Commentary. Among his most controversial atrocities: Kissinger’s participation in the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973 to his support for the dictatorships of Videla in Argentina and Pinochet in Chile.

Kissinger is dead, but Latin America can’t forget the legacy of his terror

If there’s anyone mourning the passing of Henry Kissinger, it certainly isn’t the peoples of Latin America. Among the many skeletons piled up in the closet left behind by the most controversial Nobel laureate in history, those concerning the “Patria Grande” are perhaps the most outrageous – from his participation in the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973 to his support for the dictatorships of Videla in Argentina and Pinochet in Chile as part of the infamous Operation Condor.

Just how far he went has been made clear once and for all by the thousands of documents, transcripts of interviews and meeting notes that have been gradually declassified in the United States, such as those released by the National Security Agency in 2020 or the two published in August on the CIA website concerning briefings held on September 8 and 11, 1973.

A clear picture emerges from the many pages detailing U.S. policy in Chile: Kissinger, then Nixon’s secretary of state, took action against Allende even before he was elected. His famous remark during a meeting on June 27, 1970 is particularly chilling: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” He reiterated this idea two months before the socialist president took office, when, in a phone call to CIA Director Richard Helms on September 12, 1970, he declared in categorical fashion: “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” fearing that, as he would say on another occasion, Chile could become “the worst failure” of Nixon’s administration, “our Cuba.” The unspeakable horrors that took place as a result have been amply recorded in the history books.

And yet, even as concern grew around the world about the human rights violations perpetrated by the Pinochet regime, in June 1976 Kissinger gave his full support to the Chilean butcher: “We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”

It was during the same trip that the Secretary of State – now no longer serving under Nixon but Gerald Ford – had a friendly conversation, recalled on Thursday by much of the Latin American press, with the foreign minister of Argentina’s military regime, César Guzzetti, who had confided in him that his country was facing economic difficulties and was having problems with “terrorism,” urging support from the U.S.

“Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better,” Kissinger had reassured Guzzetti, not without giving him a particular bit of advice: “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you should get back quickly to normal procedure.” A recommendation that the Argentine junta only half followed: “things” were done, no doubt, but there was no quick end to them.

Also in 1976, furious at Fidel Castro’s decision to send troops to Angola, Kissinger went so far as to draw up plans to “smash Cuba” with air strikes. Thankfully, that’s one thing that didn’t work out for him.

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