Saul Landau: How 9/11 Exposed Pinochet's Criminal Career as a Narcotrafficker





[Saul Landau's new book, A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, will be published by Counterpunch Press. He can be reached at: slandau@igc.org]

On 9/11/73, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup that overthrew Chile's elected government. The military bombed the Presidential Palace, assassinated 3,197 and tortured of tens of thousands more in order to "save" Chile from "subversion." Three decades later, Chilean courts stripped Pinochet of his self-anointed immunity from prosecution. The 90 year old ex-dictator, under house arrest, faces charges of murder, torture, drug dealing, tax evasion and money laundering.

Political circles in Santiago and Washington DC (which once encouraged him) sneer at the mention of his name. Few people even try to justify his orders to torch thousands of books and assassinate and exile Chile's greatest singers-composers, Victor Jara and Angel Parra....

In the 1960s and 70, with strong US-backing, third world military juntas created mini copies of European fascism. In Latin America, the militaries in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Central America overthrew elected governments. Secret police and the military replaced legislatures and courts.

In September 1973, Pinochet led the most dramatic of these fascist copies. He and fellow generals and admirals blasted away democracy and "saved" Chile. Pinochet "rescued" Chile from "a Soviet takeover." As if!

He eliminated the Constitution, legislature and labor unions. Soldiers burned "subversive" books and assassinated opponents, after torturing them.

Washington quickly recognized his government and offered financial support, which it had withdrawn from President Allende's elected socialist government. Cynical critics viewed Pinochet as little more than Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's choice to wage Cold War. Kissinger preferred obedient dictators to independent, elected presidents.

In March 1976, responding to human rights complaints, three Members of Congress on a fact finding visit to Chile met with Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, one of four junta members that overthrow Allende's government. Leigh pointed to photos on his office wall of World War II Nazi air aces, of whom he spoke admiringly. He told Congressmen George Miller (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Toby Moffett (D-CT) that Chilean pilots should model themselves after such heroes.

The Members and their staff returned horrified by Pinochet's brutality, and by comments from US Ambassador to Santiago, David Popper. The military junta was "our kind of people," Popper said. Harkin, on his return, authored an amendment designed to cut all but humanitarian aid to Chile. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a similar bill, cutting off military aid.

In June 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Pinochet in Santiago to "clean up" his image. After all, "in the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here."

Kissinger referred to Pinochet's persecution of leftists and his neo-liberal economic policies. As Pinochet eschewed law, he displayed obeisance to Washington's policies. For seventeen years, Pinochet used military fascism to transform Chile from a third world democracy into a globalized free market economy with a traumatized population. No wonder, US officials did not talk about "Pinochet-the-fence and money-launderer."

Until recently, Pinochet critics focused almost exclusively human rights violations. Official Washington had shrugged off such wimpy complaints as "birth pangs" of a new regime. By the 1980s, however, Reagan converted human rights into an anti-Soviet instrument, and Pinochet became an embarrassment.

In September 1976, he had made enemies by ordering his secret police to car bomb Orlando Letelier, former Allende Chancellor, in Washington DC. The explosion also killed Ronni Moffitt, an American colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies where both worked.

By 1988, Pinochet had become an embarrassment to Washington. US officials pressured him to hold a referendum. In 1990, Chileans voted his military government out of power. Still, the debate focused on rights, not crime. Pinochet critics remained obsessed with his excesses --- which assumed that his brutality derived from political motives.

Few thought the generalissimo, his wife and children, had taken substantial pieces of state contracts and engaged in narcotrafficking. These activities in turn led them into tax-evasion schemes. They hid the lucre in Washington DC's Riggs Bank, known for its willingness to help right wing dictators launder ill gotten gains.

Ironically, the events of 9/11/01 helped expose the criminals of 9/11/73. In 2004, a Congressional staffer, following Patriot Act guidelines, searched foreign bank accounts and discovered that Riggs Bank officials had permitted false names to appear on accounts that belonged to Pinochet family members. "El jefe's" hanky panky began to emerge....

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