SANTIAGO – Newly-declassified documents reveal that the British government aided the United States in destabilizing Chile after the 1970 election. Both countries had deemed it vital that the country be free of Communist influence. The documents further reveal how the events of that era unfolded.
Newly-declassified files revealed the United Kingdom’s role in destabilizing Chile in 1970. The documents go into detail about the UK’s role in the 1964 and 1970 presidential elections; both times, the UK’s singular goal was preventing Salvador Allende from gaining power.
Once Allende won the 1970 election, Britain assisted the United States in destabilizing the country with the goal of installing a military dictatorship. Their relationship with the dictatorship would vary depending on the party in charge of the UK.
Meddling in the 1964 and 1970 Elections
The 1964 presidential election was one fraught with Cold War-era tensions. The Socialist candidate, Salvador Allende, had the US worried that after his victory they might lose access to Chile’s copper and that he might also render their many investments worthless. In Europe, the UK had similar worries.
Under the Labour government of Harold Wilson, England considered Latin America a vital area that needed to be protected from a Communist takeover. The released files show that the US was anxious for the UK to do as much as possible in the field of propaganda.
That is why in the 1964 presidential election the British joined their Cold War allies in a propaganda campaign against Allende and in support of Christian Democrat candidate Eduardo Frei Montalva. Thus, the Information Research Department (IRD) worked alongside the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in this campaign. They did this by contacting various journalists who were willing to share their news stories in the newspapers and on the radio.
In the end, this campaign proved successful, as did the US decision to give financial support to the Frei campaign. The US and the UK considered Frei’s election a monumental victory that they enjoyed for nearly six years.
Frei’s failure to appease both sides of the aisle and an ongoing recession, however, took away his centrists political appeal, giving Allende a better shot at winning the presidency. One IRD officer wrote that “Chile is in the front line as far as communism in South America is concerned” – meaning that they would be redoubling their efforts to prevent Allende’s victory.
Despite the uptick, however, they failed to prevent Allende’s ascendency. Allende was sworn in that same year.
During the Allende administration, the IRD continued working on anti-Allende propaganda and attempted to politically kill him by funding millions of dollars to strengthen the opposition. They also continued working with the CIA, aiding them in preparing for the September 11, 1973 military coup.
Legitimizing the Dictatorship
After Pinochet seized power in the military coup, the IRD played a role in legitimizing his regime by publishing Chile’s Marxist Experiment by Robert Moss three months after the coup. Commissioned by the CIA, the book denied any foreign intervention in the coup and placed the blame on Allende himself.
Then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath of the Conservative Party, also made sure to give the necessary diplomatic recognition to the Pinochet Regime. This lasted until 1974 when Harold Wilson of the Labour Party took over and placed sanctions on Chile as well as a weapons embargo due to the documented human rights abuses.
These sanctions were kept in place until 1979, when Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. She reestablished diplomatic relations with Chile by selling weapons and helping them train soldiers. Thatcher even called Pinochet “Britain’s staunch, true friend” when the dictator was arrested in 1999.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.