Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

CIA's Sick Chile Concoction

Documents reveal CIA role in Pinochet's regime of torture

28th November 2000

Newly declassified U.S. intelligence documents show the extent to which America sought to destabilise Chilean democracy in the early 1970s, and how it bolstered the post-coup junta of General Pinochet, responsible for the subsequent murder of an estimated 3,000 political opponents.

The Chile Declassification Project, as it is called, was ordered by President Clinton both in response to a request from Spanish magistrates investigating Pinochet's crimes and as a domestic freedom of information exercise in the twilight of his presidency. This fourth and final batch of documents (released November 13) pushes the total number of documents past the 22,000 mark, most of which come from the State Department, but also include many files from the CIA and FBI.

The documents reveal that between 1970 and 1973 the CIA spent a total of $8 million on destabilization, including a payment of $1.5 million to the anti-Allende newspaper El Mercurio.

Following the 1973 coup, which overthrew and executed the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, the White House ordered the CIA to "assist the junta in gaining a more positive image." The documents show that the U.S. was aware of the regime's campaign of executions and torture which included women beaten, gang raped, and tortured with electric currents and men burned with cigarettes, hung by the wrists or ankles and torture with electric current, most frequently applied to their genitals. However the document reveals that the primary U.S. concern was how to deal with public relations following the execution of two US citizens in Chile's National Stadium.

The two citizens were journalists Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. An August 1976 State Department memorandum says: "U.S. intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder. At worst, U.S. intelligence was aware the [government of Chile] saw Horman in a rather serious light and U.S. officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of [Chilean] paranoia." And similarly for the 24-year-old Teruggi, FBI and CIA records state that U.S. intelligence had obtained Teruggi's Chilean address a year before his death and labelled him a "subversive", raising the possibility that American operatives tipped-off Chilean intelligence to his activities and whereabouts.

Another of the documents' revelations concerns the 1976 assassination in Washington D.C. of Orlando Letelier, Allende's foreign minister, killed by a car bomb with his American assistant while working to galvanise international opposition to Pinochet's regime. The CIA had briefed the State Department on "Operation Condor", a plan among Latin America's military dictatorships to assassinate their left-wing opponents. A month before the Letelier killing, Washington ordered its ambassadors in the region to warn Latin leaders not to carry out the murders. The documents show that the American ambassador in Chile, David Popper, refused, believing that Pinochet would take offence at being implicated in terrorism.

The documents indicate Pinochet may indeed have had advance knowledge of the assassination plan. According to declassified cables, he asked the military leader of Paraguay to issue false passports to two agents of Chile's military intelligence who were later convicted of planting the bomb. Pinochet may yet be indicted to the US on this charge.

Pinochet is currently facing 177 different criminal complaints of torture, murder and other crimes in Chile.

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