I am not the first person and nor shall I be the last to observe that Wikipedia is not only unreliable, it is often tragically inaccurate. Wanting to check a point surrounding the overthrow of overthrow of Salvadore Allende by General Pinochet in Chile in 1973, I carried out a quick Google search for “Pinochet.” The first site suggested is the Wikipedia entry. I broke a personal rule and clicked on the link.
As I write, and I appreciate that it can be changed by a seven year old at any moment, the first sentence reads:
Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (25 November 1915 – 10 December 2006) was a Chilean army general and dictator who assumed power in a U.S.-backed coup d’état on September 11, 1973.
I gave up reading immediately. If the Wikipedia editors cannot get their facts accurate in their first sentence, then what hope is there for the rest of the entry?
For the claim that Pinochet’s coup was US backed, a footnote is provided with a link to a web page of The National Security Archive. There is nothing on that web page to say that the U.S. backed the coup. Contrary to the claims of Wikipedia, the Church Report on the subject of US covert action in Chile posed the following question and clear answer:
Was the United States DIRECTLY involved, covertly, in the 1973 coup in Chile? The Committee has found no evidence that it was.
More recently, in 2005, Kristian Gustafson, Senior Lecturer of War Studies, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, published a paper in the RUSI Journal:
[T]he common ‘story’ suggests that Allende was a successful ruler whose career was cut short by the CIA, who supported General Augusto Pinochet and led him to carry out his vicious coup. This is, for many, a compelling story. But the story is wrong. The simple fact is that the US government had no significant input into the coup that killed Allende on 11 September 1973. One can take the argument even further, for recent evidence shows that not only did the US not help in the Chilean coup, but they also barely knew it was coming….
[W]hat did the US know or contribute to the coup that killed Allende? It is often erroneously supposed, since the US supported Pinochet after he became dictator of Chile, that the US supported his coup plotting from the start. Some have argued that the CIA did everything from drawing up arrest lists to scripting the entire plot in detail. Extending this argument, the leader of the coup, General Pinochet, would be a well-known figure to the CIA’s station officers in Santiago. Yet the evidence suggests that he was not. Even taking into account the now well-accepted fact that Pinochet was late in joining the plotters (who were in fact mostly from the navy), evidence suggests that the CIA had little knowledge, and less contact, with the man who would emerge as the leader of the post-coup Junta, a man supposedly chosen by the CIA.
It is a terrible shame that so many people continue to rely upon Wikipedia for information. I should add that it is also a shame that the research of someone such as Gustafson is not freely available on the Internet. He is ultimately paid by the taxpayer to carry out his research. It surely is not that much to ask that in exchange for tax paid, UK citizens, at least, should be able to freely click on a link on the Internet and read such research.
Update: Michael Ezra, July 20, 2010 at 00:33
Someone has changed the first sentence for the entry of Pinochet in the Wikipedia page to read:
Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (25 November 1915 – 10 December 2006) was a Chilean army general and dictator who assumed power in a coup d’état on September 11, 1973.
To Wikipedia’s credit, this change was made within an hour of my post appearing.
Update 2: Michael Ezra, July 20, 2010 at 12:43
The Wikipedia entry has been changed back to the form it was in when I made my post, i.e. claiming that the coup was U.S. backed. This time, the person who has changed it has included seven footnotes to try and justify their point. If checked, it can be seen that none of these references provide any evidence that the U.S. backed the 1973 coup.