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Nixon officials talked of stopping Allende's rise

September 11, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senior officials in the Nixon administration discussed a desire to stop the newly elected government of leftist Chilean President Salvador Allende from taking power in 1970, according to recently declassified transcripts of those conversations made public Wednesday.

In one exchange, President Nixon's Secretary of State, William P. Rogers, cautioned about secret U.S. efforts to prevent Allende from taking power after the administration had stressed the importance of democratic elections. The CIA ended up supporting the kidnapping of Chile's top general in an effort to block Allende's ascendance to the presidency.

"After all we've said about elections, if the first time a communist wins, the U.S. tries to prevent the constitutional process from coming into play we will look very bad," said Rogers, who died in 2001.

A private nonprofit group, the National Security Archive, published the transcripts on the eve of the 35th anniversary of a coup that resulted in Allende's death.

Transcripts were made possible because Henry A. Kissinger taped all his phone calls when he became national security advisor in 1969. His secretaries transcribed the calls from tapes that later were destroyed. The Nixon presidential library declassified the newly released transcripts.

Some of the conversations occurred in 1970 in the run-up to Allende's inauguration as a democratically elected socialist leader.

In one conversation, Kissinger informed Nixon that the State Department had recommended an approach to "see what we can work out" with Allende.

"Don't let them do it," Nixon replied.

In another conversation, Kissinger told then-CIA Director Richard Helms that "we will not let Chile go down the drain."

"I am with you," Helms replied.

In a subsequent conversation about Allende, Rogers agreed with Kissinger that "we ought, as you say, to coldbloodedly decide what to do and then do it."

Rogers warned that it should be done "discreetly so that it doesn't backfire."

The CIA subsequently acknowledged it had supported the 1970 kidnapping of Chile's top general, Rene Schneider, for refusing to use the army to prevent the country's congress from confirming Allende's election. The kidnapping failed, but Schneider was killed in the attempt -- and Allende's election was confirmed.

Three years later -- and nine weeks before the coup -- Nixon blamed Helms and former U.S. Ambassador Edward Korry for failing to block Allende's inauguration.

"They screwed it up," the president told Kissinger in another conversation.

In the same call, Nixon told Kissinger, "I think that Chilean guy may have some problems."

The subsequent coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the Allende government on Sept. 11, 1973.

At least 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during Pinochet's 17-year rule and thousands more disappeared, Chile's government says.

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