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United States intervention in Chile

The United States intervention in Chilean politics started during the War of Chilean Independence. During the almost two centuries since, the U.S. presence in Chile has slowly risen from a marginal factor to one of the most decisive ones, both in the economical as well as the political arenas.

Chilean independence

The arrival of Joel Roberts Poinsett, in 1811, marked the beginning of U.S. involvement in Chilean politics. He had been sent by President James Madison in 1809 as a "special agent" to the South American Spanish colonies (a position he filled from 1810 to 1814) to investigate the prospects of the revolutionists, in their struggle for independence from Spain.

War of the Pacific

The United States tried to bring an early end to the War of the Pacific, mainly because of US business interests in Peru, but also because its leaders worried that Great Britain would take economic control of the region through Chile.

Peace negotiations failed when a stipulation required Chile to return the conquered lands. Chileans suspected the new US initiative was tainted with a pro-Peruvian bias. As a result, relations between Chile and the United States took a turn for the worse.

Chile instead asked that the United States remain neutral, and the United States, unable to match Chilean naval power, backed down.

War scare of 1891

During the Chilean Civil War, the U.S. backed President Jose Manuel Balmaceda, as a way to increase their influence in Chile, while the UK backed the Congressional forces. As such, after the defeat of Balmaceda, they were determined to assert their influence in Chilean domestic affairs (then dominated by the victorious Congress) by any means, including war, pushing out British interests in the region.

Itata incident

The incident concerned an attempted arms shipment by the ship Itata from the U.S. to Chile in 1891, destined to assist Congressional forces. The Itata Incident was the direct cause of the Baltimore Crisis and is one of the reasons that Benjamin Harrison was not reelected to a second term as the President of the United States.

Baltimore crisis

After the Itata left Iquique to return to the U.S., the crew of the Baltimore took shore leave at Valparaiso. During the American sailors' shore leave on October 16, 1891, a mob of enraged Chileans angry about the Itata's capture (among other possible motives), attacked the sailors from the Baltimore. Two sailors were killed and several were wounded seriously. That Valparaiso riot prompted saber-rattling from enraged American officials, threatening war against Chile, which by now was controlled by victorious Congressional forces. War between the U.S. and Chile was ultimately averted when the Chilean government bowed, and while maintaining that the seamen were to blame for the riot offered to pay an indemnity of $75,000 to victims' families.

First half of the 20th century

United States involvement in Chilean affairs intensified in the early decades of the 20th century. After World War I, the United States replaced Britain as the main superpower controlling most of Chiles resources as most economic activity in the country lay in their hands. Such a change prevented Chile of profiting from the result of the War and gaining its economic independence. The dependence on the United States formally began in the early years of the 1920s as two major American industries Anaconda and Kennecott took control of the profitable resources. Up until the 1970s, both industries controlled between 7% to 20% of the countrys Gross Domestic Product.

The conclusion of WWII brought more of the same as Chile could not even exploit the excess of copper they produced as almost all the copper was marketed through subsidiaries of United States copper firms established in Chile for whom the allied government fixed a ceiling price upon copper products during the course of the war.

As the working class demanded an improvement in their standard of living, higher wages and improved working conditions, the possibility for a leftist government as the solution for the people began to take form.

1950s and 1960s

During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States put forward a variety of programs and strategies ranging from funding political campaigns to funding propaganda aimed at putting in place the necessary conditions to impede the ascendency to the presidency of the leftist candidate Salvador Allende. Throughout this time, The United States successfully impeded the left wing parties from gaining power. In 1958, Alessandri a nominal independent with support from the rightist Liberal and Conservative Parties defeated Salvador Allende by nearly 33 500 votes to claim the presidency. His laissez-faire policies highly endorsed by the United States were regarded as the solution to the countrys inflation problems. Under recommendations from the United States, Alessandri steadily reduced tariffs from 1959 a policy that caused the Chile market to be overwhelmed by American products. The governments policies angered the working class who asked for higher wages and the repercussions of this massive discontent were felt in the 1961 congressional elections. The president suffered terrible blows which sent the message that laissez-faire policies were not the desired way. As the grand total of 130 million from the U.S. banking Industry, the U.S. Treasury Department, the IMF and the ICA. accepted by Alessandri illustrates, laissez-faire policies only made Chile more dependent on the United States.

1964 election

The Marxist presidential candidate Salvador Allende was a top contender in the 1964 election. The US, through the CIA, covertly spent three million dollars campaigning against him, in an effort to influence the outcome of the 1964 presidential election including before and after the election, mostly through radio and print advertising. The Americans viewed electing the contender, Frei, as a must since they feared that because of Alessandris failures the people would turn to Allende as the solution. Allende was feared by the Americans because of his warm relation with Cuba and his open critic of the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Furthermore more clandestine aid to Frei was put forward through John F. Kennedy`s Alliance for Progress Latin American program which promised ``20 billion in public and private assistance in the country for the next decade``.

In direct terms, the United States contributed to the campaign with 20 million dollars but they also sent in about 100 people with assigned tasks to prevent Allende`s victory. In order to influence the public opinion, the CIA also made use of massive propaganda in the radio, television, posters, wall paintings, pamphlets with a goal of connecting communist atrocities with Allende.

In the end the mobilization of the American business sector in Chile, the aid of the CIA and the American government aided Frei`s campaign win with a clear majority over Allende.

1970 election

According to the 1975 Church Commission Report, covert United States involvement in Chile in the decade between 1963 and 1973 was extensive and continuous. The Central Intelligence Agency spent eight million dollars in the three years between 1970 and the military coup in September 1973, with over three million in fiscal year 1972 alone. Covert American activity was present in almost every major election in Chile in the decade between 1963 and 1973, but its actual effect on electoral outcomes is not altogether clear. Chile, more than any of its South American neighbors, had an extensive democratic tradition dating back to the early 1930s, and even before. Because of this, it is difficult to gauge how successful CIA tactics were in swaying voters.

Allende Presidency

Salvador Allende ran again in the 1970 presidential election, winning a narrow plurality (near 37%). U.S. president Richard Nixon stated his fear that Chile could become "another Cuba", and the U.S. cut off most of its foreign aid to Chile and supported Allende's opponents in Chile during his presidency, intending to encourage Allende's resignation, his overthrow, or his defeat in the impending election of 1976. To this end, the Nixon administration clandestinely funded independent and non-state media and labor unions.

The U.S. government had two approaches to fighting Marxism as represented by Allende. "Track I" was a State Department initiative designed to thwart Allende by subverting Chilean elected officials within the bounds of the Chilean constitution and excluded the CIA. Track I expanded to encompass a number of policies whose ultimate goal was to create the conditions that would encourage a coup.. "Track II" was a CIA operation overseen by Kissinger and CIAs director of covert operations, Thomas Karamessine. "Track II" excluded the State Department and Department of Defense. The goal of Track II was to find and support Chilean military officers that would support a coup.

Immediately after the Allende government came into office, the U.S. sought to place pressure on the Allende government to prevent its consolidation and limit its ability to implement policies contrary to U.S. and hemispheric interests, such as Allende's total nationalization of several U.S. corporations and the copper industry. Nixon directed that no new bilateral economic aid commitments be undertaken with the government of Chile.

The U.S. provided humanitarian aid to Chile in addition to forgiving old loans valued at $200 million from 1971-2. The U.S. did not invoke the Hickenlooper Amendment which would have required an immediate cut-off of U.S. aid due to Allende's nationalizations. Allende also received new sources of credit that was valued between $600 and 950 million in 1972 and $547 million by June 1973. The IMF also loaned $100 million to Chile during the Allende years.

Track I

Track I was a State Department plan designed to persuade the Chilean Congress, through outgoing Christian Democratic President Eduardo Frei Montalva, to confirm conservative runner-up Jorge Alessandri as president. Alessandri would resign shortly after, rendering Frei eligible to run against Allende in new elections. However, Track I was dropped, because Alessandri, despite being firmly anti-Allende, was also adamantly opposed to going against Chile's longstanding democratic traditions.

Track II

The CIA had also drawn up a second plan, Track II. The agency would find military officers willing to support a coup and provide them with support. They could then call new elections in which Allende could be defeated. In September 1970, President Nixon found that an Allende regime in Chile would not be acceptable and authorized $10 million to stop Allende from coming to power or unseat him. As part of the Track II initiative, the CIA tried to convince key Chilean military officers to carry out a coup.

The kidnapping and death of General Rene Schneider shocked the public and increased support of the Chilean Constitution. Schneider was the army chief commander and a constitutionalist, which meant he would not support a coup. Schneider was killed by a group led by General Roberto Viaux who was forced into retirement after the Tacnazo insurrection. Viaux was considered unstable by the U.S. and was discouraged from attempting a coup himself but his willingness to support a coup made him attractive to the Track II participants . The death of Schneider caused the citizens and the military to rally behind the just-elected Allende and ended the U.S. hopes of a coup.

On October 22, Viaux went ahead with his plan, which was badly botched. Gen. Schneider drew a handgun to protect himself from his attackers, who shot him in four vital areas; he died in Santiago's military hospital three days later. The event provoked national outrage. As far as American involvement, the Church Committee, which investigated U.S. involvement in Chile during this period, determined that the weapons used in the debacle "were, in all probability, not those supplied by the CIA to the conspirators."

On September 10, 2001, a suit was filed by the family of Schneider, accusing former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of arranging Schneider's 1970 murder because he would have opposed a military coup . CIA documents indicate that while the CIA had sought his kidnapping, his killing was never intended. Kissinger declared the coup "hopeless" and said he "turned it off".Falcoff, Mark, "Kissinger and Chile", FrontPageMag.com, November 10, 2003. The CIA backed an attempt to kidnap Schneider and on October 22, weapons were given to a group led by General Camilo Valenzuela but they were unable to succeed prior to the killing.

1973 coup

In the Chilean coup of 1973, Augusto Pinochet rose to power and while declassified documents relating to the military coup indicate a direct link between U.S. intelligence operatives and coup instigators in Chile

the CIA itself, denies involvement in the coup.

U.S. government hostility toward the Allende government is unquestioned, the U.S. role in the coup itself remains a highly controversial matter due to the fact that many potentially relevant documents still remain classified. However, U.S. Senate inquiries following the establishment of Pinochet's regime found that the U.S. did exert its influence upon the Chilean economy in such a way as to create conditions favouring a coup.United States Senate Report (1975) "Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973" U.S. Government Printing Office Washington. D.C. Regarding Pinochet's rise to power, the CIA undertook a comprehensive analysis of its records and individual memoirs as well as conducting interviews with former agents, and concluded in a report issued in 2000 that the CIA "actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende but did not assist Pinochet to assume the Presidency." Nonetheless, this is contradicted by the declassified documents involving the CIA, in which covert operatives were inserted in Chile, in order to prevent a Marxist government from arising and subsequent propagandist operations which were designed to push Chilean president Eduardo Frei to support "a military coup which would prevent Allende from taking office on 3 November."

The CIA was notified by contacts of the impending Pinochet coup two days in advance, but contends it "played no direct role" in the coup. On September 16, 1973, after Pinochet had assumed power, the following exchange about the coup took place between U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon:

Nixon: Nothing new of any importance or is there?

Kissinger: Nothing of very great consequence. The Chilean thing is getting consolidated and of course the newspapers are bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown.

Nixon: Isn't that something. Isn't that something.

Kissinger: I mean instead of celebrating in the Eisenhower period we would be heroes.

Nixon: Well we didn't as you know our hand doesn't show on this one though.

Kissinger: We didn't do it. I mean we helped them. [garbled] created the conditions as great as possible.

Nixon: That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played.

There is no evidence that the U.S. instigated or provided material support to Pinochet's successful coup in 1973, but the Nixon administration was undoubtedly pleased with the outcome; Nixon had spoken with disappointment about the failed coup earlier that year. The U.S. did provide material support to the military regime after the coup, although it criticized them in public. A document released by the CIA in 2000 titled "CIA Activities in Chile" revealed that the CIA actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende and that it made many of Pinochet's officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military, even though some were known to be involved in human rights abuses.

The CIA's publicly announced policies on paid informants have since been modified to exclude those involved in such abuses, but at the time they were evaluated on a case-by-case basis and measured with the value of the information they provided.


''"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."Henry Kissinger Cited in Richard R. Fagen, " The United States and Chile: Roots and Branches", Foreign Affairs, January 1975.

"Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty."'' Edward M. Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, upon hearing of Allende's election. [*]

"Make the economy scream [in Chile to] prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him" Richard Nixon, orders to CIA director Richard Helms on September 15, 1970.

"It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October 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 and American hand be well hidden..." A communique to the CIA base in Chile, issued on October 16, 1970.

"I think this is in the best interest of the people in Chile, and, certainly, in our best interest." Gerald Ford at a presidential news conference in reference to U.S. operations in Chile.

''"With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of.''" U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in a 2003 interview on the U.S. Black Entertainment Television network, when asked by high school student James Doubek why the United States saw itself as the "moral superior" in the Iraq conflict, citing the Chilean coup as an example of U.S. intervention that went against the wishes of the local population.

Pinochet regime

The U.S. provided material support to the military regime after the coup, although criticizing it in public. A document released by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2000, titled "CIA Activities in Chile", revealed that the CIA actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende and that it made many of Pinochet's officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military, even though some were known to be involved in human rights abuses.

CIA documents show that the CIA had close contact with members of the Chilean secret police, DINA, and its chief Manuel Contreras (paid asset from 1975 to 1977 according to the CIA in 2000). Some have alleged that the CIA's one-time payment to Contreras is proof that the U.S. approved of Operation Condor and military repression within Chile. The CIA's official documents state that at one time, some members of the intelligence community recommended making Contreras into a paid contact because of his closeness to Pinochet; the plan was rejected based on Contreras' poor human rights track record, but the single payment was made due to miscommunication. [*]

On March 6, 2001, the New York Times reported the existence of a recently declassified State Department document revealing that the United States facilitated communications for Operation Condor. The document, a 1978 cable from Robert E. White, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, was discovered by Professor J. Patrice McSherry of Long Island University, who had published several articles on Operation Condor. She called the cable "another piece of increasingly weighty evidence suggesting that U.S. military and intelligence officials supported and collaborated with Condor as a secret partner or sponsor."

In the cable, Ambassador White relates a conversation with General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, chief of staff of Paraguay's armed forces, who told him that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor "keep in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America". This installation is "employed to co-ordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries". White, whose message was sent to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, was concerned that the U.S. connection to Condor might be revealed during the then ongoing investigation into the deaths of Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt. "It would seem advisable," he suggests, "to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in U.S. interest."

The document was found among 16,000 State, CIA, White House, Defense and Justice Department records released in November 2000 on the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and Washington's role in the violent coup that brought his military regime to power. The release was the fourth and final batch of records released under the Clinton Administration's special Chile Declassification Project.

Later comments and actions by U.S. officials

In her evaluation of United States foreign policy around the time of the coup in Chile, Jeane Kirkpatrick, later U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted her country's lack of overt aggressiveness in the developing world while events were transpiring in Chile. "In the last decade especially we have practiced remarkable forbearance everywhere." [Kirkpatrick, 1979] While this is the case for overt U.S. policy, severely constrained by the movement that had grown up in opposition to the Vietnam War, nonetheless, as discussed above, United States policy regarding aid (at the very least) helped lead to Allende's downfall, and the U.S. actively supported coup planning on some occasions, although possibly not that of the coup that actually took place. U.S. President Gerald Ford publicly admitted in 1974 that the CIA had covertly operated in Chile Still Hidden: A Full Record Of What the U.S. Did in Chile, Peter Kornbluh, The Washington Post, Sunday 24 October 1999; Page B01

U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered the release of numerous documents relating to U.S. policy and actions toward Chile. [*] The documents produced by various U.S. agencies were opened to the public by the U.S. State Department in October 1999. The collection of 1,100 documents dealt with the years leading up to the military coup. One of these documents establishes that U.S. military aid to the Chilean armed forces was raised dramatically between the coming to power of Allende in 1970, when it amounted to US$800,000 annually, to US$10.9 million in 1972.

Regarding Pinochet's rise to power, the CIA concluded in a report issued in 2000 that:"The CIA actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende but did not assist Pinochet to assume the Presidency." However, the 2000 report also stated that: "The major CIA effort against Allende came earlier in 1970 in the failed attempt to block his election and accession to the Presidency. Nonetheless, the U.S. Administration's long-standing hostility to Allende and its past encouragement of a military coup against him were well known among Chilean coup plotters who eventually took activities of their own to oust him.

A White House press release in November 2000 acknowledged that "actions approved by the U.S. government during this period aggravated political polarization and affected Chile's long tradition of democratic elections..."

2004 investigation

The lower house of the Chilean Congress announced on October 6, 2004 that an investigation would begin of alleged CIA activities in Chile over a period of several decades. Of particular interest are the CIA's efforts to prevent Allende's election in 1970.

In the Chilean coup of 1973, Augusto Pinochet rose to power and Allende committed suicide. Several separate investigations (including the Church Commission Report) have concluded that the U.S. had no direct role in the coup. .

Bush-Aznar memo

The Bush-Aznar memo is reportedly a transcription of a February 22, 2003 conversation in Crawford, Texas between George W. Bush, then-Prime Minister of Spain Jose Maria Aznar, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Daniel Fried, Alberto Carnero, and Javier Ruperez, the Spanish ambassador to the U.S. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi participated by telephone. Ruperez transcribed the meeting's details which El Pais, a Madrid daily newspaper, published on September 26, 2007. The conversation focuses on the efforts of the US, UK, and Spain to get a second resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council. This "second resolution" would have followed Resolution 1441. Supporters of the resolution also referred to it as the "eighteenth resolution" in reference to the 17 UN resolutions that Iraq had failed to comply with.

The memo provided insight into the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The memo revealed that Saddam Hussein had offered to step-down and leave Iraq if he were allowed to keep $1 billion. Some have suggested that this indicates that the war was avoidable. According to the account in El Pais, the memo also gives details on how Bush tried to coerce members of the United Nations Security Council into supporting U.S. policy: He tells Aznar how he can cut Angola's foreign aid from the Millennium Challenge Account and how he can torpedo the free trade agreement with Chile (awaiting ratification in the United States Senate at the time) if the two countries did not back U.S. policy. Another portion of the transcript shows Bush's confidence in Iraq's stability after the invasion.

Additional information

See also

History of Chile

Itata Incident

Baltimore Crisis

1970 Chilean presidential election

Salvador Allende - deposed by 1973 coup

Chile under Allende


United States and South and Central America

CIA activities in Chile

Project FUBELT - secret CIA operations to unseat Allende

Chilean coup of 1973

Augusto Pinochet - took power in 1973 coup

Chile under Pinochet - aftermath of the coup



Thomas Karamessines (1970). Operating guidance cable on coup plotting in Chile, Washington: National Security Council.

Jeane Kirkpatrick (1979). "Dictatorships and Double Standards", Commentary, November, pp3445.

Henry Kissinger (1970). National Security Decision 93: Policy Towards Chile, Washington: National Security Council.

James F. Petras & Morris H. Morley (1974). How Allende fell: A study in U.S.–Chilean relations, Nottingham: Spokesman Books.

External links

Church Report. Covert Action in Chile 1963-1973 (FOIA)

National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project which provides documents obtained from FOIA requests regarding U.S. involvement in Chile, beginning with attempts to promote a coup in 1970 and continuing through U.S. support for Pinochet

"Make the Economy Scream" famous instruction of Nixon to the CIA about Chile

[https://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/vol47no3/article03.html CIA Machinations in Chile in 1970] (report on CIA.gov)

CIA activities in Chile (detailed report by the CIA itself)

Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents relating to the Military Coup, 1970-1976

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