The El Mercurio file: secret documents shine new light on how the CIA used a newspaper to foment a coup
September 11, a day of infamy in the U.S., is also a dark day in the history of Chile. This 9/11 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. Although former U.S. officials such as Henry Kissinger have insisted that Washington had no involvement in the military takeover, and was trying only to preserve democracy in Chile, CIA and White House records, analyzed here for the first time, show how the CIA used Chilean media to undermine the democratically elected government of Socialist Salvador Allende, an operation that "played a significant role in setting the stage for the military coup of 11 September 1973." From these documents emerges the story of the agency's main propaganda project--authorized at the highest level of the U.S. government--which relied upon Chile's leading newspaper, E1 Mercurio, and its well-connected owner, Agustin Edwards. In Chile, the aged Edwards remains an influential media power, and here in the U.S., covert action has again been unleashed and executive-branch secrecy is on the rise. The story behind 9/11/73 continues to echo.
For the better part of two years, a group of editors, journalism students, and human rights lawyers in Santiago, Chile, have been gathering evidence against their country's leading media mogul, Agustin Edwards, to, at minimum, have him expelled from the press guild, the Academy of Chilean Journalists. The editor of the leftist magazine Punto Final, Manuel Cabieses, has filed a formal petition accusing Edwards of violating the academy's code of ethics by conspiring with the Nixon White House and the CIA between 1970 and 1973 to foment the military coup that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende and brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, thirty years ago this month.
"Doonie," as Edwards is known to his closest friends, is the patriarch of the press--a Chilean Rupert Murdoch. His media empire encompasses Chile's renowned national newspaper, El Mercurio, a second national paper, Ultimas Noticias, and Santiago's leading afternoon paper, La Segunda, along with a dozen smaller regional journals. In September 1970, when Chileans narrowly elected Allende, a Socialist, to the presidency, Edwards was widely considered to be the richest man in Chile--and the individual with the most to lose financially from Allende's election.
The ethics charges against Edwards are likely to receive a boost from a careful analysis of formerly secret U.S. documents that shed considerable new light on CIA covert media operations in Chile. Since 1975, when a special congressional committee chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church issued its report, Covert Action in Chile: 1963-1973, it has been no secret that the CIA provided significant funding to El Mercurio, put reporters and editors on its payroll, and used the paper, in the committee's words, as "the most important channel for anti-Allende propaganda:' But with the declassification of thousands of CIA and White House records at the end of the Clinton administration, the history of the "El Mercurio Project" emerges in far greater detail. Among the key revelations in the documents: