Revolution #74, December 24, 2006
Fascist General in the Service of the U.S. Godfathers
Chilean general Augusto Pinochet, one of the most hated figures in the world, died on December 10. Pinochet headed the fascist junta that carried out a bloody coup against the coalition government of Salvador Allende in September 1973. At least 30,000 Chileans were killed during the coup and in the following years under Pinochet’s rule—although no one can be sure of the actual number, since many people were “disappeared” and never heard of again. 400,000 people were tortured according to some estimates, and one million Chileans were forced to flee the country and go into exile.
It is the height of injustice that Pinochet was never tried for these massive horrors. But any discussion of Pinochet’s crimes must start with the mafia godfather behind the Chilean general—the U.S. imperialists. The 1973 coup was the culmination of several years of open sabotage and covert operations directed by the U.S. government. And the U.S. involvement in the planning and execution of the 1973 coup is one of the most well-documented of U.S. imperialism’s countless crimes around the world.
A Coup Made in the USA
The Popular Unity (UP) coalition of leftist parliamentary parties led by Salvador Allende won the 1970 election. The UP government did not represent a revolutionary change in Chile’s economic and political structures, and it did not break Chile from imperialist domination. But the U.S. was determined to kill Salvador Allende from the beginning, for two reasons: first, his government was associated with an upsurge among Chile’s workers, some of its middle classes, and especially peasants who wanted and expected more radical change, and a discrediting of the political forces on whom the U.S. traditionally relied in Chile. In the context of a worldwide wave of struggles against the U.S. and other imperialist domination, the American government found this situation too dangerous. Second, Allende was friendly to Cuba, and the UP coalition included the Communist Party of Chile—a revisionist (phony communist) party with close ties to the Soviet Union, which was on the rise as an imperialist rival to the U.S. Given all this, and coming from their perverted imperialist viewpoint, the U.S. imperialists thought they needed to go after the Allende government—and they illegally and immorally set out to smash it.
According to a 1975 report by a U.S. Congressional committee headed by Frank Church, U.S. President Richard Nixon met with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, along with the CIA director and the Attorney General, shortly after Allende was elected president. At that meeting, Nixon issued instructions that Allende be overthrown by a coup. Shortly before Allende actually took office, the CIA engineered a coup attempt that involved kidnapping General Rene Schneider, head of the Chilean military. Schneider was killed, but the coup plot failed.
A cable sent in October 1970 by CIA deputy director of plans, conveying Kissinger’s order to the CIA station chief in Santiago, Chile, reads in part: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup… It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden.” (Various declassified U.S. documents relating to the Pinochet coup are online at the National Security Archive based at George Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB212/index.htm)
To prepare for the coup, the U.S. “turned off the faucet” (in Kissinger’s words) on the Chilean economy. Handwritten notes taken by CIA Director Richard Helms during a 1970 meeting with Nixon records the president’s orders to make Chile’s economy “scream.” U.S. bank credit and government economic aid to Chile were frozen. The World Bank and other U.S.-controlled international financial institutions shut off loans. A committee of U.S. corporations worked out an anti-Allende strategy in consultation with the Nixon administration. CIA operatives were sent in to organize sabotage of the Chilean economy. One of their operations was a strike by truck owners that paralyzed the country’s transportation system.
While the U.S. strangled the Chilean economy, funds to the Chilean military—packed with anti-Allende forces—continued and even increased. The CIA also funded and directed right-wing parties and their paramilitary groups and poured money into the anti-Allende media.
Support for Allende actually increased in the face of this, especially among the poorest and most oppressed sections of the masses, and also among some parts of the middle classes. But at the same time, the anti-Allende opposition was hardening, and the U.S. campaign of economic and political pressure spread fear and paralysis among the people generally.
As the moves toward a military coup stepped up, many in Chile continued to believe that the Allende government represented the “peaceful road to socialism” through elections, and that the Chilean military, or at least key parts of it, could be won over to the side of the people or at least somehow “neutralized.” Shortly before the coup, Allende appointed General Pinochet as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, hoping that this would help keep the military loyal to the same Constitution he was upholding. These illusions left people tragically unprepared for the brutal reality of Pinochet’s made-in-the-USA fascist coup.
Once more the people paid a terrible price in blood for the lesson that, as Mao said, the exploiters and oppressors will never "lay down their butcher knives." From Guatemala in the 1950s and Indonesia in the 60s; from Chile in 1973 to Iran in the early 80's—time and again, the old power struck with ruthless violence to defend their system against any real or perceived threat from below, no matter what the electoral results read or the constitution said.
Butcher General Comes to Power
On September 11, 1973, the forces led by Pinochet moved decisively against the Allende government. Troops and tanks surrounded the presidential palace, and warplanes attacked the building. Allende is said to have shot himself rather than surrender. Many people were rounded up into the soccer stadium in Santiago where they were tortured and executed.
A reign of terror followed. And again, the U.S. was directly behind Pinochet’s massive crimes. Countless numbers of people were taken by the U.S.-installed regime to secret torture centers. One such torture chamber was on the Chilean navy ship Esmeralda, where victims were subjected to “the use of electric prods, high-voltage electric charges applied to the testicles, hanging by the feet and dumping in a bucket of water or excrement.” (Santiago Times, Sept. 7, 1999) In many cases, the “disappeared” only came to light because the victim was a foreigner, like a British priest, a UN official, or a U.S. filmmaker named Charles Horman. (Horman’s story was dramatized in the movie Missing by Costa-Gavras, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.)
Once Pinochet was in power, the international financial “faucet” was turned back on, and U.S. and other imperialist capital once again flowed into Chile. The Pinochet regime carried out “privatization” and other policies dictated by his U.S. backers, opening the door wide for exploitation of Chile’s people and plunder of its resources by the imperialists. Chile’s “free market miracle”—praised by the U.S. and bringing wealth to some sections of society—was based on the torture, mass murder, and misery of many, many Chileans. (Milton Friedman, the big celebrator of capitalism, helped “restructure” the Chilean economy. Friedman died just a few weeks before Pinochet did—but this ugly chapter of Friedman’s history somehow got left out of many of his eulogies.)
During the 1970s, the Pinochet regime worked with the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay to target political opponents in a fascist conspiracy known as Operation Condor. According to the magazine CovertAction Quarterly, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of people in Latin America were secretly kidnapped, tortured, and killed through this operation. CovertAction pointed out that “the U.S. provided inspiration, financing, and technical assistance for the repression” carried out under Operation Condor. CIA operatives arranged meetings between the various security agencies and provided torture equipment and training. Chilean and Argentine units of Operation Condor also helped pro-U.S. death squads in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The Chilean secret police hunted down Chileans who had found asylum in other countries in order to kill or kidnap them. One such murder was that of Orlando Letelier (who was ambassador to the U.S. and a defense minister in the Allende government) and his American assistant, Ronni Moffitt, killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. in 1976. According to author John Dinges, documents released in 1999 and 2000 show that “the CIA had inside intelligence about the assassination…at least two months before Letelier was killed but failed to act to stop the plans.”
Kissinger to Pinochet: “You Did a Great Service”
When Kissinger traveled to Santiago in 1976, he met with Pinochet and told him, “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic to what you are trying to do here.” At the end of their conversation, Kissinger said, “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende. Otherwise, Chile would have followed Cuba.”
With U.S. backing, Pinochet kept his position as Chile’s head of state until 1990, and as head of the armed forces for eight years after that. Then he received the title “Senator for Life,” making him immune from prosecution and protecting the central role of the Chilean military within the reactionary state. Pinochet was placed under house arrest during a visit to Britain in 1998, based on a warrant issued by a judge in Spain charging him with “crimes of genocide and terrorism that includes murder.” Demonstrators in Chile and around the world demanded that he be tried and punished. But he was freed by the British authorities and returned to Chile, where he received a hero’s welcome organized by the Chilean military.
When Pinochet died, it was the head of the army who notified President Michelle Bachelet and other government officials. The right-wing media demanded that Pinochet be given an official state funeral. Bachelet—who had been tortured by the Pinochet junta, as was her mother and air force general father—refused. But she did agree to a funeral for Pinochet with full honors as former head of the armed forces. And she sent her defense minister to represent the government at the ceremony and endorsed an official period of mourning by the military. Thousands of young military officers and others filed by Pinochet’s coffin to give him a final fascist salute.
But thousands of others, in Santiago and elsewhere in Chile, defied Bachelet’s reconciliatory stance and took to the streets to denounce Pinochet and protest the official honors being given to this monstrous criminal.
Some of the information in this article came from the article "Chile: Pinochet escapes justice" in the A World To Win News Service packet of Dec. 11, 2006.
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