Ever since the U.S. government orchestrated the military coup in Chile in 1973 that ousted the democratically elected president of the country from office and installed the brutal military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, interventionists have maintained that (1) the coup was necessary to save Chile from socialism and communism and (2) that the murders, rapes, torture, and incarceration of tens of thousands of people were a necessary to step to restoring democracy in Chile.
And yet, just a few days ago, the Venezuelan people, in a national election, elected people to the legislature that are opposed to Venezuela’s socialist president Vicente Maduro.
There really isn’t any difference between Maduro and Salvador Allende, the Chilean president who the CIA and the Pentagon succeeded in ousting from power. Maduro is a died-in-the-wool socialist, just as Allende was. Like his predecessor Hugo Chavez, Maduro has imposed a socialist economic system on the country, just as Allende did, producing the same economic chaos in Venezuela that Allende’s socialism produced in Chile. Like Allende, Maduro has declared his independence from the United States and, like his predecessor Chavez, has even dared to criticize the U.S. government’s imperialist policies in the Middle East and Latin America.
Moreover, like with Allende (and Chavez, and Castro, and Assad and so many others), there are few things that U.S. officials would love more than to oust Maduro from power and replace him with a military general loyal to the U.S. government. The Empire doesn’t like recalcitrant, independent rulers. That’s why, in fact, they orchestrated the ouster of Allende and his replacement with Pinochet.
But there is one big difference in Venezuela. At least so far, the U.S. government has not done what it did in Chile. Oh sure, the CIA has provided funding for anti-Chavez and anti-Maduro groups in Chile, in the name of “spreading democracy,” but it certainly hasn’t orchestrated a military coup that brings into power a brutal military strongman.
Yes, there was a military coup in 2002 that briefly resulted in the ouster of Chavez. But while U.S. officials supported the coup, there is still no evidence that they orchestrated it. And Chavez quickly returned to power.
In any democratic system, people will oftentimes move in bad directions. Here in the United States, we have experienced this phenomenon with the rejection of 19th-century classical liberalism in favor of the adoption of the welfare state and the warfare state.
But people can learn from their mistakes. That’s where the power of ideas on liberty comes into play. As people begin realizing their mistakes, the pendulum starts to swing the other way, and society shifts directions.
The Chilean people had the right to make mistakes on political philosophy and economic policies without interference from the U.S. government. It was none of the U.S. government’s business if Chileans elected a communist, socialist, capitalist, interventionist, or imperialist. That was the business of the Chilean people.
Over time, Chileans may have discovered what many Venezuelans have discovered — that socialism brings nothing but economic hardships, privation, and suffering. Reality has an interesting way of mugging people in the face.
Or if things had gotten bad enough, they might even have revolted. It takes a lot for people to take that step, however, because of the high costs involved in a revolution, especially in terms of death and the prospect of losing. Look at the Venezuelan people — they are mired in economic suffering and yet they continue to resort to the ballot box rather than the cartridge box.
One thing is for sure: a military coup is not a revolution. It is a violent battle between two branches of government — the national-security branch, consisting of the military and intelligence forces, and the executive branch, consisting of the president and various civilian departments and agencies. The battle is about control, not freedom. And there was never any doubt which branch was going to win that battle in Chile, just as there was never any doubt what the winner was going to do to tens of thousands of innocent people who had supported their democratically elected president and his socialist policies.
Consider the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He upended America’s tradition of free markets and voluntary charity with his New Deal. Today, we are still living with what Roosevelt wrought, with the best example being Social Security, the socialist program that is based on stealing from the working class to give to seniors.
Would Americans have been better off with a military coup, one similar to that which the Pentagon and the CIA installed in Chile in order to save America from FDR’s socialism? I think most Americans would say no, especially given the 30,000 Allende supporters who the military rounded up, tortured, raped, murdered, or disappeared.
A democratic system does not guarantee freedom. In fact, it poses a grave threat to freedom. Our American ancestors understood that, which is why we have the Bill of Rights. It protects all of us from the democratic majority, at least insofar as fundamental rights are concerned. The Bill of Rights doesn’t permit the majority, for example, to order telling us to go to church every Sunday.
As we libertarians have long maintained, it’s no different with respect to economic liberty. Government, or the majority, has no more business telling people what to do with their own money than it does telling them that they have to attend church.
But this is an educational process. Once enough people come to the libertarian conclusion, that change in sentiment will be reflected in the political process.
The worst thing that could ever happen would be to have a military coup with the aim of saving America from the crises and chaos that socialism, interventionism, and imperialism have caused and continue to cause our country, especially when it’s a virtual certainty that the coup would end up doing what the U.S.-orchestrated coup in Chile did — i.e, impose a reign of terror that incarcerates, tortures, rapes, murders, or disappears tens of thousands of innocent people.
As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, the only real advantage of democracy is that it permits a peaceful transition of power when people’s mindsets shift. But in order for that to happen, people have to be free to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes and be given the dignity of dealing with those mistakes on their own.
Over time, the Chilean people, including those 30,000 innocent victims, might well have discovered what the Venezuelan people are now discovering — that socialism is a nightmare. Over time, and without the U.S.-orchestrated coup, they could have shifted course politically, much like Venezuelans seem to now be doing.
The Venezuelans are fortunate that the Pentagon and the CIA didn’t do to them what it did to the Chilean people. Venezuela, like Chile, is none of the U.S. government’s business.