- The Clinton administration's release of some 5,800 documents
relating to the 1973 military coup in Chile has provided a glimpse of the
murderous role of US foreign policy in Latin America and internationally.
- No major US newspaper or broadcast media outlet has conducted
any serious examination of the documents. Outside of a few cursory news
reports on the day of their release, the declassification has been treated
by the American media as a non-event having to do with the distant history
of a foreign land.
- The White House has itself asserted that its principal
aim in declassifying the formerly secret material is to further the process
of "truth and reconciliation in Chile," as if the bloody events
there 25 years ago had nothing to do with the activities of the US government
outside of its innocent collection and storing of reams of cables, memoranda
and secret intelligence reports on the carnage that took place there.
- In reality, the documents"though clearly the most
incriminating material remains locked in the secret archives of the CIA
and the Pentagon"shed significant light on Washington's crimes against
the Chilean people. They further illuminate US complicity in the murder,
torture and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of workers, peasants,
students and others seen as real or potential opponents of the military
dictatorship and American interests.
- The Clinton administration initiated the release of the
documents at the end of May largely as a damage-control operation. Mounting
international attention has been focused on the Chilean events by the ongoing
legal wrangling over Spain's demand for the extradition of the former dictator,
General Augusto Pinochet, who is in British custody. Legal arguments over
General Pinochet's crimes have inevitably touched upon Washington's involvement
in the military coup that brought him to power in 1973 as well as in his
subsequent reign of terror.
- With Pinochet's detention the White House also faced
renewed demands from the families of Americans killed in the repression,
including Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, who were among those rounded
up and executed in the National Stadium in Santiago.
- Whatever the motives of the White House, the thousands
of documents chronicling Washington's role in organizing and supporting
one of the most horrific bloodbaths of the twentieth century comprise an
incontestable refutation of the democratic pretensions of US foreign policy.
Coming at a time when the Clinton administration portrays its military
intervention in the Balkans as a matter of the US standing up to the repression
of a ruthless dictator, these papers confirm once again that US imperialism
has not only defended its interests precisely through such regimes, but
has served as their principal sponsor in Latin America and internationally.
- Significantly, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA), which had the most intimate involvement in the 1973 coup and the
closest working relations with the Pinochet dictatorship's security apparatus,
supplied only a fraction of the declassified material, just 490 documents
- The lion's share came from the State Department and the
rest from the Justice Department, the FBI and the presidential libraries
of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
- Notwithstanding the extreme selectivity of the CIA in
determining which of the massive number of documents on Chile were fit
for release and its blacking out of incriminating material in even these
files, this material still provides a glimpse of the intimate relations
that existed between the agency and the butchers of the Chilean military.
- One declassified cable sent September 8, 1973 from the
CIA's Santiago station to the Directorate of Operations in Washington spelled
out in detail the plans for the coming coup. The name of the agency's informant
was blacked out. According to this document, the Chilean Navy had decided
"to begin an action in Valparaiso ... to overthrow the Government
of Salvador Allende and that "the Air Force will support this initiative.
It goes on to state that General Gustavo Leigh, the commander-in-chief
of the Air Force, "has made contact with Gen. Pinochet, commander-in-chief
of the Army, who has told him that the Army will not oppose the Navy's
- The cable from the CIA's operatives in Chile said that
their informant "believes that the Army will join the coup after the
Air Force supports the Navy. The cable concludes that the coup will take
place on September 10 "or at least during the week of Sept. 10. On
that day, the CIA mission sent a new cable to Washington providing more
specific information: "The coup attempt will begin on Sept. 11. The
three Armed Forces and the Carabineros are implicated in the action. A
declaration will be read on Agriculture Radio at 7:00 a.m. on Sept. 11.
- Significantly, the documents released by the CIA only
deal with the intelligence reports coming from Chile to the agency's Langley,
Virginia headquarters. They show that US officials had the closest working
relations with the coup plotters. What the CIA failed to release was the
cable traffic going the other way, those providing instructions to its
operatives in Chile. For good reason these documents remain classified.
They would incriminate US officials, active and retired, from Henry Kissinger
on down, potentially exposing them to the same fate of detention and extradition
now confronting the aging Chilean dictator in London.
- The documents also make clear the full US knowledge of
and backing for the orgy of killing and torture that followed the military
- One September 1973 message sent by the US Embassy in
Santiago to Washington relays a request from the Pinochet dictatorship
for help in setting up concentration camps for tens of thousands of political
prisoners, and US "advisers" to assist in operating them.
- While acknowledging "obvious political problems"
in openly offering such aid, the memo suggests that Washington could pursue
a back channel approach and "may wish to consider feasibility of material
assistance in form of tents, blankets, etc. which need not be publicly
and specifically earmarked for prisoners."
- That there was no confusion as to what Washington was
supporting in its aid to Pinochet was made clear by a CIA cable sent in
October 1973. It described the Chilean dictator as the leader of the "hard-line
generals, continuing, "The hard-liners believe that the extremists
or the Marxist activists should be summarily executed, while the moderates
think that they should be tried, sentenced and that they should attempt
to rehabilitate them.
- A declassified letter addressed to Kissinger in early
1974 from the then US Ambassador to Chile, David Popper, also spelled out
the real relations between Washington and the Chilean regime. "I have
invariably taken the line that the US Government is in sympathy with, and
supports, the Government of Chile, but our ability to be helpful ... is
hampered by US Congressional and media concerns ... with respect to alleged
violations of human rights here."
- A secret cable sent in 1974 gives a precise estimate
of the number of political prisoners held by the regime, supplied to the
CIA in a briefing by Chile's interior minister and the head of the Directorate
of National Intelligence, or DINA, the regime's secret police. It said
that 30,568 people had been detained for political reasons, including thousands
held secretly because "they are part of sensitive, ongoing security
investigations." These secret detainees were Chile's "disappeared,"
abducted by the military, tortured and then dumped, some alive and some
dead, from aircraft into the sea or over the isolated snowy peaks of the
- The declassified documents are significant as well for
both what was included and excluded relating to the most notorious crime
carried out by the Chilean dictatorship on US soil.
- On September 21, 1976 a bomb ripped through a car in
which Orlando Letelier, a former cabinet member in the Allende government,
was riding in the center of Washington. The powerful explosive device killed
both Letelier and an American colleague, Ronni Moffitt.
- Samuel Buffone is an attorney for the Letelier family
who has worked on the case since shortly after the assassination. He called
upon the Clinton administration to release documents relating to the killing
that have been reportedly declassified but are still being held back on
the grounds that they are the subject of an ongoing Justice Department
investigation. This rationale for withholding the sensitive material was
the first announcement that such a probe was taking place.
- Buffone said the Letelier family wants the documents
turned over to Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who is pursuing the prosecution
of the former Chilean dictator.
- The attorney charged the US with withholding any serious
assistance from the Spanish prosecutors. "If it had been the reverse,
if the treatment that the US has given Spain in the case of Chile had been
given by Spain to the US, there would have been a scandal here, he said.
"Documents requested more than two years ago haven't even been sent,
nor have they yet been able to take a statement from one of the principals
in the case, the DINA [Chilean intelligence] agent Michael Townley, he
- Townley, an American expatriate, was extradited from
Chile in 1978 in an attempt to deflect charges concerning Pinochet's own
role in the killing. He confessed to having organized the Letelier assassination
on orders from DINA chief Manuel Contreras. After being tried and convicted
in connection with the assassination, Townley plea bargained for a reduced
sentence and protection from prosecution for crimes committed outside the
US. He confessed to participating in the other assassinations and attempted
assassinations in Argentina, Italy and Mexico. After serving just five
years of his sentence, Townley was released into the US witness protection
program, and given a new identity and protection by the US government.
- There are also undoubtedly good reasons for Washington
withholding the most significant files about the Letelier-Moffitt case.
What limited documents have been made public point to the US government
having been forewarned of the assassination plans and providing at least
its tacit approval.
- Among previously declassified documents were the minutes
of then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's trip to Santiago in June 1976.
While the ostensible reason for visiting the Chilean capital was to attend
the annual meeting of the Organization of American States, Kissinger used
it to hold private talks with the General Pinochet.
- The State Department memorandum on the meeting reported
that Pinochet expressed his concern to Kissinger about an international
campaign being waged by opponents of his government, and in particular
by Chilean exiles residing in Washington. Twice the dictator mentioned
Orlando Letelier as a man who had to be stopped.
- Kissinger voiced his agreement that Chile was the victim
of an international leftist campaign. "The United States sympathizes
with what you are trying to do here, he said.
- While privately expressing support for the savage repression
unleashed by the Chilean regime, the Secretary of State was publicly affirming
that the human rights situation in Chile had improved dramatically.
- Another of the recently declassified document, dated
August 16, 1976, originated from State Department operatives in Latin America.
It gave detailed information on "Operation Condor, which involved
the security forces of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia
in a joint campaign to violently suppress "subversives operating both
within their territories and abroad.
- The document explicitly warned "that the governments
are planning and directing assassinations within and outside the member
countries of Operation Condor has very serious implications that we most
confront directly and rapidly.
- At the same time the memorandum expressed US support
for "coordination between the various countries of the Latin American
Southern Cone in relation to subversive actions in the region.
- Within barely a month of this document being sent, Letelier
and Moffitt were dead. While the US government was well aware that Letelier
was a principal target of Chile's Murder Inc., it made no attempt to either
protect or even warn him.
- The assassination in Washington followed the killing
of Gen. Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires in 1974 and the assassination of the
Christian Democratic leader Bernardo Leighton in Rome in 1975.
- After the Letelier-Moffitt assassination, then-CIA Director
George Bush gave assurances that the Chilean regime was not involved in
the killing. Government officials leaked stories to loyal media hacks attributing
the killings to a dissident leftist faction.
- Both the documents that the Clinton administration has
chosen to release, as well as those that it determined must still be kept
secret, demonstrate the continuity of a US foreign policy founded on violence
and oppression. In Chile 25 years ago, just as today from Latin America
to the Balkans, Washington is prepared to employ both military barbarism
and police-state brutality to ensure the profit interests of the US banks