Showdown in Santiago

What Really Happened in Chile?

More than 40 years after the 1973 military coup that cost Chilean President Salvador Allende his life and brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, the historical record on the U.S. role in Chile continues to stir debate. Far from being a “cold case” of the Cold War, as Foreign Affairs implied in its July/August issue, it remains a hot and controversial topic. Jack Devine’s audaciously titled article, “What Really Happened in Chile,” relates his version of the story of infamous U.S. covert actions in which Devine himself played a key role as a young CIA officer based in Santiago.

Devine’s central argument is that between 1970 and 1973, the CIA sought to protect Chile’s democratic institutions from Allende’s Popular Unity government, which Washington believed would push Chile toward Cuban-style socialism and into the Soviet orbit. According to Devine, the CIA was merely “supporting Allende’s domestic political opponents and making sure Allende did not dismantle the institutions of democracy,” such as opposition parties and media outlets. The CIA’s goal, Devine suggests, was to preserve those institutions until the 1976 elections, in which Allende’s opponents, bolstered by CIA support, would presumably defeat Allende at the polls. 

In this view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences. But that is not what really happened in Chile. 

BLOOD ON THE TRACKS

As Devine acknowledges, in the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. This top-secret plan was referred to as Track II, to distinguish it from Track I, a covert political campaign supported by the State Department to convince the Chilean Congress not to ratify Allende’s election and thus to keep him from office. 

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