Published on Thursday, November 23, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
New Documents Show US Role in Chile's Past
by Jimmy Langman
SANTIAGO -- Newly released U.S. government documents are startling Chileans with fresh revelations about their past, and renewing anger about Washington's role in it.

Thousands of formerly classified documents released last week shed further light on a web of U.S. plots and intrigues designed to destabilize Chile, much of it carried out with the knowledge and participation of the Central Intelligence Agency.

For example, the Nixon administration's effort to undermine the elected government of Salvador Allende, which it feared would become a beachhead for communism in South America, is made clear in the documents.

One CIA document, dated Oct. 2, 1970, refers to "pushing forward with our efforts to create an atmosphere of economic doom in Chile." Another CIA memo, dated Oct. 4, 1973, says: "In all, $6.5-million was authorized for support of the opposition during the Allende regime. The lion's share of that support went to the political parties and media."

Mr. Allende, who ruled from 1970 to 1973, died during a bloody, U.S.-backed military coup led by Augusto Pinochet. The 84-year-old general, who ruled as a military dictator until 1990, now faces nearly 180 lawsuits in Chilean courts for human-rights abuses during his regime, under which more than 3,000 people disappeared or were killed, and thousands more were exiled or tortured.

The more than 16,000 U.S. documents were released by the State Department, the CIA and the Defence and Justice departments as part of the Clinton administration's special Chile Declassification Project.

The Chilean government has formed a special committee to analyze the documents to determine if any merit special investigation by the Chilean justice department. They will present their findings to President Ricardo Lagos in two weeks.

Meanwhile, many Chilean citizens, as well as politicians from across the spectrum, are calling on the government to formally protest against the U.S. intervention, even though it was 30 years ago.

"The American government ruined my country," said Alejandra Madonna, 32, in Santiago.

"While it is admirable that the U.S. government is finally telling the truth, it is too late and still too wrong, what they did," said Jaime Oteiza, 29, a university professor.

But Vice-President Jose Miguel Insulza believes no apologies from the United States are necessary.

"The whole world is very clear about what happened during those years. These documents only confirm the U.S. involvement in a very convulsive period in our history, which we already knew," Mr. Insulza told reporters last week.

Chilean Senator Sergio Bitar, a top official in the Allende government who spent a year in a prison camp after the 1973 coup, believes the release of the U.S. documents could have a positive effect on his country.

"It awakens our feelings against intervention," he said. "It helps open eyes about the [Pinochet] dictatorship. It will probably lead even to some of Pinochet's supporters questioning their loyalty."

Perhaps the most dramatic disclosure is a U.S. State Department memorandum showing that Gen. Pinochet tried to help obtain false Paraguayan passports for two Chilean secret agents sent to Washington to kill Mr. Allende's former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier.

Mr. Letelier and an aide died in a car bombing on Sept. 21, 1976, just blocks from the White House.

Copyright 2000 Globe Interactive