January 16th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

International politics snark: Chile

Skimming the overnight news, I ran across this headline: "Chileans elect socialist, first woman president." And all I could think about was that the last time the Chileans elected a socialist president, he committed suicide, shooting himself 23 times. With a ten-shot semi-automatic. Pausing twice to reload.

Actually, I shouldn't link to the Wikipedia article; this is one of those times where Neutral Point of View comes out as something of a whitewash. Nobody's ever been convicted of it, but the guilty parties all but confessed to it at the time, being exceptionally proud of themselves. When the Chileans elected their first socialist candidate to the Presidency, Salvador Allende, he lasted less than three years before his assassination. The overwhelming majority consensus among historians is that the on orders from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the CIA recruited, paid, equipped Chilean general Augusto Pinochet to overthrow the elected government, and sent in their own covert ops team to assist in the coup. Nobody that I know of doubts that it was a CIA hit squad that shot Allende; had it been a Chilean who did it, Pinochet would have made a hero out of him, and the suicide story just doesn't match the forensics. Hence the way post-facto edit to history that claims that he shot himself to death with a machine gun; none of the original reports even placed that gun at the scene. The initial reports all said suicide, and made a point of the fact that he had his pistol, the suicide weapon, still in his hands. When it came out that there were 23 separate bullet wounds and CIA involvement became more and more obvious, Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state, when questioned would only reply something to the effect of, "I don't see why we should let the Chilean people become communists just because they had an election."

Pinochet then went on to demonstrate his commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy by murdering 3,000 civilian political opponents, at least one of whom was killed by Chilean government assassination squads on the streets of Washington DC. 27,000 political prisoners disappeared into Chilean prisons, most of them tortured. (Which is why the UK arrested him while traveling not that long ago, and has him on trial for crimes against humanity.) The whole time, the US government constantly showered praise on him as a beacon of freedom and democracy in the region, and constantly berated Cuba for their several hundred political prisoners, because that's how the Cold War was played.

I mention this only because anybody who knows this isn't going to be able to suppress an eye-roll and a knowing smirk all day as the commentariat all wring their hands over the fact that Castro now has yet another ally in Latin America, and because I'm old enough to remember why most of the world is a trifle cynical about the United States' frequently-announced commitments towards peace, freedom, and democracy.

So yeah, now the Chileans have elected Michelle Bachelet, a minor official from the Allende government and, like Allende, a Castro ally, to the presidency. (Which makes three female presidents in the western hemisphere, and none of them yet in the US.) I doubt it's a good thing for the Chilean people, but all I can think is that CIA-backed soldiers and right wing death squads killed thousands and tortured tens of thousands, and all we achieved was to delay the process by a smidgen over 30 years ... and along the way, to make Castro look good to the Chileans.
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