US Crippled Chile's Democracy
Today is the 25th anniversary of the US-supported coup in Chile. On Sept. 11, 1973, the Chilean military overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende and established a dictatorship that ruled until 1990.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the US-supported coup in Chile. On Sept. 11, 1973, the Chilean military overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende and established a dictatorship that ruled until 1990. The United States played a prominent role in these events.
The CIA began to instigate violence in Chile following the September 1970 election of Allende, who headed a socialist coalition. I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger said at the time. In testimony before a Senate investigating committee in 1975, CIA Director Richard Helms told of how President Nixon gave him the marshal's baton to conduct covert activities designed to stop Allende from being inaugurated in November 1970.
Helms's covert staff tried to bribe Chile's Congress and its military to deny Allende the presidency. Failing on that front, the agency paid an extreme right-wing group to assassinate Gen. Rene Schneider, Chile's chief of staff. When even that murder didn't succeed in blocking Allende's inauguration, the CIA began to destabilize his government. For three years CIA officials helped instigate strikes in strategic sectors of the economy, promoted violence, and initiated smear campaigns against Allende in the media. Washington applied a credit squeeze to make Chile's economy squirm.
This destabilization campaign had its desired effect. Social conflict grew to the point where the Chilean military commanders, with US encouragement, decided to stage a coup. As tanks and aircraft bombarded the presidential palace on Sept. 11, 1973, US Navy vessels appeared off Chile's coast. US intelligence vessels monitored activity at Chile's military bases to notify the coup makers, should a regiment loyal to the Allende government decide to fight.
Allende died in the assault, alongside dozens of his supporters. Cabinet ministers and other staff were arrested and thrown into a concentration camp. No charges were brought against them. Chile's institutions were destroyed, including the Congress, the press, and trade unions. Troops burned books deemed subversive. The junta began a systematic terror campaign, arresting, torturing, and murdering thousands of suspected subversives. A Chilean government agency estimates that the reign of terror between 1973 and 1990 resulted in the deaths of some 2,300 Chileans.
Pro-Allende Chileans took refuge abroad, but even there the long arm of strongman Augusto Pinochet's secret police managed to reach them. In September 1976 in Washington, DC, Michael Townley, a US national and a bomb expert employed by Chile's secret police, recruited five anti-Castro Cubans to help him carry out an assassination. The assassins placed a bomb under the car of Orlando Letelier, Allende's former defense minister. The bomb killed Letelier and Ronni Moffitt. Both victims worked at the Institute for Policy Studies.
The FBI discovered that the Chilean dictatorship had organized a six-country alliance of secret police agencies, which provided surveillance on each other's dissidents and helped assassinate the most troubling exiled opponents. FBI agents also learned that the CIA knew considerable detail about this Condor Operation.
In the late 1980s the United States, embarrassed over Pinochet's excesses, pushed for a referendum to end military rule. Pinochet was defeated, but he forced the civilian government to accept him as head of the army until he retired in March of this year. He then became senator for life, a post that he had arranged for himself.
Fortunately, Chile has returned to democratic procedures. But 17 years of military rule have taken an immeasurable toll on its people.
How would we Americans feel if another government decided that our voters had exercised poor judgment and sent saboteurs to undo by force the results of our election? This is what we did to Chile. We altered its destiny.
Copyright 1998 The Miami Herald