Chile : Pinochet’s Machiavellian Plot for Auto-coup
Recalled on 30th Anniversary of Historic “NO” Vote that Ousted Dictatorship

Edited by Peter Kornbluh

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Santiago Museum of Memory and Human Rights Adds Declassified U.S.
Documents to its Permanent Exhibition on Restoration of Democracy

Documentation Provided by National Security Archive Revealed
Pinochet’s Violent Plan For Second Coup to Sustain Dictatorial Powers

D.C., October 5, 2018 –
On the 30th
anniversary of the historic plebiscite in Chile, the National Security Archive
today posted key documents revealing General Augusto Pinochet’s secret plans to
“use violence and terror” to annul the October 5, 1988, referendum and sustain
his dictatorship in power.  The Pinochet plot was thwarted when key
officials of his own regime revealed it to U.S. intelligence agents and
election monitors, and then refused to implement it in the face of overwhelming
opposition by the Chilean people to a continuation of military rule.

As part of Chile’s anniversary commemoration of the 1988
plebiscite, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago incorporated
these documents into its permanent, and newly renovated, exhibition on the
“Restoration of Democracy.”  The documents had previously been on display
at the museum as part of a larger, temporary exhibit of declassified U.S.
records called “Secrets of State,” curated by Peter Kornbluh who directs the
National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation project.

“The Chilean plebiscite remains one of the most dramatic examples
of the forces of democracy peacefully bringing an end to one of the most
infamous, and entrenched, military dictatorships in recent history,” as
Kornbluh characterized the victory of the “NO” in the 1988 referendum on
Pinochet’s rule. “It remains immediately relevant today as a model for
political movements and must be remembered for generations to come.”

“I am not leaving, no matter what”

The documents reveal that Pinochet never intended to abide by the outcome
of the referendum—which he had orchestrated to legitimize his rule—if the “NO”
vote won on October 5, 1988. Several days before the referendum, CIA and DIA
obtained intelligence indicating “a clear sense of Pinochet’s determination to
use violence on whatever scale is necessary to retain power.” According to one
CIA informant, Pinochet had stated: “I am not leaving, no matter what.”

One of today’s posted documents, a Defense Intelligence Agency summary,
classified TOP SECRET ZARF UMBRA, reported that “Close supporters of
President Pinochet are said to have contingency plans to derail the plebiscite
by encouraging and staging acts of violence. They hope that such violence will
elicit further reprisals by the radical opposition and begin a cycle of rioting
and disorder. The plans call for government security forces to intervene
forcefully and, citing damage to the electoral process and balloting
facilities, to declare a state of emergency. At that point, the elections would
be suspended, declared invalid, and postponed indefinitely.” Indirectly, a
top military officer, Brig. Gen. Jorge Zincke, also passed information on the
plot to officials of an election monitoring group, Civic Education Crusade, who
immediately reported it to the U.S. Embassy. In an alert to Washington
Ambassador Harry Barnes reported that he had received information regarding “an
imminent possibility of government staged coup” and predicted “substantial loss
of life” if Pinochet’s plot to overturn the vote was implemented.

The declassified record shows that Reagan administration
officials, who had come to view Pinochet as an undesirable dictator because his
intransigence was radicalizing the militant left and marginalizing the
political center in Chile, acted quickly on this intelligence. President Ronald
Reagan was briefed on the situation. U.S. officials sent unequivocal demarches
to a broad range of regime officials – in the foreign and interior ministries,
the army, the Junta, and to Pinochet himself.

Between 1970 and 1973, U.S.
officials had secretly encouraged the Chilean military to foment a coup against
the elected government of Salvador Allende. Now, the CIA Station Chief received
instructions to strongly advise Chilean secret police officials against such
action and U.S. officers at SOUTHCOM issued similar warnings to their contacts
inside the Chilean military “not to take or permit steps meant to provide
pretext for canceling, suspending or otherwise nullifying the plebiscite.”

Nevertheless, Pinochet attempted
to implement his auto-coup plot. His effort to orchestrate chaos and violence
in the streets failed, however, when the Carabinero police refused an order to
lift the cordon against street demonstrations in the capital, according to the
CIA informant.  In a dramatic last gasp to hold onto power, Pinochet
called the members of the military Junta to his office at the Moneda palace at
1:00 AM. He was “nearly apoplectic” about the turn of events, one
participant of the meeting noted. “The Chilean President and CINC of the
Army Gen. Augusto Pinochet was prepared on the night of 5 Oct to overthrow the
results of the plebiscite,” an informant reported. Pinochet was insistent
that the Junta give him extraordinary powers to meet the crisis of the
electoral defeat. “He had a document prepared for their signatures
authorizing this …. Pinochet spoke of using the extraordinary powers to have
the armed forces seize the capital. At this point Air Force commander Fernando
Matthei stood up to be counted. Matthei ‘told Pinochet he would under no
circumstances agree to such a thing … he had had his chance as the official
candidate and lost.’ Pinochet then turned to the others and made the same
request and was turned down ….”

Without the Junta’s support to
overthrow the results of the plebiscite, Pinochet was left with no alternative
but to accept defeat at the hands of Chile’s democratic forces.  Some 98
percent of eligible Chileans cast their votes 30 years ago today. Final results
had the “NO” winning by more than 800,000 votes – a 54.7 percent to 43 percent
victory to end, peacefully and democratically, the Pinochet dictatorship.

In a ceremony marking the 30th
anniversary today, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago
inaugurated its new permanent exhibition on the extraordinary history of the
efforts of Chileans to end Pinochet’s rule and restore democracy. The four
documents below are now permanently on display in the museum.

the documents

Document 1

Department Of State,
[Ambassador’s Warning On Pinochet’s Plans To Violently Abort The Plebiscite].
October 1, 1988



In late
September, as opinion polls showed a likely victory for the campaign of the NO,
the CIA, the DIA and the U.S. Embassy began to obtain intelligence from
multiple sources inside the military on “Pinochet’s determination to use
violence on whatever scale is necessary to retain power,” as Ambassador
Harry Barnes alerted the State Department. In this forcefully worded cable
Barnes warned that Pinochet planned to use “violence and terror” to
stop the plebiscite if he appeared to be losing, and that the result would be
“probable substantial loss of life.”

Document 2

White House, Presidential
Evening Reading, Plan To Disrupt Chile’s Plebiscite, October 3, 1988



President Ronald
Reagan received a short report on October 3, 1988, on General Pinochet’s plans
to use violence to sabotage the plebiscite if the Chilean people voted to end
his dictatorship. The briefing paper to the president recorded some of the
measures that the U.S. government took to pressure Pinochet and the Chilean
military not to undertake a second coup in Chile. Those efforts included
contacting other high-ranking Chilean military officials-using U.S. military,
CIA and British officials-to convey a strong message that Chile’s international
relations would be severely damaged by such an act. The State Department also
issued a public statement of concern on October 3rd.

Document 3

DIA, Government Contingency
Plans [To Disrupt Plebiscite], October 4, 1988



One day before
the October 1988 plebiscite, the Defense Intelligence Agency obtained information
on Pinochet’s “contingency plans” to “sabotage the plebiscite on
5 October and to nullify the electoral process if the government is perceived
as losing the referendum.” Those plans called for “encouraging and
staging acts of violence” to begin a cycle of rioting and disorder that
would create a public justification for the elections “to be suspended,
declared invalid, and postponed indefinitely.” The “TOP SECRET
ZARF/UMBRA” report warns of the possibility of “serious, widespread
bloodshed” if the military intervened in the plebiscite process, and
suggested that “Pinochet’s supporters have evidently opted for disrupting
the plebiscite and making sure that Pinochet stays in office regardless of the

Document 4

DIA, Chilean Junta Meeting The
Night Of The Plebiscite, January 1, 1989



On the evening
of the plebiscite, as it became apparent that the “NO” had won,
members of the Junta gathered for a dramatic meeting with General Pinochet at
La Moneda. As General Matthei arrived at the meeting, he famously told the
press that the “NO” had won.

This U.S. military intelligence document describes Matthei’s “mission to
defuse the bomb” Pinochet was planning, and to “limit Pinochet’s
options.” The document describes an “angry and insistent”
Pinochet, demanding that the junta sign a document giving him emergency powers
to “have the armed forces seize the capital.” The meeting was so
stressful that Brigadier General Sergio Valenzuela had a heart attack and
collapsed. The refusal of the Junta to sign the emergency powers decree left
Pinochet with no alternative but to accept that the “NO” had won.

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