Human Rights NATIONAL

Australia refuses to release dossiers on its role in 1973 coup

SANTIAGO – A Sydney court has refused to declassify documents relating to the government’s involvement in the 1973 coup d’état in Chile. The court denied a former Australian intelligence officer access to potentially revealing documents. While the US has declassified lots of documents, Australia’s role remains certain but obscure.

Clinton Fernandes, former Australian military intelligence officer, was denied access to documents that could shed light on the role Australia played in the 1973 military coup in Chile. Getting the documents declassified failed because of a decision by a Sydney appeals court, which examined the case for five months. Fernandes requested access in June.

The court said the verdict was based on the Australian Archives Act which allows keeping certain documents classified “to preserve the government’s capabilities to keep secrets as necessary.” The court highlighted the law’s importance for national security.

Fernandes called the ruling “an obscenity to the memory of the victims to continue hiding the truth.” He added that the government should declassify the 50-year-old documents.  

Also read:

Memories of Chile’s Coup d’État

The 1973 coup was led by a military junta headed by general Augusto Pinochet. It overthrew the government of Salvador Allende and started a 17-year dictatorship. Suspicions of US involvement were confirmed in several declassified documents, but the extent of Australia’s involvement remains unclear. 

In the early 2000s, the US started declassifying documents revealing support of the Nixon administration for the coup and dictatorship. Then national security adviser Henry Kissinger, believing in the Domino Theory, saw Allende as a threat to US geopolitical and economic interests because the Chilean route to socialism could inspire other countries in the region. The documents detailed how the CIA was aware of a coup plot, but didn’t know Pinochet would take the lead. 

Since these revelations, Australia has come under pressure to also come clean on its involvement. So far, it is known that agents of intelligence service ASIS were sent to Chile in 1971 at the request of the US, but most were called back to Australia or allocated to other services. One ASIS agent is known to have stayed in Chile after the coup, with some officers of Australian intelligence agency ASIO also having been in the country during the coup.

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