters have been painted by the mainstream right-wing media as freedom fighters, despite their call for the US to intervene against the government.
Sofia thought about the demands of the rioters, and how really what they are asking for is for poverty, repression, and deeper economic crisis, like what happened in Chile in 1973. Perhaps the rioters are indeed a dangerous threat to the gains made by the Venezuelan people over the last two decades of Bolivarian Revolution.
At the sound of the bell, the teacher dismissed the class, and thanked the students for their attention and engagement on such an important and relevant topic.
After walking home from school, Sofia greeted her mother, now unemployed, who was sitting on the sofa, sipping her coffee and watching TeleSUR. Her parents were both early Chavistas, but have since become disillusioned by the recent economic downturn. They don’t support the right-wing, but rather are dissatisfied with the ineffective efforts of the government to halt the crisis.
Apparently, it was just revealed that US officials have been engaging in clandestine meetings with rebel segments of the Venezuelan military. This could spell disaster for the Venezuelan people. As she heard this information, shivers ran up Sofia’s spine, thinking about what she had just learned in school. The lessons of September 11th must not be forgotten. She remembered the street violence, political repression, widespread poverty and scaling back of social programs which benefited the poor and oppressed. Fear of these things filled her mind for the following few hours.
She asked her mother about what it was like under Chávez and the radical reforms he pushed through the government. Her mother recalled the joy and luxury she and her spouse had felt at the time, having the security of knowing their children wouldn’t be left to starve if anything were ever to happen to them. Sofia and her younger brother Miguel had always been the greatest concern of their mother. “Unlike then,” continues her mother, “day to day living is more uncertain. Your father and I are concerned about your and your brother’s future. That is one of the reasons we came to Caracas, so that you would be closer to economic and educational opportunity.”
Sofia interrupted her mother: “What can be done about the crisis?” “Well,” replied her mother, “the crisis is in part due to the economic war waged against us by the rich and by the United States. But it seems that since Chávez is gone, that Maduro has not been as effective a leader. I’m not sure what can be done to fix the crisis, but something needs to be changed, and it seems like few are trying to change things.”
Sofia was so excited to teach her mother about all that she had learned today about Chile, blurting out, “Well, you know that in Chile, the right wing overthrew the leftist government and it led to an even worse crisis, plus it was a dictatorship, and the United States held the reins of power.”
Sofia continued, “Even more concerning than the government’s ineffective efforts to end the crisis, I’m afraid of what we just saw on the news, that the US might overthrow our government and put a right-wing military dictatorship like they did in Chile, which would only make poverty and the lives of the poor even worse.”
Sofia’s mother hugged her, and whispered, “me too, honey, me too.”
The appropriate way for us to remember the atrocious terrorist attacks of September 11th, 1973, is for us to identify the enemy, recognize the enemy’s ability and desire to commit the same terroristic actions, and for us to stand up to the enemy and take whatever measures necessary to prevent the same history from happening elsewhere. The United States has done what it did in Chile all over Latin America, several times over. Its colonial desire for unbridled control of the region knows no bounds. Our responsibility must be to defend what is right and to defend the colonized people of Latin America from the evil intentions and actions of its northern colonizer.
Descanse en paz, el presidente de mi corazón, Salvador Allende. ¡Viva la Revolución Bolivariana!