Kissinger and Chile: The declassified record

September marked the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of the democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, by a US-backed coup. We publish below an article on the US role (specifically, the part played by US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger) based on the latest revelations from declassified documents, as well as the defiant last speech the late president made before his demise.

HENRY Kissinger urged US President Richard Nixon to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende in Chile because his '"model" effect can be insidious', according to documents posted by the National Security Archive on 11 September - 40 years to the day since the coup against Allende. The posted records spotlight Kissinger's role as the principal policy architect of US efforts to oust the Chilean leader and assist in the consolidation of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

The documents, which include transcripts of Kissinger's 'telcons' - telephone conversations - that were never shown to the special US Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church in the mid-1970s, provide key details about the arguments, decisions and operations Kissinger made and supervised during his tenure as national security adviser and secretary of state.

'These documents provide the verdict of history on Kissinger's singular contribution to the denouement of democracy and rise of dictatorship in Chile,' said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. 'They are the evidence of his accountability for the events of 40 years ago.'

The Washington-based National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute which provides access to declassified US government documents.

The documents posted by the Archive on 11 September include a Kissinger 'telcon' with Nixon that records their first conversation after the coup. During the conversation Kissinger tells Nixon that the US had 'helped' the coup. '[Word omitted] created the conditions as best as possible.' When Nixon complained about the 'liberal crap' in the media about Allende's overthrow, Kissinger advised him: 'In the Eisenhower period, we would be heroes.'

That 'telcon' is published for the first time in the newly revised edition of Kornbluh's book, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (The New Press, 2013), which has been re-released for the 40th anniversary of the coup. Several of the other documents posted on 11 September appeared for the first time in the original edition, which the Los Angeles Times listed as a 'Best Book' of 2003.

Among the key revelations in the documents:

 On 12 September 1970, eight days after Allende's election, Kissinger initiated discussion on the telephone with CIA director Richard Helms about a preemptive coup in Chile. 'We will not let Chile go down the drain,' Kissinger declared. 'I am with you,' Helms responded. Their conversation took place three days before President Nixon, in a 15-minute meeting that included Kissinger, ordered the CIA to 'make the economy scream', and named Kissinger as the supervisor of the covert efforts to keep Allende from being inaugurated. Since the Kissinger-Helms 'telcon' was not known to the Church Committee, the Senate report on US intervention in Chile and subsequent histories date the initiation of US efforts to sponsor regime change in Chile to the 15 September 1970 meeting.

 Kissinger ignored a recommendation from his top deputy on the National Security Council, Viron Vaky, who strongly advised against covert action to undermine Allende. On 14 September 1970, Vaky wrote a memo to Kissinger arguing that coup plotting would lead to 'widespread violence and even insurrection'. He also argued that such a policy was immoral: 'What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets... If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat to us, e.g. to our survival. Is Allende a mortal threat to the US? It is hard to argue this.'

 After US covert operations, which led to the assassination of the commander-in-chief of the Chilean armed forces General Rene Schneider, failed to stop Allende's inauguration on 4 November 1970, Kissinger lobbied President Nixon to reject the State Department's recommendation that the US seek a modus vivendi with Allende. In an eight-page secret briefing paper that provided Kissinger's clearest rationale for regime change in Chile, he emphasised to Nixon that 'the election of Allende as president of Chile poses for us one of the most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere' and 'your decision as to what to do about it may be the most historic and difficult foreign affairs decision you will make this year'. It was not only a billion dollars of US investments that were at stake, Kissinger reported, but what he called 'the insidious model effect' of Allende's democratic election. There was no way for the US to deny Allende's legitimacy, Kissinger noted, and if he succeeded in peacefully reallocating resources in Chile in a socialist direction, other countries might follow suit. 'The example of a successful elected Marxist government in Chile would surely have an impact on - and even precedent value for - other parts of the world, especially in Italy; the imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would in turn significantly affect the world balance and our own position in it.'

The next day Nixon made it clear to the entire National Security Council that the policy would be to bring Allende down. 'Our main concern,' he stated, 'is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.'

 In the days following the coup, Kissinger ignored the concerns of his top State Department aides about the massive repression by the new military regime. He sent secret instructions to his ambassador to convey to Pinochet 'our strongest desires to cooperate closely and establish firm basis for cordial and most constructive relationship'. When his assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs asked him what to tell Congress about the reports of hundreds of people being killed in the days following the coup, he issued these instructions: 'I think we should understand our policy - that however unpleasant they act, this government is better for us than Allende was.' The United States assisted the Pinochet regime in consolidating, through economic and military aid, diplomatic support and CIA assistance in creating Chile's infamous secret police agency, DINA.

 At the height of Pinochet's repression in 1975, Secretary of State Kissinger met with the Chilean Foreign Minister, Admiral Patricio Carvajal. Instead of taking the opportunity to press the military regime to improve its human rights record, Kissinger opened the meeting by disparaging his own staff for putting the issue of human rights on the agenda. 'I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but Human Rights,' he told Carvajal. 'The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there are not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.'

 As Secretary Kissinger prepared to meet Pinochet in Santiago in June 1976, his top deputy for Latin America, William D Rogers, advised him to make human rights central to US-Chilean relations and to press the dictator to 'improve human rights practices'. Instead, a declassified transcript of their conversation reveals, Kissinger told Pinochet that his regime was a victim of leftist propaganda on human rights. 'In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here,' Kissinger told Pinochet. 'We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.'

At a special 'Tribute to Justice' on 9 September 2013 in New York, Kornbluh received the Charles Horman Truth Foundation Award for the National Security Archive's work in obtaining the declassification of thousands of formerly secret documents on Chile after Pinochet's arrest in London in October 1998. Other awardees included Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon, who had Pinochet detained in London; and Chilean judge Juan Guzman, who prosecuted him after he returned to Chile in 2000.                                           

The above is reproduced from with the permission of the National Security Archive.

© National Security Archive

Salvador Allende's last words

The following is the text of President Salvador Allende's final speech to the nation, which was broadcast by Radio Magallanes and delivered on 11 September 1973, in the midst of the coup against his administration.

My friends,

Surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you. The Air Force has bombed the towers of Radio Portales and Radio Corporaci˘n.

My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May they be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath: soldiers of Chile, titular commanders in chief, Admiral Merino, who has designated himself Commander of the Navy, and Mr. Mendoza, the despicable general who only yesterday pledged his fidelity and loyalty to the Government, and who also has appointed himself Chief of the Carabineros [national police].

Given these facts, the only thing left for me is to say to workers: I am not going to resign!

Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seed which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shrivelled forever.

They have strength and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested neither by crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history.

Workers of my country: I want to thank you for the loyalty that you always had, the confidence that you deposited in a man who was only an interpreter of great yearnings for justice, who gave his word that he would respect the Constitution and the law and did just that. At this definitive moment, the last moment when I can address you, I wish you to take advantage of the lesson: foreign capital, imperialism, together with the reaction, created the climate in which the Armed Forces broke their tradition, the tradition taught by General Schneider and reaffirmed by Commander Araya, victims of the same social sector which will today be in their homes hoping, with foreign assistance, to retake power to continue defending their profits and their privileges.

I address, above all, the modest woman of our land, the campesina who believed in us, the worker who laboured more, the mother who knew our concern for children. I address professionals of Chile, patriotic professionals, those who days ago continued working against the sedition sponsored by professional associations, class-based associations that also defended the advantages which a capitalist society grants to a few.

I address the youth, those who sang and gave us their joy and their spirit of struggle. I address the man of Chile, the worker, the farmer, the intellectual, those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has been already present for many hours - in terrorist attacks, blowing up the bridges, cutting the railroad tracks, destroying the oil and gas pipelines, in the face of the silence of those who had the obligation to protect them.˙ They were committed. History will judge them.

Surely Radio Magallanes will be silenced, and the calm metal instrument of my voice will no longer reach you. It does not matter. You will continue hearing it. I will always be next to you. At least my memory will be that of a man of dignity who was loyal to [inaudible] the workers.

The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.

Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.

Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!

These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason. 

*Third World Resurgence No. 276/277, August/September 2013, pp 50-52