Friday, February 13, 2009

When Histories Clash (Part 1)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet yesterday met with Fidel Castro, and she says that he was "active" and "in very good condition." The meeting has sparked outrage on some Spanish-language radio stations and over at the Babalu blog.

Earlier today, I heard a radio host on "La Poderosa" WWFE 670 AM saying that he had more respect for a prostitute than respect for Pres. Bachelet because supposedly a prostitute has less control over the decision she makes, and Pres. Bachelet made the deliberate decision to meet with a dictator. Henry Gomez from Babalu has called Pres. Bachelet "the worst kind of hypocrite because she went to Cuba and knelt at the feet of raul and fidel castro and kissed their rings. She has the unmitigated gall to go there and insult of the memories of more than 10,000 victims of the castro regime." And, Anastasio Blanco (also at Babalu) is calling her life history a fraud because "[i]n supporting dictatorship in Cuba, she not only callously discounts the suffering of her own family and countrymen from years-past, but that of 11 million souls in Cuba as well."

Certainly, the meeting between Pres. Bachelet and Fidel Castro immediately signals a hypocrisy because Bachelet and her family were direct victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, and now she is smiling alongside another dictator. I have not read or heard Pres. Bachelet directly respond to accusations of hypocrisy, but there are facts behind this case that are very easy to understand and explain why this dictator is different from the other.

This is not an attempt to excuse actions, but rather to understand them.

The origins of power for the Pinochet and Castro dictatorships are very different. Augusto Pinochet's ascent to power was financially supported by covert US actions inside Chile from 1963 to 1973. Those are uncontroversial facts based on US government investigations. The reasons were not based on benevolent concern for the people of Chile, they were based on selfish US policy. Recently declassified documents reveal that Henry Kissinger, then-National Security Advisor to US President Richard Nixon, strongly supported destabilization in Chile because he wanted to maintain "the world balance and our own position in it" and avoid "a steady drift toward the modus vivendi approach" with Chile. Once Pinochet and his military allies took power, they sought to immediately eliminate their enemies. In response, the Nixon administration looked the other way. Amid growing rumors of mass graves and firing squads in Chile, Kissinger responded: "I think we should understand our [US] policy--that however unpleasant they act, the [military Pinochet] government is better for us than Allende was."

Democratically-elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973. He also died that same day.