Days after the bloody 1973 coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, the CIA mission in Chile reported to Washington that the new government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet planned "severe repression" against its opponents. A month later, the agency noted that "the line between people killed during attacks on security forces and those captured and executed immediately has become increasingly blurred."
The CIA cables are among nearly 6,000 newly declassified government documents released yesterday that relate to human rights and political violence in Chile during the first five years of Pinochet's rule.
In addition to indications that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy in Santiago had detailed information on the extent of repression and rights abuses there soon after the coup, the documents provide new insights into disagreements within President Richard M. Nixon's administration over policy toward Pinochet's Chile.
The Clinton administration agreed to review and release selected documents from the State and Defense departments, the CIA and the FBI after Pinochet was arrested last October in London. The arrest came after Spain requested Pinochet be extradited to face charges of human rights violations during his 17-year rule. The extradition trial is scheduled for September.
The redacted documents made public yesterday cover the years of the worst excesses of the Chilean military government, from 1973 to 1978, when at least 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" at the hands of government forces. Additional documents -- including some from 1968 to 1973 covering the election of Allende, a Marxist, as president and the events leading up to the coup and his death -- are scheduled for release later.
The documents are primarily status overviews and intelligence reports on the situation in Chile, and they add little of substance to scholarly and congressional reviews of the period, as well as investigations conducted by the democratically elected Chilean governments that followed Pinochet. Nor are the documents likely to be useful in the Pinochet extradition case.
For example, information concerning the 1976 car bomb assassination in Washington of former Chilean diplomat and Pinochet opponent Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronni Karpen Moffitt were left out, the State Department said, because aspects of the case are still being investigated by the Justice Department.
Human rights organizations commended the Clinton administration for the release but expressed disappointment at its selective nature. Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives, who is compiling information for a book about Pinochet, said of the released documents: "The CIA has much to offer here, and much to hide. They clearly are continuing to hide this history."
Embassy reporting from Santiago reflected the Nixon administration's support of the 1973 coup, although the administration consistently denied helping to plan or carry it out. In late September that year, the embassy reported, the new Pinochet government appealed for American advisers to help to set up detention camps for the thousands of Chileans it had arrested.
Worried about the "obvious political problems" such assistance might cause, the embassy suggested in a cable to the State Department that it instead "may wish to consider feasibility of material assistance in form of tents, blankets, etc. which need not be publicly and specifically earmarked for prisoners."
Ambassador David H. Popper wrote the State Department in early 1974 that in conversations with the new government "I have invariably taken the line that the U.S. government is in sympathy with, and supports, the Government of Chile, but that our ability to be helpful . . . is hampered by [U.S] Congressional and media concerns . . . with respect to alleged violations of human rights here."
In a December 1974 secret cable, the agency reported on information it had received concerning a briefing in which Chile's interior minister and the head of the Directorate of National Intelligence noted that the junta had detained 30,568 people, of whom more than 8,000 still were being held. The two also agreed that an unspecified number of people were being secretly held because "they are part of sensitive, ongoing security investigations."
The Pinochet government never publicly acknowledged secret detentions. According to Chilean government reports in 1991 and 1996, a total of 2,095 extrajudicial executions and death under torture took place during the military regime, and 1,102 people disappeared at the hands of government forces and are presumed dead.
By July 1977, U.S. policy under the new Carter administration had turned sharply against Pinochet. Yet the embassy expressed irritation over being asked to write "still another human rights report" on Chile and noted the "strong and varied views" inside the mission.
In its own report, the embassy military group complained: "We [the United States] do not appear to be visionary enough to see the total picture; we focus only upon the relatively few violation cases which occur and continue to hound the government about past events while shrugging off demonstrated improvements."