Back in the days of the cold warriors – those righteous Americans who knew might was right and Communism was the devil’s work – U.S. officials set out to overthrow governments that seemed a shade too pink for their liking. The results were invariably bloody.
Echoes of the past came back to us this weekend thanks to the National Security Archive, which published documents showing that President Richard M. Nixon had sought help from Brazil in 1971 to overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende. Whether or how much Brazil actually helped or not is still not known, but Allende, Chile’s democratically elected president, was in fact deposed on Sept. 11, 1973.
Nixon, his then-National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, and their intelligence apparatus pushed and promoted the coup. By day’s end, it was a bloody overthrow. Allende was dead; labor leaders, intellectuals, artists and others were corralled in the Santiago soccer stadium. Thousands were killed. The right-wing Chilean military imprisoned tens of thousands more, and drove hundreds of thousands into exile. A dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was thus born, reviled by many around the world for his suppression of human rights. He ruled for 16 years, supported as a friend by successive U.S. governments.
Much was previously known, but the independent National Security Archive, based in Washington, has been tracking additional details of the U.S. role over the years. Here is a transcript of a tape five days after the Chilean coup, declassified and obtained by the archive in 2006.
Nixon: Nothing new of any importance or is there?
Kissinger: Nothing of very great consequence. The Chilean thing is getting consolidated and of course the newspapers are bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown.
Nixon: Isn’t that something. Isn’t that something.
Kissinger: I mean instead of celebrating – in the Eisenhower period we would be heroes.
Nixon: Well we didn’t – as you know – our hand doesn’t show on this one though.
Kissinger: We didn’t do it. I mean we helped them. [garbled] created the conditions as great as possible.
Nixon: That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played.
In the Brazilian case revealed this week, Nixon met with Brazilian Gen. Emilio Medici in 1971. Both agreed that Allende was a threat. [By the way, the CIA also worked with the right-wing Brazilian military in 1964, supporting the overthrow of that country’s democratic president, Joao Goulart]. The Archive information is accompanied by copies of the documents on line. It’s worth reading:
The Top Secret “memcon” of the December 9, 1971, Oval Office meeting indicates that Nixon offered his approval and support for Brazil’s intervention in Chile.
The President said that it was very important that Brazil and the United States work closely in this field. We could not take direction but if the Brazilians felt that there was something we could do to be helpful in this area, he would like President Médici to let him know. If money were required or other discreet aid, we might be able to make it available. This should be held in the greatest confidence.
“The U.S. and Brazil,” Nixon told Médici, “must try and prevent new Allendes and Castros and try where possible to reverse these trends.”
Nixon was not interested in stopping with Brazil. He discussed overthrowing Fidel Castro himself, and connived to dump the then president of Peru, with the picaresque idea of planting news in the media that the Peruvian had fathered a child with his mistress, Miss Peru.
More than three decades later, what have Americans learned from history? How many people died, how much suffering took place, and for what, exactly?
The cold warriors are still with us. The architects of the Iraq War, former vice president Richard M. Cheney and former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, are veterans of the Nixon administration. History is now.
– Peter Eisner