America Sides With Pinochet’s Atrocities

<i> Edward M. Kennedy is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts. </i>

In recent weeks the country has been shocked by the contradiction between the Reagan Administration’s anti-terrorism rhetoric and the reality of its arms sales to Iran. Those who care about democracy and human rights should be equally concerned by the contradiction between the Administration’s rhetoric and its actions on Chile.

President Reagan spoke on Dec. 10 of the central importance of human rights. But on Dec. 2 the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly voted alongside Chile, Paraguay, Indonesia and Lebanon against a resolution condemning Chile’s violations of human rights. Ninety-four nations voted in favor of that resolution, including every one of our European allies and all the democracies of Latin America. Among the co-sponsors were Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands. The United Kingdom spoke on behalf of the European Community in favor of the resolution. Incredibly, the United States defied this overwhelming consensus and voted with Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The atrocities perpetrated by Pinochet and his regime go back many years. In 1976 a Chilean hit squad assassinated exiled diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington. Last July a young Chilean U.S. resident who was on a brief visit home was beaten, set afire and killed by soldiers during a protest against Pinochet.


In the years between these two grisly examples of the character of the Pinochet regime, thousands of Chileans have been arrested, tortured and killed or have disappeared. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Chile and our own State Department agree that the human-rights situation has deteriorated in this past year under a new state of siege and a new wave of arbitrary arrests, torture, killings and rejection of steps to restore democracy.

The disgraceful vote in the U.N. General Assembly last month was just one in a series of recent actions by our government that exposed the Reagan Administration’s look-the-other-way policy on human rights in Chile.

On Nov. 20 the Administration blinked and a $250-million loan by the World Bank to the government of Chile passed. The United States abstained. Nine European countries embarrassed us by casting no votes. Other European and Latin American countries, following our example, abstained. If we had carried out our pledge to vote no and worked to persuade others to do the same, the outcome might have been different. At least we would have clearly dissociated ourselves from the repressive Chilean regime.

Equally serious, on Dec. 4 the U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank was silent in open session--only later, behind closed doors, did he cast the U.S. vote to abstain--when Chile’s request for a $350-million loan for a hydroelectric project was approved.

Pinochet’s foreign minister had indicated that abstention by the United States on the loan votes would be a victory for Chile, because the action would show that the Reagan Administration did not want to place undue pressure on the regime or interfere with the Chilean economy. In fact, multilateral lending institutions have provided more money for Chile since Reagan took office than at any other time in the previous 25 years.

Pinochet and his military, aware that Chile is fast becoming a pariah in many world capitals, are sensitive to the signals coming from Washington. Early in 1986 they were agitated by the U.S. ambassador’s candor in calling for moves toward democracy. But by year’s end they had won $600 million in loans with U.S. acquiescence and a demonstration of U.S. friendship in the United Nations.


Many in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, had been encouraged by the criticisms of Chile by Administration spokesmen, including strong hints that the United States would oppose the loans. We hoped that the Administration intended at last to place itself on the side of democratic change. The Administration seemed to recognize that Pinochet’s ruthless determination to hold power and his rejection of peaceful transition to democratic rule had alienated the vast majority of the Chilean people and was driving the moderate opposition into the hands of the violent communist left.

On a visit to Chile last January I heard from men and women who told how police and military torturers had jolted their bodies with electric shocks and had beaten them with clubs. I met the widows and families of three men who had recently been kidnaped by the police--two from their homes and one from the school where he taught. A few days later their bodies were found, beheaded.

I also met with church officials, human-rights advocates, democratic opposition leaders, lawyers, doctors, trade unionists and students. All of them want an end to human-rights abuses and a return to democracy. All of them risk their lives daily for their ideals, and they all look to us for support.

In the name of fighting communism the Reagan Administration tolerates arms sales to Iran, apartheid in South Africa and torture in Chile. As we learned to our regret in Nicaragua, American support for dictatorship of the right is an invitation to dictatorship of the left. At the dead end of the Administration’s policy lies the danger that it most fears.

A bipartisan Congress reversed our failed policy in South Africa by enacting the only answer that appears to have meaning to a repressive regime--economic sanctions. Once again, on Chile, the Administration refuses to take the lead with either quiet statesmanship or public diplomacy. It is up to the new Congress to provide the bold and forthright American leadership that is needed--by enacting economic sanctions against Chile as soon as possible.