Fleeing the Chilean Coup: The Debate Over U.S. Complicity

Courtesy Reuters


The myth that the United States toppled President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973 lives. In 1975, a Senate subcommittee headed by Frank Church -- a stalwart Democrat and no friend of the Nixon administration -- determined that there was "no real evidence" of U.S. support for the military coup or for an earlier botched kidnapping by Chileans that ended in the death of Army Chief of Staff Rene Schneider. A more recent CIA study confirmed these conclusions. No evidence to the contrary emerged from the 24,000 Chile-related documents declassified by the Clinton administration.

There is, in short, no smoking gun. Yet the myth persists. It is lovingly nurtured by the Latin American left and refreshed from time to time by contributions to the literature like Peter Kornbluh's The Pinochet File and Kenneth Maxwell's review of that book, "The Other 9/11" (November/December 2003).

Both Kornbluh and Maxwell recognize that it was the Chilean military that stormed Allende's presidential palace on that September 11 three decades ago; neither alleges direct U.S. participation in the coup. Still, although they do not go as far as the excitable critics who fire off wild charges of international criminal intent, both purport to make what Maxwell calls "The Case Against Kissinger."

Kornbluh and Maxwell echo the traditional claim that the United States "destabilized" Chile. Kornbluh says that the United States created a "coup climate." Maxwell asserts that Washington "engineered" the overthrow; as "for the coup itself," he writes, "there is no doubt that the United States did all that it could" to bring Allende down.

Hardly. It was no secret that President Richard Nixon opposed Allende and was unenthusiastic about the prospect of another Marxist regime in the region -- not surprising given that this was during the Cold War. But to claim that the Nixon administration "did all it could" to topple Allende is an injustice to regime-changers in the U.S. government, past and present. A cursory review of history suggests that had

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