Secrets, Lies and Democracy
Interview with Noam Chomsky
by David Barsamian
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 placethat
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 verypoor, 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 first time the US had done
that. For example, ourgovernment intervened massively to prevent
Allende from winning the preceding election, in 1964. In fact,
when the Church Committeeinvestigated years later, they discovered
that the US spent more money per capita to get the candidate it
favored elected in Chile in 1964 thanwas 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 abouthow if Allende won, mothers would be sending their
children off to Russia to become slaves -- stuff like that. The
US also threatened to destroythe 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 "hardline" 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 mostprominent
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 cancelled
immediately beganto flow again. As a reward for the military junta's
achievement in reversing Chilean democracy, the US gave massive
support to the newgovernment.
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
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 thesystem.
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
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 thepolitical 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.