Kissinger and Pinochet
by Peter Kornbluh
The Nation magazine, March 29, 1999
" In the United States, as you know,
we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. "
Henry Kissinger to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet
(June 8, 1976) who overthrew democratically elected Chilean President
Salvador Allende in 1973, with U.S. backing
Henry Kissinger, realpolitiker nonpareil, never gave a damn
about human rights. "Cut out the political science lectures,"
he once scrawled on a cable from the US Ambassador to Chile reporting
on atrocities. Now, his proclivity for getting into bed with the
most vicious of violators is exposed in a recently declassified
secret memorandum of a private conversation with Gen. Augusto
Pinochet that took place in Santiago, Chile, in June 1976.
The release of the "memcon" could not come at a
worse time for Kissinger. With Pinochet still under house arrest
in England for crimes against humanity, the transcript reveals
Kissinger's expressions of "friendship," "sympathetic"
understanding and wishes for success to Pinochet at the height
of his repression, when many of those crimes-torture, disappearances,
international terrorism- were being committed. The document also
shows that Pinochet raised the name of former Chilean Ambassador
to the United States Orlando Letelier twice, accusing him of giving
"false information" to Congress. In response, Kissinger
said nothing, forgoing the opportunity to defend free speech and
dissent in the United States-comments that might have deterred
the car-bomb assassination of Letelier and his associate Ronni
Moffitt in Washington, DC, three months later.
Finally, the third installment of Kissinger's memoirs, 1,151
pages on the Years of Renewal, hits the bookstores soon. It contains
an account of the Pinochet meeting, which took place the day before
Kissinger, his arm twisted by his staff, gave a speech on human
rights at an OAS conference in Santiago. But Kissinger's account
of his meeting with the dictator is considerably less candid than
the memo of their conversation reveals. Kissinger portrays himself
as pushing the issue of democracy and human rights while the transcript
makes it clear that he is briefing Pinochet, in advance, that
the speech is intended to appease the US Congress, and the Chileans
should all but ignore it. During the meeting the Secretary of
State does not even utter the word "democracy." Consider
The Memoir: "A considerable amount of time in my dialogue
with Pinochet was devoted to human rights, which were, in fact,
the principal obstacle to close United States relations with Chile.
I outlined the main points of my speech to the OAS which I would
deliver the next day. Pinochet made no comment."
The Memcon: "I will treat human rights in general terms,
and human rights in a world context. I will refer in two paragraphs
to the report on Chile of the OAS Human Rights Commission. I will
say that the human rights issue has impaired relations between
the U.S. and Chile. This is partly the result of Congressional
actions. I will add that I hope you will shortly remove those
obstacles.... I can do no less, without producing a reaction in
the U.S. which would lead to legislative restrictions. The speech
is not aimed at Chile. I wanted to tell you about this. My evaluation
is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world
and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government
that was going Communist." [Emphasis added.]
Pinochet does, in fact respond: "We are returning to
institutionalization step-by-step. But we are constantly being
attacked by the Christian Democrats. They have a strong voice
in Washington.... they do get through to Congress. Gabriel Valdez
has access. Also Letelier."
The Memoir: "As Secretary of State, I felt I had the
responsibility to encourage the Chilean government in the direction
of greater democracy through a policy of understanding Pinochet's
concerns.... Pinochet reminded me that 'Russia supports their
people 100 percent. We are behind you. You are the leader. But
you have a punitive system for your friends.' I returned to my
underlying theme that any major help from us would realistically
depend on progress on human rights."
The Memcon: "There is merit in what you say. It is a
curious time in the U.S.... It is unfortunate. We have been through
Vietnam and Watergate. We have to wait until the  elections.
We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government
here. We are not out to weaken your position."
In Years of Renewal, Kissinger concludes his section on Chile
by implying that his "moral persuasion" worked: "Within
Chile, human rights abuses subsided, especially after Pinochet
disbanded the counter-terrorist intelligence agency responsible
for most of them in 1978." He conveniently omits all reference
to the most heinous act of international terrorism ever to take
place in the US capital, the Letelier-Moffitt murders-committed
by Chile's terrorist secret police on Kissinger's watch.
Perhaps the Chileans thought that Washington would overlook
this atrocity, as Kissinger appeared to do with the thousands
of other barbarous acts. At the end of his meeting with Pinochet,
Kissinger concludes with an Orwellian compliment-giving the general
credit for advancing the cause of human rights. "I want to
see our relations and friendship improve," Kissinger says
in a passage not found in the memoir: "We want to help, not
undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing
Allende. Otherwise Chile would have followed Cuba. Then there
would have been no human rights."
Peter Kornbluh writes on Chile and Cuba for The Nation.