U.S. Meddling in Chile’s 1964 Presidential Election
Given the U.S. government’s meddling in Chile’s 1964 presidential election, I can’t help but wonder whether that has contributed to the major obsession that U.S. officials have with supposed Russian meddling in U.S. presidential elections. When one does bad things to others, oftentimes this causes the malefactor to think that others are doing the same thing to him.
Americans didn’t learn about the full extent of the CIA’s meddling in the 1964 election until 2004, when U.S. officials decided to declassify records relating to what they had done.
Why that 40-year period of secrecy? Why, “national security” course. If the American people had found out what the CIA had done before that, the United States might have fallen into the ocean or maybe even been taken over by communists, Muslims, illegal immigrants, or drug dealers.
The purpose of the CIA’s intervention was to help presidential candidate Eduardo Frei defeat his opponent Salvador Allende, a Chilean physician.
Why the preoccupation with defeating Allende? Because Allende was more than just a doctor. He was also an avowed socialist. A democratically elected president with socialist proclivities was considered a grave threat to U.S. “national security.”
Keep in mind, after all, that this was 1964, during the period when the U.S. national-security establishment was convinced that the communists were coming to get us. The idea was that ever since the end of World War II, there supposedly existed a vast, worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the world that was supposedly based in Moscow, Russia. (Yes, that Russia!) If Allende were to be democratically elected president, that could accelerate, the notion went, the communist conquest of the United States, especially given the continued existence of the communist regime in Cuba.
In the process of helping Frei win the election, the CIA became a major factor in the election, albeit secretly and surreptitiously. According to an article on the meddling on the website of the National Security Archive,
[C]overt support for Frei’s Christian Democrats began in April 1962, at the suggestion of Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin and the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, with a series of secret payments on “a non-attributable basis”–meaning that the source of the funds was kept a secret from Frei and his party officials. In preparation for the 1964 campaign, in December 1963 the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division proposed a concrete “political action program in Chile” to bolster the Christian Democrats chances of winning. The CIA’s Chief of Western Hemisphere Division, J.C. King, recommended that funds for the campaign “be provided in a fashion causing Frei to infer United States origin of funds and yet permitting plausible denial,” so that the CIA could “achieve a measure of influence over [the] Christian Democratic Party.”
The documents record that on March 26, 1964, Frei’s campaign managers met with U.S. embassy officials to go over their campaign budget of $1.5 million for which the party only had $500,000. A memorandum recording the meeting noted that “The Chileans suggested that the U.S. government make up this difference which amounts to one million dollars for the period from now to election time.” The “Special Group” which approved covert actions met on April 2 in the White House situation room and authorized CIA financing of the campaign and a compromise with the CIA in which the U.S. source of the secret funding “would be inferred” but with “no evidence of proof.”
On May 14, the Special Group approved an increase in covert spending to $1.25 million to allow the Christian Democrats to “campaign at its full potential.” On July 23, the Johnson administration approved another $500,000 for Frei to “maintain the pace and rhythm of his campaign effort.”
The CIA ended up spending $2.6 million to underwrite Frei’s campaign. Another $3 million was spent on an anti-Allende propaganda campaign.
Frei won the election. It was also a grand victory for the CIA.
Six years later, however, the U.S. government’s meddling in the 1970 Chilean presidential election ended up in failure. This time, Allende ended up winning the election. That then motivated the CIA to engage in such sordid, dark-side practices as bribery, kidnapping, assassination, transportation strikes, and, finally, a military coup that succeeded in ousting Allende from office. Let’s just hope that Russia doesn’t go that far.