[News] The ‘other special relationship’: Britain and Chile 40 years after Pinochet’s coup

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 6 12:21:03 EDT 2013

    The ‘other special relationship’: Britain and Chile 40 years after
    Pinochet’s coup

Posted: Sunday, September 01, 2013 - By Patrick Timmon


Recent criticism leveled at Chile by the U.N. for the country’s 
treatment of its indigenous minority prompts a human rights historian to 
question Britain’s current support for Chile’s military establishment.

COLCHESTER, England – Ask anybody from Santiago about the noise heard in 
the Chilean capital’s skies on the morning of Sept. 11, 1973, and they 
will probably tell you about the screeching roar of the British Hawker 
Harrier jets as they bombed La Moneda. Within minutes the planes had set 
fire to the presidential palace. After the air attack on the president’s 
offices, Chile’s army, directed by Augusto Pinochet and a group of 
generals, stormed the building. President Salvador Allende died in the 

Britain had been supplying all branches of the Chilean military with 
arms even under Allende, the democratically elected president ousted by 
Pinochet, who was his defense minister. In 1973, with British matériel 
and more than a nod and a wink from the CIA, a more than century-old 
Latin American democracy fell to authoritarianism. Pinochet stayed in 
power from 1973 to 1990 and sustained friendly, special relations with 
London and Washington, D.C., even as concerns about human rights abuses 

In 2013, the anniversary year of Pinochet’s coup, Britain is 
aggressively refreshing its ties to Chile’s military establishment. From 
May 28-30, Chile’s defense minister visited London for annual bilateral 
defense discussions. Earlier in May, a 15-member delegation of military 
and civilian security and defense officials from 11 countries came to 
Chile on a “study tour” organized by Britain’s Royal College of Defense 
Studies with the support of the UK Embassy in Santiago. Chile’s defense 
minister welcomed the group. In late July and early August, “academics” 
from the British Army’s college at Sandhurst traveled to Santiago to 
train students from Chile’s defense institutions in counterinsurgency 

There’s no secret to Britain’s current ties to Chile’s military: the 
British government has advertised these visits on the Foreign and 
Commonwealth Office website, stating that counterinsurgency training 
“was organised as part of the ongoing efforts to reinforce and 
strengthen the close ties between the British and Chilean Ministries of 

Chile is an ever-present reminder to the West of the excesses of Cold 
War anti-communism. Pinochet seized power for the country’s capitalist 
establishment and labeled his leftist antagonists violent extremists. 
Pinochet did not shirk from calling his opponents terrorists and 
subversives. The dictator governed Chile through terrifying presidential 
rule from 1973 until 1990. A million people went into exile, tens of 
thousands were tortured, and thousands died or disappeared without a 
trace, often in the allied causes of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism 
or anti-communism.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Pinochet strengthened their special 
relationship. Thatcher offered staunch support, staving off criticism of 
the general’s human rights abuses since he shared information to help 
defeat the Argentine generals who in 1982 attacked Las Malvinas/Falkland 
Islands. Thatcher had supported Pinochet when she came into office after 
her landslide victory against the Labour Government in 1979. Thatcher 
dropped the de facto arms embargo imposed by British parliamentary 
leftists in reaction to the human rights abuses after the 1973 coup.

British support for Pinochet never waned, even with Thatcher out of 
office and New Labour elected to government in 1997. A year after Tony 
Blair’s victory, London police arrested Pinochet to face extradition to 
Spain. While under house arrest, the ex-prime minister, since elevated 
to Lady Thatcher, visited him at a rented mansion house in Surrey, a 
leafy west London suburb. The BBC reported that Thatcher thanked 
Pinochet on behalf of the British people, saying “I know how much we 
owed to you for your help.” Thatcher extolled the former dictator for 
“bringing” democracy to Chile.

Britain’s current support for Chile’s military attracts attention 
because Santiago’s law-and-order establishment have been criticized for 
heavy-handed repression against student protesters, and for using 
anti-terror legislation to permit violence against the indigenous 
community of Mapuches. In Santiago on July 30, British academics from 
the UK’s Army Officer School presented a counterinsurgency course to 
participants drawn from Chile’s military. By coincidence, also on July 
30 in the capital, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights 
and Counter-Terrorism expressed concern over the “confused and arbitrary 
… misuse” of Chile’s counter-terrorism legislation that had “resulted in 
real injustice” against the country’s Mapuche indigenous people. The 
state had met Mapuche land protesters with violent repression, some of 
them detained and imprisoned as terrorists.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, a British human rights barrister, 
concluded his two-week country visit to Chile in July with the statement 
that the Carabineros (its gendarmerie, a type of police belonging to 
Chile’s army) and investigative police had violently abused the Mapuche 
using Chile’s anti-terror legislation. The Special Rapporteur confirmed 
that these crimes by state agents remained unpunished. The U.N.’s 
counter-terrorism and human rights expert recommended a “new independent 
investigation body” regarding the “excessive violence” by the state 
under the anti-terror legislation against the Mapuche land protesters.

The British counter-insurgency courses included 20 students from Chile’s 
military establishment. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth 
Office’s press release these students came from the Chilean Ministry of 
Defense, the National Intelligence Agency, the Carabineros and all three 
branches of Chile’s military. Chile is, as one British Foreign Office 
minister said in March 2012, “a long-standing friend of the UK.”

It’s 40 years since the piercing screech of the British Harriers’ 
devastating attack on Santiago’s presidential palace. Britain’s support 
for Chile’s military rides an all-time high. Since May 2010 Britain’s 
Conservatives have had the upper hand in a coalition government with the 
Liberals. Prime Minister David Cameron has been determined to keep the 
special relationship with Chile alive, perhaps to defend London’s claim 
in the ever-simmering dispute with Argentina over Las Malvinas/Falkland 
Islands. Britain has entered into high-level talks with Chile, either in 
Santiago or London, every year since 2010. In 2013, London has doggedly 
pursued ties with Chile’s military establishment.

The democratic transition has not calmed Chile’s politics, or restored 
complete faith in state institutions. Films, literature, music, 
scholarly studies and Chile’s left-wing student protest movement all 
demonstrate that the country has never reconciled itself to the coup and 
the subsequent 17 years of authoritarianism. The country remains divided 
between the Right and the Left, in spite of official truth commissions 
that account for past excesses of torture, political imprisonment and 
disappearances at the hands of Pinochet’s military government. Human 
rights activists and observers have long criticized Chile’s judiciary 
for its ongoing sympathy to Pinochet-era human rights abusers.

The UK Coalition Government’s present support for Chile’s military seems 
willfully ignorant of the history of the effects of a special 
relationship forged 40 years ago in the crucible of the anti-communist 
coup. Pinochet left office in 1990 but the wounds inflicted on Chilean 
society have never healed. Over the past two decades Chile has attempted 
to transition from dictatorship to democracy. Chile’s democratic 
governments have signed up to human rights treaties, but the legacy of 
abuses and impunity persist, creating deep divisions within Chile. The 
Chilean state continues to abuse human rights, as the U.N. Special 
Rapporteur on Counter-terrorism and Human Rights has observed – he will 
present a full report on Chile in 2014. Britain has ignored the 
consequences of its role: the United Kingdom government has never been 
forced to reflect on its support for Pinochet, all the while cozying up 
to Chile’s defense establishment.

/Patrick Timmons is a writer, journalist, human rights lawyer and 
historian of modern Latin America. He has published in CounterPunch, the 
Texas Observer and the Latin American Research Review. He can be 
contacted at: *http://www.facebook.com/patricktimmonsauthor*./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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