Sometimes democracy must be bathed in blood.
It comes as no secret to the historically literate that U.S. foreign policy has, to say the least, little to no interest in democracy, sovereignty or national self-determination besides its own, especially when these values come into conflict with U.S. political and business-interests. In 1973 such a conflict appeared when, with only moderate warning, a Marxist physician by the name of Salvador Allende, and his Socialist Party-led coalition, won the 1971 Chilean presidential election. Immediately a plan was set in motion that would change world history forever. What follows is a recounting of the results of U.S. foreign policy, culminating in murder, torture, dictatorship and terror that, although incubated in Chile and laid upon the backdrop of the Cold War, stretched across the globe. The information used hereafter has been gleaned from expert analysis, recently declassified documents and eye-witness testimony.
This story necessarily starts, not in 1973, but nearly three decades earlier with the growth of tensions between WWII’s principal victors—the U.S. and U.S.S.R. With involvement in direct action against movements and nations which sought to turn toward the Soviet Union and its allies, the United States began a line of thought that would see the deposition of scores of democratic governments in favor of western-aligned dictatorships. The most obvious post-WWII example is that of Mohamed Mossadeq, democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, who was violently overthrown and imprisoned in an operation codenamed AJAX for nothing more controversial than nationalization of Iran’s oil-reserves—an intolerable turn of events for U.S. and U.K. oil conglomerates. Or Ngô Đình Diệm, President of South Vietnam, who, although a dictator himself, outlived his usefulness and was clumsily assassinated by a U.S.-backed junta. But no continent can boast more interventions by the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus than South America. Between 1846 and 1973, the U.S. had made some fifty military interventions, coups, colonizations or general strong-arms of South American nations that did not begin nor end in ’73.
Although virtually every other country on the continent had experienced some form of U.S. intervention, Chile stood as a gleaming example of liberal democracy. Chile had a well-deserved reputation as having an extremely stable, vibrant and pluralistic democratic process—one of the last, and certainly the most advanced, states of this kind left in South America—that tended to vote around 1/3rd conservative, 1/3rd socialist/communist, 1/3rd Christian-democratic/liberal. Due to some Christian Democrats and Social Democrats defecting to the Marxist Unidad Popular coalition, on September 4th, 1970, Allende slid by with 36.2% of the vote, a plurality in the three-way election. Panic ensued in Washington. If a nation as democratic, industrialized and stable as Chile could elect a communist, Nixon thought, what’s to stop a domino effect even more insidious than the so-called “authoritarian” one proposed before Vietnam—a democratic one?
The shock of Allende’s election is best felt in cables whose communication span from September 5th to the 22nd, from U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, to the U.S. State Department. Excerpts include the following:
Chile voted calmly to have a Marxist-Leninist state… [Allende’s] margin is only about one percent but is is [sic] large enough in the Chilean constitutional framework to nail down his triumph as final… We have suffered a grievous defeat. […] It is lamentably the US that will have to move faster. Tomorrow we shall report on the measures we are taking to prepare for the new era.
Unbeknownst to Ambassador Korry, seven days before his final cable wherein he believes the U.S. must “prepare for the new era”, such preparation had already begun.
After declaring a socialist government in Chile “unacceptable to the United States”, Nixon set his intelligence apparatus in motion. Allende had promised, among other things, to nationalize American companies in Chile—One of which, Pepsi Co., Nixon was personally beholden to, as its former president, Donald Kendall, was the one who gave Nixon his start as a young lawyer with a sizable corporate contract.
1 in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile!” CIA director Richard Helms scribbled in a meeting called by Nixon and Kissinger, “worth spending; not concerned; no involvement of embassy; $10,000,000 available, more if necessary; full-time job–best men we have; game plan; make the economy scream; 48 hours for plan of action.
Kissinger and his staff formed Operation “FUBELT”, and endowed it with two “tracks” of operations. The first was diplomatic in character, the second covert and belligerent, which included kidnap, and the provoking of a coup to prevent Allende from being confirmed.
The greatest obstacle to this coup seemed to be the conservative, yet loyal, Commander-in-Chief Renée Schneider. It was agreed that Schneider had to go, and someone had to do it. Kissinger began to scout for coup-leaders, and came across a group within the military, calling itself Patria y Libertad, that was willing to defy the electoral results. This group, warned against by ambassador Korry, and including out-right fascists, would be equipped with machine-guns and grenades, kidnap Schneider and frame various far-left groups, Allende’s supporters, with the deed in an attempt to scare congress into denying the election results. Equipped with tear-gas grenades, “sterile” machine-guns (that is, clear of any traceable serial numbers) and 50,000 USD each, a one General Valenzuela and a group of fascist officers and soldiers made three attempts to capture General Schneider, and on October 20th, 1970, only succeeded in murdering him.
With only days to go until Allende ascended to office, a so-called ‘Options’ paper, dated November 3rd, 1970, and destined for Kissinger’s desk, regards what can be done about the Allende government should it come to power. Although strangely tame, it emphasizes not allowing Allende to “bring all significant economic activity under state operation” and to “act quietly to limit the Allende government’s freedom of action.”
Putting the election behind him, on November 6th, CIA director Helms briefed the President on many elements, including possible allies, coup-leaders, and the aborted coup of October 22nd. He failed to mention the assassination of General Renee Schneider, carried out with CIA planning and CIA provided machine-guns and representing, essentially, a mafia-style act of state-supported terror. Interestingly, Schneider’s replacement, General Carlos Prats, an early candidate for coup-leader, would be killed by Pinochet’s DINA agency by a car-bomb in Buenos Aires, almost four years later.
The plan failed, and with its failure CIA director Helms’s scrawled note—make the economy scream—became the rule. For more than a year, the U.S. denied Chile promised loans, financed opposition parties and instigated bosses’ strikes that ground the economy to a halt and made Allende’s socialist policies seem to blame. Although Allende’s strategy was flawed from the outset—walking the tightrope between the US and USSR, partial nationalization, extensive yet trepidacious land-reform, leaving the workers unarmed while the army grows more and more nationalistic, all while trying to battle multi-party opposition—US sanctions, denial of loans, and foreign-organized political and business opposition wildly exacerbated the existing problems inherent in an attempted fusion of capitalist production and socialist distribution.
While murder, kidnap and collusion with armed fascist gangs was all well and good for Nixon, the intention all along had not been the establishment of a dictatorship, but only the conditions to oust Allende and call another election wherein he was not a candidate. The State Department’s Hinchey Report informs us that ITT and Pepsi, both owning large stakes in the Chilean economy and having direct access to the ear of the President, were instrumental in backing, and convincing Nixon to back, the eventual coup by Pinochet himself.
It is ironic that after spending millions of dollars and attempting multiple times to topple the government of Chile, the U.S. eventually had to piggy-back off of an independently-planned coup by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, whose co-conspirators in the Navy and Air-force began their operation at 0700 hours on September 11th, 1973.
As naval units blocked the movement of loyal naval groups and disabled many key radio stations, the conspirators in the Air-force scrambled their bombers to decimate television and radio stations in the capital of Santiago in order to cut off President Allende’s access to information about the situation.
The police-force, the Carabineros, and Pinochet’s own Chacabuco Regiment, stormed the Presidential Palace, La Moneda. What happened next is shrouded in secrecy, although the official story is now set into law. In 2012 a Chilean court ordered the disinterment of Salvador Allende’s corpse, subjected it to examination, and ruled that Allende had, indeed, committed suicide with the rifle Fidel Castro had given him in order to fulfill his vow given earlier in his last radio address never to surrender. But recent evidence uncovered in the earthquake-collapsed home of a former military judge says otherwise. The existence of the 300 page report was made public in 2011 after Chile’s state television network, TVN, attempted to acquire it and make it the subject of a weekly documentary. The forensic photos allegedly show Allende sitting upright in his chair, one bullet-wound to the face, and the top of his head eviscerated by his AK-47. This is contrary to the official autopsy, though it did mention a small exit hole in the back of Allende’s head consistent with a small pistol round, formerly explained as fragmentation from the AK-47’s 7.62mm round. When the presiding judge made a request for the photos described by the report, the military first denied the existence of these photos, then evolved their language to simply refuse declassification. After seeing the report acquired by TVN, two forensic specialists were now “inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated.” Without the evidence the report alludes to, the case was permanently closed, suicide the official cause of death of South America’s first democratically elected socialist leader.
No matter the true nature of his fate, Allende would not be the last victim of Pinochet’s warpath. In the nineteen days following the coup, at least 360 individuals would be summarily executed—more than three times the publically admitted number, a headache to the CIA. They included leftists, Allende supporters, stubborn military officials and, as the Secretary of State Kubisch admits in a cable dated 16th November, at least two American citizens. And the terror did not end there. In all, the Rettig Commission, Chile’s first investigation into Pinochet’s crimes after he stepped down from power in 1990, found that the Junta had murdered at least 3,178 people, and tortured and maimed countless more.
U.S. naval attaché, Patrick Ryan, would describe the bloody mess from the 11th on as “our D-Day” and “close to perfect.” Secretary of State Kubisch eventually brought up the murdered Americans—by February 11th, 1974, identified as Charles Hornan and Frank Teruggi—but urged restraint in dealing with these matters within the “context of the need to be careful to keep relatively small issues in our relationship from making our cooperation more difficult.” Note the brutal execution of two Americans referred to as “relatively small issues”. At least one more American would follow.
Pinochet orchestrated a partnership of all U.S.-backed dictatorships in South America—now almost every nation on the continent—known as Operation Condor. Condor was a plan to kill, capture and interrogate leftists and “terrorists”—in reality anyone who resisted Pinochet’s fascist rule—that claimed the lives of some 60,000 people continent-wide, and consisted of ”special teams” which travel “anywhere in the world… to carry out sanctions up to assassination against terrorists or supporters of terrorist organizations.” This synopsis by the FBI implies the belief that “anywhere in the world” did not include the U.S. They would be sorely mistaken.
If Chile had before been nothing but a “dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica”, as Kissinger once dismissed it, it had now blossomed into a thorn in the U.S.’s side as Pinochet’s brutal repressions extended from his own borders to the doorstep of the nation that helped him to power.
Unable to be kept on a leash, Pinochet unleashed his Directorate of National Intelligence (Spanish acronym DINA) to murder former army commander Carlos Prats in Argentina in ‘74, former Chilean senator Bernardo Leighton in Rome, and, to demonstrate his ambition, former Allende foreign secretary and socialist economist, Orlando Letelier, and his American assistant, Ronni Karpin Moffitt via car-bomb on D.C.’s Embassy Row in ’76 that produced a great contradiction in U.S.-Chile relations.
After such lazy and thuggish botched interrogation such as the one that broke the neck of Spanish U.N. economist, Carmelo Soria, after his abduction by DINA in ’76, it seemed Pinochet’s secret police needed guidance. For all their assistance economically and by way of intelligence (the CIA had scooped up various citizens of countries involved in Operation Condor and handed them over to their respective dictatorships to be tortured and killed), they did not seem ready to formally train DINA in ‘advanced interrogation’.
This instruction came in the form of Paul Schaefer, a Nazi evangelist whose religious commune in Chile, Colonia Dignidad, would become infamous even before Schaefer’s arrest in 2006, as a torture and detention area as well as a training ground for DINA interrogators. Schaefer, a pedophile and cult-leader who kept his subjects in line via psychopharmacology and sleep-deprivation, offered his commune-town up to Pinochet to dispose of bodies, sadistically torture suspects, or simply disappear those in need of disappearing.
Luis Peebles, commander of an anti-Pinochet socialist militia, was captured in ’76 and spent a week in a bunker at Colonia being tortured by beating and electric shock before his eventual escape and flight to Europe. Wires were taped to his ankles, thighs, chest, throat, anus, and genitals, all hooked into a voltage machine. The first session lasted six hours.
A German man was present and orchestrated the torture sessions. “He was teaching them how to do their job,” Peebles said. “He was saying, ‘You have to do it slowly. You have to push here.’”
The German was later identified by Peebles as Schaefer. It is unknown how many were killed at Colonia Dignidad, but one ‘Colono’ testified that he had been tasked with driving a group of about 35 prisoners up to the top of a mountain, dumping them and driving away. As he was driving down the mountain he heard machine-gun fire and screaming.
Although no bodies have been found on Colonia, the Chilean government believes many dozens or hundreds lost their lives there. The lack of bodies was explained by on unnamed former high-ranking member of the colony as being due to the exhumation and cremation of many of the bodies in ’78, another testified that subsequent victims were buried in far-flung plots around Colonia.
Pinochet believed he had left all of his crimes behind him when, in 1990, he brokered a deal to return to civilian government in exchange for the political immunity granted to his newly bestowed title of ‘Senator for Life’—but he was mistaken. The movement to incite legal action against Pinochet for crimes against humanity began in 1996 with a filing by a group of young lawyers calling themselves the Progressive Association of Prosecutors that culminated in a grand show of international jurisdiction when a tribunal of Spanish judges, acting on Nuremburg precedent, ordered the arrest of Pinochet for his collusion with the murder of more than 300 Spanish citizens during Operation Condor. On October 16th, 1998, detectives of Her Majesty’s Scotland Yard, on warrant by Interpol for charges filed in a Spanish court, stormed up the stairs of the palatial London Clinic where Pinochet was recovering from recent back surgery, ordered his guards aside and arrested Augusto Pinochet Ugarte “for crimes of genocide and terrorism.”
‘When I read about General Pinochet being arrested,” recalled Murray Karpen, father of Ronni Karpen Moffitt, Letelier’s American aid, “my first reaction was, ‘There is a God.’”
It is poignant to note that several nations, from Spain to France to the Netherlands, wanted to extract a pound of Pinochet’s flesh for citizens they had lost, yet the U.S.—having lost at least three citizens, one in its own capital, never filed any charges and, in-fact, stalled the release of documents that could have accelerated Pinochet’s trial and prevented his escape.
Pinochet’s lawyer, no longer defending his client’s innocence, argued that British judges had no right to detain, let alone prosecute a Chilean senator for crimes committed while Head of State, and charged by a Spanish court—and the Judges initially agreed, but a second ruling by the House of Lords found that British judges could, in-fact, try Pinochet.
After significant stalling from the U.S., pressure from various powerful forces in British politics and business (Margaret Thatcher herself, having had tea with Pinochet days before he was arrested, called him a “friend of Britain”. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, acting on a November 22 ruling that gave him the final say in Pinochet’s fate, allowed him to return to Chile, thereby escaping international justice. Although on his return to Chile, Pinochet also faced charges, but was allowed to live out his last days—which turned into years—under house arrest.
On 10th December, 2006, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, U.S.-installed dictator of Chile, responsible for untold suffering, died of congestive heart-failure as a result of a heart-attack. He was 91.
As Naomi Wolf notes in The Shock Doctrine, Pinochet was entirely reliant on the US in terms of economy, even if he was uncontrollable in the arena of intelligence. Chicago University’s economists, led by noted free-marketeer Milton Friedman, coached Pinochet’s drastic restructuring of the economy with the help of a text known as .The Brick’. Others not mystified by the cold-war example of the “Chilean Miracle”, such as Amartya Sen, point out that after the banking catastrophe of 1882, as larger percentage of the economy was under government control under Pinochet than under Allende. For instance, Chile’s most profitable and efficient industry, copper mining, remains in government hands to this day. It is immensely ironic that the nationalization of copper, the very straw that broke international capital’s back and led to the international boycott of Chile’s economy which precipitated Pinochet’s coup, was not “rectified” by the new economic order.
Pinochet, in all his aspects, represents the worst in interventionist and imperialist policy—dictatorship, clandestine repression, torture, and the all-too-often escape from justice. All of the former nations of the Condor bloc have organized Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to come to terms with the heartbreak that U.S-backed dictatorships brought to their population, when in-fact it is perhaps the U.S. which should come to terms with its past, and own up to the millions killed under dictatorships of this kind—from Chile to Argentina, Brazil to Uruguay, South Korea to South Vietnam, Indonesia to El Salvador.
Some have differing views on how to achieve this, but no matter what is done, it is certain that doing will be infinitely more satisfying to human dignity than not doing.
Falconer, B. (2008). The Torture Colony: In a remote part of Chile, an evil German evangelist built a utopia whose members helped the Pinochet regime perform its foulest deeds. American Scholar, 77(4), 33-53.
Hitchens, C. (2001). The Trial of Henry Kissinger. New York: Verso.
Kornbluh, P. (1995). Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup, September 11, 1973. (George Washington University) Retrieved Mar 9, 2013, from http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm
Kornbluh, P. (1998, Dec 21). Prisoner Pinochet. The Nation, pp. 11-24.
Vergara, E., & Warren, M. (2011, May 31). Chile TV: Secret report suggests Allende murdered. The Washington Times.