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."
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  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.