The Chilean government has arrested
Augusto Pinochet who led a brutal military coup in 1973 and ruled
the country with an iron hand until 1990.
The United States should now
follow suit by prosecuting Henry Kissinger, President Richard
Nixon’s former National Security Advisor, for breaking US and
international law by helping foment the coup that brought Pinochet
Before Pinochet Chile had a
well deserved reputation as one of the most vibrant democracies
in the world. It had a democratically elected President and a
Congress just as we do. It had a wide range of political parties
from the far right to the far left, all of which participated
in the political process. It had numerous newspapers, magazines
and radio stations that together represented the views of people
across the political spectrum. All of its citizens, including
illiterates had a right to vote. Pinochet with Kissinger’s help
changed all that.
The military junta Pinochet
led dissolved Congress, outlawed political parties and the largest
labor union in the country, censored the press, banned the movie
Fiddler on the Roof as Marxist propaganda, publicly burned
books (“on a scale seldom seen since the heyday of Hitler,”
according to the New York Times), expelled students and
professors from universities, designated military officers as
university rectors, and arrested, tortured and killed thousands
who opposed the regime.
Among those who died in the
coup and its aftermath were: Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically
elected President; Victor Jara, its most famous folk singer;
Carlos Prats, the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean armed forces
until the coup plotters managed to force him out of office; Jose
Toha, a former Vice-President; Alberto Bachelet, an air force
general who opposed the coup, and two North-American friends
of ours: Charles Horman and Frank Terrugi.
The Pinochet regime was condemned
for torturing political prisoners and other human rights abuses
by the United Nations, the Organization of American States, Amnesty
International and many other respected international organizations.
Among those tortured was a 24 year old young man who, according
to the Wall Street Journal, “was stripped naked and
given electrical shocksThey started with wires attached to his
hands and feet and finally to his testicles.” Newsweek
magazine wrote on March 31, 1975, “Each day Chileans are
picked up for interrogation by the secrete police. Some are
held for weeks without charge, many are tortured, a few disappear
Chile, in sum, became a nightmare
society. Even when Pinochet finally gave up power in 1990 to
an elected government, he continued to dominate the country’s
politics as commander-in- chief of the military.
Only recently has the country
demonstrated a determination to face its past head on and bring
those responsible for murder and torture under the Pinochet regime
to justice, including the ex- dictator himself. Indeed, up until
only a short time ago Pinochet in Chile used to be like Kissinger
in the United States. He was the Teflon man. No charges against
him could be made to stick.
Three events provided Chileans
with the resolve to take the former tyrant on. The first was
his arrest in England in 1998 on a warrant issued by a Spanish
judge charging him with human rights abuses. The second was the
publication by the news media of documents indicating that he
enriched himself at the expense of his own people in a variety
of illicit ways. The third was a report by a government-sponsored
commission detailing the torture of 45,000 people that took place
under his regime.
So now the 89 year old ex-dictator–his
former friends deserting him in droves, his cultivated image
of the tough but honorable savior of his country in tatters–is
under house arrest in his own country trying to avoid prosecution
by claiming he is too old and too feeble minded to face prosecution.
What about Kissinger?
Innumerable reports in this
country beginning with a 1975 U.S. Senate document titled
Covert Action in Chile have made it clear that Kissinger
was responsible for directing the CIA and other intelligence
agencies to destabilize the Allende government. Kissinger’s motivation
was to prevent what he considered a communist government from
gaining a foothold in Latin America. “I don’t see why we
need to stand idly by and let a country go communist due to the
irresponsibility of its own people,” he said after Salvador
Allende was elected president.
Now Pinochet’s arrest reminds
us that Henry Kissinger and others in our country responsible
for undermining democracy and condoning human rights abuses need
to be held accountable for their crimes. Until that happens the
rest of the world has a right to be incredulous when our leaders
proclaim they want to spread democracy and human rights abroad.
Paul Cantor is a professor of economics who lived
in Chile from 1970 to 1973.
Roger Burbach also resided in Chile. He is director
of the Center for the study of the Americans (CENSA) based in
Berkeley, California. He is co- author with Jim Tarbell of “Imperial
Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire,”
He released late last year “The
Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice.“