Pinochet in Chile

The Return of the Butcher General

Revolutionary Worker #1047, March 19, 2000

In October 1998, former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet was detained by British authorities in London--and many people in Chile and around the world hoped to see some measure of justice carried out against this butcher. Pinochet is a deeply hated enemy of the people. He headed up the U.S.-backed junta that overthrew the Allende government in 1973. At least 30,000 Chileans were killed or "disappeared" during the coup and in the following years under Pinochet's rule. More than one million people were forced to flee the country and become exiles.

Twenty-five years after the coup, Pinochet was placed under house arrest in England based on a warrant issued by a judge in Spain. The Spanish warrant charged Pinochet with "crimes of genocide and terrorism that includes murder." The warrant focused on Operation Condor--the conspiracy among pro-U.S. right-wing regimes in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down and kill political opponents. The Spanish judge asked that Pinochet be extradited to Spain for a trial.

The Mass Murderer Is Freed

Following Pinochet's detention, demonstrators in Chile and around the world demanded that he be tried and punished. But when the British authorities arrested Pinochet, they were acting on their own imperialist agenda. They wanted to give the appearance of acting against an infamous fascist dictator while covering over their own roles in backing him. Also, Britain, the U.S. and other imperialist powers are trying to strengthen their ability to use international laws and tribunals to intervene around the world and further their interests. (At the same time, there was worry within U.S. ruling circles that the Pinochet case might set a precedent for attempts by others to arrest and try U.S. officials.)

While Pinochet officially "retired" after 1990, he continues to have powerful backers in Chile and he has the title of "senator for life." High-level Chilean military officials, right-wing businessmen and others called for the British government to release him and let him return. He also has important supporters in Britain--including former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Pinochet's lawyers said that the general was too ill to travel to Spain and go through legal proceedings. This monster--who so ruthlessly led a fascist regime--now whimpered that he could not even face a trial.

After the British government, parliament and the courts tossed around this issue for a year and a half, Home Secretary Jack Straw finally announced that Pinochet would be released from house arrest and allowed to return to Chile. Straw said that the decision was based on "humanitarian grounds"--accepting Pinochet's argument that he was in poor health and should not be extradited to Spain. But Straw refused to reveal any further information about Pinochet's medical condition.

The British decision was a cruel slap in the face for millions of Chileans who continue to live with the nightmare of the Pinochet years. Many still don't know what happened to their loved ones during the coup and in the period 1973-90--when tens of thousands were dragged away by Pinochet's troops and secret police, never to be heard of again. Others survived torture or long years of exile during Pinochet's rule. The British government talked about "humanitarian" concern for Pinochet. But what "humanitarian" consideration did Pinochet and his fascist gang give their countless victims?

On his return to Chile, Pinochet was met by a hero's welcome, including an army band playing his favorite marching songs. The event was organized by the Chilean military--over the feeble objections of the government. While in Britain, Pinochet was said to be confined to a wheelchair. But seconds after touching down in Santiago, Pinochet got up from the wheelchair, waved his walking stick above his head and embraced each of the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces who were there to greet him. One British newspaper said that Pinochet appeared to do "a near victory jig" upon his return.

It was almost like watching a grifter who squeezes money out of an insurance company by faking an injury--and then is caught on videotape walking normally without crutches. But Pinochet is no small-time crook--he is a mass murderer.

While the generals and reactionaries gave Pinochet a warm welcome, thousands were in the streets of Santiago to denounce the butcher's return. There were cries of "Pinochet, Assassin!" and "Justice, Justice!" Some protesters gave symbolic "Oscars"--best actor to Pinochet and best director to the armed forces.

Behind Pinochet: The U.S. Godfathers

A real people's trial of Pinochet would find him guilty of massive crimes. But there should also be others standing in the docket with him--especially the U.S. imperialists who were deeply involved in the 1973 coup and firmly backed Pinochet's fascist regime.

The U.S. involvement in the direction, planning and execution of the 1973 coup is one of the most well-documented of U.S. imperialism's many crimes. And more evidence came out while Pinochet was in Britain.

The 1970 election victory of the Popular Unity (UP) coalition government of Salvador Allende arose out of the storm of struggle that rocked Chile in the 1960s. The UP government did not represent a real overthrow of the Chilean bourgeoisie and a break from imperialist domination. But it did nationalize some major industries and take some other steps that did not sit well with the imperialists.

A CIA note in the early 1970s warned of the consequences of Allende becoming Chile's president and reveals the U.S. thinking behind the 1973 coup: "U.S. prestige and interest in Latin America and, to a certain extent, elsewhere are being affected materially at a time when the U.S. can ill afford problems in an area that has traditionally been accepted as the U.S. `backyard."'

The U.S. president at the time was Richard Nixon. His national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, sent an explicit order to the CIA station chief in Santiago: "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup."

To prepare for the coup against Allende, the U.S. carried out sabotage against the Chilean economy. Kissinger later said that the U.S. "turned off the faucet" on Chile's economy. Hand-written notes taken by CIA Director Richard Helms during a meeting with Nixon in 1970 records the U.S. President's orders to make Chile's economy "scream." U.S. banks and government froze credit and aid to Chile. The World Bank and other U.S.-controlled financial institutions shut off loans. ITT--one of the main U.S. imperialist corporations in Chile--put together a committee of U.S. business representatives to work out an anti-Allende strategy, and they kept in close contact with the Nixon administration. CIA operatives organized sabotage--like a strike by truck owners that paralyzed the country's transportation system. The CIA engineered a vast propaganda campaign to stir up public opinion against the Allende government.

While the U.S. cut off economic aid to Chile, funds to the Chilean military--packed with anti-Allende forces--continued and even increased. The CIA also funded and directed right-wing paramilitary groups.

As the moves toward a military coup stepped up, the UP forces continued to put forward that the Allende government represented a "peaceful road to socialism." And the people were not mobilized to take up arms against the reactionaries and their U.S. backers. On September 11, 1973 the fascist generals began their coup by bombing the presidential house, assassinating Allende, and rounding up thousands of people.

U.S. government documents declassified over the past year shed further light on the U.S. hand behind Pinochet. A CIA document from October 26, 1973 reports on Pinochet's plan "to destroy any and all resistance within two months" and says, "This will require more killing by the military..." In a February 5, 1974 document, the CIA refers to torture carried out by DINA, the Chilean secret police, using methods "taken directly from the Spanish Inquisition, which often left the person interrogated with visible bodily damage."

During the 1970s, Operation Condor secretly kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Latin Americans and others. According to the magazine Covert Action Quarterly, "The U.S. provided inspiration, financing and technical assistance for the repression" carried out under Operation Condor. CIA operatives arranged meetings between the various security agencies and provided torture equipment and training.

Another recently declassified document shows that the FBI tried to hunt down two anti-Pinochet activists in 1975--based on information obtained through Operation Condor. The information was obtained through "interrogation" of a Chilean man in Paraguay.

Pinochet remains unpunished for his role in the murders, tortures and disappearances of hundreds of thousands of Chileans and others. But people in Chile and around the world will never forgive Pinochet for his crimes. And blood is on the hands of the U.S. imperialists--the masterminds and the godfathers behind the butcher general.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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