Introduction

The election of socialist Salvador Allende as president of Chile in 1970 greatly worried the U.S. government. President Richard Nixon told U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that he wanted Allende removed from power (Document 35). For the next three years, the United States spent $8 million trying to undermine Allende’s government, which had nationalized Chile’s foreign-owned copper mines and had re-established ties with Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro. Kissinger and other national security officials also encouraged Allende’s rivals and leaders of the Chilean military to take action against Allende, an action consistent with some of the guidelines laid out in NSC 5412/2 (Document 16).

The coup, carried out on September 11, 1973, which the United States knew about and did not discourage, was violent. The Chilean Presidential Palace was bombed and Allende committed suicide. The Army Chief of Staff, General Augusto Pinochet, led the coup and took power. Pinochet was firmly anti-communist but also intolerant of dissent. His military regime, in power until 1990, rounded up suspected opponents. The regime killed more than 3,000 Chileans and jailed and tortured almost 30,000 more. Because of Pinochet’s stance on communism, however, the U.S. government sent Chile almost $350 million in economic aid from 1973-1976. Revelations of the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations did cause controversy in the United States. In part because of the U.S. role in Chile’s coup, President Jimmy Carter would try to give the protection of human rights a more prominent place in U.S. foreign relations during the Cold War (Document 40). Pinochet’s government liberalized the Chilean economy, which became one of the best performing economies in Latin America during the 1990s. According to the 2016 United Nations Human Development Report, Chile had the highest human development index in Latin America.


Source: National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book no. 255 (September 10, 2008). Available at https://goo.gl/LVaygk.


[Kissinger]: Hello.

[Nixon]: Hi, Henry.

[Kissinger]: Mr. President.

[Nixon]: Where are you. In New York?

[Kissinger]: No, I am in Washington. I am working. I may go to the football game this afternoon if I get through.

[Nixon]: Good. Good. Well it is the opener. It is better than television. 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. ______ [blank in original] created the conditions as great as possible(? ?)

[Nixon]: That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played. But listen, as far as people are concerned let me say they aren’t going to buy this crap from the Liberals on this one.

[Kissinger]: Absolutely not.

[Nixon]: They know it is a pro-Communist government and that is the way it is.

[Kissinger]: Exactly. And pro-Castro.

[Nixon]: Well the main thing was. Let’s forget the pro-Communists. It was an anti-American government all the way.

[Kissinger]: Oh, wildly. . . .

[Nixon]: . . . it is just typical of the crap we are up against.

[Kissinger]: And the unbelievable filthy hypocrisy.

[Nixon]: We know that.

[Kissinger]: Of these people. When it is South Africa, if we don’t overthrow them there they are raising hell.1

[Nixon]: Yes, that is right.

[Kissinger]: But otherwise things are fairly quiet. The Chinese are making very friendly noises. I think they are just waiting for my confirmation to make a proposal.

[Nixon]: When you say their noises are friendly, what do you mean?

[Kissinger]: Well their newspapers have stopped attacking us. They are blasting the Russians like crazy. . . .

[Nixon]: That is good.

[Kissinger]: You know that they wouldn’t do unless they wanted to ingratiate themselves.

[Nixon]: Right, right. . . .

Study Questions

A. Why are Henry Kissinger and President Nixon upset with the media? Why are both men pleased with what is happening in Chile? Why does President Nixon refer to communist Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro?

B. In what ways does Document 35 reveal that the U.S. had been considering a move against Chile’s government for several years? Do Documents 35 and 38 carry out the recommendations of NSC 5412/2 (Document 16)? How does the action in Chile compare to efforts to undermine Cuba’s communist government? (Documents 24 and 39.) Why is President Carter critical of covert operations in Document 40?

Footnotes

  1. A reference to criticism of South Africa’s government, which maintained a strict racial segregation policy known as apartheid.