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Chile - 1961-1970

As part of its worldwide buildup of covert action capabilities in the early 1950s, the CIA established a capacity to conduct covert propaganda and political influence operations in Chile. In 1961, President Kennedy established a hemispheric policy to promote the growth of democratic institutions, the Alliancefor Progress. That same year, the President became convinced that the Chilean Christian Democratic Party shared his belief in democratic social reform and seemed to have the organizational competence to achieve their common goals. It lacked the resources, however, to compete with the extremist parties of the left and right.

During 1961, the CIA established relationships with key political parties in Chile, as well as propaganda and organizational mechanisms. In 1962, the Special Group (the interagency body charged with reviewing covert actions) approved two CIA proposals to provide support to the Christian Democrats. The program was modeled on that conducted in Italy in the late 1940s and 1950s, and it was intended to strengthen center-democratic forces against the leftist challenge from Salvador Allende, who was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba.

When President Johnson succeeded Kennedy, he continued the covert subsidies, with the objective of making Chilea model of democracy, as well as preventing the nationalization by a leftist government of the Chilean components of American multinational corporations.The Chilean presidential election of 1964 camedown to a battle between Allende and Eduardo FreiMontalva, a liberal Christian Democrat. The election was viewed with great alarm in Washington. The New York Times compared it to the Italian election of 1948, when the Communists had threatened to take over the country through the ballot box, and the US had intervened covertly to support democratic parties. Similarly, in 1964 the Johnson administration intervened in Chile, according to the Church Committee Report, to prevent or minimize the influence of Chilean Communists or Marxists in the government that would emerge from the election.

Cord Meyer, a former CIA covert action manager, argues that the intervention was for the purpose of preserving the Chilean constitutional order. In considering the 1964 election operations, the Johnson administration used the established mechanism, the interagency Special Group. By 1963, according to Professor Gregory Treverton, the Special Group had developed criteria for evaluating covert action proposals. All expenditures of covert funds for the 1964 operation (some $3 million in all) were approved by the Group. (There is no indication that the Congress approved these expenditures or was even informed in detail of the operation.) In addition, an interagency committee was set up in Washington to manage the operation, and it was paralleled by a group in the US Embassy in Santiago. Meyer contends that covert intervention on behalf of Christian Democratic candidates had wide support in the administration, and the Church Committee confirms that the covert action was decided upon at the highest levels of government.

During the early 1960s, the US pursued a dual-track policy in Chile, conducting covert action in supportof broader, overt objectives. Overtly, the US undertook a variety of development programs, and Chile was chosen to become a showcase of such programs under the Alliance for Progress. Between 1964 and 1969, Chile received well over $1 billion in direct, overt US aid - more per capita than any other country in the hemisphere. Moreover, funding to support the Frei candidacy was funnelled overtly through the Agency for International Development, as well as secretly through the CIA. Frei also received covert aid from a group of American corporations known as the Business Group for Latin America. Thus, the US used a variety of mechanisms to assist Frei. Covert support apparently was justified by the US Government on the grounds that Frei would be discredited if it were known that even more substantial support was flowing from the US.

That the 1964 covert action had a reasonable probability of success is evident from the outcome - Frei won a clear majority (56 percent) of the vote. According to Church Committee records, a CIA post mortem concluded that the covert campaign had a decisive impact. It is not clear from the available records whether a calculation of the likelihood of success was a specific part of the decisionmaking process. According to Treverton, the CIA was required under Special Group procedures to make such an estimate, and it is likely that its view would have been optimistic, because by the mid-1960s the Agency had managed to penetrate all significant elements of the Chilean Government and political parties.

In the 1964 operation, the CIA used virtually its entire arsenal of nonlethal methods. Funds were passed through intermediaries to theChristian Democrats for their own use. CIA provided a consultant to assist the Christian Democrats in running an American-style campaign, which included polling, voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Political action operations, including polls and grassroots organizing, were conducted among slum dwellers, peasants, organized labor, and dissident Socialists. CIA-controlled assets placed propaganda in major Chilean newspapers and on radio, erected wallposters, passed out political leaflets, and organized demonstrations.

According to the Church Committee, some of this propaganda used ''scare tactics" to link Allende to Soviet and Cuban atrocities. Other assets manufactured "black propaganda," material falsely purporting to be from Allende and his supporters, and intended to discredit them. Significant constraints were imposed, however. Paramilitary and other lethal methods were not used. The CIA explicitly rejected a proposal from the Chilean Defense Council to carry out a coup if Allende won. The Department of State turned down a similar proposal from a Chilean Air Force officer. Moreover, the Special Group turned down an offer from a group of American businessmen to provide funds for covert disbursement by the CIA. Accordingto the Church Committee, the Group considered this "neither a secure nor an honorable way of doing business."

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:08 ZULU