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 this comparison:

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 [1976] 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.

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