Cold War Killer File: Augusto Pinochet

“Sometimes democracy must be bathed in blood.” – Augusto Pinochet

“Not a leaf moves in this country if I’m not moving it.” – Pinochet, October 1981

Remember September 11th, 1973

During the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States stepped up their efforts in assuring Western hegemony in Latin America by propping up the most barbarous and fascistic regimes for their economic benefit. The United States government supported, trained, funded and armed military tin-pot dictatorships in order to “defend” democracy and the free market from progressive movements made up of the workers in colonized countries. In the name of securing profits, the United States funded anti-communist killers, military regimes and corrupt autocrats who did the dirty work for the government in violently repressing all opposition. There is perhaps no better example in history of U.S. intervention bolstering an authoritarian government than the infamous reign of the Chilean fascist Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet was a general in the Chilean army who seized power in a violent coup d’état against Salvador Allende on September 11th, 1973. He did so with the full knowledge and material assistance of the CIA. What followed was a widespread massacre of political opponents and a brutal fascist dictatorship in Chile that lasted from 1973 to 1990. Many Chileans were killed during the coup—official statistics put the number at 3,197, although the following decades under Pinochet’s rule claimed many lives, some estimates as high as 30,000, with 400,000 tortured and over a million Chileans forced to flee the country. The actual number will probably never be known, since many of the victims were “disappeared” and never heard from again. Pinochet was charged with genocide and war crimes but never stood trial. He died in his sleep at age 91.

Today’s generation needs to remember what happened on September 11th, which is a day that should be remembered. There is mourning over the New York attacks in 2001, but none over the victims of the CIA. Yet, the 2001 attacks killed far less people than the Pinochet regime, which massacred tens of thousands of people in Chile and tortured many thousands more as a direct result of U.S. policy. Today of all days it is important for all peoples who desire freedom, national liberation, democracy and socialism to remember the crimes of the United States and the Pinochet government. The world still has lessons to learn from the events of the other 9/11.

Allende Speaks to Supporters

“Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!” – President Salvador Allende’s farewell speech, September 11, 1973

The Bloody Coup against Salvador Allende

In September 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile, heading the Popular Unity coalition (UP or Unidad Popular in Spanish) of leftist parties. At the time, the Unidad Popular coalition contained almost all of the Chilean left-wing, including the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Radical Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitario and the Christian Democratic Party. Allende, a co-founder of the Socialist party and a student activist in his youth, openly proclaimed and supported redistributive economic measures while serving in the Chilean congress. His idols included Che Guevara and Patrice Lumumba.

For the next three years of Allende’s term he pursued a course of moderate progressive measures, such as nationalizing Chile’s extremely profitable copper industry, including Cerro Corp., Kennecott and Anaconda, which combined controlled eighty percent of the copper production in Chile and brought in revenues in the eight to nine digits every year. Chile also pursued government-subsidized services and a land reform which mainly benefited poor families. Allende’s parliamentary approach had nonetheless exposed too much of a leftist lean for the superpowers and threw them into a panic—he had to go. During this period, U.S. economic sanctions were imposed on Chile, and there was an attempted coup in June 1973. Finally, on September 11th, 1973, the military forces led by General Pinochet succeeded in overthrowing Allende’s government. Soldiers and tanks flooded the streets and planes rained bombs on the Moneda Palace. Allende himself was killed during the coup. It is still in dispute if he committed suicide or was murdered. Regardless, any semblance of justice in Chile died with him. The coup happened with the full support and advisement of the Nixon Administration.

“After sabotaging Allende’s electoral endeavor in 1964, and failing to do so in 1970, despite their best efforts, the CIA and the rest of the American foreign policy machine left no stone unturned in their attempt to destabilize the Allende government over the next three years, paying particular attention to building up military hostility. Finally, in September 1973, the military overthrew the government, Allende dying in the process.

They closed the country to the outside world for a week, while the tanks rolled and the soldiers broke down doors; the stadiums rang with the sounds of execution and the bodies piled up along the streets and floated in the river; the torture centers opened for business; the subversive books were thrown into bonfires; soldiers slit the trouser legs of women, shouting that ‘In Chile women wear dresses!’; the poor returned to their natural state; and the men of the world in Washington and in the halls of international finance opened up their check-books. In the end, more than 3,000 had been executed, thousands more tortured or disappeared” (Blum).

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” – Henry Kissinger, quoted in The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974). The quotation was censored prior to publication due to legal action by the government.

CIA and Imperialist Backing of Pinochet

It is a well-known fact that the United States continued to support Pinochet to the end. The National Security Archive reports: “Documents declassified from the CIA in September 2000 revealed that the head of DINA [Pinochet’s secret police – Editor] in 1975 was a ‘paid CIA asset.’” American corporations also had an interest in Chile—the International Telephone and Telegraph Co. (ITT) once offered the CIA a million dollars to orchestrate a coup and worked with CIA agents in giving orders to Pinochet’s forces. Neo-liberals have always been among Pinochet’s fans, ignoring his atrocities for “defending against communism.” The administration of Richard Nixon, which was at the time in the middle of the Cold War and the bloody war in Vietnam, threw itself behind Pinochet willingly and knowingly.

Henry Kissinger showed his support unequivocally. “‘Cut out the political science lectures,’ he once scrawled on a cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Chile reporting on atrocities” (Kornbluh). Kissinger also expressed this sentiment to Augusto Pinochet personally. “‘I want to see our relations and friendship improve,’ [Henry] Kissinger says in a passage [in a CIA document] not found in the memoir: ‘We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende. Otherwise Chile would have followed Cuba. Then there would have been no human rights’” (Kornbluh). In 1976, “Kissinger made clear how much he backed Pinochet, saying, ‘In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. I think that the previous government was headed toward Communism. We wish your government well.’” (Komisar). The American government likewise sought to preserve Pinochet’s dictatorship. “Kissinger said, ‘We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here.’ By overthrowing Allende, Pinochet had done a great service to the West, Kissinger told Pinochet. ‘We are not out to weaken your position’” (Komisar). Sure enough, Pinochet remained the head of state until 1990 and commander of the armed forces for eight years afterwards. The human rights abuses in Chile under Pinochet were, at that time, public and completely common knowledge: “[a]n earlier OAS report had detailed those tortures: women beaten, gang raped, and electric current applied to their bodies; men subjected to electric current, especially to their genitals, burned with cigarettes, hung by the wrists or ankles” (Komisar).

Despite this, Kissinger, representing the Nixon administration, the CIA and the entire government, said,

“My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world, and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government which was going Communist. But we have a practical problem we have to take into account, without bringing about pressures incompatible with your dignity, and at the same time which does not lead to U.S. laws which will undermine our relationship.”

Pinochet’s Economic Policies

Almost immediately after getting into power, Augusto Pinochet subjected Chile to merciless privatization and social program rollbacks. Tariff barriers were kicked down and trade unions were banned. International finance capital was once again invited into Chile, opening the door even wider for greater exploitation of Chilean employees. Resources were shared out to imperialist governments that consented with Pinochet’s Draconian free market economics. The “Chicago Boys,” a group of young Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, who Pinochet employed in his government, openly praised this restructuring of the Chilean economy and authored a 700-page book about how the junta should go about the privatization.

The country of Chile is upheld today by the media as a “free market miracle” in Latin America. Typically, they never go into detail about exactly what sectors of society were brought wealth, or how this wealth was built on torture, mass murder and the bodies of thousands of Chileans. It owes its legacy to the Pinochet group, who sold the state-controlled industries, including the copper industry, at criminally low prices to financial oligarchs and corporate sponsors. Education was privatized, making educational centers atrociously expensive and regulating most workers to second-and-third-class schools. In 2006, seven hundred thousand students protested for the de-privatization of the educational system, calling themselves the “Penguin Revolution” after their school uniforms. These policies dramatically increased inequality, unemployment, inflation and poverty as well as ruining human services. In 1982, Chile suffered a monetary crisis because of these policies, which are still upheld (even by the “Socialists”) in Chile’s bourgeois government. During these years, unemployment was at 30% and 55% of the population was below the poverty line.

Victims of Operation Condor

“Operation Condor” & Campaign of Terror

Under Pinochet, the Congress was formerly dissolved and rival political parties were banned. Military officers were appointed to the highest posts in the government and the private sector. A reign of terror followed his ascension to power—books were burned publicly and increasing numbers of people were taken to secret torture chambers. Tens of thousands were rounded up into the soccer stadium in Santiago to be tortured and executed. A U.S. filmmaker named Charles Horman was “disappeared” by Pinochet and was never heard from again. Declassified documents later revealed he was most likely tortured before his death. Pinochet enacted severe anti-terrorism laws that were mainly used to repress the million-strong Mapuche populations in Chile. Under these laws, their land was seized and their civil rights were restricted. The laws enacted by Pinochet continue to be used against them to this day.

The most infamous incident of the terror, called “Operation Condor,” was a sequence of international political assassinations carried out in 1975. 60,000 lives were claimed across South America from this operation, many of them in Chile itself. Manuel Contreras, the chief of the Chilean secret police (DINA), helped formulate the plan to exterminate all leftist influence in South America with Pinochet’s support. CIA operatives provided torture equipment and training to the leading pro-U.S. dictators of Latin America at U.S. military institutions, among them the infamous “School of the Americas” complex in Georgia’s Fort Benning, now called the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” or WHINSEC. Chilean units trained here also provided training to death squads in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Paraguay and other countries. Between September 30 andOctober 22, 1973, the Chilean death squad called the “Caravan of Death” flew by helicopter to northern and southern Chile, making stops along the way to order or carry out the execution of political prisoners. Many of the victims had surrendered themselves voluntarily to police or military authorities. Many were also in custody already, had committed no violent crimes or even threatened to, and posed no threat. The killings were carried out using small personal arms and machetes, ending with the body being dumped in an unmarked grave. At least 97 people (26 in the south and 71 in the north) at various military institutions are known to have been killed this way.

Victor Jara, one of the most popular and progressive Chilean folk singers and a member of the Communist Party of Chile, was arrested, tortured and executed after the coup. Since his horrific death at the hands of Pinochet’s torturers, Jara has become a martyr figure for young Chilean revolutionaries. Juan Eduardo Fuentes, a judge in Chile, re-opened the case of Jara’s death in 2008. Since then, the events surrounding his death have now been made public. Jara was repeatedly beaten and tortured. One of the officers played one-sided Russian roulette with Jara by spinning his cylinder and placing the barrel against Jara’s head repeatedly. His ribs were broken, and then the bones in his hands (he was a guitar player). The generals cut out his tongue to keep him from singing his songs, but he defiantly clapped his hands and stomped his feet in rhythm to the song “Venceremos” (“We Will Win”), a pro-Popular Unity Coalition song.

“Finally, the military brought Victor Jara and other political prisoners to the Stadium of Chile, the place where the concert for Allende [had] previously been held. There the military men tortured and killed many people. They broke Victor Jara’s hands (Note: many stories indicate that Victor Jara’s hands were cut off, but Joan Jara’s book about Victor indicates that when she saw him after his death, his hands were broken, so that is the version being used in this essay) so that he couldn’t play his guitar, and then taunted him to try and sing and play his songs. Even under these horrible tortures, Victor Jara magnificently sang a portion of the song of the Popular Unity party. After this, he received many brutal blows, and finally was brutally killed [September 15th] with a machine gun and carried to a mass grave. After his horrible death Joan Jara, the wife of Victor, was shown to his body and gave him a proper funeral and burial. Because of all of the problems in Chile following his horrible coup, she was forced to leave the country in secret with tapes of Victor Jara’s music” (“Revolutionary Democracy”). Torture Under Pinochet

There is no singularly terrible chapter in the saga of Augusto Pinochet than the widespread and institutionalized torture that he oversaw. On June 14th, 1974, the military junta issued Decree #521, which granted the military and the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) under Manuel Contreras the right to detain any individual indefinitely during a declared state of emergency—such a state existed for the entire length of Pinochet’s dictatorship. The DINA often carried out political kidnappings and murder across national borders, killing even those granted asylum abroad. One such case was Orlando Letelier, U.S. ambassador and former Defense Minister in the Allende government. Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, his assistant, were both killed by a car bomb in Washington D.C. in 1976. Documents released in 2000 show that the CIA had advanced knowledge of the plans for the murder but did nothing.

Torture and rape of detainees was common. On the Chilean ship Esmeralda, a popular site of torturing prisoners, interrogation methods included “the use of electric prods, high-voltage electric charges applied to the testicles, hanging by the feet and dumping in a bucket of water or excrement” (A.I. Library). A commission assigned to gather testimony about torture under Pinochet found that torture “consisted of electric shocks to the victims’ genitals, immersion in feces-filled waters to simulate drowning, the rape of female prisoners by men, dogs, and rats. Fully 28,500 people came forward to recount the most physically, spiritually, and psychologically destructive torture, which has marked them for life” (Hite, and Loveluck). The commission “took testimony from 35,868 individuals who were tortured or imprisoned improperly. Of those, 27,255 were verified and included. An unknown number of victims did not come forward to give testimony. Scholars estimate that the real number is between 150,000 and 300,000 victims” (Foote).

Furthermore, the commission found that “94 per cent of the verified testimonies include incidents of torture. The short list of methods includes repeated kicking or hitting, intentional physical scarring, forcing victims to maintain certain positions, electric shocks to sensitive areas, threats, mock execution, humiliation, forced nudity, sexual assault, witnessing the torture or execution of others, forced Russian roulette, asphyxiation, and imprisonment in inhumane conditions. There are many individuals with permanently distorted limbs or other disfigurations. For others, the memory of the humiliation is what remains. One man testified, ‘While they interrogated me, they took off my clothes and attached electrodes to my chest and testicles…They put something in my mouth so that I wouldn’t bite my tongue while they shocked me.’

For women, it was an especially violent experience. The commission reports that nearly every female prisoner was the victim of repeated rape. The perpetration of this crime took many forms, from military men raping women themselves to the use of foreign objects on victims. Numerous women (and men) report spiders or live rats being implanted into their orifices. One woman wrote, ‘I was raped and sexually assaulted with trained dogs and with live rats. They forced me to have sex with my father and brother who were also detained. I also had to listen to my father and brother being tortured.’ Her experiences were mirrored by those of many other women who told their stories to the commission” (Foote).Arrest & Death

One of the most outrageous acts by the junta under Pinochet was to appoint him as “Senator-For-Life” and to make both himself and his top officials completely immune from prosecution for any of the crimes committed on their orders. In 1998, years after fleeing Chile after surrendering power, a Spanish judge placed Pinochet under house arrest in Britain on charges of genocide, terrorism and murder. Worldwide demonstrations called for his trial and punishment, especially in Chile. 16 months later, a court determined that the 84-year-old Pinochet, who claimed to be senile enough not to remember his family’s names, was too sick and frail to stand trial. The British released him and allowed him to return to Chile to the sound of international outrage. When his plane landed, Pinochet was brought out in a wheelchair, but upon reaching the ground lept to his feet unaided and embraced his military entourage.

Augusto Pinochet died peacefully on December 10th, 2006. At his time of death he had 300 pending criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, human rights violations, tax evasion and embezzlement. During his rule of Chile, his personal fortune is supposed to have grown to $28 million. He never stood trial for any of his crimes.


The legacy of Augusto Pinochet is one of the most well-documented reigns of terror to ever exist. U.S. involvement in planning and running the dictatorship and its death squads and torture chambers is also well-proven. The crimes of Pinochet must also be the crimes of the U.S. imperialists, but the installment of the Pinochet dictatorship is just one more crime in the sea of crimes committed against the peoples of Latin America during the Cold War.

Sources Cited:

“Chile: Torture and the Naval Training Ship the “Esmeralda”.” A.I. Library. Amnesty International, 26 June 2003. Web.

“CIA Acknowledges Ties to Pinochet’s Repression.” The National Security Archive. Chile Documentation Project, n.d. Web. <;.

“The Life of Victor Jara.” Revolutionary Democracy 9.2 (2003): n. pag. Web.

Albion Monitor 03 Aug. 1999: n. pag. Web.

Blum, William. “A Brief History of U.S. Interventions: 1945 to the Present.” Z Magazine. June 1999: Print.

Foote, Lauren. “Torture Under Pinochet.” TheHarvard Crimson. 07 Feb. 2007: Print.

Hite, Katherine, and Eliana Loveluck. “How to Remember Pinochet.” 03 Jan. 2003: n. pag. Web.

Komisar, Lucy. “Kissinger Encouraged Chile’s Brutal Repression, New Documents Show.”

Kornbluh, Peter. “Kissinger and Pinochet.” The Nation. 29 March 2009: Print.

Categories: Chile, Cuba, Economic Exploitation, Government, History, Imperialism, International, Labor, Revolutionary History, United States History, World History

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