A Modern History Of Failed Coups: How Political Uprisings Go In Today's Societies

By | November 1, 2020

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The Carabineros open fire on Nacistas occupying the Seguro Obrero. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

People have been plotting to take over the government for approximately as long as government has existed, but for every successful coup, there are hundreds that failed spectacularly. Some failed coups end in a deluge of violence that do nothing but divide their countrymen even more, while others just kind of peter out when it becomes clear that they won't work.

The Seguro Obrero Massacre

In 1938, Chile was embroiled in a heated presidential election that pitted liberal-conservative Gustavo Ross Santa María against the Popular Front's Pedro Aguirre Cerda and the newly formed Popular Alliance candidate, who also happened to be backed by the National Socialist movement of Chile, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. On September 5, when it looked as if Ross was going to take the win, a group of about 30 Chilean Nazis took over the Seguro Obrero building to install Ibáñez by force.

In short order, a team of carabineros (the Chilean national police) started firing on the invaders as an entirely different group of young Nazis occupied a building at the nearby University of Chile. A shootout followed, ending with the surrender of the University camp, who were marched to the Seguro Obrero building to talk some sense into their comrades. They lured its occupants out on the promise that the carabineros would be totes chill about the whole thing and immediately made liars of themselves when said carabineros lined all 60-ish surrendered Nazis against a wall and shot them. There were only four survivors.

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The bombing of La Moneda on September 11, 1973 by the Chilean Armed Forces. (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile/Wikimedia Commons)

The 1973 Chilean Coup D'état

In the early '70s, the United States was worried about Chile's president, Salvador Allende, pushing the country into socialism, so the C.I.A. (and President Nixon) quietly funneled some money to his opposing parties. They also provided funds to groups who were known to be plotting coups.

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean navy took over the port city of Valparaiso as tanks pushed in on President Allende's palace in downtown Santiago, and all hell broke loose when Augusto Pinochet ordered soldiers to attack the building and fighter jets to fire on the palace. As Allende's supporters ran from the carnage, they were gathered up, tortured, and killed. Officially, Allende died of suicide in his palace, although some believe that his suicide was staged after the fact. Pinochet led the country for the next 17 years.