The other September 11th: Chile, Cuba and the United States

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Today is September 11th. As almost everyone in the world knows, on this day, thirteen years ago, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, tragically killing nearly 3,000 people. The aftermath of these attacks had national ramifications– racial profiling, stifling of dissent, squashing of civil liberties– as well as international ones– an invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with September 11th, and Afghanistan.

​In the United States, we mourn those that were lost on September 11.  However, many of us are unaware that for Chileans, September 11th had become a day of tragedy decades before.  In 1973, the Chilean army flew fighter jets over Santiago and bombed its own presidential palace during a coup to overthrow its own legal elected president, Salvador Allende.​

Augusto Pinochet, who Allende had appointed to Commander-in-Chief, seized power, put all political parties “in recess” and killed, tortured, disappeared and forced into exile thousands of Chileans. He would remained in power until 1990.

The United States played a significant role in both the coup and the dictatorship. In his book Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability,  Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Chile documentation project at the National Security Archive, uses archival material and declassified documents to expose the complicity of the United States:

  • eight days after Allende’s election [in 1970], Kissinger initiated discussion on the telephone with CIA director Richard Helm’s about a preemptive coup in Chile. “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” Kissinger declared…

  •  Three days before President Nixon, in a 15-minute meeting that included Kissinger, ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream,” and named Kissinger as the supervisor of the covert efforts to keep Allende from being inaugurated.

  • Kissinger ignored a recommendation from his top deputy on the NSC, Viron Vaky… against covert action to undermine Allende… Vaky wrote a memo to Kissinger arguing that coup plotting would lead to “widespread violence and even insurrection.” He also argued that such a policy was immoral: “What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets .… If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat to us, e.g. to our survival. Is Allende a mortal threat to the U.S.? It is hard to argue this.”

  • After U.S. covert operations, which led to the assassination of Chilean Commander in Chief of the Armed forces General Rene Schneider, failed to stop Allende’s inauguration on November 4, 1970, Kissinger lobbied President Nixon to … regime change in Chile…[:] “the election of Allende as president of Chile poses for us one of the most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere” and “your decision as to what to do about it may be the most historic and difficult foreign affairs decision you will make this year.”

  • Not only were a billion dollars of U.S. investments at stake, Kissinger reported, but what he called “the insidious model effect” of his democratic election. There was no way for the U.S. to deny Allende’s legitimacy, Kissinger noted, and if he succeeded in peacefully reallocating resources in Chile in a socialist direction, other countries might follow suit. “The example of a successful elected Marxist government in Chile would surely have an impact on — and even precedent value for — other parts of the world, especially in Italy; the imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would in turn significantly affect the world balance and our own position in it.”The next day Nixon made it clear to the entire National Security Council that the policy would be to bring Allende down. “Our main concern,” he stated, “is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.”

  • In the days following the coup, Kissinger ignored the concerns of his top State Department aides about the massive repression by the new military regime. He sent secret instructions to his ambassador to convey to Pinochet “our strongest desires to cooperate closely and establish firm basis for cordial and most constructive relationship.” When his assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs asked him what to tell Congress about the reports of hundreds of people being killed in the days following the coup, he issued these instructions: “I think we should understand our policy-that however unpleasant they act, this government is better for us than Allende was.” The United States assisted the Pinochet regime in consolidating, through economic and military aide, diplomatic support and CIA assistance in creating Chile’s infamous secret police agency, DINA.

  • At the height of Pinochet’s repression in 1975, Secretary Kissinger met with the Chilean foreign minister, Admiral Patricio Carvajal… Kissinger opened the meeting by disparaging his own staff for putting the issue of human rights on the agenda. “I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but Human Rights…The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there are not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.”

  • As Secretary Kissinger prepared to meet General Augusto Pinochet in Santiago in June 1976, his top deputy for Latin America, William D. Rogers, advised him make human rights central to U.S.-Chilean relations and to press the dictator to “improve human rights practices.” Instead… Kissinger told Pinochet that his regime was a victim of leftist propaganda on human rights. “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here… We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”

And this week, the Cuban people can mourn another brutal blunder in U.S. policy and fear mongering.  Well, my fellow Americans, if you’ve been sleeping particularly well the last few days, it’s probably because on September 9th, President Obama made the world and our nation safe by extending the over 50 year-long embargo on Cuba for yet another year.

The embargo is so unpopular that for over twenty years, the United Nations General Assembly has voted nearly unanimously against  it. During the most recent vote, 188 countries condemned the embargo and two countries supported it. And those countries were the U.S. and Israel.

So, why did the President continue our policy of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under US jurisdiction? Because it is, according to Obama, “in the national interest of the United States.”

Except it’s not. Cuba poses absolutely no economic or military threat whatsoever to the United States. The embargo is a continuation of Cold War policy in a world where the Cold War no longer exists. And, like the case in Chile, Cuba is an example of how the United States throws democracy and morality out the door in its attempt to achieve regime change.

Of course, neither Castro brother has been killed, though not for lack of effort, as there have been  638 assassination plots hatched against Fidel. And there has been no successful coup in Cuba, though, again, the U.S. has tried that on several occasions ranging from the Bay of Pigs invasion to sheltering terrorists like Luis Posada-Carriles.

But what makes the case of Cuba unique is that the U.S. policy has been totally counter-productive. In Chile, the United States supported a murderous authoritarian dictator, but achieved its sinister goal of getting rid of a democratically elected socialist, who, it feared, would encourage socialism and communism during the Cold War. But with Cuba, it’s literally insanity: during the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The embargo, which Cubans refer to as el bloqueo, or blockade, has served as an excuse for crises, a common enemy and evidence of Cuba’s David-like ability to beat relentless, sustained Goliath-like attacks from the United States. You don’t have to be sympathetic to the Castros to see that the embargo has strengthened them.

A decade ago I worked as a producer on the film Free to Fly: the U.S. Cuba Link, by filmmaker Estela Bravo. We spoke to several vehemently anti-Castro Cubans and Cuban-Americans in Miami, including a man who had participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Some opposed the embargo because they thought it hurt the Cuban people. But all of the anti-Castro people who opposed the embargo agreed that it had empowered Castro. I’ll never forget Senator Larry “Toe-Tapping” Craig (R-ID) telling us that if we wanted capitalism to come to Cuba, the embargo had to end and that the U.S. government had to bombard Cuba with Sears and Roebucks catalogs.

Latin America is one of the places where this country’s commitment to democracy and human rights is most contradicted. See also: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Chile, of course.

America mourns its own on 9/11, but when will it mourn for those lives that its policies and aggression have taken?

Originally posted on RawStory

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