The socialist Michelle Bachelet has been elected president of Chile and is being hailed not only as that nation’s first female leader but as a victim of Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 military coup toppled Salvador Allende. In left-wing legend, Allende was an independent Marxist and patriot, also a martyr done in by Nixon and the CIA. That legend will now have to be scrapped, thanks to an important work that has drawn little attention.
The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (Basic Books) is the recently published second volume of revelations from the archive that Soviet intelligence officer Vasili Mitrokin smuggled to the West in 1992. The volume does not mention Michelle Bachelet, who doubtless has a KGB file from her time in East Germany – a rather strange place for an alleged independent democrat to take refuge – but there is plenty about Salvador Allende. His KGB code name was LEADER, and the Soviets considered him their most important asset after Fidel Castro.
Allende first attracted KGB attention during the Stalin era of the early 1950s, when, as leader of Chilean Socialist Party, he formed an alliance with the banned Communist Party of Chile, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the USSR. For their part, the Chilean Communists regarded Allende as a “demagogue” and a “weak and inconsistent politician” with Maoist sympathies. Allende had visited China and ranked Mao Tse-tung on a level with Marx, Engels, and Lenin. But that deviation proved no obstacle.
The KGB’s systematic contact with Allende began in 1961 after the Soviets established a trade mission in Chile that served as a cover for covert operations. According to the files, Allende stated his willingness to cooperate on a confidential basis and provide any necessary assistance, since he was a friend of the USSR. Allende willingly shared sensitive political information with KGB handlers such as Svyatoslav Kuznetsov.
He was sent from Mexico to Chile to maintain contact and coordinate covert operations to ensure Allende’s success. Allende asked for Soviet funds and got them. At that time, the Soviets spent more in Chile than any country in Latin America, including a personal subsidy of $50,000 directly to Allende, the LEADER who combined Marxist dogma with aristocratic tastes and an eye for the ladies.
KGB handler Kuznetsov arranged meetings with Allende through Maria Contreras Bell, his personal secretary, code name MARTA and Allende’s favorite mistress. The KGB also maintained close relationships with Allende’s wife Hortensia and daughter Beatriz, both in Chile and during their stays in USSR. There were other channels of access, including the many Cubans in Allende’s personal guard.
The KGB also paid off other Chilean politicians not to run against Allende, who in 1970 headed the Unidad Popular (UP) a coalition of Communist, Socialist, and various radical parties. The forces against Allende were divided and he won with a paltry 36.3 percent of the vote.
After the election, according to LEADER’s KGB file, the Soviets told Allende he needed to reorganize Chile’s army and intelligence services, and set up a relationship between the intelligence services of the two countries. Allende agreed, something no independent could do. The KGB files reveal nothing about CIA involvement with the Pinochet coup, during which Allende likely killed himself, but the KGB promoted him as a martyr who had been murdered by the Chilean military, which captured Chilean Communist boss Luis Corvalan. The KGB abandoned an elaborate plan to spring Corvalan from a remote prison and eventually swapped him for dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.
As part of operation TOUCAN, the KGB also forged a letter tying the CIA to an assassination campaign by Chile’s DINA. The World Was Going Our Way includes the entire letter, for which many fell, including columnist Jack Anderson. The volume also notes that, in 1976, the New York Times published 66 articles on human rights abuses in Chile and only four on Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge killed 1.5 million out of that nation’s 7.5 million people. The authors find no adequate explanation for this “extraordinary discrepancy,” but there is one.
KGB disinformation specialists did their job well and found many on the American Left disposed to believe them. The Allende legend will have to be revised. He was not an independent leader, Chilean patriot, and committed democrat. He was a long-term tool of the KGB and Soviet Union, but one should not look for second thoughts from the American radicals who hailed him. Their ideological outrigger has no rear-view mirror, and they have long since rowed it to new fronts, through which the United States can be denounced.
Unlike Fidel Castro, still in power after all these years, Pinochet stepped aside and allowed democratic elections. The ensuing Chilean governments have been cordial toward the United States. The current coalition is friendly to markets, entered a free-trade pact with the United States, and has seen growth rates of six percent. Whether that will continue remains to be seen.
Hernando de Soto’s “other path” of free markets is out of favor in Latin America, where the trend is leftward and anti-American. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez appears to be constantly channeling his inner Castro and Mussolini. The leftist Evo Morales has been elected in Bolivia, and left-leaning governments prevail in Brazil and Argentina. There is no longer a Soviet Union to intervene, but as history shows, Latin American leaders are perfectly capable of wrecking their own economies and confusing their friends with their enemies.
New Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is a socialist, an agnostic, and a divorcee. When asked whether she would marry again, she complained that a man would not be asked that sort of question. Reporters might ask her about East Germany, not only a much more repressive dictatorship than Chile under Pinochet (and that shot those who attempted to flee), but also an economic basket case. Or they could ask her about the recently revealed ties between the LEADER and the KGB. Her reaction will tell the tale.
If Michelle Bachelet retains affection for command-and-control economics, she will invoke the memory of Allende and align with the Chavez bloc. If she is the true independent Allende was not, she will follow another, pro-American path.
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