an interview of Noam Chomsky by David Barsamian
from the book Secrets, Lies and Democracy
by Odonian Press
Richard Nixon's death generated much fanfare. Henry Kissinger
said in his eulogy: "The world is a better place, a safer
place, because of Richard Nixon." I'm sure he was thinking
of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. But let's focus on one place that
wasn't mentioned in all the media hoopla- Chile-and see how it's
a "better, safer place." In early September 1970, Salvador
Allende was elected president of Chile in a democratic election.
What were his politics?
He was basically a social democrat, very much of the European
type. He was calling for minor redistribution of wealth, to help
the poor. (Chile was a very inegalitarian society.) Allende was
a doctor, and one of the things he did was to institute a free
milk program for half a million very poor, malnourished children.
He called for nationalization of major industries like copper
mining, and for a policy of international independence-meaning
that Chile wouldn't simply subordinate itself to the US, but would
take more of an independent path.
Was the election he won free and democratic?
Not entirely, because there were major efforts to disrupt it,
mainly by the US. It wasn't the flrst time the US had done that.
For example, our government intervened massively to prevent Allende
from winning the preceding election, in 1964. In fact, when the
Church Committee investigated years later, they discovered that
the US spent more money per capita to get the candidate it favored
elected in Chile in 1964 than was spent by both candidates (Johnson
and Goldwater) in the 1964 election in the US!
Similar measures were undertaken in 1970 to try to prevent a free
and democratic election. There was a huge amount of black propaganda
about how if Allende won, mothers would be sending their children
off to Russia to become slaves-stuff like that. The US also threatened
to destroy the economy, which it could-and did-do.
Nevertheless, Allende won. A few days after his victory, Nixon
called in CIA Director Richard Helms, Kissinger and others for
a meeting on Chile. Can you describe what happened?
As Helms reported in his notes, there were two points of view.
The "soft line" was, in Nixon's words, to "make
the economy scream." The "hard line" was simply
to aim for a military coup.
Our ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, who was a Kennedy liberal
type, was given the job of implementing the "soft line."
Here's how he described his task: "to do all within our power
to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty."
That was the soft line.
There was a massive destabilization and disinformation campaign.
The CIA planted stories in El Mercurio [Chile's most prominent
paper] and fomented labor unrest and strikes.
They really pulled out the stops on this one. Later, when the
military coup finally came [in September, 1973] and the government
was overthrown-and thousands of people were being imprisoned,
tortured and slaughtered- the economic aid which had been canceled
immediately began to flow again. As a reward for the military
junta's achievement in reversing Chilean democracy, the US gave
massive support to the new government.
Our ambassador to Chile brought up the question of torture to
Kissinger. Kissinger rebuked him sharply-saying something like,
Don't give me any of those political science lectures. We don't
care about torture-we care about important things. Then he explained
what the important things were.
Kissinger said he was concerned that the success of social democracy
in Chile would be contagious. It would infect southern Europe-southern
Italy, for example-and would lead to the possible success of what
was then called Eurocommunism (meaning that Communist parties
would hook up with social democratic parties in a united front).
Actually, the Kremlin was just as much opposed to Eurocommunism
as Kissinger was, but this gives you a very clear picture of what
the domino theory is all about. Even Kissinger, mad as he is,
didn't believe that Chilean armies were going to descend on Rome.
It wasn't going to be that kind of an influence. He was worried
that successful economic development, where the economy produces
benefits for the general population-not just profits for private
corporations-would have a contagious effect.
In those comments, Kissinger revealed the basic story of US foreign
policy for decades.
You see that pattern repeating itself in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Everywhere. The same was true in Vietnam, in Cuba, in Guatemala,
in Greece. That's always the worry-the threat of a good example.
Kissinger also said, again speaking about Chile, "I don't
see why we should have to stand by and let a country go Communist
due to the irresponsibility of its own people."
As the Economist put it, we should make sure that policy is insulated
from politics. If people are irresponsible, they should just be
cut out of the system.
In recent years, Chile's economic growth rate has been heralded
in the press.
Chile's economy isn't doing badly, but it's based almost entirely
on exports-fruit, copper and so on-and thus is very vulnerable
to world markets.
There was a really funny pair of stories yesterday. The New York
Times had one about how everyone in Chile is so happy and satisfied
with the political system that nobody's paying much attention
to the upcoming election.
But the London Financial Times (which is the world's most influential
business paper, and hardly radical) took exactly the opposite
tack. They cited polls that showed that 75% of the population
was very "disgruntled" with the political system (which
allows no options).
There is indeed apathy about the election, but that's a reflection
of the breakdown of Chile's social structure. Chile was a very
vibrant, lively, democratic society for many, many years-into
the early 1970s. Then, through a reign of fascist terror, it was
essentially depoliticized. The breakdown of social relations is
pretty striking. People work alone, and just try to fend for themselves.
The retreat into individualism and personal gain is the basis
for the political apathy.
Nathaniel Nash wrote the Times' Chile story. He said that many
Chileans have painful memories of Salvador Allende's fiery speeches,
which led to the coup in which thousands of people were killed
[including Allende]. Notice that they don't have painful memories
of the torture, of the fascist terror-just of Allende's speeches
as a popular candidate.
Tucson, AZ 85751
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other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
What Uncle Sam Really Wants
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Lies, and Democracy