Today, August 8th, marks the fortieth anniversary of Richard Nixon’s decision to resign the presidency. History has been unkind to the 37th President of the U.S., and rightly so. In one account of his resignation, Nixon is described as “paranoid, vicious, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, with a casual disregard for anything besides his own standing.” In another, presidential historian Robert Dallek calls Watergate, “the worst threat to America’s democratic institutions since the Civil War.”
In no review have we seen Nixon called to account for the demons he released in Chile; backing the overthrow of its democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, for his full-throated support for Allende’s successor, General Augusto Pinochet, or for Nixon’s blustering denials that the U.S. played any role whatsoever in Allende’s removal from office in a coup or for the carnage that followed.
In the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon was a champion of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the fiasco that ultimately dropped onto John Kennedy’s desk soon after he dispatched the Vice President in the 1960 election. Declassified documents released by the National Security Archive say Nixon, who “proposed to the CIA that they support ‘goon squads and other direct action groups’ inside and outside of Cuba,” repeatedly interfered in the invasion planning.
As President, Nixon was mesmerized by the prospect that Allende could be elected Chile’s leader, and by the threat he could pull the penumbra of Communism across Latin America. As Peter Kornbluh has reported, CIA director Richard Helms informed his senior covert action staff that “President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States.” In a move that is familiar to Cuba watchers, Nixon ordered Helms and the CIA to “make the Chilean economy scream,” to prevent Allende from succeeding.
The CIA, as the New York Times reported, “spent $8 million in Chile supporting the political opposition and establishing a network of those committed to Allende’s downfall.” When the coup took place, as Kornbluh writes in his book, The Pinochet File, thousands of Chileans were rounded up and taken to the National Stadium; several hundred were executed there. During Pinochet’s bloody 17-year dictatorship, thousands more were killed; to this day over 1,100 remain “disappeared.”
As with so much else, Nixon lied about Chile without relent. He told David Frost in 1977 that “Allende was overthrown, eventually, not because of anything that was done from the outside, but because his system didn’t work in Chile and Chile decided to throw him out.” Just as he misled the nation about Watergate, “tricky Dick” grossly dissembled on the U.S. role in Chile.
Laid alongside what he wrought upon Chile, USAID’s activities in Cuba are mere “dirty tricks,” but we suspect Nixon would have loved them just the same; although, like us, he might be astonished by who oversees them in the White House’s Oval Office today.
Earlier this year, we reported on the development agency’s ZunZuneo scandal, disclosed by the Associated Press, in which USAID supplied an SMS service to Cubans with mobile telephones, never telling them it was created by the U.S. government or that they were being profiled politically. USAID and the State Department loudly denied the truth of ZunZuneo’s regime change provenance.
As its Administrator Rajiv Shah told a Senate Subcommittee in April:
“To the extent that the AP story or any other comment creates the impression that this effort or any other goes beyond that for other ulterior purposes that is just simply inaccurate.”
Now, the AP has returned with a blockbuster on a group of “nearly a dozen [untrained] neophytes” from Latin America recruited for a mission by USAID contractor Creative Associates International to enter Cuba as tourists and “gin up rebellion” among the Cuban population; yes, this is eerily similar to what opened the door to Alan Gross’s prison cell that slammed shut behind him almost five years ago.
In one especially objectionable operation, they used their participation in an HIV prevention workshop as a “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.
Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) called it “worse than irresponsible. It may have been good business for USAID’s contractor, but it tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.”
Yet, as William LeoGrande observed in the Huffington Post, “when AP blew the cover on the phony health program, USAID’s response was to stick by the ridiculous claim that it was just trying to help Cubans tackle a ‘community or social problem.’ USAID decried the AP story’s ‘sensational claims’ about the program’s subversive intent, declaring flatly, ‘This is wrong,’ but without actually denying any factual assertion in the piece.”
As Nixon sent the CIA into Chile, one member of its Directorate of Operations responded with this astute analysis:
“Covert operations to stop Allende from becoming president would be worse than useless. Any indication that we are behind a legal mickey mouse or some hardnosed play will exacerbate relations even further with the new government. I am afraid we will be repeating the errors we made in 1959 and 1960 when we drove Fidel Castro into the Soviet Camp. If successful for the moment we would bring upon ourselves…a much worse image throughout Latin America and the World.”
The warning was ignored, and we know now what happened to Chile and to Nixon. Will anyone persuade Obama to shut this “mickey mouse play” down?
A note: CDA will be taking a summer recess on the week of August 18. There will be no Cuba Central Newsblast on Friday, August 22.