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July 6, 2010
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August 26, 1985
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Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2010/07/06: CIA-RDP90-00552R000201460001-9 ARTICLE APPEARED tED NEW REPUBLIC ON PAGE 26 August 1985 IOW HOT WAS CHILE? The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende by Nathaniel Davis (Cornell University Press, 480 pp., $24.95) Nathaniel Davis became United States ambassador to Chile in October 1971. He was still ambassador there at the time of the Pinochet coup, almost two years later, on September 11, 1973. On Friday, September 7, Ambassador Da- vis, who was visiting Washington, told Henry Kissinger that "the odds are in favor of a coup." Kissinger, in what he calls a "transcript" of this discus- sion, records the ambassador's state- ment as having been part of his answer to a question from Kissinger: "Will there be a coup?" The ambassador's recollection, however, is significantly different. "As I entered the room, Kis- singer said: 'So there's going to be a coup in Chile!' " I have no difficulty in believing the ambassador's version. It would be characteristic of Kissinger to want to show that he knew what was going on, in that remote place, before the "man on the spot" could start tell- ing him. And also Kissinger probably did know more about the impending coup than his ambassador knew, or wanted to know, or was expected to know. The timing of the ambassador's visit to Washington, just at the moment when the Chilean commanders were reaching their decision to overthrow Allende, has been interpreted by left- wing writers as evidence of U.S. com- plicity in the coup, or even of Washing- ton's role in the masterminding of the coup. Davis's thoughtful, well-written, and valuable book rejects that interpre- tation. His account carries conviction, as far as his own personal role as am- bassador was concerned. But that last is a drastically limited perspective, which skirts the general question of the many possible forms of American involve- ment, whether beneath the umbrella of the U.S. Embassy or outside that cover. D AVIS convincingly shows that the Allende government was in deep trouble anyway, for economic and in- ternal reasons, whether or not the Unit- ed States had intervened. The sharp de- cline in the world price of copper in 1971 would have been bad news for whatever government was in office at that time in Chile. Davis rightly rejects the left-wing theory that the American administration, with Chile in mind, caused the copper slump. There were too many other interests to be taken into account for such a move to be prac- tical, capitalist politics. Allende simply had the bad luck of being the man who had to answer for it when a matter absolutely beyond his control went wrong. But his own policies and his own rhetoric, and those of his party, made things worse. There was popular sup- port for "antiforeign" left-wing meas- ures, such as nationalizing copper. But the attempt to socialize what had been a free economy provoked vigorous inter- nal opposition, and rallied no support outside the left wing of Allende's party, Unidad Popular. Even in his last year, Allende retained the electoral support of the working class and over 40 per- cent of the electorate, but that did nothing to avert a series of damaging strikes: a truckers' strike, a miners' strike, a sailors' strike, and so on. And the workers' paramilitary groups that formed in the barrios seemed less interested in defending or protecting their elected government than in pro- moting a Castro-type revolution, re- placing Allende's democratic vision of socialism. The rise of the paramilitaries, and their impunity under Allende, did much to prompt the army commanders to think about a coup. And the coup, when it came, was probably welcomed by a majority of the population. It was certainly welcomed by Eduardo Frei, the leader of the Christian Democrats, who won 56 percent of the popular vote-as against 44 percent for Allen- de's Unidad Popular-in the elections for the Chamber of Deputies in March 1973, Chile's last free elections. The attempt to carry out a major social-democratic revolution on the ba- sis of a little less than half the popular vote was probably doomed in any case, even without any form of American in- tervention or encouragement. But was there, in fact, American intervention or encouragement? Davis accepts that- before his ti me in Chile, and therefore before the actual coup-there had been a CIA plan encouraged bK Nixon, known as -Trackk II," "to investigate a coup d'etat before Allende could be confirmed by the Chilean Con eKr ss in Oc__tober j1970]." The plans went wrong at that point, and Track II either was abandoned or went underground. Da- vis-a former assistant secretary of state under President Johnson, and dovish rather than hawkish by temperament- likes to believe that Track II ideas had been abandoned before he became am- bassador in Santiago. "In Chile, to con- clude," he writes, "I am reasonably confident that nothing was done to me like the Track II deception of [Davis's predecessor] Ambassador [Edward M.1 Korry." I don't know how much confidence might be "reasonable" in such circum- stances. After all, when Richard Helms o t e IA, on Septem- ber 15, 1970, took down the instructions from Nixon that were developed into rack II, one of Helms's nota- tions read: "no involve- ment of embassy." That is not the kind yof instruction that alters with a change of am- bassador. And Davis acknowledges that, in intelligence operations, it is exceedingly hard to know where intelli- gence gathering ends, and where incitement begins. Davis acknowl- edggs_that "the acquisi- tion, of-information may become consultation or encouragement," but goes on: "As the U.S. Ambassador in Chile, I was in no position to tell the C.I.A. station to stop_ collecting intelli- encefor _fear of trans- mitting encouragement toplotters;__Ihad to STAT Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2010/07/06: CIA-RDP90-00552R000201460001-9 Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2010/07/06: CIA-RDP90-00552R000201460001-9 04.0 trust the C.I.A.'s ability to walk the line be- tween intelligence col- lecting and covert ac- tion." Davis is a humorous man, as well as an intelligent one. I doubt he could read out that last sentence of his in company and keep a straight face. Having read and considered Davis's ac- count, and that of the Church Commit- tee and others, I am inclined to believe that the involvement of the U.S. gov- ernment in the development of the events that led to the coup of 1973 ran more or less as follows: IN OCTOBER 1970 the CIA, impelled by President Nixon, tried to instigate an instant coup against Allende. This attempt failed, because of the "wait and see" attitude of the Chilean generals. After that, the U.S. administration, faute de mieux, adopted a policy of leaving Allende enough rope to hang himself. Money from American sources-both private and official-was available to the many varieties of Chil- ean malcontents. As for the generals, they knew, from October 1970 on, that an anti-Allende coup would be wel- come in Washington. The "intelligence- gathering" CIA officers who were in touch with the generals did not have to keep on inciting their interlocutors explicitly in the direction of a coup. All they had to do was to refrain from dissipating the impression that a coup, undertaken in the generals' own good time, would still be welcome in Washington. The generals did not carry out the coup because it would be welcome in Washington, and they might well have carried it out even if it had been unwel- come in Washington. But the knowl- edge that it would be welcome encour- aged the more cautious among the generals. It suggested that the path of the postcoup regime could be made a lot smoother than Allende's had been. That the CIA officials, in quietly keep- ing coup-mindedness on the simmer among the generals, had the appro_v_al of Washington is hardly open to serious doubt. Even Davis, concerned as he is to maintain the "clean hands" of his own ambassadorial term, occasionally allows the Machiavellian realities to come through. At one point he briefly considers whether, realizing as he did the imminent probability of a coup, he ought to have warned President Allen- de of what was afoot. Davis goes on: "Nobody ever contacted me about the possibility of warning Allende; in fact, I received no instructions at all on the subject. Had I proposed such an initiative, my Washington superiors would no doubt have concluded that I had gone around the bend." Davis suggests that he himself, with his dovish inclinations and record, was ?a slightly incongruous 'chosen instru- ment' for Richard Nixon's Chilean poli- cy" Not really. The ambassador and the embassy were only a part of Nixon's Chilean policy-the respectable part, Nixon wanted a coup in Chile. He had conveyed the message, and the gener- als had filed it for reference and for pos- sible action. Once the message had been conveyed, however, what Nixon most wanted from the embassy was "noninvolvement" and avoidance of "compromising acts." Ambassador Da- vis was an entirely appropriate instru- ment for that aspect of Nixon's policy. American covert intervention was, 1be- lieve, significantly stronger and more sustained than Davis seeks to suggest, or wishes to believe. Still, I don't be- lieve the ultimate result in Chile would have been different if the United States had never engaged in covert interven- tion at all. CONOR CRUISE O'BRIEN Conor Cruise O'Brien's The Siege: An Outsider Looks at Zionism will be pub- lished by Simon and Schuster next spring. Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2010/07/06: CIA-RDP90-00552R000201460001-9