The United States had a specific foreign policy towards its Latin American neighbors. The historic relationship with Latin America goes back to the early 19th century. Chile is one of the few countries that always received special attention from the United States. The US had a strong trade partnership with Chile. As Chile always supported free trade in the Western Hemisphere, the US found it easy to deal with the country. Being the oldest democracy in the world, the United States always tried its best to propagate democracy and human rights values in the world.
It has committed itself to ensure peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere, which is in its own interest. Chile always remained on the agenda of the United States on that regard. The relations between the United States and Chile were strengthened in the later part of the twentieth century. “Although Europe remained a large market for Chilean products, the United States took considerable interest in Chile and developed its copper mines” (Falcoff, 1989). Chile’s democratic governments did not support the European fascism and offered their support to Allies Forces during the World War II.
During the Cold War era, Chile supported the US effort to prevent the spread of Communism in the Western Hemisphere. That made it closer to the United States. Chile under Pinochet The 1973 military coup brought significant changes to the social, political and economic affairs of the country. General Augusto Pinochet was the head of the military junta who initiated major social changes in the country. The long-standing democracy of Chile was converted to dictatorship under Pinochet. “In the 1970 Presidential elections, people of Chile had elected Salvador Allende, a Marxist leader as the President of the country.
After the military coup, Pinochet banned the left parties that were part of President Allende’s Popular Unity coalition. He also dissolved the Congress and banned or suspended all political parties. All dissident leaders were punished and all political activities were banned in the country” (Drake & Ivan, 1991). Pinochet rejected the Christian Democratic Party’s call for a quick return to democracy. “The church initially supported the military cup as it believed that Chile was saved from a possible “Marxist dictatorship”. Even Pope John Paul II was criticized for his support to the Pinochet regime” (Falcoff, 1989).
At a later stage, the church became critical of the military regime because of its social and economic policies. During Pinochet’s rule, all leftist opposition parties were suppressed with no exception. The political genocide was at its peak with a large number of suspected leftists executed or disappeared. “Over the tree year period after military coup, approximately 130,000 people were arrested. Pinochet’s action was viewed as state terrorism” (Falcoff, 1989). The US Reaction to Coup in Chile The United States had several times in the past tried to influence the government policies in Chile.
“In the 1964 election, the US spent millions of dollars in campaigning against the Marxist presidential candidate, Salvador Allende. Allende lost the election because of the aggressive campaign of the CIA. However, the situation in the 1970 presidential election was completely different. Although the US intelligence agencies tried their best to prevent Allende from being elected, he won the election and became President of Chile” (Petras & Morris, 1975). That was a huge disappointment for the US government as it had to deal with a Communist regime in Latin America.
“The US President, Richard Nixon feared that Chile could become a “rogue” country like Cuba under the leftist regime. He imposed economic sanctions against Chile to put pressure on Allende to resign or to be overthrown” (Petras & Morris, 1975). Taking advantage of the situation, Chile’s armed forces under August Pinochet ousted Allende from power. He imposed martial law and Chile became a military junta under his leadership. The US government was completely against the Allende government. However, the proof of the US role in the military coup has remained inconclusive.
There had been allegations that the US supported the military coup. However, in the absence of proper documentary evidence, it is difficult to say whether the US offered its direct support to the military coup or not. “The official CIA document says that it did not support Pinochet to assume presidency of Chile. Irrespective of the degree of the US involvement, the US achieved its objective of preventing the growth of socialism in Chile” (Petras & Morris, 1975). Relations between the US and Chile during Pinochet’s Regime The US was happy in the ouster of Allende.
Although it publicly criticized the military regime, it provided all kind of material support to Pinochet. After the overthrow of Allende, the CIA actively supported the military junta and offered paid contracts of the CIA and the US military to Pinochet’s officers. “In the early 1800s, the US administration under President Ronald Reagan sought cordial relations with Chile’s military regime. The US was sympathetic to Pinochet for his anti-communist stand” (Drake & Ivan, 1991). As Pinochet faced strong opposition from communist parties, that made him closer to the US government.
That was the Cold War era and the US was determined to stop the growth of Communism in Latin America and elsewhere in the world. As Pinochet fought against the communist forces, the US overlooked his military antecedents and provided every possible support to him. The economic policies implemented by the Pinochet regime found favor with the US administration. Pinochet was the only South American leader to follow free market economic policies. Hence, the US supported his initiatives and provided sufficient financial and military assistance to Chile.
Regular visits between the military officers of Chile and the US were established. “Even the US had invited Chile to take part in the annual UNITAS joint US-Latin America naval exercises. When Senator Jesse Helms moved to repeal the 1977 ban on military assistance and sales to Chile, the US administration supported it. Eventually, Congress lifted the ban. However, it urged the Pinochet regime to improve human rights situation in the country” (Falcoff, 1989). Economic Downturn in Chile and Social Unrest “In 1982 – 1983, Chile witnessed the first sharp economic downturn in many years.
The economic crisis was a result of unemployment and falling GDP. Wages dropped sharply in 1983. There was an increase in foreign debt and industrial units applied for bankruptcy in large numbers” (Caviedes, 1991). Pinochet took effective measures to reduce inflation, but it failed to find a complete remedy. The free market policies reduced barriers to import foreign goods. Foreign investment was encouraged. However, those policies had a negative impact on local firms as they lost out to the multinational corporations in a competitive market. “The Chilean business strongly supported the military coup in 1973.
However, they were badly affected by Pinochet regime’s economic policies” (Drake & Ivan, 1991). The decline of domestic industry in Chile resulted in widespread resentment among people. It also cost thousands of well-paying jobs. People resorted to strikes and protests to air their voice against the policies of the government. The military regime was determined to prevent the social unrest at any cost and it used repressive measures. A large numbers of protestors were killed during social protests against the economic crisis. There had been frequent clashes between the police and protestors that often resulted in heavy casualties.
“Thousands of people were detained for political activity and protests in 1983 – 84. A large number of strikers were fired from job and union leaders were jailed” (Caviedes, 1991). The changes in labor laws also created discontent among people. “The Pinochet regime sought to overhaul the labor law system. It wanted to create a healthy labor market by eliminating collective bargaining and allowing large-scale dismissal of workers. The amended law also increased the daily working hours up to twelve hours and abolished the labor courts” (Drake & Ivan, 1991).
The whole objective of the military regime was to attract foreign investment to Chile and it succeeded in finding favor with the countries like the United States. The United States supported the initiatives of the military regime as Chile’s new economic policies were in its own interest. However, local business community in Chile was not satisfied with the economic policies. The economic initiatives taken by the military regime led to concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a small elite group and common people had to suffer.
The economic measures of the Pinochet regime accumulated wealth in the hands of rich and served the interests of transnational corporations of the United States. But it failed to improve the living standards of poor and labor class. Shift in the US Foreign Policy towards Chile and Path to Democracy “The United States was concerned over the developments in Chile in the early 1980s. It feared that the suppression of protesters in Chile would help the Marxist left to win the sympathy of people, which happened in Nicaragua” (Falcoff, 1989).
Human rights violation in Chile did not go well with the US policy makers. “After the riots in Santiago, Chilean capital in 1983, the US began to worry about the efficiency of the Pinochet government to fight leftist forces. The major shift in the US policy towards Chile was noticed during Reagon’s second term when it emphasized on finding a way for the successful transition to civilian rule” (Caviedes, 1991). The United States did not support Pinochet’s move to hold plebiscite and advocated democratic process through free and fair elections.
By the late 1980s, the US was seen actively backing the opposition in obtaining a fair electoral process. It was a paradigm shift from the previous US foreign policy in the early 1980s when the US government had embraced the military regime by ignoring the concerns of the democratic opposition. “In October 1988, people in Chile voted in a presidential referendum to end Pinochet’s bid for 8 more years as president. Riding on the financial and technical assistance from the US administration and the anti-military sentiments, Patricio Aylwin defeated General Pinochet and became the President of Chile” (Drake & Ivan, 1991).
Aylwin held negotiations that resulted in an agreement between the government and the opposition on constitutional reforms. It was a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy, which was the main objective of the United States. Conclusion One of the important aspects of the US foreign policy is to ensure a tension-free zone around its neighborhood. Latin America always remained a significant part of the US foreign policy. The US showed considerable interest in Chile because of its own economic interests and anti-communist policies. The volatile situations in Chile made the US keep a close watch on the happenings in that country.It took adequate steps to ensure the growth of democratic values and improvement of human rights condition in Chile.
Petras, James & Morris Morley. (1975). The United States and Chile: Imperialism and the Overthrow of the Allende Government. NY: Monthly Review Press. Caviedes, Cesar N. (1991). Elections in Chile: The Road towards Redemocratization. Boulder, Colorado: Rienner. Drake, Paul W. , & Ivan Jaksic. (1991). The Struggle for Democracy in Chile, 1982-1990. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Falcoff, Mark. (1989). Modern Chile, 1970-89: A Critical History. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books.