David Adler and Misty Rebik
We just returned from a delegation to Brazil, Chile and Colombia. Each country is still seeking answers about the history of US intervention Mon 11 Sep 2023
On the morning of 11 September 1973, the Central Intelligence Agency briefed President Richard Nixon about the Chilean military’s imminent plan to “trigger military action against the Allende government”. By noon, bombs and bullets rained down on Chile’s presidential palace from planes, armored cars and helicopters circling the center of Santiago. By 6.30pm, President Allende was dead, and the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet had begun.
Fifty years have now passed since the bloody coup d’etat in Chile. Since then, democracy has returned, after 16 years of courageous resistance and a resounding “No” to military rule in a 1988 national plebiscite. Pinochet has died, following a fatal heart attack in 2006 at the age of 91. And a new generation of leaders has risen to power to secure Chileans’ rights to healthcare, housing and a habitable planet.
But in Chile, the wounds of the coup are still fresh. Families continue to search for loved ones detained and disappeared by the Pinochet dictatorship. Courts continue to pursue justice for the crimes perpetrated by Pinochet’s secret police. And the Chilean congress continues to press for the declassification of documents that detail the US “intervention in Chile’s sovereignty before, during and after the coup of 1973”.
The US government recently released two presidential briefings related to the coup in Chile. The documents, dated 8 and 11 September 1973, confirm advance US knowledge of – and support for – the plot to topple the democratically elected Allende. But they are only a fraction of the documents that Chileans have requested in their search for truth and justice.
Previously declassified documents have clearly documented Nixon’s enthusiasm for the coup as a means to crush his Cold War opponents and protect US corporate interests. “If there [is] any way to unseat A[llende], better do it,” Nixon said in documents obtained by the National Security Archive. “Full time job, best men we have.”
The national security advisor Henry Kissinger – still regarded by some as wise counsel – was equally committed to toppling Chile’s elected government. “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” Kissinger said.
Far less clear, however, is the role that the US played in the international coordination of the campaign to unseat Allende – and in the extensive human rights violations committed by the Pinochet government in its aftermath.
The secrecy surrounding US actions in Chile fits with a broader pattern across the region. Last month, we joined a congressional delegation to Chile, Brazil and Colombia to meet with government officials, congressional representatives and social movements at the helm of their respective democratic transformations.
In each country, we heard about the enduring legacy of US intervention, from the covert actions to support the 1964 military coup in Brazil to the arms exports that supported paramilitary violence in Colombia. But we also heard countries’ eagerness to move past these dark chapters to forge new alliances on issues like climate, workers’ rights and corporate taxation.
Throughout the congressional delegation, our counterparts frequently cited another important anniversary: 200 years since the genesis of the Monroe Doctrine. Back in 1823, President James Monroe declared US dominance in the western hemisphere. In the decades since, the US has endorsed and executed dozens of coups, blockades, invasions and assassinations to defend that position of dominance. Despite the former secretary of state John Kerry’s 2013 declaration that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over”, US policymakers continue to express outrage when Latin American nations forge partnerships with “outside” powers like China.
We are not bound to continue down the interventionist path. With a record number of progressives in Congress, the appetite is growing for a bold shift in our foreign policy – an opportunity to “present a new face to the hemisphere, one based on engagement for the sake of people and planet”, as Senator Bernie Sanders said of the Latin America delegation.
Hemispheric cooperation is not an abstract question of high diplomacy. In an era of accelerating environmental breakdown, our partnerships in Latin America will be critical to protect a habitable planet with a thriving Amazon rainforest. With capital free to cross borders, the rights of working people can only be won by coordinating economic policy to take on a consolidated transnational oligarchy.
But the United States can only secure this cooperation if it builds from a foundation of trust – and that trust can only be won through transparency about the past actions of the US government that continue to haunt our neighbors.
Declassification thus not only promises to strengthen our alliances abroad. By exposing the crimes enabled by Cold War calls to confrontation, it can also deepen our democracy here at home, helping to pave the way past the Monroe Doctrine once and for all.
- David Adler is a political economist and general coordinator of the Progressive International
- Misty Rebik is chief of staff for US Senator Bernie Sanders