New publication reveals Brazilian intervention to undermine Allende and reinforce Pinochet
Chile’s ambassador to Brazil, Raúl Rettig, sent an alarming telegram in March 1971 to his Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled “Brazilian Army possibly conducting studies on guerrillas being introduced into Chile.” Several sources informed the embassy that the Brazilian military regime was considering how to instigate an insurrection to overthrow the Allende government.
The military has established a “war room” with maps and models of the Andes mountains along the border with Chile to plan infiltration operations, the message said, classified as “strictly confidential.” According to Rettig’s report, “the Brazilian Army apparently sent to Chile a series of secret agents who would have entered the country as tourists, with the intention of obtaining more information about possible regions where a guerrilla movement could operate.” No date has yet been set, said one informant, to start this “armed movement”.
Rettig’s revealing telegram is one of hundreds of documents obtained from the archives of Brazil, Chile and the US by investigative reporter Roberto Simon for his new book, Brazil against Democracy: the Dictatorship, the Coup in Chile and the Cold War in South America. Published in Brazil in February 2021, the book exposes the clandestine role that the Brazilian military regime played in the September 11, 1973 coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, as well as the Brazilian contribution to Chile’s repressive apparatus during its 17-year dictatorship.
“The book shows how the Brazilian military dictatorship actively worked to undermine Chile’s democracy during the Allende years and, after 1973, to help the Chilean junta consolidate its power,” Simon noted in an interview with the National Security Archive. “Brazil provided direct support for, and a model for, the Pinochet dictatorship.”
In addition to Brazil’s plan to foment an anti-Allende insurrection in Chile, the book contains numerous other historical revelations, including:
- A few days after Salvador Allende’s historic election on September 4, 1970, US ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, met with Brazil’s ambassador in Santiago, Antonio Cândido da Câmara Canto, and shared details of early US efforts to block Allende’s possession. By order of the White House, Korry said, the embassy was passing hostile information about Allende to Chilean military commanders and threatening to cut economic aid and credit if he assumed the Chilean presidency. Ambassador Câmara Canto’s report on the meeting was considered so important in Brazil that chancellor Mario Gibson Barboza summarized it in a report to the president of the military regime, General Emílio Garrastazu Médici.
- The Brazilian military established substantive communications with Chilean military officers who opposed Allende and even secretly arranged for some of them to come to Brazil to discuss the conspiracy of a coup.
- Brazilian agents have established ties with the pro-terrorist organization Patria y Libertad in Chile. After a failed coup attempt in June 1973, Brazil provided protection and asylum for senior members of Patria y Libertad.
- Brazil obtained intelligence on the first coup plans, identifying military officers who were preparing to overthrow Allende. At a meeting held at El Bosque air base on Aug. 2, 1973, Chilean officials assessed elements of the 1964 coup in Brazil to see what might be useful in their plans to take power.
- In the days following the military coup of September 11, 1973, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs aided the diplomatic efforts of the new Chilean junta to present the coup in the most positive light. The book provides new details about Brazil’s effort to be the first country to officially recognize Chile’s new military regime. Brazilian officials also helped draft some of the opening speeches by Pinochet’s UN representatives to justify the bloody coup in the UN General Assembly. Brazil also poured considerable economic aid and financial credits into Chile after the coup, totaling more than $1.2 billion in today’s dollars.
- Brazil sent a team of intelligence agents to Santiago to participate in the interrogations of prisoners at the National Stadium, which became a center for detention, torture and mass execution after the coup. According to the book, the secret mission was headed by Colonel Sebastião Ramos de Castro, of the Brazilian intelligence service, the National Information Service (SNI).
- Brazil has trained dozens of officials and agents of the dreaded Chilean secret police, DINA, among them agents who have participated in international assassination missions, including the car bomb of former ambassador Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, in Washington DC. Senior military officers also spent considerable time in Brazil, including Humberto Gordon, who was posted in Brasília as a “military attaché” in 1974 and rose to head Pinochet’s secret police agency, the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI).
- Based on US intelligence records declassified in 2019, the book provides a more detailed description of Brazil’s role in collaborating with secret police forces in the Southern Cone, known as Operation Condor. Brazil, according to a CIA document, has tried to “control” Condor’s missions, resisting efforts by Chile, Uruguay and Argentina to engage in assassination operations directed outside the Southern Cone, and preferring to engage in a series of Bilateral surrender operations to kidnap and dissapear left-wing opponents in the region. According to a 1977 State Department intelligence analysis, Brazil – along with its smaller allies Paraguay and Bolivia – was “(acting) as a shock absorber for Condor,” and Brazilian authorities stopped attending meetings of the Condor.
The book highlights a dramatic scene in December 1971, when the head of the Brazilian military regime, General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, came to Washington and met in private with President Richard Nixon at the White House. The two leaders openly discussed efforts to depose Allende. Médici told Nixon that Allende would be deposed “for the same reasons that Goulart had been deposed in Brazil” and “made it clear that Brazil was working towards that end.”
Nixon replied “that it was very important that Brazil and the United States work closely in this field” and offered “discreet help” and money for Brazilian operations against the Allende government. Nixon made it clear that Brazil could help the US defeat Allende and other leftist governments and movements across Latin America and said he “hoped we could cooperate closely as there were many things Brazil as a South American country could do and the US doesn’t.”
The now famous Nixon-Médici meeting at the Oval Office was recorded in a White House Top Secret memo talk that the National Security Archive first obtained and published in 2009; the Archive also published CIA intelligence summaries on the reaction of some Brazilian military officers to the meeting, including one who believed that “the United States obviously wants Brazil to ‘do the dirty work'” in South America.
But, the abundance of documentary evidence that Roberto Simon meticulously gathered for Brazil against Democracy reveals that Brazil has done its own “dirty work” in Chile, as well as in Uruguay, Bolivia and other parts of the Southern Cone. Although the military regime may have coordinated and collaborated with the Nixon government, Brazil’s military dictatorship acted to its own geopolitical preservation, and not at the behest of Washington.
“The image of the Brazilian military regime as ‘Washington’s puppet’, fully aligned with the regional superpower, is a myth that relegates Brazil to a mere subsidiary role in the region,” says Simon in his introduction. “The book shows that the opposite was true: the Brazilian dictatorship had its own motivations – strategic, ideological, economic and others – to intervene in Chile.”
Indeed, the book represents a watershed for the historiography of the overthrow of democracy and the advent of dictatorship in Chile – a historiography that, until now, has focused almost exclusively on the role of secret US intervention in the 9/11 military coup. from 1973. “This book is a watershed for the historical narrative of the imperial intervention in Chile”, says Peter Kornbluh, who directs the documentation projects of Chile and Brazil at the Archive. “It provides a much more complete understanding of the history of foreign violations of Chile’s sovereignty and suggests that there is more to be learned.”
SOURCE: National Security Archive