The Economist Magazine, Which Helped Usher in Pinochet Dictatorship in 1973, Opposes Voters Overturning Pinochet Constitution
When railing against egalitarian reforms in 2022, shouldn’t The Economist come clean to readers about the publication’s role in working with right-wing dictators in the past?
Over the past two days, The Economist has published two articles lamenting a recently drafted new Chilean constitution that would shred the Pinochet-era constitution in favor of a new, more inclusive, just, democratic, and welfare-focused foundational document.
Voters in Chile are set to vote on the new constitution in a mandatory referendum on September 4. In contrast to the former constitution, which codifies the primacy of “free markets,” the new text enshrines gender rights, Indigenous autonomy, and environmental protections. Items the Economist finds, at best, pointless frivolities, and at worst, antithetical to their centuries-long ideological project of protecting the profits of multinational corporations. The Economist is outraged at the guarantees that go beyond the outlet’s capital-centered fetish for property rights and WTO enforcement, lamenting, for example one provision that gives Chilean citizens a “right to healthy, sufficient, nutritionally complete and culturally relevant food” which the anonymous Economist voice claims is not “normally considered constitutional”—whatever that means. In both editorials they oppose redistribute policies enshrined in the Constitution, per usual, under the thin pretext of Concern For Deficits, decrying the document for not “giving much thought to how [social welfare] would be funded.”
That the “business friendly” Economist would oppose the left-leaning constitution is not particularly noteworthy in and of itself, but it’s worth pointing out the glaring ahistoricism and gall at work. The Economist, in these editorials, takes on the posture of a noble liberal defender of democracy and rule of law worried that a government, high on its own “woke” ideology, will trample the rights of the little man.
In defending the 1980 Pinochet-era constitution, The Economist, however, probably ought to note how much the magazine played an active role in not only overthrowing Chilean democracy 50 years ago, but how much it propped up and defended the subsequent dictatorship known for right-wing death squads and mass killings.
In his stellar 2019 book, Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist, historian Alexander Zevin describes in detail how The Economist was not a passive player in the 1973 right-wing coup against the democratically elected President Salvador Allende, but a meaningful and active participant.
“Perhaps the most significant breach of democratic practice and journalistic ethics in the line of imperial duty came with the coup in Chile in 1973. Beedham delegated this dossier to [Latin American editor] Robert Moss, who was not content merely to criticize the leftwing physician Salvador Allende – elected president of Chile in 1970 promising a ‘peaceful road to socialism’ – but worked actively to prepare opinion for his forcible removal. Nixon had personally ordered the CIA to foment a coup before Allende even took the oath of office, with instructions to spare no expense and ‘make the economy scream’. Crozier, for whom Moss was already writing ISC Conflict Studies while travelling across Latin America for the Economist, tipped his protégé to help carry out this mission. ‘The next move from my CIA friends was to suggest the need “for a book on Chile. The author I proposed to commission was Robert Moss, whose qualifications were ideal.’ ‘In the Chilean summer, it is hard to imagine civil war’, began a special Economist report from 1972, signed by Moss. ‘Yachts bob out in the Pacific at Algarrobo, beautiful girls sip pisco sours in the Grand Hotel at Zapallar.’ To show how vulnerable this society really was – or at least the part of it drinking cocktails at hotel bars – the paper ran negative stories on Allende almost every week: his warm embrace of ‘Cuban terrorists’; economic shortages caused by his land reforms and nationalizations, so that Chinese restaurants in Santiago now served ‘sweet-and-sour turkey’; or dismissing revelations that the US was funding his opponents in the media, the political parties and the trade unions through an International Telephone and Telegraph subsidiary. Filing these stories still left Moss enough time to lecture and write for the Institute of General Studies (IGS), a CIA think tank that met inside the US Embassy in Santiago, aiming to connect military officers with free-market economists; and to write for SEPA, a magazine for the same officer cohort, which splashed an article of his on its cover six months before the coup: ‘An English Recipe for Chile – Military Control’. At the same time, Moss readied his book, which instead of fertilizing the ground for the coup, had to be revised as a post-hoc justification…
“Citing sloppily fabricated ‘evidence’ of an imminent communist ‘night of the long knives’, Moss maintained that the army had acted in self-defence: ‘Chile’s generals reached the conclusion that democracy does not have the right to commit suicide.’ As a token of appreciation, the generals bought 9,750 copies, distributed through Chilean embassies; a member of the IGS, now running the state publishing house, printed another 15,000 in Spanish. When news of Allende’s death reached him in London, Moss danced down the corridors of the Economist chanting, ‘My enemy is dead!’ He returned in haste to finish his book while officially on assignment for the “Economist, producing a special report for it on the coup in October. In it, he praised the new junta for holding public trials of suspected leftists, and for allowing foreign journalists and the Red Cross to visit the 5,000 or so people being held at the national football stadium in Santiago – where Moss somehow missed gruesome scenes of torture and summary executions, along with the disappearances that came to mark the Pinochet regime. He ended with a simple endorsement: ‘The events of September 11 were not a typical Latin American coup but the culmination of a long (and broad-based) public campaign against a minority government that was suspected, probably rightly, of preparing to perpetuate itself as a dictatorship.’
The entirety of Levin’s book is worth reading, and I cannot recommend it enough. (It can be purchased here.)
The Economist’s pro-Pinochet editorial from September 1973 can be read here in its entirety:
Note the section where The Economist writes, “The temporary death of democracy in Chile will be regrettable, but the blame lies clearly with Dr. Allende... Pinochet and his fellow officers are no one's pawns. Their coup was homegrown, and attempts to make out that the Americans were involved are absurd."
We now know, of course, the opposite was true. Revelations brought about by the 1975 Church committee—and a series of subsequent disclosures—show U.S. intelligence aided, funded, and at times directed the coup against Allende in 1973. On what basis, one is left to wonder, did The Economist hand-wave away claims of U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Allende so quickly after the coup? It’s unclear.
The Economist magazine uses its almost 180 year history as part of its marketing. It gives its unique Serious Single Voice Editorial Voice gravitas and esteem. It champions itself as a long-time defender of free markets and free people.
But, as we laid out in our Citations Needed episode on the subject in 2019 (where we talk to Liberalism at Large author Alexander Zevin), while The Economist gestures in broad strokes about the importance of liberalism, freedom, and so-called “rule of law,” when it comes down to a choice between radical egalitarianism—no matter how democratic—or reactionary capitalist status quo, The Economist has institutionally been on the side of the far right, from handwringing over the freeing of slaves 1850s to supporting concentration camps against Kenyan freedom fighters in the 1950s, to backing every major US invasion from Grenada to Iraq to lobbying for—or, in some cases, explicitly working to foment—countless CIA-backed coups against democratically elected governments throughout the Cold War. This is useful history to keep in mind when weighing their most recent Very Deep Concerns about far-left overreach, especially in the context of a country whose democracy the publication actively helped kill less than two generations ago.