Pinochet and the Unraveling of the “American Century”

November 1, 1999

"Wearing dark glasses was a way of communicating. Lies are uncovered through eye movements, and I, on many occasions, was lying."

–former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, USA Today, Nov. 23, 1999, identifying a quote from his new book, Augusto Pinochet: Dialogues with His History

At the time of this writing (Jan. 2000), former Chilean dictator and Senator-For-Life Augusto Pinochet, now in his mid-80s, is in British custody fighting extradition to Spain for trial on charges of committing torture, murder, and terror of a number of Spanish citizens during his 1973 coup and subsequent 16-1/2 year rule by terror in the 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the United States government was extensively active in encouraging the September 11, 1973 coup overthrowing democratically elected President Salvador Allende and supporting Augusto Pinochet’s reign of terror. Though he may escape prosecution in Spain due to a British report calling him too ill to stand trial, he could be prosecuted in Chile upon his return for crimes committed there.

Charges against Pinochet have expanded to include crimes against citizens from Argentina, Britain, the U.S., and Chile herself. The Clinton administration has remained relatively quiet on the matter, probably very deliberately so, though Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gently urged the British to support Chile’s request for Pinochet’s release. Surprisingly, the British rejected Albright’s advice.

This startling and unprecedented development was precipitated by a lone Spanish magistrate, Judge Baltasar Garzon, who on behalf of aggrieved Spanish citizens filed the charges against Pinochet after the latter traveled from Chile to England for back surgery. Whatever the outcome for Pinochet, this case could open a Pandora’s Box for the United States and other Western imperial nations.

As everyone knows, U.S. President Clinton possesses zero tolerance toward "terrorists." At least, that is, if you are considered an "enemy" or otherwise an interference with "national security" interests, as defined by a few men in the White House and Pentagon. In all honesty, Clinton does face a serious dilemma with human rights. He, along with all his U.S. presidential predecessors in the Twentieth Century, have been involved in a variety of aggressive policies, carried out with an enraging double standard, that have trampled all over the sovereignty of at least 100 nations, and have egregiously violated the human rights of millions, if not billions, of citizens throughout the resource rich "Third World." (Soon after Pinochet’s arrest, December 16-19, 1998, President Clinton unilaterally attacked the sovereign nation of Iraq with weapons of lethal destruction, with no Constitutional or United Nations authorization. And he committed this act of war with absolute impunity and continues to bomb Iraq to the present day. To add further insult to injury, Clinton has allocated $100 million to openly fund sabotage in and destabilization of Iraq, hoping to overthrow Saddam Hussein, head of a sovereign nation which is a member of the United Nations. Imagine if another country, China, for instance, declared its intention to destabilize the U.S. society and overthrow its president. And from March 24 to June 10, 1999 President Clinton orchestrated with the new 19-nation NATO attack force thousands of bombing missions on Kosovo and Serbia with no U.S. Constitutional or required UN authorization, killing and injuring thousands of innocents.) It is worth reviewing some history here that we might overcome our too common amnesia.

As U.S. government documents disclose, President Richard Nixon–especially through the executive covert action agency at the disposal of every U.S. president since Harry Truman, the CIA–spent at least $8 million of taxpayers’ money from 1970-73, attempting to destabilize and overthrow Dr. Salvador Allende, the twice democratically elected president of Chile. And though a 1970 CIA study concluded that "the U.S. has no vital national interests within Chile," Allende’s "Marxist" political philosophy was absolutely unacceptable to the U.S. Earlier U.S. presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson also spent millions of CIA dollars utilizing up to 100 CIA and State Department propaganda operatives aimed at preventing the election of Allende in his earlier presidential campaigns in 1958, 1962, and 1964.

President Allende was a medical doctor who was empathetic with the needs of Chile’s poor, and protective of his country’s valuable sovereign natural and industrial resources. Such philosophy, of course, threatened to diminish or eliminate altogether the continued ability of the U.S. to freely exploit Chile’s people and her natural resources. In addition to threatening U.S. economic hegemony, Chile’s success under Allende offered itself as a potentially exemplary model for other Latin American "Banana Republics" to follow. Thus, Chile represented a new independent force in the Americas, perhaps similar to Cuba, a sovereign example totally unacceptable to the U.S.

Records from the hearings conducted in 1975 by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reveal that only eleven days after the CIA’s failed efforts to prevent Allende’s election in a three-way race on September 4, 1970, President Nixon directed then-CIA Director Richard Helms to "play a direct role in organizing a military coup d’etat in Chile to prevent Allende’s accession to the Presidency." The Chilean Congress was scheduled to confirm Allende’s election on October 24 prior to a formal November 3 inauguration. This gave the U.S. more time to orchestrate the coup prior to his officially assuming power. On October 15, Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, ordered the CIA to "continue keeping the pressure on every Allende weak spot in sight–now, after October 24 and into the future until such time as new marching orders are given." The next day, October 16, the CIA cabled its station chief in Santiago, Chile, explaining that even if a coup did not actualize prior to the inauguration, "efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date….We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end utilizing every appropriate resource."

During Allende’s first term in office, the CIA was already busy assembling lists of key Allende supporters and potential dissidents that would come in handy were a coup to occur quickly needing consolidation of power. U.S. arms and advisors were given to the Chilean military even as trade was sharply curtailed during Allende’s term in office. The CIA was providing anti-personnel ("assassination") weapons to right-wing elements. For years the CIA had also been contributing substantial funds for El Mercurio, Chile’s leading right-wing newspaper, and creating hundreds of articles and numerous radio messages demonizing Allende, using language and representations that, sadly, the U.S. has routinely utilized in its efforts to successfully de-throne other unacceptable political leaders such as Noriega of Panama, Arbenz in Guatemala, and Ortega in Nicaragua. (That Cuba’s Castro remains in power despite 40 years of U.S. efforts to demonize and oust him is virtually a miracle–and a testament to his popularity and his constant vigilance against U.S. covert and overt aggression.) Another tactic used was the financing of the opposition parties and their candidates’ expenses in efforts to prevent Allende from electoral victory. These interferences were successful in the 1958, 1962, and 1964 campaigns. The U.S. also worked very hard to block Chile from receiving loans and credits from international lending institutions and attempted to have Chile expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS) as the U.S. had successfully done to Cuba.

The Spring 1973 elections assured another three years in power for Allende. U.S. frustration deepened and the destabilization process escalated, including daily sabotage, violence, and assassination of Allende supporters. In June a failed attack on the Presidential Palace was carried out by the Chilean military and the extreme rightist organization Patria y Libertad. Then, finally, on September 11 the military coup was successful. Pinochet immediately replaced Allende, who died during the coup. U.S. Navy ships were offshore; U.S. observation, communications, and fighter planes roamed the Chilean sky operating from a nearby base in Argentina. Immediate financial and political support was granted to Pinochet by the U.S. government, including orders to the CIA to "assist the junta in gaining a more positive image, both at home and abroad."

As many as 45,000 "dissidents" and political opponents were quickly rounded up, at least 3,000 and as many as 20,000 of which were brutally "disappeared." We know that at least 25 of those rounded up were U.S. citizens. Many of these people had been on the lists prepared by the CIA and shared with Pinochet and his secret police, the DINA. Tortured, executed, and discarded, many of the bodies were later discovered in pits of lye buried in mass graves, and others were reported to have been dropped from helicopters (some supplied by the U.S.) into the ocean with their bellies slit open so they would sink and never be found. Declassified U.S. embassy documents reveal that U.S. officials were well aware of the executions and tortures by the junta, and were concerned about the difficult "public relations situation."

Hundreds of thousands of Chileans fled, seeking exile in various countries around the world. The DINA coordinated with intelligence agencies in other Latin American countries, in "Operation Condor," to eliminate many of these opponents of Pinochet living in exile. In 1976, the DINA successfully carried out a car bombing assassination of dissident leader and former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his U.S. work associate, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, as they were driving on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The extent and nature of U.S. intervention in Chile was indeed grotesque. Most of the gruesome details in this sordid saga have been spared for the reader. President Clinton’s almost embarrassing silence regarding the Pinochet case can be better understood in this historical context. After all, if Pinochet is found guilty of committing terror, torture, and murder, then it is conceivable that the U.S. could be found guilty of being the intellectual author of the destabilization campaigns and coup, in addition to knowingly supporting a regime of terror after the coup. The United States government, with taxpayers’ money, planned, financed, armed, and trained participants to conduct a campaign of terror directed against a democratically elected, sovereign society. In so doing, the U.S., through its agents, participated in the murder, maiming, and torture of many Chilean citizens, prolonged political smear campaigns, and numerous examples of deception–all part of a systematic pattern of behavior in flagrant violation of international and U.S. Constitutional law.

Attempts to hide behind "plausible deniability" frequently fail as the truthful record emerges over time. This policy of lying to the U.S. public to cover a grotesque, illegal, and demonic intervention, in this case against Chile, again has been revealed. The critical question is: Will the United States government be able to continue its trail of gruesome imperialism with absolute impunity? If it can, it bodes ill for the world. But if and when elected and appointed political leaders, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are no longer able to carry out their lawless and egregious violations of human rights with impunity, then the goals of justice for all, and an end to imperialism, can begin to be taken seriously.

As a conscientious examination of the uncensored historical record reveals, Chile is but one example of hundreds of sordid, anguishing examples of U.S. covert, as well as overt, interventions into the sovereign lives of millions, even billions, of people in well over 100 countries around the world. In Latin American countries alone, now collectively possessing nearly a half billion people, the United States has intervened militarily at least 112 times into 23 countries since 1831. When looking at the world as a whole, the U.S. has militarily intervened over 400 times into more than 100 countries since 1798. The number of covert interventions following World War II, like the major terror campaign in Chile in the 1950s-1970s and numerous other major and minor clandestine actions, counts in the thousands.

The 18 U.S. presidents who have served in the Twentieth Century alone have initiated hundreds of major illegal and aggressive interventions throughout the world. During the Cold War, the presence of another superpower, the Soviet Union, helped to protect many "Third World" countries by deterring or reducing some of the ferocity of U.S. hegemony. Since the end of the Cold War, however, in a unipolar, Pax Americana world, the U.S. is able to escalate its arrogant and aggressive policies, with virtual absolute impunity, always rationalized, of course, as being for the good of the United States and the world. Sometimes the rationalization even declares that U.S. policy is conducted so that the interests of those who are the victims of the aggression can best be served.

President Teddy Roosevelt, for example, bragged that he had "taken" Panama in November 1903 from Colombia so that the long discussed Isthmus Canal could be constructed to promote quickened, more profitable trade routes. Roosevelt, in responding to criticisms that he violated the Republic of Colombia’s sovereignty in the taking of their Isthmus of Panama, stated that the U.S. had a "moral" duty to overcome Colombia’s "selfish" interests and delays in granting U.S. canal rights in the Isthmus of Panama. The following quote is from Roosevelt’s January 4, 1904 message to the U.S. Congress:


"Every effort has been made by the government of the United States to persuade Colombia to follow a course which was essentially not only to our interests and to the interests of the world, but to the interests of Colombia itself. These efforts have failed; and Colombia by her persistence in replacing the advances that have been made, has forced us, for the sake of our own honor, and of the interests and well-being, not merely of our own people, but of the people of the Isthmus of Panama and the people of the civilized countries of the world, to take decisive steps to bring to an end a condition of affairs which has become intolerable."

President Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, displayed typical American arrogance in his rationale for conducting the covert actions to oust Chilean President Allende in 1970. He was quoted to have said, "I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." (Ironically, Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the same year of Allende’s violent overthrow.) This arrogance, perhaps, has defined the basic ethos of the U.S. American civilization. A popular U.S. history text after the turn of the Twentieth Century, The History of the United States (Garner and Lodge, 1906) illustrates this arrogance when it attributes the genocide of the original native inhabitants to the "coming of the white man," boasting that "neither in war nor peace has the Indian been able to stand against or beside him….History teaches that inferior people must yield to a superior civilization in one way or another. They must take on civilization or pass out."

The Twentieth Century, often called the American Century, is in fact a century of American Shame. The terror and pain U.S. imperialism has created throughout much of the globe remains as a bitter, seething memory in the hearts and minds of the majority of the earth’s people. And then there is the violent assault on the living earth, the Gaia, herself. As the Indigenous have tried to teach us for more than two centuries, "Man Belongs to the Earth, the Earth Does Not Belong to Man." This ecological and cosmological reality is rapidly "coming home" to roost. The arrogance of Americans–U.S. Americans, that is–and their counterparts in the so-called developed world, has blinded its adherents to the necessity of humility, interconnected sacredness, love, and the need for authentic justice for all as a foundation of peace.

It would be ironic if the arrest of former General Pinochet in England for crimes committed against Spanish citizens living in Chile would begin unraveling a century of systematic American participation and complicity in egregious human rights violations around the world. It would be painful, but maturing, even liberating. It must be understood that the American Century–the third U.S. holocaust (the first being the conquest of Indigenous Americans to acquire our land base, the second being the use of slavery and exploited immigrant labor for building our agricultural and industrial civilization)–has been executed on the backs and from the bellies of the vast majority of the world’s people, and at the expense of the well-being of the Earth’s ecosystem, the health of which Homo Sapiens absolutely depends upon for its survival.

Imagine, just for a moment, that we as a people had experienced being victims of the illegal, systematic aggression and terror, U.S. style, that has been imposed on so many others. Let us hope that we as a people can genuinely feel the world’s pain and sorrow as we ask for forgiveness with faith that if our repentance is genuine, then we will be forgiven. Let the Great Spirit, the Life Force of the Cosmos, or God, have mercy on our souls. Our karma is heavy.

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