Survivors of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship are hoping US President Barack Obama’s visit next month will lead to the release of more classified US documents that could be critical to prosecuting the Chilean agents responsible for torturing and killing leftists decades ago.
They say the US president’s visit should also encourage their own government to make good on its promises to deal more forcefully with the darkest period in Chile’s political history.
Of all the Latin American countries that have shaken off dictatorships, none has made greater strides than Chile in convicting those responsible for torturing and killing political opponents. The US has helped by declassifying huge troves of documents revealing what it knew about the Sept. 11, 1973, coup — Chile’s own 9/11 — and the bloody crackdown that lasted through the 1980s.
However, more documents remain classified, and in the files made public, names were redacted, so hundreds of investigations remain stymied.
Authorities are under particular pressure from the daughters of two presidents whose deaths remain shrouded in mystery — former Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was said to have committed suicide as Pinochet’s troops seized the presidential palace in 1973, and his predecessor, former Chilean president Eduardo Frei Montalva, allegedly poisoned during routine hernia surgery in 1982, when he was a leading critic of the dictatorship.
“Precisely because there has been such a radical change in the politics of the United States that we believe in the human rights [policies] of President Obama, this is the moment — if he’s coming to Chile he can receive the official requests and petitions,” Carmen Frei, daughter of Frei Montalva, told Chile’s Radio Cooperativa.
Allende’s daughter, Senator Isabel Allende, said the coup “represents an unpaid debt for the justice system, to acknowledge the numerous crimes committed that day, identify those who participated, establishing their criminal responsibilities and knowing the entire truth of that day.”
Chile’s Supreme Court recently ordered investigative judge Mario Carroza to probe Allende’s death along with 725 others whose cases were never prosecuted. Another judge, Alejandro Madrid, began probing Frei Montalva’s death in 2002, and has charged six people, including doctors and former Pinochet spies, with poisoning him and covering up his death by removing his bodily fluids and organs.
While US experts did some tests on his remains, the US government turned down several other requests for evidence because they lacked formal support from the executive branches of both countries, according to a Dec. 11, 2009, US Embassy review recently made public through WikiLeaks.
Already in 1975, the US Senate’s Church Committee concluded that former US president Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, had spent millions interfering with Chilean elections, destabilizing Allende’s socialist economy and directing conspiracies with Chilean military figures to drive him from office.
More details of the historical record later came out after a campaign led by Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, which summarized some of the more than 25,000 US documents declassified by the administration of former US president Bill Clinton.
“The Obama administration has the opportunity to practice archival diplomacy in these investigations” by sharing uncensored versions of the documents with Chilean judges, Kornbluh said.