As long as imperialism garners willing allies and represses the process of liberation through socialism, freedom is destined to remain a contentious concept, available only to those who ally themselves with those wielding uncontested power.
As Chile nears its 41st anniversary since the U.S.-backed military dictatorship toppled Salvador Allende’s government, the country remains incarcerated within a complex historical memory framework. Grappling with dictatorial restrictions enforced through the constitution, the ramifications of Augusto Pinochet’s macabre era, from 1973 to 1990, are evident in various struggles — from the ongoing endeavor to uncover the fate of Chile’s disappeared population, to protests calling for the termination of an education system that favors those of privilege.
In each of the aforementioned examples lurks the instigation and implementation of neoliberal violence in Chile — namely CIA interference in Latin America that sought to prevent the spread of leftist ideology since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) over dictator Fulgencio Batista.
As violating human rights in Chile became a systematic approach toward eliminating left wing resistance and opposition to Pinochet’s dictatorship, U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger — who had also been nominated by President Nixon as the supervisor of the covert affairs destined to destabilize Chile — furthered his support for such violations. According to declassified information in the U.S. National Security Archive, Kissinger told Pinochet in 1976, “We want to help you, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”
Kissinger’s statement reflects the CIA’s part in plotting Allende’s overthrow. As Fidel Castro consolidated his anti-imperialist and internationalist stance in the years following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the left wing in Chile was rallying behind Allende’s Unidad Popular coalition, which aimed to initiate widespread reform through already-established state institutions. Communication between Kissinger and then-CIA Director Richard Helms on Sept. 12, 1970 reveals the preliminary planning of Allende’s defeat, with Kissinger vowing, “We will not let Chile go down the drain.” Two days later, Kissinger insisted upon the importance of making “a cold-blooded assessment, get a course of action this week some time and then get it done.”
The above indications of covert action in Chile laid the groundwork for a methodical planning process that would gradually unravel Allende’s political program and implementation. According to CIA reports on Chile, the agency’s primary aim was to fund right wing opposition in Chile. While intelligence was gathered about Chilean military officers, according to the reports, “no effort was made to assist them in any way,” though the document continues to state that “some CIA assets and contacts were in direct contact with coup plotters.” By the CIA’s own admission, $6.5 million had been spent by Aug. 21, 1973 to fund support for opposition to Allende.
While opinion remains polarized about the extent to which the U.S. interfered in Chile, declassified documents verify not only the antagonism against Allende’s short-lived presidency, but also the perceived urgency in eliminating the possibility of Chile becoming a tangible model for achieving socialism through democratic elections in Latin America — as opposed to Cuba, which achieved socialism via armed revolution.
What Kissinger had termed as “irresponsibility” was a conscious choice embraced by the masses in Chile. The willing support given to Allende stemmed from notions of inclusion, participation and empowerment. In this context, it is of paramount importance that one interprets the United States’ support for right wing opposition by covertly interfering in economic, political and military issues, in order to create conditions in Chile that would facilitate the complete ouster of Allende. Any contribution to Allende’s downfall, therefore, cannot be negated, despite language in reports that was manipulated in such a way to diminish the United States’ role. As can be gleaned from Kissinger’s various belligerent statements, the imperialist’s role was far from minor. Allende’s legitimacy through democratic elections gave Chile “the insidious model effect,” with far reaching consequences that could alter global politics and thus impact the United States’ position at the helm.
The CIA has admitted to maintaining contact with Manuel Contreras, chief of Chile’s repressive Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), “who later became notorious for his involvement in human rights abuses.” The observation is not altogether accurate, since Contreras himself was involved in the detention, questioning and assigning of torture since the commencement of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Of more sinister — yet fitting — collaboration, is former CIA agent Michael Townley’s inclusion in DINA. Convicted for his role in the assassination of former Chilean Ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier on Sept. 21, 1976 in Washington, Townley was also recruited by the dictatorship to manufacture chemical weapons — a role he shared with Colonel Gerardo Huber and Eugenio Berríos. Experimentation with chemical weapons upon detainees at Cuartel Simón Bolívar had been witnessed by former errand boy and later DINA agent Jorgelino Vergara, whose testimony also established Townley’s presence during these gruesome episodes.
Townley, who has been living under the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program since 1979, provoked added speculation last year in relation to the alleged 1973 assassination of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. According to Neruda’s chauffeur, Manuel Araya, the poet had entered the Santa Maria clinic in Santiago until arrangements to go into exile were finalized. While bedridden, Neruda was allegedly injected with toxic substances in his abdomen by an unidentified doctor known only as “Dr. Price,” resulting in the poet’s alleged assassination. According to Dr. Sergio Draper, a doctor at the clinic, descriptions of “Dr. Price” point to Townley. (When Neruda’s body was exhumed in 2013, forensic test results revealed no chemical agents in the poet’s bones.)
Discussing human rights violations becomes relatively simple when the issue is extricated from the wider web of complicity and interference. As can be seen in the CIA reports on Chile, language has been manipulated to avoid anyone having to assume any accountability. Nevertheless, the implications are clear: While fomenting disturbance to enable Chile’s right wing to gain political power, the aftermath of the dictatorship meticulously planned the elimination of opposition, with several DINA agents specializing, for example, in the targeting of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) militants for extermination and disappearance.
Meanwhile, U.S. engagement in human rights violations both at home and abroad — evident especially since the commencement of the alleged “war on terror” — correlates with historical evidence that points toward the sanctioning and acceptance of such traits during Chile’s dictatorship era. Only a few days after Allende’s death, Kissinger dismissed concern for human rights violations, stating: “I think we should understand our policy – that however unpleasant they might act, this government is better for us than Allende was.”
As long as imperialism garners willing allies and represses the process of liberation through socialism, freedom is destined to remain contentious, an ambiguity bequeathed only to those who prove themselves deserving through hypocritical and brutal allegiances with uncontested power.