Raul Castro in Chile, 1959

Browsing the New York Times online archive, I found this curious item:

“Chile gives snub to Major Castro”

It is dated August 19, 1959 and describes how Raul Castro, commander-in-chief of the Cuban armed forces, landed a plane in Santiago after a conference of foreign ministers had ended, ostensibly to take Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa Garcia home.

“After a delay in debarking because no suitable ramp could be found, Major Castro was taken to the customs office like any tourist.

The only leading Chilean greeting Major Castro was Senator Salvador Allende, unsuccessful 1958 Presidential candidate of a coalition of extreme Left-wing parties.

At a news conference tonight Major Castro declared “We confess we made an error” in sending a military  aircraft here with soldiers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A blatant example of a chief of state’s direct involvement in an act of state terrorism”

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The United States has turned over a collection of newly classified documents on the 1976 car bomb murder of Orlando Letelier and his American colleague, Ronni Moffitt in Washington in 1976.  Letelier was a former Chilean ambassador to the United States and cabinet minister under the socialist government of Salvador Allende (1970-73); he and Moffitt worked at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank. A subsequent grand jury investigation resulted in an extradition request for the head of the Pinochet regime’s security agency, Colonel Manuel Contreras and two other Chilean intelligence agents—which the regime rejected.

The new batch of documents was delivered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting with President Michelle Bachelet this past week in Santiago. As I write this, only two have been published and they confirm what most people familiar with the case already knew–that Pinochet ordered the killings.  One is a 1987 memo from then Secretary of State George Schultz to President Ronald Reagan states

“We have long known that the Chilean secret police/intelligence service was behind this brutal act, perhaps the only clear case of state-sponsored terrorism that has occurred in Washington, D.C.”  Schultz then speculates whether the U.S. government would want to indict Pinochet himself, and that his role in the assassinations and cover-up “is of the greatest seriousness and adds further impetus to the need to work toward the complete democratization of Chile.”

The other document is a State Department cable sent early in 1987, with a couple of source names deleted and mentions assertions by Contreras that Pinochet had ordered the Letelier assassination. Contreras told another senior army official that he had hidden sealed documents in several locations “in the event of his, Contreras’ death.”

More documents to follow, and the National Security Archive web site, with its lengthy file on other declassified material on the case and on Chile, is a good place to find them:

http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB532-The-Letelier-Moffitt-Assassination-Papers/

9/11, the Chilean version

Chilean military guarding prisoners at the National Stadium after the 1973 coup. Photo by Marcelo Montecino

Chilean military guarding prisoners at the National Stadium after the 1973 coup. Photo by Marcelo Montecino

It’s been 41 years, but this year’s anniversary of the military coup that ousted Salvador Allende is one of the most stressful in recent memory. A bomb exploded in a food court at a Santiago metro station a few days earlier, injuring 14 people and prompting President Michelle Bachelet to convene an emergency meeting with cabinet and security officials. The Economist’s Americas blog has this post: http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2014/09/bombing-chile

There have been small-scale bomb explosions in the past, but most have occurred late at night, when few people were around, and this is the first that seems to deliberately target the public. According to Chile’s interior minister, Bachelet’s mother was in the area when the bomb detonated (she was unhurt). Some background on earlier incidents from the BBC :http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-28850708

El Mostrador reports that 1,600 members of Chile’s paramilitary police force, the carabineros, have been mobilized and positioned in “the most vulnerable areas.” The electricity company Chilectra has also placed extra personnel on alert in case of power cuts. http://www.elmostrador.cl/pais/2014/09/10/once-bomba-falsos-avisos-de-explosivos-y-1600-carabineros-desplegados/

Several organizations of retired military officials published a paid insert in La Tercera newspaper, defending the 1973 coup, which it described as “a task of reconstruction…which continues to be recognized by Chileans who love order and security.” The statement said that while “delinquents, subversives, terrorists and killers of military and police officers are pardoned, given amnesty or protected, those who fought and created the conditions of security and order which permitted the nation’s progress have been condemned without due process,” a reference to continuing investigations into human rights violations during the Pinochet regime.

And the investigations keep coming. Last week a magistrate indicted three more retired officials in the killing of folksinger Victor Jara shortly after the coup: http://www.ilovechile.cl/2014/09/05/anniversary-vctor-jaras-murder-prosecuted/119005

And Foreign Affairs has this exchange by Peter Kornbluh and Jack Devine on the U.S. role in the coup: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141859/peter-kornbluh-jack-devine/showdown-in-santiago

Anniversary of a photograph

Pinochet te deum

 

It was forty years ago today that a Dutch photographer took a picture that would become a symbol of Chile’s new military regime: General Augusto Pinochet, arms folded and wearing sunglasses, sits with a grim and defiant expression. Other army generals stand at attention, including one positioned directly behind Pinochet’s chair.

Chas Gerretsen captured that image during the Te Deum mass traditionally celebrated on September 19, the second of Chile’s two-day fiestas patrias, the “Day of the Glories of the Army.”  Two former Chilean presidents, Jorge Alessandri (1958-64) and Eduardo Frei (1964-70), were also in attendance, but their successor, Salvador Allende, had died in the coup eight days earlier.

Other photographers were angling for wider shots of the Te Deum service or of four junta members together, and the commanders of Chile’s navy, air force and national police were seated in a row with Pinochet. “But none looked as imperial as General Pinochet,” he told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera. Gerretsen decided to take individual shots of each junta member, and when he approached Pinochet members of his entourage suggested he remove his sunglasses.  But the Chilean army commander ignored them, saying “yo soy Pinochet.”

http://www.latercera.com/noticia/nacional/2013/09/680-540494-9-el-general-y-el-fotografo.shtml

And still more Chile coup anniversary links

 

An Australian politician, Peter Phelps, has told the New South Wales parliament that many people “believe that General Pinochet was a reluctant hero, a morally courageous man” and that “yes, Pinochet killed people and if you know of any way to overthrow a government other than military force then let me hear about it.” http://www.sbs.com.au/theother911/ Phelps’ remarks drew immediate calls for him to be censured, and a small group of Chileans held a protest outside the state parliament building. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-16/chileans-protest-nsw-mp27s-pinochet-remarks/4960420

Australia’s SBS network has a special feature on Chile, with a report on Australian intelligence agents working to destabilize Salvador Allende’s government and an interview with Adriana Rivas, former secretary to the Pinochet regime’s secret police director,  Manuel Contreras, who now lives in Australia and justifies the use of torture as necessary “in order to break people.” She says she has happy memories of working for the security forces and that “it was exciting, travelling in limousines and staying at the best hotels in the country.” http://www.sbs.com.au/theother911/

La Nación has an interview with Manuel Contreras himself, who states that a thousand desaparecidos, people missing and never accounted for following their arrest by the regime’s security forces, are buried in Santiago’s Cementerio General.  He also claims that former president Michelle Bachelet and her mother were not held at the DINA’s notorious Villa Grimaldi detention center but at an air force barracks.http://www.lanacion.cl/manuel-contreras-los-detenidos-desaparecidos-estan-en-el-cementerio-general/noticias/2013-09-10/180518.html

The Economist on wounds still unhealed in Chile, forty years after the military coup: http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21586339-successful-country-past-still-haunts-divided-coup

In the Washington Post, an opinion piece by Heraldo Muñoz on whether Pinochet can be credited for any of Chile’s economic improvements. The answer is no, and he quotes Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa who observes that dictatorships invariably produce “atrocities that leave civic and ethical sequels infinitely costlier than the status quo.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/heraldo-mun-oz-is-augusto-pinochet-responsible-for-chiles-success/2013/09/12/5d53ded8-1737-11e3-be6e-dc6ae8a5b3a8_story.html

And finally, a guest post by this blogger on the University of California Press web site: http://www.ucpress.edu/blog/15950/a-brutal-anniversary/

Some Chile coup anniversary links

Chilean troops make arrests during the military coup

 

This blogger was a student at Washington University in St. Louis when the coup occurred. There was a newspaper strike, and the apartment I shared with friends did not contain a television, but the news spread quickly.  The following day, September 12, students were handing out flyers on campus denouncing the military takeover and attributing it to the work of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Photographer Marcelo Montecino, whose pictures are in my book, The General’s Slow Retreat, has an amazing collection of photographs of Chile before and after the coup, including some by his brother, who disappeared in October 1973:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcelo_montecino/sets/99847/

CIPER, Chile’s investigative journalism center, has a special feature on the 40 years since the coup: http://ciperchile.cl/especiales/golpe/

Chile’s Museo de la Memoria has a series of special exhibitions and events marking the coup anniversary: http://www.museodelamemoria.cl/

The Santiago Times has a q and a interview with human rights lawyer Carmen Hertz, whose husband was summarily executed during the notorious Caravan of Death killings, in which she discusses the country’s evolution over the past four decades: http://www.santiagotimes.cl/opinion/question-answer/26696-qaa-chilean-human-rights-lawyer-carmen-hertz

 

The Air Force Generals’ Daughters

Michelle Bachelet, left and Evelyn Matthei are the candidates in this year's presidential election in Chile

Michelle Bachelet, left and Evelyn Matthei are the candidates in this year’s presidential election in Chile

Michelle Bachelet, whose presidency ended in 2010, left office with an extraordinary approval rating of 84 percent, and although Chile’s constitution prohibits a consecutive second term, former presidents are allowed to run again for later terms in office. Last month her center-left political coalition held a primary to pick its candidate, and she won 73 percent of the vote. No surprise there.

Chile’s rightwing coaltion, the Alianza por el Cambio, also held a primary, won by Pablo Longueira. Then, bizarrely, he withdrew from the campaign on health grounds. A spokesman said he was suffering from clinical depression. Longueira is an ultra-conservative leader of the Union Democratica Independiente (UDI) who in his younger days helped organize rock-throwing demonstrations against Senator Edward Kennedy during his visit to Santiago in 1986. CNN-Chile has this report on the incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUkfsbPavMY

After some frantic conferring, the Alianza is now backing another UDI politician, former labor minister Evelyn Matthei. The Buenos Aires Herald has this good column on Chile’s political right by Patricio Navia: http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/136716/crisis-mode-in-the-chilean-right-wing

Matthei, an economist, is the daughter of a former air force commander and junta member under the Pinochet regime, and the relationship with Bachelet’s family is a fascinating story in itself. General Fernando Matthei and General Alberto Bachelet were air force officers with a friendship that went back decades. At the time of the 1973 military coup Matthei was air force attaché at the Chilean Embassy in London, while Bachelet had been appointed by President Salvador Allende, a socialist, to direct a food distribution program. Bachelet refused to go along with the coup, was arrested, tortured and died in prison in March 1974 (see earlier post https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/justice-for-an-air-force-general-2/). Michelle Bachelet and her mother were later arrested and taken to the regime’s infamous Villa Grimaldi detention center, then released after a few harrowing weeks and went into exile in East Germany.

Matthei returned to Chile a few months after the coup and in 1978  joined the junta as air force commander when his predecessor was forced out of office after repeatedly clashing with Pinochet over economic policy and a timetable for a return to elected civilian government. Bachelet’s mother contacted this old family friend to inquire whether they could safely return to Chile, and they arrived back in early 1979.

During his years as a junta member Matthei discretely removed Chilean air force personnel from the regime’s murderous security forces, and according to the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Report on abuses during this period, no air force officials were involved in human rights violations while he was air force commander: http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/collections/truth_commissions/Chile90-Report/Chile90-Report.pdf

General Matthei’s most notable action came during the 1988 plebiscite, in which voters were asked to cast yes or no ballots to extend Pinochet’s presidency for another eight years. The regime delayed releasing the vote count, announcing partial results suggesting Pinochet was ahead. When Matthei and other military commanders were called to a meeting at the presidential palace that night, he approached a group of journalists to say the “no” vote had won, earning him the gratitude of Chile’s democrats and the eternal opprobrium of Pinochet and his supporters. When Michelle Bachelet became president in 2006, he told reporters of his friendship with her father and remembered her as a “little girl, playing in the sand.” She has been heard to address him as “Uncle Fernando.”

So what is Evelyn Matthei like?  In the early 90s she won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, becoming the first legislator in Chilean history to have a baby while in office. She later became a senator, then labor minister under President Sebastián Piñera, and aggressively pursued Chilean employers who exploited undocumented migrant workers from other countries.  When a group of Paraguayan laborers were discovered working in slave-like conditions on an agricultural estate in southern Chile, she brought charges against the landowner and met with the Paraguayan ambassador to apologize for the way citizens of his country had been treated. Her manner is sometimes blunt, and a diplomat in Santiago described Matthei to me as “a tough one.” Despite Bachelet’s huge lead in the polls, Matthei has said the election is winnable, and the two air force generals’ daughters should have an interesting debate indeed.

Over on Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog, a great piece by the Caracas Chronicles’ Juan Nagel on how both Piñera and Bachelet snubbed Venezuelan opposition leader Hernan Capriles during his recent visit to Santiago:

http://transitions.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/24/chile_throws_venezuelas_capriles_under_the_bus