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Kissinger Encouraged Chile's Brutal Repression, New Documents Show

by Lucy Komisar

"Pinochet Case Makes U.S. Media Squirm"
(AR) NEW YORK -- The secret government files on Chile, which the Clinton Administration says will be opened to the Spanish prosecutor of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, will prove a major embarrassment for Henry Kissinger, the American most tied to the U.S.-assisted plot to the 1973 overthrow the elected government of President Salvador.

They will show how, in the months and years following the 1973 coup, Kissinger covered up U.S. information about atrocities in Chile and sought to persuade Pinochet that the U.S. government did not consider his behavior a major problem.

A newly declassified memorandum about Kissinger's only meeting with Pinochet, in 1976, details just how hard the former Secretary of State under President Gerald Ford tried to shield the Chilean general from criticism. [Versions of this report also appear in El Pais in Madrid and The Observer, in London.] Kissinger also served as Secretary of State from 1973 to 1974 under former President Richard Nixon.

The memorandum describes how Kissinger stroked and bolstered Pinochet, and how, with hundreds of political prisoners still being jailed and tortured, Kissinger assured Pinochet that the Ford administration would not punish him for violations of human rights. Kissinger assured him that he was a victim of Communist propaganda and urged him not to pay too much attention to his American critics.

Kissinger kept a public distance from Pinochet, but in private he promised warm support
Kissinger knew of Pinochet's operations. In 1974, when the CIA discovered that Chile and its allies wanted to set up a covert office in Miami for the terrorist Operation Condor, which targeted political enemies around the world, Kissinger rejected his own State Department officials' advice to publicly protest the plan to the governments involved -- Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

That would have been a warning to prospective victims who had sought safety in exile, but it also would have raised questions about Kissinger's support for the six repressive governments. When Kissinger refused to issue a public attack on the attempt to open the office in Miami, the CIA instead passed on the word to Chile's secret police, the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), and the office wasn't opened.

But the conspiracy continued to target and murder the regime's enemies, including hits against Chile's former army chief, in Buenos Aires, and a political opponent, in Rome. Then in September 1976, the operation returned to the U.S. with a vengeance, planting the car bomb that killed Orlando Letelier, former Chilean foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S., and his Institute for Policy Studies colleague Ronni Moffitt in Washington.

Contreras, who is serving seven years in Chile for his role in the murders, declared in December 1997 that he was following Pinochet's orders. Pinochet had no reason to believe the bombing would cause problems for him. After all, he had had a warm private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger a few months before.

The meeting occurred in Santiago, June 8, 1976, during a gathering of the Organization of American States. Against the advice of most of the Department's Latin America staff, Kissinger had decided to go to Chile for the opening of the OAS general assembly, his first trip to Latin America.

Kissinger and Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs William Rogers flew into Santiago June 7 and met with Pinochet the next day in the presidential suite in Diego Portales, an office building used during repairs on La Moneda, the presidential palace Pinochet had bombed. Foreign Minister Patricio Carvajal and Ambassador to the U.S. Manuel Trucco were also there. (I've interviewed Rogers, Carvajal and Trucco, but not Kissinger, who has refused requests.)

Kissinger was dogged by charges he had promoted the military coup against an elected Allende government, and he sought to maintain a cool public distance from Pinochet. But at his confidential meeting, he promised warm support.

Kissinger made clear how much he backed Pinochet, saying, "In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. I think that the previous government was headed toward Communism. We wish your government well."

Many reports of torture: Gang rapes, genitals burned with cigarettes, disappearances
The former secretary. who now advises U.S. corporations on foreign issues and writes for a number of U.S. newspapers, dismissed American human rights campaigns against Chile's government as "domestic problems" and assured Pinochet that he was against sanctions such as the proposed Kennedy Amendment to ban arms aid to governments that were gross human rights violators.

Still, Kissinger was being pressured by the U.S. media to make a statement on human rights. The OAS report to the Santiago meeting said that mass arrests, torture, and disappearances continued in Chile. An earlier OAS report had detailed those tortures: women beaten, gang raped, and electric current applied to their bodies; men subjected to electric current, especially to their genitals, burned with cigarettes, hung by the wrists or ankles.

So the speech Kissinger would give that afternoon couldn't ignore human rights. It had to be something Republicans could point to -- but it also couldn't offend or weaken Pinochet.

Kissinger wanted Pinochet to know that the speech should not be interpreted as a criticism of Chile. He told him, "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."

He added, "I will also call attention to the Cuba report and to the hypocrisy of some who call attention to human rights as a means of intervening in governments."

But Kissinger suggested to Pinochet that his statements on Chile were calibrated to avoid greater damage to the country. He told him, "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."

And he emphasized that he did not credit the charges. "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 which was going Communist. But we have a practical problem we have to take into account, without bringing about pressures incompatible with your dignity, and at the same time which does not lead to U.S. laws which will undermine our relationship."

"If we defeat the Kennedy amendment -- I don't know if you listen in on my phone," he interjected jocularly, " -- but if you do, you have just heard me issue instructions to Washington to make an all-out effort to do just that -- if we defeat it, we will deliver the F-5E's as we agreed to do. We held up (the fighter planes) for a while in order to avoid providing additional ammunition to our enemies."

Kissinger made it clear he didn't sympathize even with the dictator's moderate critics
Both men also indicated worry about an amendment by Democratic congressman Donald Fraser of Minnesota to ban non-military aid to egregious human rights violators.

Kissinger explained, "My statement and our position are designed to allow us to say to the Congress that we are talking to the Chilean government and therefore Congress need not act." He emphasized, "My statement is not offensive to Chile. Ninety-five percent of what I say is applicable to all the governments of the Hemisphere. It includes things your own people have said."

As if Pinochet could have had any doubt, Kissinger said, "We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here." By overthrowing Allende, Pinochet had done a great service to the West, Kissinger told Pinochet. "We are not out to weaken your position." He told him he had encouraged the OAS to have its meeting in Santiago to give Chile prestige.

Kissinger made it clear he didn't sympathize even with the dictator's moderate critics. When Pinochet complained that the Christian Democrats had a strong voice in Washington, "not the people in the Pentagon, but they do get through to Congress," Kissinger bragged, "I have not seen a Christian Democrat for years." Later in the talk he repeated, "I haven't seen one since 1969."

So, the Americans didn't have any concern about Christian Democrats. That must have pleased Pinochet, since Europeans had loudly condemned his secret police attack against exiled Chilean Christian Democrat congressman Bernardo Leighton in Rome.

Kissinger's address to the assembly that afternoon was one of his usual tour d'horizon speeches. He noted the reports of human rights abuses in Chile but didn't condemn the government. "The condition of human rights as assessed by the Organization of American States' Human Rights commission has impaired [the U.S.] relationship with Chile and will continue to do so. We wish this relationship to be close, and all friends of Chile hope that obstacles raised by conditions alleged in the report will soon be removed."

Secretary Rogers thought they had "pushed Henry's envelope to the outer edge in terms of emphasizing human rights." The statement about the U.S. vote on authorization of a human rights commission was worked over carefully. Rogers got him to say it, but noticed that he chafed over it before and after the speech. Nobody else thought it was terribly bold.

Foreign Minister Carvajal thought Kissinger's speech "balanced," and was pleased that it referred to the exaggerations of the Chilean problem. Carvajal told me when I saw him in Santiago that he took Kissinger's private remarks to Pinochet to mean that he didn't really believe what he had said publicly. Carvajal said, "The U.S. understands that things in Chile are difficult, that maybe the steps taken by Washington were exaggerated, that things would have been worse if Chile hadn't acted."

Kissinger and Rogers left two days later. Kissinger was pleased with the visit; he told a Chilean diplomat in Washington that he and Nancy had been received like pop stars. A State Department official who dealt with human rights issues at the time recalls that on his return, Kissinger passed the word to his staff that he did not want all he had said publicly applied too literally in practice.

Lucy Komisar, a New York journalist, is working on a book about U.S. foreign policy and human rights in several countries, including Chile, in the 1970s and '80s. Kissinger has repeatedly refused her requests for an interview

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Albion Monitor March 8, 1999 (

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