US declassifies reports sent to Nixon in the hours before the coup d’état in Chile: ‘Allende concluded that the only solution is a political one’

The documents were released Friday by the State Department in Washington, on the verge of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the overthrow of the government of socialist Salvador Allende

Documento desclasificado por el Gobierno de EE UU y Augusto Pinochet
Declassified document by the U.S. Government and Augusto Pinochetgob. EE UU / AGENCIAS
Sebastián Dote

The U.S. State Department has released on Friday two documents, corresponding to the daily reports received by President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) on September 8 and 11, 1973, analyzing the Chilean situation prior to the coup d’état that overthrew the government of Socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973). The declassified files show Washington’s view of events in Santiago de Chile in the hours leading up to the democratic breakdown that gave way to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

The historic intelligence reports were released by U.S. Ambassador to Chile Bernardette Meehan and accompanied by an official statement from the Joe Biden Administration, which notes that the disclosure of these records “demonstrates our enduring commitment to the U.S.-Chile partnership and is consistent with our joint efforts to promote democracy and human rights in our own countries and around the world”.

The State Department adds: “The declassification of documents is a complex interagency process, during which the government considers many factors, including national security, protecting sources and methods, and other risks and benefits of releasing specific information. Taking these factors into account, the U.S. Government completed this declassification review in response to a request from the Government of Chile and to allow for a deeper understanding of our shared history”.

The undersecretary of Foreign Affairs of Gabriel Boric’s government, Gloria de la Fuente, thanked “President Biden’s administration for its willingness to accept the request to declassify files related to our country”. “Fifty years after the coup d’état, the declassification of archives of this documentation promotes the search for truth and reinforces the commitment of our countries to our democratic values,” added the diplomatic authority.

The reports are divided into two files, from September 8 and September 11, 1973. In them, Nixon is informed about the situation of several nations that were being closely followed by the U.S. authorities, among them Chile. The texts, which have several passages blacked out, deal with the movements of the Chilean Navy, the resistance of the political groups that made up the Popular Unity (UP) and the real possibility of a military coup.

In recent years, several documents have been declassified that address Washington’s role in the crisis that led to the breakdown of democracy. Some of these reports have been published by Peter Kornbluh, an analyst at the U.S. National Security Archive, who detailed meetings, conversations and files in the book Pinochet, declassified. On August 9, Chile’s Congress approved a bill to request the Foreign Ministry to arrange for the release of U.S. reports related to the coup d’état. The request was reinforced by the visit of Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who presented a proposal before the House of Representatives to declassify more documents.

The declassified reports

September 8th, 1973

“A number of reports have been received from Chile indicating the possibility of an early military coup attempt [...] unrest centers in the navy, whose personnel have been on edge about the imminent naming of a new service chief. Navy men plotting to overthrow the government now claim army and air force support.

There is no evidence of a coordinated tri-service coup plan. Army generals, in fact, lately have been talking [...] of ways of building interservice unity with a view of increasing the military’s influence on the government. Should hotheads in the navy act in the belief they will automatically receive support from the other services, they could find themselves isolated.

There are also indications that naval officers could be planning joint anti-government actions with militant civilian opponents of the regime. The far-rightist Fatherland and Freedom Movement has been blocking roads and provoking clashes with the national police, adding to the tension caused by continuing strikes and opposition political moves”.

Augusto Pinochet, left, with Salvador Allende, on August 23, 1973.
Augusto Pinochet, left, with Salvador Allende, on August 23, 1973.AFP

President Allende [...] earlier this week [...] said he believed the armed forces will ask for his resignation if he does not change his economic and political policies. He raised the prospect of an “armed confrontation” between his followers and the military. Allende said his supporters do not have enough weapons to prevail in such an event and that it would do no good to try to distribute more arms now, since the military would not permit it. He concluded that the only solution is a “political one”.

Allende seemed to be trying to convince [...] that the situation is serious and requires cautious handling, and that some tactical political retreats may be in order. He is worried about the sustained opposition pressures against him and, especially, about the intentions of the military.”

September 11th, 1973

“Plans by navy officers to trigger military action against the Allende government [...] are supported by some key army units, [...]. The navy is also counting on help from the air force and the national police.

Although military officers are increasingly determined to restore political and economic order, they may still lack an effectively coordinated plan that would capitalize on the widespread civilian opposition.

Socialists, leftist extremists, and Communists are equally determined not to compromise. They are gambling that the military and political opposition cannot carry out moves to oust the government or even to impose restraints on it. President Allende, for his part, still hopes that temporizing will fend off a showdown.”

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