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 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 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 to worldmarkets.

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.

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