The Apparatus Of Silence
It is a feature of the bureaucratic mindset that trivial details are subject to meticulous attention, while issues relating to personal and moral responsibility are dismissed as non-existent. Thus correspondent Bridget Kendall’s pinpoint pronunciation as she described the death of Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet – pronounced “Peenochet” by the BBC reporter. Kendall got the name right, but everything that mattered was swallowed up by what media academic Richard Keeble calls “the apparatus of silence“.
“Peenochet’s” rise to power was discussed, as were his crimes, as were the failed attempts to hold him accountable. But of the power behind the throne, the nation that birthed this monster, there was not a word. (‘Chile‘s general dies‘: http://search.bbc.co.uk/cgi- bin/search/results.pl?q=pinochet+and+kendall& scope=all&edition=d&tab=all&recipe=all)
Kendall concluded her piece thus:
“To the very end judgements on Augusto Pinochet remained keenly divided.”
That can be said of a mass murderer like Pinochet, a Western ally, but not of official enemies like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
We wrote to Kendall on December 10 noting that she had made no mention of the American role in the September 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. We asked if, for example, she was aware that an early, October 1970 plot to unseat Allende, was made “using CIA ‘sub-machine guns and ammo‘“, and was the direct result of a request for action from the chairman of PepsiCo, according to Greg Palast in the Observer.
We received no reply. We re-sent the email on December 11 and again received no response.
Readers may be puzzled by mention of the words ‘Nixon’ and ’PepsiCo’ in the context of Pinochet’s bloodbath – a media database search showed that not one UK national newspaper has connected these words to this story since Pinochet‘s death.
Before we explore the links, let’s consider what the press has had to say on US involvement in Chile.
A Guardian obituary read:
“The coup, in which CIA destabilisation played a part…” (Malcolm Coad, ‘Augusto Pinochet,‘ The Guardian, December 11, 2006; www.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1968953,00.html)
And that was that! Space is always a problem for the media. Presumably, there was not space for more detail in this 3,049-word piece.
A BBC online obituary was fractionally bolder:
“It became known later that the CIA had spent millions to destabilise the Allende government.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/ hi/world/americas/472707.stm)
That, again, was that. Quite what the CIA had spent millions on was left to the reader’s imagination. Perhaps opposition politicians were funded. Perhaps propaganda messages were ruthlessly posted around Santiago. Who knows?
On reading the above, a friend joked that it represented a reversal of Spike Milligan’s book title: ‘Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall,‘ with the press desperate to downplay Western involvement in Allende‘s fall.
Rupert Cornwell in the Independent edged slightly closer to forbidden facts:
“Yes, the turmoil in Chile before the coup of September 1973 was shamefully fomented by the United States. But there is no evidence that Washington directly ordered the coup.” (Rupert Cornwell, ‘The general willing to kill his people to win the battle against communism,’ The Independent, December 11, 2006; http://news.independent.co.uk/ world/americas/article2064694.ece)
Again, vague hints sufficed. Note, also, the irrelevant apologetic for US actions – “there is no evidence that Washington directly ordered the coup“. But there is evidence that Washington moved heaven and earth to make the coup happen. The hard facts and direct quotes making this all too clear – available to us and anyone else with an internet connection – were nowhere in sight.
Jonathan Kandell in the New York Times trotted safely with the media herd:
“General Pinochet initially led a four-man junta in the 1973 military coup that brought him to power, with the support of the United States government…” (Kandell, ‘Augusto Pinochet – Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies at 91,’ New York Times, December 11, 2006)
And that, also, was that in this 2,600-word piece. A theme is emerging, is it not?
The Daily Telegraph had many pieces saying little on the subject, referring in one 1,200-word report to “the CIA-backed military coup in 1973“. (Neil Tweedie, ‘Pinochet, the friend of Britain who ruled his country by fear,’ Daily Telegraph, December 11, 2006)
The Telegraph’s 2,300-word obituary had only this to say of US involvement:
“Inevitably, such a government [Allende’s] did not appeal to the Americans. Richard Helms, the director of the CIA, sought means to ‘make the (Chilean) economy scream‘, while the Nixon administration cut off all aid and credits. Such measures exacerbated inflation in Chile, and intensified class conflicts.” (Daily Telegraph, ‘Obituary of General Augusto Pinochet,’ December 11, 2006)
Economic strangulation was the more passive element of what was a highly pro-active US campaign to destroy democracy in Chile.
The Telegraph described Pinochet as: “not only an extraordinarily successful dictator; he was also one of the very few to surrender power at the behest of the electorate.” (Ibid)
The Daily Mail noted merely that the junta “had secret CIA backing”. (Patrick Marnham and Richard Pendlebury, ‘Death of a friendly dictator,’ Daily Mail, December 11, 2006)
The Mail asked of Pinochet:
“So will history judge him as a brute or a pragmatic economic and political strongman, who rescued Chile from Marxist orchestrated disaster?”
This of a man who, as the same journalists wrote, “modelled himself on Stalin in the Thirties”.
Writing in the Daily Mirror, Christopher Hitchens managed one veiled reference to US involvement, noting that Henry Kissinger had been “anxious to protect the criminal he helped usurp power”. (Hitchens, ‘Thatcher’s tyrant,’ Mirror, December 11, 2006)
There was nothing more. A remarkable performance from the author of The Trial Of Henry Kissinger, which included many of the details of the US role in Chile. Hitchens only other article on the subject since Pinochet’s death appears to have been in Slate magazine (‘Augusto Pinochet – 1915-2006,’ December 11, 2006; www.slate.com/id/2155242/). Hitchens made no mention at all of US involvement in the coup.
A Guardian news story noted:
“When Pinochet seized power in 1973, he knew he would be enjoying the strong support of the United States. The secretary of state and national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, was an admirer.” (Jonathan Franklin, Rory Carroll and Duncan Campbell, ‘Glee and grief as man who “brought Spanish inquisition to Chile” dies at 91,’ The Guardian, December 11, 2006)
The Guardian omitted to mention that the CIA initially reported difficulty finding officers willing to participate in a coup thanks to what it described as “the apolitical, constitutional-oriented inertia of the Chilean military”. (Quoted, William Blum, Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, 1995, p.210) The United States did not merely support Pinochet, they worked energetically to create him.
The Times wrote:
“… the coup was launched on September 1, 1973, with the support of the US which had played an active role in supporting the anti-Allende opposition”. (‘General Augusto Pinochet, November 25, 1915 – December 10, 2006,’ The Times, December 11, 2006)
The theme, then? The US “backed”, “supported”, “fomented” and “assisted” the coup, and cut off aid. But the active, central role played by the United States is simply not described.
We found a single article, in the Independent, that gave more than fleeting attention to US subversion of Chilean democracy. Hugh O‘Shaughnessy wrote: “the Chilean right, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and US companies such as ITT [International Telephone and Telegraph] sought to prevent Allende’s assuming the presidency to which he had been freely and fairly elected.
“A US military attaché was later to confess that he carried down from Washington a large sum in dollar banknotes to buy the assassination of General René Schneider… [who] was resisting calls from the Chilean right and the US for an immediate coup against Allende.”
“By then, within Chile and in the United States, the enemies of the President’s unstable coalition of six parties of the left and centre-left had shown their continuing desire to topple the head of state.“ (Hugh O’Shaughnessy, ‘General Augusto Pinochet,’ The Independent, December 11, 2006)
But this also only hints at the true scale of US subversion. The vast political sabotage of Chilean democracy and the fierce US determination to destroy Allende’s regime militarily were both buried out of sight by the Independent, as was the general trend in Latin America (and the Third World more generally) of which these horrors form one tiny part.
A media database search showed that the words ‘Pinochet’ and ‘CIA’ have been mentioned in seven articles in the UK national press since Pinochet’s death.
Not Acceptable To The United States
Peter Kornbluh is director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project at George Washington University. In an October 1998 article, Kornbluh described how the CIA “laid the ground work for the coup d’etat” in Chile. (Kornbluh, ‘The Chile Coup – The U.S. Hand,’ iF magazine, October 25, 1998; www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Terrorism/Chile%20Coup_USHand.html)
After Allende had narrowly failed to win the 1958 elections, the United States worked hard to avert future risks. Prior to the 1964 elections, a vast CIA campaign was mounted to subvert Chilean democracy. Eduardo Frei’s Christian Democratic Party was selected, with the CIA underwriting more than half the party’s campaign costs. The agency’s electoral operation cost $20 million – far more per voter than was spent by Johnson and Goldwater combined in the same year in the US presidential elections. A senate committee later gave an insight into one small segment of the onslaught:
“The propaganda campaign was enormous. During the first week of intensive propaganda activity, a CIA-funded propaganda group produced twenty radio spots per day in Santiago and on 44 provincial stations; twelve-minute news broadcasts five times daily on three Santiago stations and 24 provisional outlets, and much paid press advertising. By the end of June, the group produced 24 daily newscasts in Santiago and the provinces, 26 weekly ‘commentary’ programs, and distributed 3,000 posters daily.” (Quoted, William Blum, Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, 1995, p.207)
These efforts were supported by ‘red scare’ campaigns, funding of strikes, funding of right-wing organisations committing acts of violence, promotion of grassroots programmes, speaking tours and propaganda stories placed in Western media, and numerous other examples of flak and subversion.
Despite all of this, Allende won the September 4, 1970 election. The US response was clear. CIA director Richard Helms informed his senior covert action staff that “President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States.” Helms added:
“The President asked the Agency to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.”
Helms’s handwritten notes of the meeting with Nixon reveal the mindset:
“One in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile!… not concerned with risks involved… $10,000,000 available, more if necessary… make the economy scream…” (Quoted, ibid, p.209)
Helms reported two parallel strategies for destroying Allende. As discussed, the “soft line” was (in Nixon’s words) to “make the economy scream.” The “hardline” was to aim for a military coup.
Ambassador Korry, was given the job of implementing the “soft line.” He described his task: “not a nut or bolt will be allowed to reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty, a policy designed for a long time to come to accelerate the hard features of a Communist society in Chile”. (Quoted, Chomsky, Year 501 – The Conquest Continues, South End Press, 1993, p.36)
Noam Chomsky comments:
“Even if the hard line did not succeed in introducing fascist killers to exterminate the virus, the vision of ‘utmost deprivation’ would suffice to keep the rot from spreading, and ultimately demoralize the patient itself. And crucially, it would provide ample grist for the mill of the cultural managers, who can produce cries of anguish at ‘the hard features of a Communist society,’ pouring scorn on those ‘apologists’ who describe what is happening.” (Footnote 15; www.understandingpower.com/chap1.htm)
On October 16, a secret cable from CIA headquarters to the CIA station chief in Santiago, read:
“It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup… prior to October 24. But efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden.” (Quoted, Kornbluh, op. cit)
Despite initial difficulties in recruiting officers within the Chilean army, supporters for the “hard line” were eventually found and an initial, botched coup attempt was made in October 1970. The attack began with the assassination of the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army, Rene Schneider, who had insisted that constitutional processes be followed. The assassination backfired, however, serving to consolidate traditional army support for constitutional solutions.
In a vanishingly rare mainstream article on the subject, the Observer’s Greg Palast reported that the failed October 1970 plot, using CIA “sub-machine guns and ammo“, was “the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company’s former lawyer, President Richard Nixon“. (Palast, ‘Marxist threat to cola sales? Pepsi demands a US coup. Goodbye Allende. Hello Pinochet,’ The Observer, November 8, 1998;
Palast described how Kendall had arranged for the owner of PepsiCo’s Chilean bottling operation to meet Kissinger on September 15. Hours later, Nixon called in CIA chief Richard Helms and, according to Helms’s handwritten notes, ordered the CIA to prevent Allende’s inauguration on November 3.
Meanwhile, an ITT board member, ex-CIA director John McCone, pledged Kissinger $1 million in support of CIA action to prevent Allende from taking office. In addition, Anaconda Copper and other multinationals offered $500,000 to buy influence with Chilean congressmen to reject confirmation of Allende’s victory.
Having failed to prevent both Allende’s election victory and his inauguration, the CIA continued pursuing both its “soft” and “hard” lines. As CIA director William Colby later put it, the campaign was a “prototype laboratory experiment to test the techniques of heavy financial investment in an effort to discredit and bring down a government”. (Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.129)
A 1970 ITT memorandum stated: “A more realistic hope among those who want to block Allende is that a swiftly-deteriorating economy will touch off a wave of violence leading to a military coup.” (Quoted, Blum, op. cit, p.211)
While almost all economic aid was cut off in its attempt to inflict “utmost deprivation” on the Chilean people, the United States increased its military assistance to Chile in 1972 and 1973, and trained Chilean military personnel in the US and Panama. The focus was on strengthening ties in pursuit of a “hard line” solution.
The rationale for overthrowing Allende was outlined in a CIA report dated November 12, 1970:
“Dr. Salvador Allende became the first democratically-elected Marxist head of state in the history of Latin America – despite the opposition of the U.S. Government. As a result, U.S. prestige and interests are being affected materially at a time when the U.S. can ill afford problems in an area that has been traditionally accepted as the U.S. ‘backyard’.” (Quoted, Kornbluh, op. cit)
The US was concerned, Kissinger’s aides recall, because “Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America.” (Quoted, Curtis, p.130) Kissinger stated that the “contagious example” of Chile would “infect” not only Latin America but also Southern Europe. (Ibid)
Chomsky comments on Allende:
“He was basically a social democrat, very much of the European type. He was calling for minor redistribution of wealth, to help the poor. (Chile was a very inegalitarian society.) Allende was a doctor, and one of the things he did was to institute a free milk program for half a million very poor, malnourished children. He called for nationalization of major industries like copper mining, and for a policy of international independence – meaning that Chile wouldn’t simply subordinate itself to the US, but would take more of an independent path.” (‘Secrets, Lies and Democracy – Interview with Noam Chomsky,’ by David Barsamian; www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Chomsky/ SecretsLies_Chile_Chom.html)
A second, failed coup attempt was made on June 29, 1973. This is the BBC’s version of events:
“Political strife, rocketing inflation and general economic chaos resulted in an abortive military coup in June 1973.” (‘Obituary: Augusto Pinochet,’ December 10, 2006; http://news.bbc.co.uk /1/hi/world/americas/472707.stm)
As discussed above, the BBC noted merely that the CIA had made efforts “to destabilise the Allende government”.
Ultimately, the superpower’s economic sabotage, and political and military subversion, was successful. On September 11, 1973, Chile’s military seized control of strategic sites throughout the country and cornered Allende in his presidential offices, where he apparently committed suicide.
The CIA’s Santiago station had earlier described the operational intelligence it had collected: “arrest lists, key civilian installations and personnel that need protection, key government installations which need to be taken over, and government contingency plans which would be used in case of a military uprising”. (Quoted, Blum, op. cit, p.213) US officials later denied that this information had been passed on to the junta, although the rapid arrests of key targets immediately after the coup suggest otherwise, William Blum notes.
Nixon officials were delighted by the turn of events. A situation report from the US military in Valparaiso declared: “Chile’s coup de etat was close to perfect.” The report characterised it as Chile’s “day of destiny” and “Our D-Day.” (Kornbluh, op. cit)
In a telephone conversation taped shortly after the coup and made public after Nixon’s death, Kissinger is heard to laugh: “The press is bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown.” Nixon responded: “Our hand doesn’t show on this one, though.” (Washington Bullets: ‘Pinochet And Kissinger,’ www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/12/ 12/washington_bullets_pinochet_and_kissinger.php)
Kissinger immediately authorised the CIA to “assist the junta in gaining a more positive image, both at home and abroad,” according to subsequently released documents. (Kornbluh, op. cit)
As part of these efforts, the CIA helped the junta write a “white book” justifying the coup. Kornbluh writes:
“The CIA financed advisors who helped the military prepare a new economic plan for the country. The CIA paid for military spokesmen to travel around the world to promote the new regime. And, the CIA used its own media assets to cast the junta in a positive light.”
The Nixon administration also supported Pinochet by opening the floodgates on economic aid. Three weeks after the coup, the US government authorised $24 million in commodity credits to buy wheat and $24 million more for feed corn, and planned the transfer of two destroyers to the Chilean navy.
Ultimately, the coup plotters were rewarded with a 558 per cent increase in US economic aid and a 1,079 per cent increase in US and multinational credits. (Rai, Chomsky’s Politics, Verso, 1995, p.67)
Only 19 days after Allende‘s death, a secret briefing paper prepared for Kissinger – entitled “Chilean Executions” – put the “total dead” from the coup at 1,500. The paper reported that the junta had summarily executed 320 individuals – three times more than publicly acknowledged. After three months, 11,000 people had been killed. Between 1994-1997 a further 2,400 people disappeared. According to the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR):
“… the single-minded ferocity of the coup and the subsequent deliberate use of torture, ‘disappearances’ and murder had at that time no parallel in the history of Chile or Latin America, a continent with a long experience of dictatorship and military brutality”. (Quoted, Curtis, op. cit, p.130)
CIIR described how the Pinochet regime instigated a “policy of permanent terror.” (Ibid, p.131)
When Kissinger was told of initial reports of massacres following the coup he responded:
“I think we should understand our policy – that however unpleasant they act, the [military] government is better for us than Allende was.” (Kornbluh, ‘The Pinochet File,’ www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ NSAEBB/NSAEBB110/index.htm)
This is the Guardian’s version of these events:
“Pinochet quickly became undisputed leader of the four-man junta – declaring himself president in 1974 – and set about the task of stamping out opposition. The ferocity and surgical precision of that repression repulsed the world and made Chile an international pariah for nearly two decades.” (‘Repression,’ The Guardian, December 11, 2006)
On December 11, we wrote to the Guardian’s Isabel Hilton regarding her article that day, ‘A dictator dismantled.‘ (www.guardian.co.uk/chile/story/0,,1969317,00.html):
I was interested to read your article, ‘A dictator dismantled,’ on Comment Is Free. You write of Pinochet:
“The dictatorship he installed was not the bloodiest in Latin America. It was shocking because it happened in a country proud of its democratic traditions.”
Surely the real shock value lies in the fact that the United States organised the coup… [We cited Greg Palast‘s article]…
That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? And there’s much more besides, of course. But not a word in your article even hinted at it. Why not?
Hilton responded on December 16.
Dear David Edwards
There is never room to say everything in a rather short article and I have written about the US role many times. Is it surprising or shocking that the US played a central role? Hardly. The US had played that role in coups all over the sub continent for some time, (for me the worst was the one against Arbenz — worse for its long term effect) their role in Chile was not surprising for anyone who followed Latin American events, and the shock factor had long since worn off.
We replied on December 17:
Many thanks for your reply. You write:
“Is it surprising or shocking that the US played a central role? Hardly. The US had played that role in coups all over the sub continent for some time…”
Yes, you know that, but do your readers? In fact journalists generally refer to the US role in Pinochet’s coup in vague terms (as in current reporting) – the details and motives are rarely discussed. As for the wider US pattern of forcibly subordinating people to profit, this is essentially a taboo subject for the media.
A media database search shows that in the last ten years you have mentioned the words ‘Pinochet’ and the ‘CIA’ in three articles. Obviously this covers a period when you were writing about Pinochet’s detention in Britain. You have made no mention at all of PepsiCo or ITT in connection with the 1973 coup. Unfortunately, your references to US involvement have been superficial and have buried the wider pattern discussed above.
Conclusion – Why Does Any Of This Matter?
Is the suppression of this evidence of the US role in Chile’s bloodbath an irrelevant one-off? If the media normally do a fearlessly honest job, it would be absurd to make too much of these particular omissions, would it not? The media track record is visible enough, readers can find any number of comparable examples in these and many other earlier alerts.
A stunningly consistent pattern emerges. The elite corporate media always passes over Western responsibility for mass killing in the Third World. The standard motives at work – the subordination of human rights to corporate profit – are buried even deeper. Deepest of all lies the systematic pattern traced over decades right across the Third World revealing the utter ruthlessness of Western priorities.
But why is this so crucially important? The answer is because this suppression of the historical pattern enables contemporary politicians like George Bush and Tony Blair to deceive the public when they claim to be pursuing ’democracy’ in Iraq, ’freedom’ in Iran, and a ’just settlement’ in Palestine. It means that we in the West are simply unable to understand what Hugo Chavez represents for the people of Venezuela, what Evo Morales represents for the people of Bolivia – what it is these nations know they have to fear and what they are desperately trying to resist.
Forever presented a picture of Britain and America as civilised and humane, how can the public imagine that human beings are systematically subordinated to profit by their own governments? And how can anyone hope to prevent further atrocities until this basic truth is widely understood and acted upon?
A Chicago Public Radio interview (December 2006) with Media Lens co-editor David Edwards is available here:
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Bridget Kendall at the BBC
Email: [email protected]
Write to Isabel Hilton at the Guardian
Email: [email protected]
Write to Rupert Cornwall at the Independent
Email: [email protected]
Write to Neil Tweedie at the Telegraph
Email: [email protected]
Write to Rory Carroll at the Guardian
Email: [email protected]
Write to Jonathan Kandell at the New York Times
Email: [email protected]