An Enemy of the People

Revolutionary Worker #986, December 13, 1998

In September 1973, a fascist junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet carried out a bloody coup to overthrow the coalition government of Salvador Allende in Chile. The coup was the culmination of several years of open sabotage and covert operations directed by the U.S. At least 30,000 Chileans were killed during the coup and under Pinochet's rule. Many were rounded up into the soccer stadium in Santiago and executed. One million people were forced to flee the country and go into exile.

For oppressed people and proletarians in Chile and around the world, Pinochet has long been a hated criminal. He is truly an enemy of the people--and he should have been tried and punished many years ago. But he continued to be an active figure in the Chilean government and military until 1990, and he currently has the title of "Senator for life."

Now, 25 years after the coup, Pinochet is facing the possibility of a trial. On October 16, Pinochet was detained in London by British authorities acting on a warrant issued by a judge in Spain. Pinochet reportedly was in Britain for medical reasons. The Spanish warrant charges Pinochet with "crimes of genocide and terrorism that include murder." The warrant focuses on Operation Condor--the conspiracy among U.S.-backed right-wing regimes in Chile, Argentina and several other South American countries to hunt down and kill political opponents in the 1970s. The Spanish judge is asking for the extradition of Pinochet to Spain to stand trial.

A British court initially ruled that Pinochet could not be charged for anything he did while he was a "sovereign head of state." Then on November 25, Britain's highest court overturned the earlier decision and ruled that Pinochet did not have immunity from arrest. The British government is scheduled to announce a decision in December on whether to extradite Pinochet to Spain or allow him to return to Chile.

The U.S. government has not made any public statements about the Pinochet case. In response to a request by the Spanish courts, the U.S. said it will declassify some secret government documents on Chile. On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of State Albright said that Britain should take the views of the Chilean government into account in making the decision on Pinochet. And the pro-U.S. Chilean government is demanding that Britain allow Pinochet to return to Chile. This is a government that has pardoned many generals of the Pinochet era responsible for murder, torture and disappearances of tens of thousands of Chileans.

Following Pinochet's detention, demonstrators in Chile and around the world have demanded that the butcher general be tried and punished. But Britain, the U.S. and other powers have their own imperialist motives in this situation. They have been attempting to strengthen their ability to use international laws and tribunals to further their interests. The NATO powers have set up an international tribunal about the Balkans as part of their justification for intervening in that region. And the U.S. has used the UN as cover for attacks on Iraq. No good can come for people around world if the U.S. and other imperialists gain more power to carry out such intervention. (At the same time, there is worry in the U.S. ruling class that the Pinochet case might set a precedent for attempts by others to put U.S. officials on trial.)

The U.S. Hand Behind Pinochet

A real people's trial would find Pinochet to be absolutely guilty of massive crimes. But there would also be other monsters standing trial with him--because behind the 1973 coup and the fascist regime that followed was the hand of U.S. imperialism. Richard Nixon, the U.S. president at the time of the coup, is already dead. But there are others who were top officials in Washington involved in backing Pinochet--and who are now considered "elder statesmen" within the U.S. power structure. Henry Kissinger was Nixon's National Security Adviser. Gerald Ford was Nixon's vice president. George Bush headed up the CIA from 1976-77. Then there are U.S. banks and corporations such as ITT and Chase Manhattan who should also stand trial for all the horrors they committed and endorsed in Chile as they went after blood-soaked profits.

There would be no lack of evidence at such a trial. The U.S. involvement in the direction, planning and execution of nearly every detail of the 1973 coup is one of the most well-documented of U.S. imperialism's crimes.

The 1970 election victory of the UP (Popular Unity) coalition government of Salvador Allende arose out of the storm of struggle that rocked Chile, as was true in most of Latin America in the '60s. The UP government did not represent a real overthrow of the Chilean bourgeoisie and a break from imperialist domination. But it did nationalize some major industries and make some steps toward agrarian reform.

A CIA note in the early 1970s warned of the consequences of Allende becoming Chile's president. The note reveals the thinking of the U.S. imperialists behind their plots against Allende: "U.S. prestige and interest in Latin America and, to a certain extent, elsewhere are being affected materially at a time when the U.S. can ill afford problems in an area that has traditionally been accepted as the U.S. `backyard.' " Kissinger sent an explicit order to the CIA station chief in Santiago: "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup."

To prepare for the coup, the U.S. "turned off the faucet" (in Kissinger's words) on the Chilean economy. Hand-written notes taken by CIA Director Richard Helms during a meeting with Nixon in 1970 records the U.S. 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 financial institutions shut off loans. ITT put together a committee of representatives of U.S. corporations to work out an anti-Allende strategy, and they had close contact 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. The CIA engineered a vast propaganda campaign, using newspapers and other means to stir up public opinion against the Allende government.

While the U.S. cut off economic aid to Chile, funds to the Chilean military--packed with anti-Allende forces--continued and even increased. The CIA also funded and directed right-wing paramilitary groups.

As the moves toward a military coup stepped up, the masses of people were left unprepared. The forces in the UP put forward that the Allende government represented the "peaceful road to socialism"--and the people were not mobilized to take up arms against the reactionaries and their U.S. backers. On September 11, 1973, the fascist generals began their coup by bombing the presidential house, assassinating Allende, and rounding up thousands of people.

After Pinochet came to power, the international financial "faucet" was turned back on full blast. U.S. and other imperialist capital flowed into the country. Pinochet faithfully carried out "privatization" and other policies dictated by the U.S., opening the door wide for exploitation of the Chilean people by the imperialists. The "free market miracle" of Chile --built on the backs of the oppressed--is put forward by the U.S. as a "model" for other Third World countries.

During the 1970s, the Pinochet regime worked with the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to target political opponents. This was the fascist conspiracy known as Operation Condor. According to the magazine CovertAction Quarterly (Fall 1994) hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Latin Americans were secretly kidnaped, tortured and killed through this operation. CovertAction points out that "the U.S. provided inspiration, financing and technical assistance for the repression" carried out by these regimes. CIA operatives arranged meetings between the various security agencies and provided torture equipment and training (for example, on how much electrical shock a prisoner could withstand under interrogation).

Pinochet was the direct perpetrator of the murders, tortures and disappearances of hundreds of thousands of Chileans and others. And the U.S. imperialists were the masterminds.

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