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World - Europe

Why is the U.S. mum about Pinochet?

graphic November 25, 1998
Web posted at: 10:20 a.m. EST (1520 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some human rights groups are accusing the United States of hypocrisy and complicity for its silence in the current legal turmoil surrounding former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet currently sits in the eye of a legal hurricane as Spain continues its quest to try him for terrorism, torture and genocide -- crimes against humanity allegedly committed during his 17-year regime. Similar legal actions against Pinochet, who turned 83 on Wednesday, are piling up in a half-dozen European nations.

Yet the United States government remains officially silent.

Recently declassified CIA documents are shoring up human rights groups' cries that the United States, when it comes to Pinochet, may have something to hide.

"They have a lot to hide," said Mark Weisbrut of the Preamble Center. "First of all bringing him to power in the first place, supporting the dictatorship for all those years."

CNN's Frida Ghitis reports on the legal dispute involving Augusto Pinochet
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U.S. officials recently denied a British newspaper report that said the U.S. government wanted Britain to deny Spain's request to extradite Pinochet. The newspaper said the United States feared its role in Chile's history may be revealed.

But State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, "This is a legal matter between the governments of the United Kingdom, Spain and Chile to resolve. We have taken no position on the issue."

Nixon authorized covert role

According to the declassified documents, U.S. President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s authorized $10 million for the CIA to try to block Dr. Salvador Allende from becoming president of Chile, or, if necessary, overthrow Allende.

Nixon, according to the declassified CIA documents, "decided that a Marxist regime in Chile was unacceptable."

Kornbluh points to blacked-out U.S. government documents  

The documents can be found on the National Security Archives website at George Washington University.

Allende was elected to the Chilean presidency in 1970, but the leftist politician didn't secure his office until he won a bitter debate within his own Congress.

Once he came to power, Allende's Popular Unity coalition government nationalized Chile's coal and steel industries, as well as 60 percent of the nation's banks. The government also nationalized the copper industry, which had been largely internationally owned.

Allende's nationalization policies angered Western governments and businesses outside Chile, which saw Allende's actions as a serious economic setback.

One of the CIA documents states that the United States had a "firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup," and speaks of the need for "the American hand to be well-hidden" in such an act.

Pinochet's rise

On September 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown and assassinated in a coup led by commanders of three of Chile's four armed forces.

It was Pinochet who emerged from the military junta to become Chile's president for 17 years.

U.S. government critics and some scholars say it is now time the nation to look openly at American actions during this era of the Cold War.

"The history of the U.S. role in bringing Pinochet to power is also one that needs to be fully aired, fully digested, and then left as a history so that we can move on as a country," said Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives.

Supporters of the Clinton administration say the U.S. government has provided Pinochet's prosecutors in Spain and Argentina with material for their cases.

But critics say the United States has handed over only the recently declassified documents, and point to large chunks of blacked-out sections in the documents that U.S. officials refuse to make public.

Correspondent Frida Ghitis contributed to this report.

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