The unsuccessful efforts by the United States government to block the democratic process, followed by its successful campaign to remove Chile’s elected president Salvador Allende from office in 1973, through U.S. sponsored violence, was one of the most blatant examples of foreign election manipulation perpetuated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Nixon Administration. Now, more than 25 years later, the Administration’s illegal and amoral actions in Chile may finally be catching up with some of the individuals identified in court papers as villians in the plot to stamp out democracy in Chile.
Victims of the repressive 17-year dictatorship that followed Allende’s removal are bringing legal actions in both Chilean and U.S. courts against Henry Kissinger, the national security adviser to President Nixon, and against other Nixon administration officials for their involvement in the coup against Salvador Allende.
In 1961, when outspoken socialist Salvador Allende began to emerge as the likely winner of the 1964 Chilean presidential election, the Kennedy Administration began to set up an electoral committee to plan their efforts to disrupt Allende’s chances at winning the presidency.
One U.S. intelligence officer, commenting on the electoral committee, was quoted in the Washington Post in 1973, saying “U.S. government intervention in Chile in 1964 was blatant and almost obscene. We were shipping people off, right and left, mainly State Department [officials] but also CIA [officers], with all sorts of cover.”
In a clear and crude demonstration of the CIA’s low regard for democratic processes at home and abroad, these officials armed with U.S. taxpayer money, decided to support Allende’s opposition, Eduardo Frei. First they simply pumped in money, U.S. tax dollars, paying for more than half of Frei’s total campaign costs, according to the U.S. Senate Report “Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973.” The Washington Post reported in April of 1973 that the CIA spent an estimated $20 million on Chile’s electoral politics.
This money was used, as the U.S. Senate reported, in a “scare campaign” utilizing “disinformation” and “black propaganda” materials in order to drive the Chilean voters away from Allende.
One such scare tactic was reported in William Blum’s “Killing Hope.” It featured a radio spot with the sound of a machine gun firing, followed by a woman crying: “They have killed my child – the communists!” The announcer would then caution in impassioned tones, “Communism offers only blood and pain. For this not to happen in Chile, we must elect Eduardo Frei president.”
Tactics such as these attempted to convince the Chilean public that Eduardo Frei was the only non-communist candidate, by equating Salvador Allende’s socialism with communism’s “blood and pain.”
According to the U.S. Senate, these scare tactics were conducted on a major scale. “The propaganda campaign was enormous . . . During the first week of intensive propaganda activity, a CIA-funded propaganda group produced twenty radio spots per day in Santiago and on 44 provincial stations . . . By the end of June, the group produced 24 daily newscasts in Santiago and the provinces, 26 weekly ‘commentary’ programs, and distributed 3,000 posters daily.”
Through money and manipulation, the CIA successfully wrested the 1964 election away from Allende, and installed Eduardo Frei into office, and inspiring William Blum to write, “Testimony, once again, to the remarkable ease with which the minds of the masses of people can be manipulated, in any and all societies.”
However, as the next presidential election arrived in 1970, Salvador Allende was back, and more popular than ever among the Chilean voters. In spite of the peoples’ confidence in Allende, or possibly because of it, Nixon security adviser Henry Kissinger voiced his doubts about the ability of a democratic process to deliver what he considered to be the only acceptable result.
On June 27, 1970, Kissinger, in a National Security Council meeting, said “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.” His remarks were later reported in Newsweek and many other publications.
Kissinger and the Administration did their best to prevent Allende from winning the popular vote. Nonetheless, on September 4, 1970, Allende won the plurality of votes from the Chilean people. All that was required for him to assume the presidency was a vote of the Chilean Congress, meeting on October 24, 1970 to rule on the election.
During this interim period between Allende’s victory at the polls and his eventual installation as president, the Nixon Administration consistently threatened the Chilean military and Congress, telling them that if Allende were allowed to assume the presidency, all U.S. military aid to Chile would be cut off.
The CIA at this time also considered assassinating Allende, under the pretense of saving Chile from communism.
According to U.S. Senate report “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders,” CIA headquarters sent a cable to its office in Santiago, Chile exploring the possibility of just such an assassination and cover story. They eventually came to the conclusion that a coup still had “no pretext or justification that it can offer to make it acceptable in Chile or Latin America.”
In the cable, the CIA then decided that it “therefore would seem necessary to create one [a justification for a coup] to bolster what will probably be [the military’s] claim to a coup to save Chile from communism.”
According to the Senate report, the CIA then came up with the idea “to ‘discover’ intel[ligence] report which could even be planted during raids planned by Carabineros [Chile’s police].”
Such an artificially contrived intelligence report would probably highlight cooperation between communist Cuba and President Salvador Allende.
However, Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, did not want to participate with any coup plans that would disrupt the legal election process. The CIA then decided to support and engineer the assassination of General Schneider in order to clear the way for a coup. This took place on October 22, 1970.
The CIA passed “sterilized” machine guns, those without markings, along with ammunition to conspirators on October 22. Later that day, General Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, was assassinated with the same weapons the CIA supplied, according to the CIA’s own admission to the United States Senate, published in April of 1975.
Despite all these CIA sponsored and engineered attempts at sabotaging the democratic process, the Chilean Congress confirmed devout socialist Salvador Allende into the office of president on November 3, 1970. Unfortunately for Allende and democracy, the Nixon Administration continued its efforts to discredit and overthrow him.
The Administration began damaging the Chilean economy, an option that was very easy due to Chile’s dependency on the United States.
According to Blum, “new U.S. government assistance programs for Chile plummeted almost to the vanishing point . . . and the World Bank made no new loans at all to Chile during 1971-1973. U.S. government financial assistance or guarantees to American private investment in Chile were cut back sharply and American businesses were given word to tighten the economic noose.”
This basically amounted to economic blackmail.
While the Nixon Administration was crippling Chile’s economy, the CIA was supporting extreme right-wing political opposition groups. These groups included the Patria y Libertad organization, which, according to the U.S. Senate, was trained in guerrilla warfare and bombing techniques by the CIA in schools located in Bolivia and Los Fresnos, Texas.
Meanwhile, on another front in the campaign to discredit Allende, Time Magazine reported that CIA agents in Allende’s own Socialist Party were “paid to make mistakes in their jobs.”
The CIA used its influence to covertly publish articles in leading Chile newspapers alleging Allende’s support for communist plans to destroy Chile.
Finally, on September 11, the Chilean military overthrew Salvador Allende and illegally took control of the country. The military junta then set up a dictatorship with General Augusto Pinochet as the leader, brutally repressing the Chilean people for the next 17 years.
The exact nature of the CIA’s involvement in placing Pinochet in power is still unknown, but the U.S. Senate has stated, “It is clear the CIA received intelligence reports on the coup planning of the group which carried out the successful September 11 coup throughout the months of July, August, and September 1973.”
Further adding to speculation, Blum writes that at the time of the coup, U.S. Navy ships were present offshore participating in joint maneuvers with the Chilean Navy.
These maneuvers perhaps gave credence to the reports of an airborne U.S. WB-575 communications control plane piloted by U.S. Air Force officers that was circling the sky during the coup and, as Blum continues, the “32 American observation and fighter planes . . . landing at the U.S. air base in Mendoza, Argentina, not far from the Chilean border.”
One witness that could have shed further light on the Nixon Administration’s involvement in the coup was Charles Horman. Horman, a filmmaker and journalist, was an American living in Santiago. He was stranded in Valparaiso due to the coup.
According to Thomas Hauser’s “The Execution of Charles Horman,” Horman was with several Americans on the day of the coup. Some of the Americans were in the U.S. military and apparently they spilled too much information in a conversation about the coup. According to Hauser, a retired naval engineer told Horman: “We came down to do a job and it’s done.”
A few days later the new military junta arrested Horman in his Santiago home. He was never to be seen again.
With the military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet in power, the infamous killings began. All opposition was executed or tortured, and soldiers frequently kicked down doors of anyone they considered a threat to the regime.
Yet in spite of these early atrocities, U.S. President Gerald Ford in the New York Times said in 1974 that the U.S. government’s involvement in Chile was “in the best interest of the people in Chile and certainly in our own best interest.”
Many Chileans would not agree with Ford’s statement. Now, many years later, relatives of Charles Horman and General Rene Schneider, are pressing charges against Nixon officials.
According to the March 29, 2002 edition of the International Herald Tribune, a judge in Chile has asked Kissinger and Nathaniel Davis, American ambassador to Chile at the time, to respond to questions about the killing of Horman.
Relatives of Rene Schneider, the previously mentioned general of the Chilean Army who was murdered with CIA cooperation, filed a $3 million civil suit in Washington last year against Kissinger; Richard Helms, former director of the CIA, and other Nixon officials.
According to the same issue of the International Herald Tribune, these officials were “involved in plotting a military coup to keep Allende from power.”
Kissinger has defended his actions by stating that he initially followed Nixon’s orders to organize the assassination, but decided not to go through with it. But, as the International Herald Tribune has reported, “the CIA continued to encourage a coup in Chile and also provided money to military officers who had been jailed for Schneider’s death.”
In addition to these lawsuits, human rights lawyers in Chile have filed a complaint against Kissinger and other American officials who were involved in organizing the covert program of political repression known as Operation Condor.
Operation Condor, explained to the Tribune, included actions whereby “rightist military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay coordinated efforts throughout the 1970s to kidnap and kill hundreds of exiled political opponents.”
There is even worse news for Kissinger. A judge in Argentina has announced that he is going to investigate American support for, and involvement in, Operation Condor.