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Pursuing the Past: U.S. Policy Toward Chile’s Augusto Pinochet

A report on the recently declassified documents on U.S. policy toward Chile's Augusto Pinochet.

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  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Last month's indictment and house arrest of Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet on charges of murder and kidnapping have re-ignited passions in Chile. Relatives of the 3,000 people killed under Pinochet's rule want him tried in court; his supporters are hoping for a reprieve based on his poor health. In the United States, newly declassified documents showing a high level of U.S. support for Pinochet have stirred old passions too. The documents were released over the past two years by the Clinton administration partly in response to the indictment of Pinochet by a Spanish judge in 1998.

    Peter Kornbluh of the non-profit National Security Archives lobbied for the release.

  • PETER KORNBLUH, NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVES:

    We have obtained the declassification of over 24,000 new documents, among them several thousand CIA records which the agency itself never wanted to see the light of public scrutiny. They contain significant evidence of a policy to undermine democracy in Chile and to support dictatorship there. The documents can be accessed by virtually anyone on the Internet. They're on the U.S. State Department Web page. Morton Halperin helped coordinate the massive project as head of policy planning at the State Department.

  • MORTON HALPERIN:

    The Clinton administration made the decision to release the documents because we thought we had an obligation, given our history and involvement with Chile to do what we could to contribute to the debate within Chile about how to deal with their past and particularly how to deal with General Pinochet.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Sam Halpern was executive assistant to the CIA's head of covert operations in the early 1970's. He supported the declassification of the documents and defended the activities they reveal.

  • SAM HALPERN:

    The Cold War had a beginning, and a run, and then the end, and nobody expected it to take 45 years to win. But we won it finally because of things like this.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    "This" refers to the U.S. campaign, detailed in the documents, against Salvador Allende, a socialist, who was elected president in 1970. He headed a coalition including the communist party, which was anathema to the Nixon administration. The documents tell the story of U.S. attempts to prevent Allende's inauguration and, when that failed, to undermine him. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in 1973 in a violent military coup that was welcomed by the United States. Under Pinochet's 17-year rule, thousands of people were killed or tortured. And in the years since then, the democratic governments that succeeded him have built somber monuments to those victims. An American filmmaker, Charles Horman, was among those killed in Chile right after the 1973 coup. Horman's story was told in the academy award winning film Missing.

  • WOMAN IN MOVIE:

    You got enough money?

  • MAN IN MOVIE:

    Yeah, how about you?

  • WOMAN IN MOVIE:

    Charlie, be careful?

  • MAN IN MOVIE:

    Don't worry, they can't hurt us, we're Americans

  • JOYCE HORMAN:

    We both had an interest in Latin America, and in particular, Chile.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Charles Horman's widow Joyce, who never remarried, is using the declassified papers as evidence in a suit she has filed in Chile against Pinochet. She read from a document released last November.

  • JOYCE HORMAN:

    The government of Chile might have believed this American could be killed without negative fallout from the United States. How else would they have killed him unless they believed that?

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Though many of the declassified documents remain heavily censored by the CIA, which blacked out crucial names and places, Joyce Horman welcomed the information she got.

  • JOYCE HORMAN:

    we believe that our case can be very helpful to other victims because of the documents that have been released in our regard.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    The U.S. Justice Department has withheld some important documents as part of its continuing investigation of Pinochet's possible role in the 1976 Washington, D.C. bombing assassination of Orlando Letelier and his American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier had been an Allende government minister and was the foremost critic-in-exile of Pinochet. Attorney Sam Buffone, who has represented the Letelier family, said the document release, while not complete, has already helped.

  • SAM BUFFONE:

    It is the break in the dike that encourages others to come forth. We've now seen in Chile revelations by insiders within the military and secret police, I think largely spawned by the revelations in the documents.

  • PETER KORNBLUH:

    "This is a White House mem-con– memorandum of a conversation between Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig."

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    The national security archives' Peter Kornbluh said some of the information about covert operations in Chile was already available because of congressional hearings in the 1970's. But the documents themselves reveal much more.

  • PETER KORNBLUH:

    We have learned the details of how the CIA goes about trying to foment chaos in a small country like Chile. We have a document here, for example, which is a blueprint of the CIA plan to create a, quote, "coup climate," unquote, where one doesn't exist. That is an extraordinary document.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    The man at the center of many of these documents is Henry Kissinger– President Nixon's National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State. Kissinger coordinated U.S. policy towards Chile. What do you think of the release of these documents?

  • HENRY KISSINGER:

    Those documents that deal with national policy — conversations with foreign leaders and things of that nature, I think should be released. And then the things that deal with criminal activity in this country, such as the assassination of Letelier, they should be released. My instinct is against releasing operational cables on intelligence activities. It's the ones to and from the field that bother me — about the insight they give and also the ease with which they lend themselves to distortion, because it's very easily possible that the top people never know what's in the details of these cables.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    The "operational" cables that are attracting the most attention Have to do with the 1970 kidnapping and assassination of Chilean army Chief of Staff Rene Schneider. The documents detail some support for the anti-Allende Chileans who planned to kidnap General Schneider hoping it would cause panic and prevent Allende's inauguration. The CIA sent guns for the kidnapping.

  • MORTON HALPERIN:

    The CIA's position is the actual guns used in the actual kidnapping that led to his murder were not the guns they provided. One can argue about the historical fact, but here's no question in my mind the military in Chile believed we thought it imperative that General Schneider be removed and that whatever was means necessary to do that should take place. And I don't think we can walk away from that responsibility.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    One heavily censored memorandum of a White House conversation shows Kissinger and others may feared the kidnapping and coup could not succeed and may have called off CIA support about a week before Schneider was killed.

  • HENRY KISSINGER:

    As far as we were concerned in the White House, this thing ended on October 15th. Then, I think around October 23rd or so, I don't remember the exact date, they kidnapped Schneider and in the process killed him.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    But the same document also shows Kissinger instructed the CIA to preserve its assets in Chile and stay in touch with those who'd been planning the kidnapping. Based on those instructions, the head of covert operations at the CIA cabled agents in Chile to pull back from one plotter, but also wrote: "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup." In the end, according to a CIA report last year, CIA agents passed $35,000 to the group that killed Schneider after the deed had been done. Kissinger insisted he had told the CIA to cut off support and that the documents indicating otherwise are misleading.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    do you have any regrets about U.S. policy in those years?

  • HENRY KISSINGER:

    Our initial assessment of Allende was correct. I think there was something Boy Scout-ish and amateurish and immature about the immediate reaction to Allende, because there was not, we should have known that was not feasible. The particular actions — whether one would do them again, I would question. But the particular actions, I will repeat, were an attempt to bring about either a vote by the Chilean congress or another election. They were not an attempt to bring about a coup.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    In June 1976, Kissinger, in Chile for an Organization of American States meeting, met with Pinochet. Their conversation is detailed in a declassified memo. By now, the White House was well aware of Pinochet's repression. Kissinger did bring up human rights violations, saying they were making it difficult for him to get aid for Chile from Congress. But he also said, "We are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here…My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world, and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government which was going communist." Why did you not say to him, "You're violating human rights. You're killing people. Stop it."

  • HENRY KISSINGER:

    First of all, Human Rights were not an international issue at the time, the way they have become since. That was not what diplomats and secretaries of states and presidents were saying to anybody in those days. In talking to the head of state of the government, I spent half my time telling him that he should improve his human rights performance in any number of ways; but it was also true that we were convinced that Allende was heading the country toward communism. And for that reason, we did not want to weaken Pinochet to a point where the Allende people would come back.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    A White House press statement that accompanied the final group of documents released last November read in part: "Actions approved by the U.S. government during this period aggravated political polarization and affected Chile's long tradition of democratic elections and respect for the constitutional order and the rule of law."

  • MOTRON HALPERIN:

    I think every word of that was argued over for a very long time. There were some of us who thought we owed them a straightforward apology. And there were others who thought it went as far as it should and there were many others who thought that went much too far. I think it does make clear the U.S. government understands its actions contributed to the disruption of the democratic process.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Henry Kissinger disagreed with the White House statement.

  • HENRY KISSINGER:

    I don't think this is what one administration should do to its predecessor because when you have 23,000 documents — many that are capable of some many interpretations — this is not the way to judge history.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Sam Halpern, who was with the CIA, agreed:

  • SAM HALPERN:

    We were following the orders of our president, and we did the best we could. We didn't win what we wanted but I don't think there's anything to be sorry for. That was American policy at the time, and American policy changes.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Juan Gabriel Valdes is Chile's ambassador to the United Nations.

  • JUAN GABRIEL VALDES:

    It is always shocking to learn again that the U.S. sent machine guns in the pouch of the U.S. embassy in Chile to order the kidnap of the Commander in Chief of the Chilean armed forces. And of course this is very important for us to know; and I think that the reaction of my government at the time was, and still is, that we would like to see along with the papers a certain sense of remorse.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Letelier attorney Sam Buffone went further.

  • SAM BUFFONE:

    I think we should take a page from the Chileans who really pioneered the truth and reconciliation process through the Rettig Commission. And we should think about our own truth and reconciliation process. First, let's have the truth — full disclosure — about everything that the U.S. did in the Cold War as well as what happened to us; and then let's consider those who were responsible — in a reconciliation process. The time has come to do that.

  • HENRY KISSINGER:

    This assumes the policy was immoral or worse, and that I don't accept. It's easy to forget what the Cold War was like. We thought, wrongly or rightly, we were in a life and death struggle with the Soviet Union as a functioning global system.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    And so the debate goes on as do the demonstrations and disagreements in Chile. They are not likely to end soon.

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