The recent collapse of personalist dictatorships in Haiti and the Philippines has served to remind Americans that since World War II, some of our most grievous foreign policy wounds have been inflicted not by adversaries but by self-styled (and self-seeking) friends. Though nothing is inevitable, and no two situations are exactly alike, it is difficult to ignore the intimate, indeed inextricable, relationship between the collapse of Chiang Kai-shek and the rise of Mao Zedong in China; of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro in Cuba; of Anastasio Somoza and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Generically speaking, the dilemma can be stated quite simply: when all avenues of political devolution in a Third World society are closed, the moderate center is the first casualty. The United States is then left to choose between polar extremes, one of which is unviable, the other unacceptable. By that time its own preferences are somewhat beside the point, and it usually ends up getting both. There is no easy solution to this problem, but recent experience suggests one prescription at least—the need to act before matters reach the point of no return.

Such is the challenge to U.S. policy in Chile today—to persuade a military dictatorship to return power to civilian, democratic forces before that government loses all control of the situation, and also before the acceptable alternatives are deprived of all credibility by forces allied to Cuba and the Soviet Union. The task is neither simple nor easy, and fraught with particular poignance given the background of Chile’s own democratic past, its place within the region, and its special relationship with the United States.

At this point the principal obstacle to Chile’s expeditious return to democracy is General Augusto Pinochet, who has ruled the country since 1973, and appears determined to perpetuate his power by means of the 1980 constitution. This document makes it possible for him to remain president-dictator for life, to be followed, apparently, by a regime in which an emasculated parliament will coexist with a militarized executive. It is expected that Pinochet will be the candidate nominated by the junta for the 1989 plebiscite. If he proves victorious, his term will be extended to 1997, when—health permitting—he will be eligible for another eight-year period, which is to say, until 2005. It is to these arrangements that Chilean diplomats refer when they claim that their government already has plans for a "democratic transition."

For its part, the vast majority of Chile’s political community has passed into opposition. After a long period of internal squabbling, these groups signed a "National Accord on Transition to Full Democracy," drafted in August 1985, which advocates the incorporation of truly democratic features into Pinochet’s 1980 constitution. The accord brings together an unusually broad range of political forces and personalities, including ex-functionaries of the Allende regime and former supporters of Pinochet. The document was abruptly rejected by the Chilean government, however, within hours of its delivery to the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, the Chilean Communist Party and its allies have assumed a posture of extreme militance, calling for the overthrow of the regime by any means necessary. Through the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front, they have engaged in terrorism and political assassination, as well as acts of industrial sabotage. Though historically strong in certain trade unions, the party is now growing in two areas where it was weak prior to 1973—the universities and the squatter settlements surrounding Santiago and other cities. Its decision to remain apart from the National Accord, while momentarily convenient for the moderate forces of the opposition, suggests that it believes the government’s plans for the future will prevail, and is positioning itself for a later, more confrontational phase in which its less radical rivals will have been discredited.


As a small, remote and vulnerable country, Chile has sought historically to strengthen its international posture through carefully managed alliances with distant nations—principally Great Britain in the nineteenth century, the United States in the twentieth. The complex mix of factors that has shaped U.S.-Chilean relations since the First World War includes geographical, naval, military, economic and political considerations. While elements of all survive into the present day, over time the U.S. emphasis has periodically shifted, a fact that Chileans seem often not to recognize. Instead, they prefer to regard each separate interest as an undifferentiated accretion to a huge structure. This has the effect of exaggerating the country’s importance to the United States and introducing some curious distortions into the bilateral relationship.

Probably the heyday of the relationship was the period between the two world wars, when American capital and engineering expertise developed a modern, large-scale copper industry, and with it, the income for Chile to finance its government budgets for more than two generations. By the end of the Second World War, in spite of distances and evident cultural differences, the United States was clearly the country to which the preferences of the Chilean elite—and even selected members of its (then small) middle class—were most attuned.

Whether it was the economic relationship tout court, or some more diffuse sense of congruent interests, Chile began to follow U.S. international policies somewhat closely during World War II and into the postwar decade, even to the point, in 1947, of reflecting the U.S. stance in the emerging cold war by outlawing its local Communist Party. In the 1950s, however, relations entered the doldrums as U.S. interests, economic and other, were turned to the rebuilding of Western Europe. It was during this period, also, that for the first time some Chilean politicians began to call for the nationalization of the copper industry.

Then, suddenly, U.S. interest in Chile was rekindled by the Cuban revolution, which seemed to offer Latin Americans a new model of development based on a politico-military alliance with the Soviet Union. The Kennedy Administration responded in 1962 with the massive aid-and-reform program known as the Alliance for Progress. Chile eventually became the largest single recipient of Alliance largesse, principally because that country’s democratic political traditions—then almost unique in Latin America—presumably made it the most appropriate theater in which to meet Castro’s challenge to Western ideals. Moreover, a new and dynamic Chilean political force emerged in the late 1950s, the Christian Democratic Party, which articulated a moderate alternative for those favoring economic and social change.

During the 1960s U.S. involvement with the Christian Democrats was something more than platonic. The Central Intelligence Agency, following a pattern established in the struggle against Communist parties in postwar Western Europe, provided significant financial assistance to the party in the 1964 elections, making possible the landslide victory of President Eduardo Frei (1964-70). Though this had the practical effect of denying the presidency to Marxist Salvador Allende, the candidate of the Communist-Socialist coalition, it also laid the groundwork for a victory of the left six years later. On one hand, the rhetoric of Frei’s program ("a revolution in liberty") raised expectations far beyond his capacity to satisfy them and provoked a sharp movement to the left within his own party; yet on the other, his steadfast adherence to such Alliance goals as tax and land reforms alienated conservatives who had voted for him in 1964 only as the lesser of two evils. Thus in 1970 the right ran a candidate of its own, splitting the presidential vote into thirds. The winner—by a tiny margin—was Allende.

His 1970 victory came as a shock to the United States, which had invested far more than money in Frei’s experiment. It also stunned the Christian Democrats, who were still the largest party in Chile, and expected to remain so permanently. For its part, the new coalition of Socialists, Communists and populists that supported Allende, flushed with triumph and convinced of its historical inevitability, sought to pervert the country’s democratic institutions in such a way as to accomplish a "transition to socialism" virtually over the heads of the Chilean electorate.

Faced with what appeared superficially to be a "democratic road" to Marxism, the United States set about sustaining those forces capable of resisting its consummation. During the three years of the Allende regime, the Christian Democrats and the opposition in general were sustained by some $8 million in CIA disbursements. This support prevented the government from using the weapon of nationalization to liquidate the economic base of its opponents, and assured the survival of an opposition press and electronic media. Shortly after the armed forces overthrew Allende in September 1973, however, such CIA subsidies ceased. Following investigations by a select committee of the U.S. Senate in 1975, the agency lost the tacit congressional approval under which such covert aid had been dispensed, and that, presumably, is where matters remain today.

These events, however remote to most Americans, remain vivid in the collective memory of both the Chilean government and the political class, and continue to shape their views of the United States and the bilateral relationship. One could argue that Chile itself occupies a far less important place in U.S. Latin American policy than it did a decade or two ago; nonetheless, given the level of involvement, which was unusually intense for the region, it is not surprising that so many people continue to filter their perceptions through the prism of recent history.

The result is that all events in Washington concerning Chile, no matter how minor, are vastly inflated by the Chilean media. Some, of course, like votes at the international financial institutions, are genuinely serious matters. But others of more questionable import—pro forma declarations, diplomatic courtesies, routine visits by U.S. officials and flag officers of the armed forces, even offhand remarks—are subject to endless interpretations, in which the United States is either seen as reaffirming its iron support for the dictatorship, or in the process of revising its policy and therefore guaranteeing Pinochet’s ultimate collapse. Unfortunately, the problem is not merely intellectual: U.S. intentions, however symbolically expressed, and whether accurately perceived or not, are regarded as an independent variable in the Chilean political equation, and so, perforce, they are.

The truth is, of course, that U.S.-Chilean relations since the 1940s could be described as having been shaped somewhat blindly by events elsewhere: World War II, the cold war, the Cuban revolution, Vietnam, Watergate or, latterly, by events in Nicaragua, Iran and Afghanistan. This has not prevented both government and opposition in Chile, however, from seizing upon these broader patterns of U.S. foreign policy to reinterpret local events each according to its own peculiar needs.

At the same time, Chileans of all political persuasions have often failed to appreciate the way in which American interest in their country has changed over time. Since the nationalization of copper by the Christian Democrats in 1969, the major American investment exposure in the country has shifted from minerals to financial services. The country continues to provide an important market for U.S. exports, but, in spite of remarkably generous incentives, it has not attracted significant amounts of new fixed investment. To some degree this is due to apprehensions about the eventual outcome of the current political struggle, but even more to a fall in the price of copper, the country’s principal source of foreign exchange, and to the weight of a foreign debt that is, on a per capita basis, one of the highest in the world.

The United States has a military-strategic interest in Chile due to its critical location at one of the two all-water routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the only one not capable of being sabotaged out of existence. It also possesses a very seaworthy navy, which participates annually in joint maneuvers (UNITAS) with its American counterpart. These factors are assigned fairly high priority by the U.S. Navy, and the Defense Department in general, but an arms embargo, in place since 1976, has eliminated the one major lobby—manufacturers of sophisticated aircraft, naval communications systems, and so forth—that could be expected to have a vested interest in undiscriminatingly good relations with the Pinochet regime.

Even within the Latin American context, Chile no longer enjoys its former pride of place. Democracy is now the order of the day in most hemispheric nations, including some with extremely problematic political histories. Moreover, the growing trend toward nonalignment, even in republics with conservative governments like Colombia, suggests that a return to democracy in Chile will not necessarily betoken a resumption of a special security relationship such as drove bilateral relations in the past.

The principal importance of Chile to the United States at this time is, in fact, ideological. Liberals regard it as a treasured exhibit in their case against the anti-communist thrust of postwar U.S. foreign policy: the extinction of democracy there proves the unmitigated evils of covert action. In a somewhat more extreme but also widely shared version, the persistence of the Pinochet regime is a demonstration that the logical and perhaps inevitable alternative to Marxism in the Third World is some sort of fascism. Moreover, to the degree to which "business as usual" prevails, or appears to prevail, in day-to-day U.S.-Chilean relations, it belies the assertion that the goal of U.S. policy in Latin America is the restoration or nurturing of democratic political systems in such places as Nicaragua.

American conservative thinking on Chile has gone through three distinct phases. First (1973-77), the collapse of democracy in Chile was regarded as a devastating critique of Allende’s reckless socialist-populist economic and social policies (which it was). During this period, however, many conservatives were so repelled by his regime, and so relieved by its disappearance, as to overlook, sometimes scandalously, the vast human costs that attended its extinction.

Second (1977-81), Chile was discovered as the venue of a promising new experiment in free-market economics. During this brief but unforgettable period of economic boom, it was possible for conservatives to identify several positive political trends, including the release of all political prisoners being held without charges in 1976, and an amnesty in 1978 that allowed most remaining prisoners to be released or go into exile. These developments, however, while salutory, were not part of a larger design to dismantle the Pinochet regime, even over a fairly extended period, but rather an indication of its overweening self-confidence. When the financial bubble burst, these modest steps toward liberalization were halted or reversed.

In the third phase, begun in 1982 and not yet completed, conservatives have begun to wonder aloud whether the problems the United States presently faces in Nicaragua might not have been avoided by a more timely and decisive turn away from Somoza. Though there are great differences between the two countries, for purposes of broad foreign policy conceptualization, recent events in Managua serve as a warning of what could happen in Santiago. And, to some degree, Washington’s willingness to reexamine its assumptions about Chile reflects the change in conservative thinking there, where many of those political forces which supported the coup against Allende have, one by one, passed over to the ranks of the opposition. The emerging congruence of Chilean and American opinion on the nature of the dictatorship still begs the question, of course, of what is to be done to effect an orderly and peaceful transition toward democracy.


The notion that the United States regards the Pinochet dictatorship as a privileged ally—however often claimed by the regime itself or, for that matter, by its opponents at home and critics abroad—is very wide of the mark. What is true, however, is that neither the Carter nor the Reagan Administration has found the right combination of incentives and sanctions to compel or persuade the Chilean armed forces to return power to a civilian, elected government.

The Carter team came to office at the high-water mark of national revulsion over Vietnam, and important components within it were possessed of a deep sense of shame for the U.S. record during the cold war, particularly with respect to small, non-Western nations. This broadly revisionist view had some very concrete policy implications for countries where the local government was regarded as a legitimate interlocutor—Panama (the Canal treaties), Cuba (the normalization of diplomatic relations), and Vietnam (reconciliation and perhaps even reparations). But where, as in Chile or Guatemala, the regimes in place were not viewed as being "on the side of history," it was far less clear how U.S. goals could be advanced. In the end, a temperamental reluctance to resort to the traditional instruments of great-power diplomacy, such as covert action—a reluctance all of a piece with its wider philosophical perspectives—led the Carter Administration to take refuge in purely punitive policies rather than actions designed to achieve explicit goals.

Thus, to the embargo on arms sales and the training of military officers in place since 1976, the United States added some economic sanctions. U.S. representatives at the international financial institutions systematically opposed new loans to Chile whenever such credits were brought to a vote. For the first time the United States supported the creation of a special rapporteur for Chile at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, where U.S. representative Brady Tyson publicly apologized for the role his country had allegedly played in bringing Pinochet to power in the first place. On a more symbolic level, key opposition leaders were received, some for the first time, at high levels in Washington. And in 1979, after the Chilean Supreme Court refused to extradite individuals allegedly involved in the Washington murder of Orlando Letelier, a former official of the Allende government, and his American assistant, Ronni Moffit, the Carter Administration took further measures. The U.S. mission in Santiago was reduced by approximately one-fourth; all military sales still in the pipeline were terminated; the U.S. military mission in Chile was recalled; new Export-Import Bank lending and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) guarantees for Chile were explicitly forbidden.

If the purpose of the Carter policy was to make it impossible for the Pinochet government to claim that it enjoyed U.S. support, then it succeeded brilliantly, with residual benefits for American credibility throughout Latin America. It also raised the morale of the democratic opposition within Chile at a particularly crucial point and, it is often claimed, even saved lives. But if its intent was to advance Chile closer to democracy, it was at best irrelevant. Rather, the Carter years coincided with the steady advance of Pinochet to unquestioned supremacy within the Chilean military and, therefore, within the country. Meanwhile, by challenging him without success, President Carter unintentionally taught his Chilean counterpart something he had not known up till then—namely, that it was possible to defy the United States and not merely survive but even prosper.

The advent of a conservative Republican administration in early 1981 led the authorities in Santiago to imagine that their problems with the United States were over, and that all of the obstacles which the Congress had placed in the way of the bilateral relationship in the late 1970s, particularly in the military-to-military areas, would forthwith be removed. Such assumptions were based, however, on crude extrapolations of the broader foreign policy rhetoric of the Reagan campaign, not upon specific assurances or even a general consideration of U.S.-Chilean relations.

To be sure, the Reagan team approached Chile—as it did Argentina, South Africa and the Philippines—from a very different perspective than its predecessor. It rejected the view that those regimes in the Third World which openly declared their hostility to the United States were somehow the wave of the future; unfortunately, this allowed others to draw the inference that those allied with it automatically were. The Reagan Administration was also influenced very strongly by the experience of Iran and Nicaragua in 1979, where a failure of nerve had led its predecessor to abandon two traditional allies, at a cost that was prohibitively high not only for the United States, but for the people of those countries. As Jeane J. Kirkpatrick argued in a now-famous article that became the cornerstone of the new Administration’s foreign policy, authoritarian regimes, though brutal enough with individual dissidents, lacked the capacity or even the desire to revolutionize society from top to bottom, and therefore were unable to perpetuate themselves in a way characteristic of their totalitarian analogues. In spite of the vituperation subsequently heaped upon this argument by its critics, it rested upon some very firm empirical foundations, particularly in Latin America.

The problem for the Reagan Administration was that Chile did not fit, except very superficially, within this analytical framework, and therefore doomed attempts at "quiet diplomacy" from the very start. An almost inevitable bias toward eventual political devolution is characteristic only of military regimes where the leadership is collective—as in the recent cases of Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina. Chile is ruled not merely by a highly personalist dictatorship, but one with a carefully worked-out vision of the future. This point is utterly essential to understanding the internal logic of the Pinochet regime: even relatively "favorable" developments (a periodic decline in repression, the occasional release of political prisoners) can only be understood by placing them within the context of its longer-range perspectives.

It is not surprising that the Reagan team initially misconstrued the direction of the Pinochet regime, since in 1979 and 1980 those who would become its members were frequently assured by Chilean diplomats and private citizens that the new constitution (then being drafted by a Council of State) would provide the framework for a genuine, if gradual, transition. There was much talk of the relegalization of political parties and of the resumption of elections, first at the municipal level, then through province and region, finally reaching the summit of national authority. To those who knew something of Latin America, it sounded a bit like Brazil. Such features did reportedly figure in early versions. But by the time the new charter had passed through the editorial hands of the president himself, they were nowhere to be seen and, six years hence, are yet to be announced.

Moreover, in 1979 and 1980 Chilean officials repeated to all who would listen that it was unrealistic to expect their government to respond constructively when the United States pursued its agenda in a crude and undiplomatic fashion, which in any case only served to strengthen President Pinochet’s resolve and undermine putative "moderates" within his inner circle. Accepting the challenge, the Reagan Administration relaxed some of the punitive aspects of the Carter policy, removing two of the sanctions imposed in connection with the Letelier case—the prohibition on Eximbank lending, and the participation of the Chilean navy in UNITAS exercises. (Because of congressional resistance, the Reagan Administration did not, however, provide the "certification" necessary to resume arms sales or the training of military personnel.)

The United States also resumed support for Chilean loans from the multilateral banks and assisted in periodic refunding of its national debt, although the latter was dictated more by considerations of international financial stability than political solidarity. None of these measures received the slightest sign of reciprocity. Instead, the patience and good faith of the Reagan team and the incidental convergence of U.S. and Chilean foreign policies (on opposition to international communism) were willfully and publicly misinterpreted by the government in Santiago as a tacit sign of approval for its actions and acceptance of the arrangements outlined in the 1980 constitution.

In truth, the closest thing amounting to a political opening in Chile since the coup—a brief but ultimately fruitless dialogue between Interior Minister Sergio Jarpa and representatives of the opposition Democratic Alliance in 1983—was wholly unscheduled, and certainly not a result of U.S. policy. The dialogue was prompted by a decline in copper prices that had begun in 1981, a generalized collapse of local credit, widespread unemployment and massive protest demonstrations; it ended in a ministerial shuffle and a state of siege.

The United States lent moral and political support to the brief political "opening," but having done nothing to bring it about, could not save it when it faltered. Nonetheless, this period marks a turning point in Washington’s thinking: if no forward movement in Chile could be obtained within the framework of a formal dialogue, still less could be expected in a climate of official repression and renewed rigidity.

The state of siege was lifted only in July 1985, and then only under a specific threat by the U.S. government to oppose the refunding of Chilean loans at the World Bank. At about the same time, the Weiss Amendment was introduced in the U.S. Congress, which called for the resumption of Eximbank and OPIC sanctions and mandated negative votes at the multilateral lending banks. It lacked the bipartisan support necessary for passage, but anti-Pinochet sentiment was mounting in Congress and the Administration. When the Chilean president rejected the National Accord, the balance suddenly and definitively tilted against him.


The failure of both the Carter and Reagan policies can be explained partly by an indiscriminate reliance on either punitive actions or friendly persuasion, with only the most general notions of what was expected in return. But in large part it can also be attributed to the peculiar ideology of the Pinochet regime.

Hard-liners who reflect the Chilean president’s personal views often boast that they do not need good relations with the United States to survive. At the same time, however, they desperately desire those good relations, as if their survival did in fact depend upon it. Above all, for the Chilean military, arms acquisitions and the training of officers in the United States represent an ideological acceptance of the fact that it is at war with the Soviet Union, and as such, an ally in the East-West struggle. This apparent contradiction is a product of the permanent insecurity that any undemocratic government necessarily feels, heightened in the Chilean case by the concrete presence in the country of Soviet- and Cuban-supported terrorist elements, and by the international campaign against it, in which communist parties are the most active (though by no means the only) participants.

This world view has tended to invalidate whatever policies the United States has chosen to follow over the past nine years. Thus, when Washington was engaged in open opposition and international confrontation with his regime, Pinochet took refuge in the notion that the U.S. government (perhaps infiltrated by Marxists) was incapable of pursuing its own national interest; hence, there was no need to do it any special, costly favors. But a policy of quiet diplomacy was interpreted as a tacit acceptance by the Reagan Administration of Chile’s struggle as its own, and therefore there was no need to do it any special, costly favors either. To break this stalemate remains the principal challenge to U.S. policy.

Pinochet’s own agenda for the next three years could not be clearer: to survive until the 1989 plebiscite, which he presumes will enshrine him and his system once and for all time. To do this, however, he needs to divide the opposition, to assure a level of subversive activity and violence that is controllable but sufficiently frightening to drive hesitating Chileans back into his camp, and to defuse the potential role of the United States as an ally of the democratic opposition.

Simply by refusing to engage with the signatories of the National Accord, the regime has revived some of the issues which have divided the opposition in the past, particularly its relationship to the Communists. The Socialist Party, which has a long history of collaboration with them, can only hope to occupy the Chilean presidency in the future if the old alliance (such as made possible the Allende experiment in 1970-73) can somehow be revived. Moreover, the Communists can offer skills in mobilization which a minority of opposition leaders regard as essential, so that there is a continual discussion of whether and how the Communist Party might be convinced to re-embrace its former (pre-1979) "non-violent" formula. As of February 1986, the Socialists were threatening to leave the National Accord unless the democratic opposition assumes a more flexible attitude toward the Communist Party. On the other hand, at this point Chilean opinion remains firmly opposed to communism and the party, and the armed forces will not countenance opposition agendas as long as there is any doubt on this issue of collaboration. Hence, any opposition tendencies toward rapprochement with the party tend to serve Pinochet’s purposes within the military. They also threaten to drive a wedge between the United States and the parties of the National Accord.

If it becomes clear that all peaceful avenues for change are closed, subversive activity is bound to accelerate in the future. Quite apart from the more or less spontaneous growth of revolutionary cadres, and the important inputs from outside Chile which train, arm and fund many of them, the government itself is not above staging events (such as electrical blackouts in major cities or the bombing of public buildings, where the victims are innocent civilians) to underline the need for continued military rule.

Having exhausted its lines of credit with the Reagan Administration and the Republican membership in the Congress, the regime is now attempting to buy an additional three years of acquiescence with the suggestion, at times almost the veiled promise, that Pinochet will not be the candidate of the junta in 1989. Instead, a conservative civilian such as former Foreign Minister Hernán Cubillos or former Interior Minister Sergio Jarpa would be put forward by the junta, be approved by plebiscite and, once in office, dismantle the machinery of the dictatorship, much as Adolfo Suárez did in Spain during the 1970s.

Functionally, this scenario serves the same purpose as earlier discussions of the constitution during its 1979-80 gestation period: to take advantage of a generalized ignorance in the United States of Chilean affairs, and to play upon the desire of American conservatives to believe the best of people who proclaim themselves as allies. However, even if Pinochet were to retire in 1989 (something, by the way, utterly at variance with the entire pattern of his career and everything that is known of his personality), this scenario still begs some very crucial questions: where the former president himself will go; what role he (and the armed forces) will play in Chilean politics; and how the nation will fare under an undemocratic constitution which Cubillos, Jarpa (or someone else) will be called upon to enforce, not dismantle. If those who claim to favor this course were really serious, they would be grappling with these issues now, not postponing them to 1989 or beyond.

There is little doubt that in 1986 and 1987 Congress and the Reagan Administration will once again examine their options in Chile. The Weiss Amendment, which failed last year, would have no difficulty winning congressional approval today. Indeed, after the Chilean government’s abrupt refusal to discuss the National Accord, it seems likely that in the future such bills will seem mild in retrospect. If the South African metaphor is at all useful, as things worsen Santiago can expect more ambitious legislative projects, reaching far beyond anything the Carter Administration ever contemplated. These include proposals for a copper embargo, disinvestment and a ban on new private lending. How far the ratchet of sanctions is turned will depend, in the end, on events within Chile itself. At a minimum, without some concrete progress toward political devolution, the Chilean government can expect the Reagan Administration to vote against it at the World Bank, where some very important maturities fall due in 1987 and 1988. A bipartisan consensus may be evolving, drawing upon an instinctive American repugnance for dictatorships combined with a growing awareness of the practical costs of undemocratic governments for broader U.S. security interests.

The experience of the past decade has shown that, even if sanctions can play a useful role in communicating Washington’s resolve and preventing its goals from being purposefully misrepresented, in and of themselves they are not a policy. A policy requires a clear notion of how one moves from negative incentives to a desired political outcome. In this case, there must be some minimal agenda that the armed forces and the democratic opposition—if not Pinochet himself—could accept. The National Accord represents the best hope for a workable compromise, but even if the Chilean president’s continued resistance causes it to unravel, the United States should take from it some fundamental objectives to advance on its own.

Progress could be defined in two quite simple ways. First, any change in the 1980 constitution that makes it susceptible to amendment. As things stand now, the armed forces are sworn to defend a charter that the democratic opposition cannot possibly accept and whose authoritarian provisions are frozen into eternity by Article 44 of the constitution. Indeed, without such a modification, even the putative "best case" scenario (Cubillos or Jarpa instead of Pinochet in 1989 followed by a reform of the charter and a general political opening) would be juridically impossible.

Second, a decree-law conceding legal status to political parties. Though Chileans are supposed to go to the polls to elect a congress in only four years, the basic agencies of democratic political culture are still intermittently subject to persecution, imprisonment, censorship and internal exile. Meanwhile, close watch must be kept on the broader texture of human and political freedom in Chile, without which even these modest advances would be imperiled.

The U.S. Congress should also reexamine the guidelines governing support for democratic elements overseas, particularly the mandate of the National Endowment for Democracy, which presently forbids that agency from giving direct material assistance to political parties. Since the United States ceased to do this covertly in Chile in the mid-1970s, other nations and forces have stepped in to participate in a party life that is now more internationalized than ever. Whatever the intent of such actions, the effect has been to tilt somewhat the balance of forces within the opposition toward those elements inclined to form a common front with the Communists. A straightforward resumption of assistance to those elements which have historically constituted the bulwark of the democratic system in Chile would help them. It would also add credibility to the U.S. negotiating posture with the regime, and strengthen the hand of those elements within the armed forces rumored to favor serious engagement with the National Accord.

Of course, none of these measures may convince General Pinochet to step down, in 1989 or before. But without a revival of open political life and the emergence of a clear democratic alternative, neither he nor the armed forces will have any incentive to rethink their designs for their country’s future. Instead, the country will gradually descend into a tracery of political upheaval, terror and counterterror, in which the beneficiaries will be the very forces from which the Chilean president claims to have rescued his country a dozen years ago. The United States cannot reinvent democracy in Chile, but it can determine the U.S. role, and prevent others from using it for purposes alien to its culture, tradition and national interest.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Mark Falcoff is Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Small Countries, Large Issues. Portions of this paper were presented at a Washington, D.C., symposium, "Uncomfortable Allies: Problems of Choice and Assessment," sponsored by the Institute in December 1985.
  • More By Mark Falcoff