Chile seeks more documents from US on 1973 coup

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Washington, Aug 1 (EFE).- Nearing the 50th anniversary of the coup that toppled Chile’s elected president and led to 17 years of brutal military rule, Santiago’s envoy to the United States is asking the Biden administration to declassify documents that could shed light on Washington’s connection to the events of Sept. 11, 1973.

“We still don’t know what President Richard Nixon saw on his desk the morning of the military coup,” Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdes said during an interview with EFE.

The former foreign minister has formally asked President Joe Biden to release documents pertaining to conversations in the Oval Office regarding Chile in 1973-1974.

“There are details that interest us. They are important to be able to reconstitute our own history,” Valdes said, expressing confidence that the request will be granted.

“If it happened with President Obama, we don’t see why it won’t happen with President Biden,” the diplomat said.

There is no evidence that Nixon was involved directly in Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s putsch against Socialist President Salvador Allende, who took his own life as soldiers stormed the presidential palace.

But thousands of documents declassified over the last 30 years show the intensity of the hostility Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had toward Allende.

In a bid to stop Allende from taking office, the White House backed a plot that resulted in the abduction and murder of the-then commander of Chile’s armed forces, Gen. Rene Schneider, and after the Socialist became president, the CIA worked to undermine his government.

Yet much remains unknown, as many of the documents – including those from the day of the coup – were heavily redacted.

“We want to see them and be able to read them to know exactly what happened in the heads of those who governed the United States in that era,” Valdes said.

The ambassador’s father, Gabriel Valdes (1919-2011), was an outspoken critic of the Pinochet dictatorship and played an important role in the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Juan Gabriel Valdes said that while he is not seeking an apology, the US needs to be more open about the extent of its involvement in Chile.

“The United States should express in the clearest possible way that there was a responsibility for the weakening of Chilean democracy since before Allende,” he told EFE in his office.

Even with the redactions and omissions, the documents declassified earlier demonstrate that the US government financed strikes and sabotage to hurt Allende’s government, the ambassador said.

The government of President Gabriel Boric wants the commemoration of the coup anniversary to be a “moment of unity,” but the continued unwillingness of the Chilean right to condemn the putsch is evidence that the country “still has difficulties in healing the wounds,” Valdes said.

The diplomat has first-hand knowledge of Pinochet’s reign of terror.

In the mid-1970s, Valdes was working with former Allende Cabinet minister Orlando Letelier at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

Letelier had been held prisoner and tortured by the Pinochet regime for 12 months before being released on the condition that he left Chile.

In September 1976, the junta revoked Letelier’s Chilean citizenship and Pinochet, the regime’s secret police, characterized his role as an opposition figure abroad as “extremely dangerous.”

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