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Essay: U.S. Foreign Policy: Chile

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by Nicholas Klar

American foreign policy toward, and involvement in, the affairs of Chile has been contradictory to say the least. From Nixon to Reagan various administrations were unsure how they should handle the 'problem' of Chile. This has much to do with the pressure placed upon them by various external players, including the C.I.A., U.S. business interests, and later human rights organizations. There is no doubt of U.S. government interference in the Allende government, and it's role in the resultant coup. However there are arguments over how crucial the American role was. This will be discussed in this paper, along with the various components of U.S. involvement.

Also to be discussed will be American involvement in the 'redemocratization' of Chile, and the different contradictory forms it took. It will be concluded that through it's support of the Pinochet dictatorship the U.S. has actually assisted the undermining of one of Latin America's most traditional democracies, and allowed new political conditions to be set by the military.

There were several reasons why the U.S. was worried about the possible ascent of Allende to power in Chile. Firstly, it was the usual cold war argument that communism could not be allowed to take root in the America's, along with the concurrent 'domino theory' and 'export of revolution' arguments. This was especially because Chile had the best organized communist party in the western hemisphere. [Sigmund p.158]

The U.S. also had many vital business interests in Chile that were under threat of nationalization by Allende. These included the phone system, which was largely controlled by American telecommunications giant ITT, and the copper mines, which were Chile's largest foreign exchange earner. [Ibid] Apart from the monetary loss involved, the U.S. did not want nationalization of foreign industry seen as a positive example to other revolutionary movements. [NACLA p.191] Henry Kissinger claimed that Allende's ultimate goal was an overthrow of the bourgeois state, to be replaced by totalitarianism. [Sigmund p.168] There were also accusations that the Allende government was involved in cocaine smuggling. [Ibid p.170]

There were numerous ways the U.S. was involved in trying to first prevent the election of Allende (known as Track I), and then in his eventual overthrow (known as Track II). Church claims there were at least 30 known covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A. These included a massive propaganda effort through the infiltration and subsidization of the media. The C.I.A. were also active in the organization of rightist opposition groups. [Paterson pp. 653-5]

The U.S. and associated business interests like the AIFLD and ITT poured in huge amounts of money to help elect rightist candidates to the congress and the presidency. So whilst initially there was no direct involvement against Allende, there was very much unremitted hostility on behalf of the U.S. government toward him. [Sigmund pp.164,5]

When Allende was able to win power despite U.S. efforts, the Track II policy was formulated to oust him. The first step was financial restrictions in an effort to make the economy 'scream', which included a refusal by the U.S. to renegotiate Chile's foreign debt. [NACLA p.192] Next the C.I.A. began to fund opposition groups like the truck owners, and infiltrate trade unions. This led to strikes, polarization of the community, and massive disruption to the Chilean economy.

The C.I.A. finally decided the only option was a military takeover and initiated contacts within the Chilean military to this end. When the military finally chose to intervene it was with the tacit support of the U.S. administration, even though the degree of actual American involvement is a highly contentious matter. [Paterson p. 656,7] The Pinochet regime reversed the reforms of Allende, destroyed the trade union and university systems, exiled 11,000 political dissidents, and undertook severe human rights abuses. [Barnes p.2, Huepe p.32] It's economic success is hotly contested by both conservatives and liberals.

The human rights policies of Jimmy Carter was praised by many in Latin America as a success, whilst simultaneously being condemned by American conservatives. [Bitar p.27, Barnes p.5] Ronald Reagan moved away from this policy toward one of 'Quiet Diplomacy' in an effort to encourage 'redemocratization', whilst still tacitly supporting the Pinochet dictatorship.

As a broad multiparty coalition began to press for the return of democracy in Chile, the Reagan administration came under increasing pressure to renounce 'Kirkpatrickism'. [Doggett p.316, Bitar p.27, Huepe p.33] The extremities of Pinochet's policies brought increasing political instability in Chile, meaning little opening would be available for democratic forces, and would also strengthen support of the left. [Dogget p.313,6]

The Reagan administration had increased its aid to Chile, and encouraged the World Bank to do the same, in an attempt to alleviate some of economic and political problems in Chile. [Ibid p.316] As this ploy failed, aid was restricted, and Chile was dropped from its preferential status with GSP and OPIC. Reagan and Secretary-of-State Shultz urged Pinochet to let Chileans be "...given the chance to select their leaders under conditions marked by respect for basic guarantees and freedoms". [Ibid]

The contradictory policies of the Republican administrations have meant that whilst there is huge popular and broad based support for redemocratization inside Chile, U.S. policy has consolidated the power of Pinochet and his supporters. Pinochet remains as commander-in-chief, and his supporters are guaranteed eight senate seats. Communist and other leftist parties have been severely restricted, ensuring the election of a center-right candidate, Patricio Alywin, in the 1989 elections. [Bissio p.345]

C.I.A. covert operations were crucial in the overthrow of the last democratic Chilean government. With all this the U.S. has in fact established old style oligarchic style government in Chile. This means the longer the military remains firmly in control, the harder it will be re-establish true and stable democratic government.


M. Barnes, S. Bitar, C. Huepe, N. Shaw Smith, in 'The Southern Cone' Wahington Office on Latin America 1986

R.Bissio (Ed) 'Third World Guide 91/92' Uruguay:Instituto del Tercer Mundo 1990

M. Doggett 'Washington's Not-So-Quiet Diplomacy' in Report on the America's March/April 1988

NACLA Report 'Chile: The Story Behind the Coup' October 1973

T. Paterson (Ed.) 'Major problems in American Foreign Policy' Levington MA: Heath 1984

P. Sigmund 'Crisis Management: Chile and Marxism' in J. Hartz (Ed.) 'U.S. Policy in Latin America' Lincoln:University Nebraska Press 1988

© 1993-2008, Nicholas Klar, PO Box 280, Brighton SA 5048, AUSTRALIA 

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REF: Nicholas Klar, 1993, "U.S. Foreign Policy: Chile" - + date accessed

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