Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet now lies dead in his coffin at 91, disgraced by ever-expanding revelations about the $28 million or more he stashed away in secret accounts drawn from "public service" and his record of death and torture following "the first 9/11": the US-supported coup against democratic socialist Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973.
Architects of the campaign against Allende, such as Henry Kissinger, were afraid that the Chilean model of broad, solid left-wing unity and a peaceful transition to socialism would spread not only across Latin America but also especially to Italy, long a source of worry to US policymakers because of its immensely-powerful but intensely-divided Left. Thus, crushing the Chilean experiment in democratic socialism was viewed as imperative by the elite officials whose pro-corporate views largely shape US foreign policy.
The pattern of US activity visible in Chile has been repeated numerous times before and since:
Concoct military "threats" to the "US interests" through endless official warnings about the dire dangers to America posed by tiny nations with miniscule militaries;
Issue a steady stream of cynical US concerns about the threats to "democracy" posed by the target regime;
Meanwhile, unleash a parallel, subterranean campaign to undermine democracy through bought-off local media serving up US-written propaganda, funding for lockouts and "strikes," and ultimately a US-coordinated and financed military action.
Finally, once the US goal is achieved and democratic sparks are fully extinguished, the US fervently proclaims its innocence of any involvement.
The manipulation of US media and world opinion was particularly blatant following the military coup in Chile. The coup resulted in the deaths of some 3,100 people and the imprisonment of 130,000, with some 28,000 subjected to indescribable tortures, generating unfavorable publicity for the US over its friendly relationship with the Chilean military and quick expressions of support for Pinochet's new regime. In response, US officials were vociferous in fervently, absolutely, categorically denying any US role in the coup itself.
In case anyone still attaches any credence to the statements of top US government officials after the campaign of lies used justify the US occupation of Iraq, here's a brief sampling of the lengthy catalogue of outright, unambiguous denials that were used in the case of Chile:
President Gerald Ford, Sept. 1974: "There's no doubt in my mind, our government had no involvement in any way whatsoever with the coup itself."
Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, June 1974: "Let me take this opportunity at the outset to restate that the United States government, the Central Intelligence Agency, had no role in the overthrow of the regime in Chile."
Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State-designate, Sept. 1973: "The CIA had nothing to do with the coup, to the best of my knowledge and belief."
However, the US role was comprehensive and clearly calculated at destroying Chilean democracy. For example, Peter Kornbluh, editor of the The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier of Atrocity and Accountability, encountered an astonishingly frank cable sent by CIA officials in Langley to their operatives in Santiago Chile on Sept. 27, 1970.
The extraordinary cable freely professed that the CIA officials sought to promote "the acceptance of the failure of the political solution and the need for a military one." The authors envisioned creating an opportunity "to persuade the military that it their constitutional duty to prevent Allende from seizing power ..." The memo continued,
"We conclude that it is our task to create a climate climaxing with a solid pretext that will force the military and the president [ex-president Frei, defeated by Allende] to take some action in the desired direction."
While the immediate public mood was not ready for anti-democratic action, the CIA officials were confident that they could set the stage for the coup with the proper application of US resources. In much the same way that US policy-makers were later to wholly manufacture the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s (handpicking leaders, writing their manifesto, arming them, providing global PR, and furnishing overall direction, as exposed by a Wall Street Journal news story), the CIA saw itself both constructing and directing a new Chilean oppositional forced aimed inexorably at a military coup.
To put the opposition on this trajectory, the CIA leadership envisioned multiple dimensions of "warfare" against Allende. The CIA was particularly concerned about the difficulty of persuading the world that Allende was a secret threat to democracy if there were no significant, visible internal dissent. Allende's most infuriating move, in the eyes of the US, was the historic nationalization of Chile's copper mines, long in the hands of US-owned firms such as Anaconda and Kennecott. However, the nationalization passed unanimously as even right-wing opponents of Allende dared not oppose the highly popular move.
Nonetheless, the solution remained obvious for US decisionmakers: if there is no mass, indigenous grass-roots opposition, then artificial "astro-turf" opposition must simply be implanted:
"We cannot endeavor to ignite the world if Chile itself is a placid lake. The fuel for the fire must come from within Chile. Therefore, the station should employ every stratagem, every ploy, however bizarre, to create this internal resistance."
It was in the arena of "psychological warfare" where the CIA officials were most blunt about their need to "Discredit parliamentary solution as unworkable" and "Surface ineluctable conclusion that military coup is the only answer. This is to be carried forward until it takes place."
Above all, the CIA called for a resolute commitment to thoroughly poisoning democracy in Chile. The cable's authors chillingly warned:
"However, we must hold firmly to the outlines or our production will be diffused, denatured, and ineffective, not leaving the indelible residue in the mind that an accumulation of arsenic does."
Nearly three decades later, some of this "indelible residue" of poison remains. Pinochet is dead and a moderate Socialist (and former torture victim) Michele Bachelet is now the president. But thanks to Pinochet's economic policies, crafted by the recently-departed Milton Friedman and his "Chicago Boys" disciples, Chile ranks as one of the most inegalitarian nations in the world, featuring a handful of billionaires and huge armies of the desperately poor. Pinochet-era restrictions against union bargaining rights have remained in place.
Still, the New York Times editorially declared that "Chile is a heartening example of how a policy of economic liberalization can lift a people's standard of living." (April 20, 2001) and more recently claimed that "[Pinochet] won grudging international praise for some of the free-market policies he instituted, transforming a bankrupt economy into the most prosperous in Latin America." (Dec. 11, 2006). Clumsily betraying the Times' unmistakable ambivalence about its unswerving faith in the universal value of "free market" policies and the vicious repression required to impose them in Chile, Times reporter Jonathan Kandell added, "That repression [of workers' rights] gave the free-market policies time to take hold. Since the mid-1980s, Chile's gross domestic product has grown an average of more than 6% a year, the most impressive performance in Latin America."
However, that achievement looks much less "impressive" from the massive slums surrounding the skyscrapers of Santiago and elsewhere in Chile. A far more meaningful comment on Pinochet's enduring legacy comes from the World Bank ranking of Chile as the seventh least equal of 65 nations studied in terms of wealth and income, as former Allende aide Marc Cooper reported in his book Pinochet and Me.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and activist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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