2.1 THE SCHNEIDER CASE
On the night of September 4, 1970, Salvador Allende emerged as the
winner of the presidential election by the small margin of 30,000
votes out of 3 million cast for the three different candidates.
Allende had been the candidate of the Unidad Popular, a coalition
of leftist parties. From the moment he was elected, various schemes
to prevent him from taking office began to be concocted. These were
cut short by the events of Thursday, October 22, 1970.
That day proved in the long run to be tragic, because Allende was
to interpret its events as "the sign" that the Chilean armed forces
were an "institution unique in Latin America" because they were
influenced neither "by North American imperialism nor by the
Chilean oligarchy" and for that very reason "did not constitute a
danger factor" for the process of socioeconomic transformations
proposed by the Unidad Popular. This error was the starting point
from which Salvador Allende embarked on a series of mistakes in his
dealings with the armed forces which eventually facilitated their
final bloody attack on the civil administration on September 11,
This is what happened on October 22, in the language of the police
report of military police Major Carlos Donoso Perez, in charge of
the 24th Commissariat of military police in Las Condes (eastern
At approximately 8:20 hours, while General Rene Schneider Chereau,
commander in chief of the Army, was being driven to his office in
his official car chauffeured by Corporal Leopoldo Mauna Morales
westward along Martin de Zamora Street, he was intercepted opposite
No. 4420 of that street by a vehicle which collided with the
general's and which was surrounded by five individuals, one of
whom, making use of a blunt instrument similar to a sledge hammer,
broke the rear window and then fired at General Schneider, striking
him in the region of the spleen, in the left shoulder, and in the
left wrist, occasioning wounds of critical nature, according to the
prognosis of the Military Hospital, where he was taken for
On Sunday, October 25, General Schneider died. The incident was
officially interpreted as follows:
1. General Schneider was assassinated by a band of conspirators and
"paid with his life for his adherence to the Chilean Constitution".
2. The assassination was intended to serve as a pretext "for a
military insurrection" that would "prevent Allende's taking office
as President," but "in an exceptional display of discipline, the
Army, deeply wounded by the outrage, reacted in precisely the
opposite way than was hoped for by the conspirators, by reasserting
their adherence to the laws of constitutional rule".
3. The plot failed, in spite of the brutality of the "extreme
recourse of political assassination" employed by the conspirators.
In order to prevent the Chilean public from discovering the true
story behind General Schneider's assassination, the armed forces
high command and military police agreed to reveal one part of the
story and to sacrifice half a dozen implicated generals by retiring
them and by passing a "lenient sentence" on ex-General Roberto
Viaux Marambio. Viaux was the head of the group charged with
executing Rene Schneider. (During Viaux's trial Chilean newspapers
stated that he had connections with both ITT and the CIA.)
In his presidential message to Congress of May 21, 1971, Allende
referred to the armed forces' role "in the process of changes in
the VIA CHILENA toward socialism," and said that "in spite of some
soothsayers and harbingers of doom who doubt their patriotism...
our armed forces, by their professionalism and respect for the
Constitution, are the GUARANTORS of the present process of change".
Going a step further, Allende construed the following thesis: "For
this reason I want to point out that a conscious, organized, and
disciplined people of political parties who loyally understand the
meaning of unity, of workers organized in their unions, in their
federations, and the Central Unica [de Trabajadores, an
organization of the labourers and part of the office workers; it
had a membership of nearly 1 million] are the granite foundation of
the revolutionary process. JUST AS MUCH SO ARE -and I repeat and
emphasize it because this process is taking place within the
boundaries of the law, are ALSO- the armed forces and military
police of Chile, to whom I pay homage, THE PEOPLE IN UNIFORM, for
their loyalty to the Constitution and to the will of the people
expressed in the voting booths" (Salvador Allende, Santiago,
National Stadium speech of November 4, 1971).
It must be remembered that Allende was referring, at all times when
he touched on the topic of military loyalty, to the high command.
Nobody doubted the loyalty of the conscripted rank and file; they
were labourers, peasants, and office workers in uniform. But the
high command was a class apart. Allende never permitted a
scientific, objective discussion of this topic. Nor did he permit
speculation on which sectors of Chilean society those high commands
would defend in the event of a widespread crisis provoked by the
emergence of a popular front demanding a share of the power and
direct participation in a society until then managed by a small
minority of property holders and by the representatives of U.S.
The following incident typifies Allende's attitude toward the armed
forces. At the beginning of April 1971, Senator Alberto Jerez of
the Senate Defense Commission and "coordinator" between the
generals and the Unidad Popular government called me to his office
and told me: "As you know, at the end of this month, Salvador is
going to give a master class to the Santiago military garrison. The
class will be held at the Army Academy of War, before some eight
hundred officers. Salvador asked me to get the best information
that exists on the Chilean armed forces, and I suggested your name
to do the report, so that he'll know what kind of ground he's
stepping on. Salvador agrees. He knows you, and he knows you're an
expert on Chilean military matters from the political angle. You've
got seven days to do it".
In about twenty pages, I presented a summary of events between 1964
and 1970, including an interpretation of the situation pointing up
the extreme danger to the stability of the Unidad Popular
government posed by the continuance of the same high commands in
the armed forces as had existed before Allende took power.
At the end of April, during the course of a leftist journalists'
meeting, Alberto Jerez gave me this message: "Salvador was very
grateful for your report, but he told me it wasn't useful to him,
because you are talking about imaginary armed forces taken out of
books by Lenin, and he is dealing with flesh-and-blood human
beings. He said to tell you that the Chilean armed forces are a
special breed, not foreseen by Lenin in his books..."
The report I had sent to Allende was, in different form, the same
information that appears on the pages that follow.
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