Mr. Barnes’s mission was to convince both Pinochet and his demoralized opponents that the Reagan administration would no longer tolerate the general’s abusive grip on power. For three years, Mr. Barnes pushed steadily for political change in Chile — opening his embassy to opposition leaders, standing up publicly for victims of repression and making it clear that he had Washington’s blessing.
In 1988, after 15 years of military rule, Pinochet was peacefully defeated in a national plebiscite and forced to step down as president in 1990, ushering in an era of democratic governance and economic success that has become a model for Latin America. Mr. Barnes left Chile soon after the plebiscite and retired from the Foreign Service. He died Aug. 9 in Lebanon, N.H., at 86. His family said he had contracted an infection.
During 38 years in the Foreign Service, Mr. Barnes was posted in eight countries, learning to speak many of their languages, and he served as ambassador to India (1981 to 1985) and Romania (1974 to 1977) as well as Chile. In India, he plunged into negotiations on nuclear and arms issues after a generation of ideological estrangement.
After retirement, he worked for the Atlanta-based Carter Center as director of human rights and conflict resolution programs from 1994 to 2000, traveling often to global trouble spots.
But it was Mr. Barnes’s role in Chile that earned him a niche in history. A small country that loomed large in the ideological wars of the 1960s, Chile embarked on a chaotic socialist period under President Salvador Allende.
In 1973, Allende and Chile’s leftist aspirations were crushed by a military coup that was welcomed by the Nixon administration and reportedly abetted by the CIA. Pinochet, who was army chief, seized power and vowed to extirpate communism from Chilean soil. Over the next several years, thousands of political activists were detained, tortured or vanished in custody.
By the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration in Washington had soured on Pinochet and was looking for an antidote to its controversial anti-communist role in Central America and the Iran-contra scandal. Mr. Barnes was sent to Chile to push for a return to civilian rule. It was a delicate task, with powerful adversaries in both capitals, and he tackled it with characteristic and quiet determination.
“Harry had to navigate working with the opposition, the socialists and Christian Democrats, without becoming an enemy of the government or the Chilean right,” said Elliott Abrams, then the top State Department official for Latin America and now with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “He also had to navigate in Washington,” where the new policy on Chile was opposed by powerful conservatives such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). “I think he did a magnificent job.”