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US admits to destabilizing democracy in Chile

WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (AFP) - The United States on Monday acknowledged ordering the political destabilization of Chile in operations before, during and after the 1973 coup d'etat in which General Augusto Pinochet came to power.

The admission accompanied the release of a third and final tranche of secret documents declassified by the State Department, the FBI, CIA and the Pentagon on the orders of President Bill Clinton to detail US involvement in Chile between 1968 and 1991.

"Actions approved by the US government during this period aggravated political polarization and affected Chile's long tradition of democratic elections and respect for constitutional order and the rule of law," the White House said in a statement made public with some 16,000 documents.

Clinton ordered the document release in February 1999 to allow the public to "judge for itself the extent to which US actions undercut the cause of democracy and human rights in Chile," the statement said.

Washington has long been accused of having played a direct role in the Pinochet coup against Chile's elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, though it has consistantly denied such accusations.

And, though there appeared to be no "smoking gun" proving the suspicions in the latest batch of documents, the material does detail a long history of covert anti-Allende efforts.

Those include actions aimed at preventing Allende's election, destabilizing his government once he was in office, and helping Pinochet consolidate his power after the September 11, 1973 coup d'etat.

Records released in the first two tranches in June and October 1999 had already indicated that soon after Allende was elected in 1970, US president Richard Nixon authorized then-CIA director Richard Helms to undermine Allende's government for fear that Chile would become a new Cuba.

The third tranche -- the release of which was delayed two months from September as the CIA initially refused to declassify 700 Pinochet-related documents -- includes detailed minutes of high-level meetings that record Nixon's commitment to "do everything we can to bring Allende down."

Other minutes of those meetings detail "drastic action" strategies intended to "shock" Chileans into preventing Allende from taking office, according to the National Security Archive, a private organization that has been instrumental in requesting the release of documents and cataloguing them.

One CIA document released Monday, written by Helms' successor as agency chief William Colby, indicates heavy US involvement in the right-wing opposition to Allende, at the same insisting there was no "direct role" in the coup.

"While the Agency was instrumental in enabling opposition political parties and media to survive and maintain their dynamic resistance to the Allende regime, the CIA played no direct role in the events which led to the establishment of the new military government," Colby wrote in a memo to then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger.

Other documents released on Monday contain directives issued by Kissinger to the US embassy in Chile, telling diplomats not to pressure the Pinochet regime on human rights atrocities, according to the National Security Archive.

Still others, are CIA briefings to the US State Department on "Operation Condor" -- the Chilean-based concerted effort by right-wing governments in South America to eliminate dissent and ensure political opponents would not find safe haven in nearby South American countries. According to human rights groups, the operation, from the mid-1970s on, was responsible for the killings of thousands of civilians in the region.

In addition, there are reports from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency dealing with the 1976 car-bomb assassination in Washington of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant by Pinochet's secret police, the DINA.

Those reports indicate that DINA chief General Manuel Contreras obstructed US investigations into the murders, the National Security Archive said.

"With these documents, the history of the US role in Chile and the Pinochet dictatorship can be rewritten," said Peter Kornbluh the director of the archive's Chile Documentation Project.

However, he noted that many of the CIA records were heavily redacted.

"CIA censors continue to dictate what Chileans and Americans alike can know about this shameful history," Kornbluh said.

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