The first time U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met Chile’s ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, was at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Santiago on 8 June 1976. Kissinger had deliberately kept a public distance from Pinochet because of the myth—which will never die—that he and President Richard Nixon orchestrated the coup d’état that brought Pinochet to power in September 1973. But with the OAS meeting in Pinochet’s capital city, Kissinger finally had to meet Pinochet. Kissinger’s sent two very distinct messages to Pinochet, one public, one private.
In public, Kissinger was distinctly cool with Pinochet. As The New York Times reported:
Kissinger said today that human‐rights violations had “impaired our relationship with Chile” and called on all American countries to observe “fundamental standards of humane conduct”. … Violations of human rights in Latin America has been the major topic so far at this sixth general assembly of [O.A.S.], which is being attended by all members … except Cuba and Mexico. …
At the last meeting of the O.A.S. general assembly, the United States supported a deferral of consideration of a report by the [O.A.S.’s] Inter‐American Human Rights Commission on the basis of an agreement that Chile allow a United Nations inspection team to assess the human‐rights situation. Subsequently Chile refused to allow the United Nations rights group to conduct an inspection here. The United States considered this a breach of an agreement and is now emphasizing the importance of the O.A.S. human‐rights group. Mr. Kissinger proposed that the rights commission … be given a stronger mandate and an enlarged staff and budget to investigate the status of human rights, without having to wait for complaints. This seven‐member commission has submitted to the O.A.S. general assembly a public report covering human‐rights violations in more than a dozen Latin American countries, and two restricted reports on violations in Chile and Cuba.
The 191‐page report on Chile describes continuing mass arrests, torture and the disappearance of prisoners, despite what the commission called legal decrees and statements by the Chilean military Government to “tranquilize and confuse world opinion”.
The 85‐page report on Cuba, the first on that country since 1970 by the commission, said, “In the past five years, far from showing any decline in human rights violations, these continue, especially in the treatment of political prisoners, arbitrary procedures of extreme rigor that reveal a total disregard for human dignity.” “Numerous political prisoners have been killed arbitrarily or have died from torture received or from lack of medical treatment,” said the report on Cuba.
Mr. Kissinger said that the commission had demonstrated “independence, even‐handedness and constructive potential” in its work … “Technological progress without social justice mocks humanity and nationalism without a consciousness of human community—which means a shared concern for human rights—refines instruments of oppression,” said Mr. Kissinger.
Mr. Kissinger met for an hour today with Gen. Augusto Pinochet…, the [Chilean] Minister of Justice Miguel Schweitzer, and Minister of Finance Jorge Cauas. A State Department official said Mr. Kissinger had given General Pinochet advance notice of the content of his statement.”
And there was the rub. In private, Kissinger had made it plain that the U.S. supported Pinochet’s government. Kissinger, accompanied by Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs William Rogers, met Pinochet earlier in the day in the presidential suite in Diego Portales, an office building used while the presidential palace, La Moneda, damaged during the coup, was being repaired.
The U.S. government documents show that the conversation opened on the struggle against Communism in general, starting in Spain and extending to Vietnam, where Kissinger said the U.S. defeated itself through its “internal divisions” and mentions the “worldwide propaganda campaign by the Communists”. Pinochet says his government is a victim of that propaganda effort—and this was not untrue. The imbalance in coverage relative to the atrocities between Pinochet’s Chile and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge in 1976 was staggering. Pinochet says Chile simply does not have the money to counter this effort effectively. Kissinger says he thinks the Chilean spokesman at the OAS meeting, Sergio Diez, did well in stating Chile’s case.
Then Kissinger gets to business. “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here”, says Kissinger. “I think that the previous government was headed toward Communism. We wish your government well.” (Later in the conversation, Kissinger states outright: “We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here. We are not out to weaken your position.”) “At the same time, we face massive domestic problems”, Kissinger explains.
Kissinger says, “I delayed my statement until I could talk to you. I wanted you to understand my position”, and then gives Pinochet a fairly precise overview of his imminent remarks to OAS: “I am going to speak about human rights this afternoon in the General Assembly. … In my statement, I will treat human rights in general terms, and human rights in a world context. I will refer in two paragraphs to the report on Chile of the OAS Human Rights Commission. I will say that the human rights issue has impaired relations between the U.S. and Chile. This is partly the result of Congressional actions.” Kissinger reassures Pinochet, “I will add that I hope you will shortly remove those obstacles”, spelling out the Ford administration’s desire to overcome the “Kennedy Amendment”—Section 25 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974—that blocks weapons and credits to Chile.
Kissinger offers further that he will bring up the report on Cuba and criticise the hypocrisy of Leftist governments in the Western Hemisphere—and beyond—who obsess over Chile while adoring Fidel Castro. “The speech is not aimed at Chile”, Kissinger underlines. “I wanted to tell you about this. My evaluation is that you are a victim of all Left-wing groups around the world, and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government which was going Communist.”
The most concrete other point Kissinger conveys is advising that Pinochet, who has been granting amnesties, to release political prisoners in larger batches as this is “better for the psychological impact of the releases”. Kissinger is careful to say this does not mean Pinochet should “delay” prisoner-releases, just that he “should group the releases”.
Most of the rest of the conversation is related to Peru, with Pinochet feeling out how the U.S. would react in the event of war and Kissinger telling him that in the event Chile initiates the conflict—despite the heavy Soviet and Cuban presence in Peru—it will receive no support from the U.S., not that it will be that much better for Chile if Peru begins hostilities, unless the aggression is so naked as to generate considerable international sympathy.
Possibly the most interesting part of Pinochet’s reply to all this is his mention of Gabriel Valdez, the former Chilean Foreign Minister; Orlando Letelier, Salvador Allende’s ambassador to the U.S.; and Radomiro Tomic, the Christian Democrat candidate in the presidential election the Soviets manipulated in 1970 to install Allende as president. Valdez, Letelier, and Tomic have “access” to Congress, says Pinochet, particularly Letelier. “We know they are giving false information” to Congress, Pinochet adds.
Three months later, on 21 September 1976, Pinochet’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) murdered Letelier and his American colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Ronni Moffitt, with a car bomb in Washington, D.C., a brazen act Pinochet evidently had reason to think was possible with minimal consequences; he was right about that.