Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pinochet - The Human Rights Debate

In 1975, Richard Bloomfield, an analyst for the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs suggested that if the United States stood up for Human Rights in Chile it would not be acting out of the "emotionalism of a bleeding heart", but rather out of hard-headed realism.

Bloomfield argued that instead of worrying about whether Chile "the dagger-pointed-at-the-heart-of-Antarctica" had a government hostile to "the globe's greatest superpower", the Ford Administration should worry primarily about gaining the support of Congress, which was needed "for other aspects of our Latin American policy (e.g. Panama) and, indeed, for our foreign policy in general." Bloomfield also speculated that U.S. support for Human Rights might prevent further alienation of American young people with their government.

Despite Bloomfield's attempt to turn traditional Cold War understandings of what was in the best interest of the U.S. on its head, Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford continued to support the Pinochet regime. The Secretary of State even assured Chile's leader that when the administration did speak out about "human rights in general terms, and human rights in a world context" that "[t]he speech is not aimed a Chile." And while U.S. Intelligence Agencies estimated that over 1,600 civilians had been killed and 13,500 had been imprisoned during the coup that brought Pinochet to power, Kissinger believed that in the minds of Pinochet's American critics his "greatest sin was that" he "overthrew a government which was going Communist."

I think Bloomfield's main point is a good one to remember. The U.S. needs to constantly reevaluate its priorities and its understanding of what is in the country's best interest, even if that means thinking out-of-the-box when it comes to issues of national security, democracy, and stability. In the light of the Baker report and the resignation of Rumsfeld, I hope that even basic political assumptions are now being questioned.

(For more information on the relationship between the State Department and Pinochet's government, go to The National Security Archive.)

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