Now the US Must Face Its Past on Chile
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
Tuesday, December 5, 2000
Now the U.S. Must Face Its Past on Chile
By MARC COOPER
It has taken nearly 30 years, but former Chilean dictator
Augusto Pinochet finally is being called to account before
his nation's courts. Late last week, a courageous Chilean
magistrate formally charged the 85-year-old retired general
for the kidnapping and murder of 77 civilians during the
first few weeks of the military regime Pinochet established
The historical ledger on Pinochet--who often fancied himself
a liberator--was finally slammed shut when Magistrate Juan
Guzman Tapia ordered the former dictator locked up under
indefinite house arrest and bumped him up one step closer to
trial. As the news crackled on radio and TV, countless
Chileans sensed the gravity of the moment. Not only had the
once supine Chilean justice system regained its
independence, but the country as a whole was being given a
much-needed opportunity to draw the balance sheet on its
recent dark past. During the 17 years of the Pinochet
dictatorship, more than 3,000 people were killed, a thousand
of them "disappeared," while tens of thousands had been
tortured, imprisoned or hounded into exile.
Only a few years ago Pinochet's current plight was
unimaginable. All debate on human rights in Chile had been
suffocated and Pinochet himself had become an unelected
That all changed when Pinochet was held two years ago in
London on an international warrant issued by a Spanish
court. After 500 days in British custody, Pinochet was
allowed to return home on questionable health reasons. But
Chile had changed during his absence. The shock waves
emanating from his London arrest had shook loose an ossified
Chilean judiciary. And Pinochet soon became the target of an
aggressive investigation, one that culminated in his formal
indictment last Friday.
But now that Chile finally is coming to terms with its
bloody history, will the U.S. follow suit and account for
its role in supporting Pinochet when he rose to power?
One significant step in that direction occurred when the
Clinton administration, under intense international
pressure, began releasing thousands of previously secret
U.S. government documents about our relationship to
Pinochet. Those papers, the latest batch of which were
released on Nov. 13, reveal not only new details about the
copious amounts of financing the Nixon administration and
the CIA handed out to the forces that brought Pinochet to
power, but also prove that the U.S. government was, at the
time, fully aware of the death squad barbarities for which
the former general is now facing trial.
And we learn from other recently released documents that
three years after Pinochet seized power, just as the
bloodletting was reaching a frenzied crescendo, a crucial
face-to-face meeting transpired in Santiago between U.S.
foreign policy guru Henry Kissinger and the Chilean
dictator. Transcripts of that meeting now archived at the
Gerald Ford Presidential Library show Kissinger apologizing
to Pinochet for any hiccups of protest coming from the U.S.
Congress and reassuring the blood-stained general that he
still retained full and unconditional American support.
A wily Pinochet clearly read the political message from
Kissinger. Barely two months later, Pinochet's most elite
death squad had the audacity to forge ahead with a car
bombing in downtown Washington D.C. that took the lives of
dissident Orlando Letelier and his associate Ronni Moffit.
That Pinochet himself played a direct role in these murders
is now confirmed by intelligence reports among those
released in November.
If a former Chilean head of state can be tried by his own
courts for the heinous crimes he committed, why shouldn't
American officials be held morally and legally accountable
for their complicity with him? Are the intellectual authors
and financiers of mass murder any less guilty than the
material executors? Clearly not.
Word comes from Washington D.C. that the Department of
Justice may finally be ready to lodge its own indictment
against Pinochet for his role in the Letelier murder. That
would be another welcome step in clarifying the murky
historical links between the U.S. and Pinochet. But we still
will have not gone as far as the Chileans have.
It's a safe bet that Kissinger will live out his final years
in considerable more comfort and peace than his former
interlocutor and political ally, the forlorn and abandoned
- - -
Marc Cooper, a Nation Magazine Contributing Editor, Served
as Translator to Former Chilean President Salvador Allende.
he Is Author of "Pinochet and Me: a Chilean Anti-memoir"
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