General Studies Essay, Research Paper
General studies Pinochet in Piccadilly: Britain and Chile’s Hidden History Andy Beckett 280pp, Faber On October 16, 1998, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, former dictator of Chile and self-appointed senator for life, was unexpectedly arrested while undergoing medical treatment at a clinic in London. The order for his arrest was issued by a Spanish judge after a long campaign by a Catalan lawyer and former adviser to Salvador Allende, working with Amnesty International, on charges of the murder of several Spanish citizens. The international law that permitted this had its origins in the post-Nuremberg international legal order. The coup that brought Pinochet to power was made in Chile and the United States. Given which, to try to tell this story using as the organising principle of the narrative what the subtitle of this book calls the “hidden history” of Anglo-Chilean relations, could be described as brave, foolhardy or Anglocentric. It could not, though, be described as very illuminating. Isabel Hilton’s most recent book is The Search for the Panchen Lama (Penguin).Andy Beckett is a talented and energetic journalist, but he is defeated by the task he has set himself. He tells some entertaining stories of 19th-century British nitrate barons and 20th-century far-right British conspiracies. All are interesting in their way, but central motors of history they are not. More seriously, the Anglo-Chilean focus of his argument leads him to omit from the narrative several crucial actors. Fidel Castro’s long visit to Chile is unaccountably not mentioned, despite the propaganda use of it made by the US, nor does Henry Kissinger’s determination to overthrow Allende merit a reference. In Beckett’s account of the coup, indeed, the central role of the US barely figures, despite the wealth of material that is available on the subject. For the coup itself, the predominance of the English theme leads us to rely on the testimony of Dick Barbor- Might, an Allende sympathiser who was there at the time and who provides some telling first-hand experience of a frightening but mercifully brief detention in the notorious stadium. But on the day of the coup, Barbor-Might was wisely sheltering in the corridor of his apartment while British-supplied jets bombed the Moneda palace nearby. Barbor-Might makes no claim to inside knowledge of the events that led up to the coup or the development of the plot against Allende. He emerged later that day to offer to participate in the armed resistance. He looked up the address of the Socialist Party and went round to volunteer. They told him to go away. Barbor-Might, I am sure, would not suggest that his shoulders were broad enough to carry the narrative of this complex event, and to make him do so does him little service. During Pinochet’s detention in Britain, there was, of course, a campaign in his favour by the usual suspects on the British right. There is an attempt to draw a parallel between the coup in Chile and the ravings of a small far-right group in the Britain in the 1970s who dreamed of a military coup in the UK. There are connections between this group and Margaret Thatcher through the lunatic fringe of the Conservative Party. Such men were part of the shadow army of far-right propagandists who took up many causes on behalf of the US. Several of the usual suspects figure in this account – men such as Robert Moss and Brian Crozier, both of whom have long been fingered as beneficiaries of CIA largesse and proponents of a Manichean view of the world in which political strife everywhere was reduced to a battle between evil Communist agents and “freedom”. How “hidden” any of this is may be judged by the fact that Crozier covered much of it himself in his autobiography. Did such men approve of Pinochet? Of course they did. They supported Pinochet’s presentation of the Chilean coup as the “first battle of World War 3 – the war against Communism”. The background to this rather partial view of history, though, was not woven in Britain. It lies in the Americas – in the long history of US-sponsored coups against local left-wing politicians in Central and Latin America. The British connection was a sideshow. It is well known that Chile helped Britain during the Falklands war, not least because the enmity between Chile and Argentina was a larger factor in this triangle of relationships than the friendship between Chile and Britain. The Chileans had no doubt that, had Argentina won the Falklands War, she would have renewed her hostilities against Chile. So Chile had a strategic interest in Britain’s victory. It would have been interesting to know how much assistance Chile gave, but this we do not discover. “The details of the collaboration between Britain and Chile that followed and which was probably decisive in the recapture of the islands has remained conveniently vague ever since,” Beckett says. On the subject of an abortive raid by the SAS in 1982 on the airfield at Rio Grande, a military base in Patagonia from which the Argentine navy and airforce were flying their sorties against the British fleet, he writes: “What exactly happened . . . remains as cloudy as the region’s weather.” That there was such a raid is well known: the helicopter was ditched in Chile and a rather embarrassed crew had to be repatriated after giving a less than convincing account of their operations to the international press. But Beckett goes on to suggest that this was a rehearsal for a later, more successful raid that had a decisive effect on the war. The journalist Jon Snow, he writes, was shown a photograph of Rio Grande by an officer in Chilean intelligence who was working with the British. The photograph shows five wrecked aircraft beside the runway. “From June onwards,” Beckett writes, “there were no further confirmed Argentinean attacks involving jets carrying Exocets.” The conclusion we are presumably meant to draw from this pregnant sentence is that, that with Chilean help, the British managed to destroy the Super Etendards that had sunk the Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor with such devastating effects on the British military effort. This would be interesting if true. Unfortunately it is not. Whatever the SAS blew up in Rio Grande, it was not the navy’s Super Etendards. In July 1982, I counted them myself, safely tucked away in a hangar on an Argentine naval base. They even had small silhouettes of the Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor painted on the outside, crossed out, with the date of their sinking inscribed: trophy badges of a successful mission. The squadron commander told me that the reason the Exocet attacks stopped was quite simple – they had run out of missiles. These details were published in 1982 on the front page of the Sunday Times . Details of the successful British intelligence effort to stop them acquiring any more have since been given considerable publicity.