George GeddaAssociated Press
April 16, 2003
When a student asked Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) about the 1973 military coup in Chile, the retired general turned diplomat made no secret of his deep misgivings about the U.S. role in that upheaval.
"It is not a part of American history that we're proud of," Powell said, quickly adding that reforms instituted since then make it unlikely that the policies of that Cold War era will be repeated. The matter might have ended there had not Washington operative William D. Rogers taken notice of Powell's televised comment. Rogers served under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1975-76 as the department's top official on Latin America and maintains a professional relationship with Kissinger. In a highly unusual move, the State Department issued a statement that put distance between the department and its top official. The statement asserted that the U.S. government "did not instigate the coup that ended Allende's government in 1973" â€” a reference to the elected president, Salvador Allende.
Rogers was concerned that Powell's comment was reinforcing what he called "the legend" that the Chile coup was a creation of a Kissinger-led cabal working in league with Chilean military officers opposed to Allende. He called the department legal office to point out that there was a pending law suit against the government and Powell's comment was not helpful.
"I also called Kissinger," said Rogers. "I talked to him about it. I wouldn't say he was upset. ... I told Henry I think this is bad stuff. It doesn't help the U.S. legal position." Rightly or wrongly, Kissinger has been linked to the coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet' s military government to power. Rogers said the Chilean military acted not because the United States urged it to do so, "but because they believed that had the Allende regime continued much longer, Chilean liberties would be irretrievably lost."
Peter Kornbluh, a student of Latin American issues, whose book, "The Pinochet File," will be released in September, disputed Rogers' account. "The U.S. government carried out a clear effort to undermine and destabilize Allende's ability to govern, creating the climate necessary for a coup to take place," Kornbluh said. Rogers insists Kornbluh overstates the case. "Climate is one thing. Instigating a military attack on the civilian regime is quite another."
Kornbluh said the perceived U.S. role in Chile did not end with the coup. He added that the U.S. government helped the Pinochet regime consolidate its power with overt and covert support, "despite the full knowledge of its atrocities." The notion of Nixon administration involvement in the post-Sept. 11, 1973, period was reinforced last November when 11 residents of Chile filed a complaint against Kissinger and the U.S. government seeking damages for deaths and other rights abuses by the Pinochet government. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, also names Michael Townley, a U.S.-born former Chilean intelligence agent.
Under the long-standing rules, Rogers said Kissinger's role as defendant is assumed by the U.S. government on grounds that Kissinger was not acting as an individual but was carrying out government policy. Rogers said his main concern is not the court proceeding but the perception that the U.S. government was working hand in hand with Pinochet and his allies to oust Allende. "The accusation that the U.S. is morally, legally or factually responsible for the coup is a canard," he said. "This is the issue raised by Powell's comment."
The State Department statement that the U.S. government "did not instigate" the coup is more in line with Rogers' view than with Powell's. As for the suit against Kissinger and the U.S. government, the plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages "in excess of $11 million" for rights abuses committed in the post-coup period. They also asked for punitive damages in an amount "at least twice the compensatory damages."
More General Analysis on US Expansion and Intervention in Latin America and Caribbean
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