Little noticed in the focus on Egypt's popular uprising, Chile at almost the same moment began a government investigation into the death of Salvador Allende. The timing is ironic. It calls attention to the continuum, under presidents of both parties, of American support for "friendly" dictators, never mind the poverty and misery of the people under their thumb.
The investigation announced Jan. 26 comes 38 years after Allende, the first democratically elected Socialist head of state in the Americas, died during a military coup d'etat engineered by the CIA . The police declared his death a suicide -- the same police who celebrated it with 24 documented cases of kidnaping, torture and murder in the immediate aftermath of the military takeover.
U.S.-backed Augusto Pinochet became Chile's dictator, lavishly supported by American taxpayer funds. This, according to the Human Rights Foundation, is what he accomplished: "He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,200 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) ... Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex."
And so as Chile seeks the truth about a savage dictator installed by the United States -- the long-held suspicion is that Allende was slain on the CIA's orders by Pinochet's troops -- Egypt seethes with popular revolt against another. It is four decades in time but only a moment of truth in ideology between Pinochet and Mubarak.
Washington's view is, and for too long has been, that bad guys are just fine as long as they're our bad guys. Let us never forget that before he was reviled, Saddam Hussein was our friend. Or that Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagen, those great leaders of the free world, pointed with pride to the Chilean economic miracle while Pinochet was torturing and killing the people of Chile, while the underclass grew in number and diminished in its share of that economy, while oligarchs and military thugs and friends of the CIA -- and American corporations -- prospered.
Now the successors to Maggie and Ron wring their hands over the situation in Egypt, piously proclaiming their support for "democracy" yet fretting about "stability." These are code words. "Support for democracy" means the western powers don't want to reveal their hypocrisy by endorsing a ruthless military suppression of the popular uprising. Let the blood flow in prisons and torture chambers, but not on TV. "Stability" means retaining a pro-Israel government in a populous Arab country that controls an absolutely vital strategic venue in the Middle East, the Suez Canal. The people be damned; Washington must remain the off-stage power in the region; its warships must retain free access and egress on the Suez.
Searching for soothing classical music yesterday, the "seek" function on my car radio paused briefly on one of the stations that blares those insufferably stupid right wing talk shows. Sotto voce: "Well, yes Mubarak is a dictator," host and guest agreed. Energico: "But the great danger is that they'll replace him with something worse."
No, no you fools! Here is the "great danger:"
Our government's domestic policies are moving uncomfortably parallel to our failed foreign policy. Abroad, we prop up regimes that enrich corporations, oligarchs and despots while the mass of common people suffer, starve and die. At home we are ruled by a shadow government of corporations and oligarchs who find plenty of money for weapons but none for health care or social security. People don't count, democracy is just a word, what's good for business is good for America whose business is war.
Pinochet kept his grip in Chile firm by creating a Death Squad of several Army officers and two infantrymen which traveled from prison to prison in a U.S.-supplied Puma helicopter, picking out those detainees -- all of them held incognito and without charge -- considered most dangerous to the state, murdering them and burying them in unmarked mass graves.
Legislation passed in the Bush Administration, and policies continuing under Obama, could over time lead to that very thing happening here.
Look what's happening -- legally -- to a kid named Bradley Manning.