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Chile: Relations with the United States
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Relations > Relations with the United States

RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES


Chile has never been particularly close to the United States. The distance between Washington and Santiago is greater than the distance between Washington and Moscow. In the twentieth century, Chile's giant copper mines were developed by United States economic interests, although Europe remained a larger market for Chilean products. Chile's democratic governments distanced themselves from European fascism during the world wars and embraced the cause of the Allies, despite internal pressures to support the Axis powers. Chile later joined with the United States in supporting collective measures for safeguarding hemispheric security from a Soviet threat and welcomed United States support in developing the Air Force of Chile. But the advent of the cold war and the official Chilean policy of support for the inter-American system exacerbated internal conflicts in Chile. The growing presence of the Marxist left meant a sharp increase in anti-American sentiment in Chilean public opinion, a sentiment that was fueled by opposition to the United States presence in Vietnam, the United States conflict with Cuba, and increased United States intervention in domestic Chilean politics.

During the 1960s, the United States identified Chile as a model country, one that would provide a different, democratic path to development, countering the popularity of Cuba in the developing world. To that end, the United States strongly supported the candidacy of Eduardo Frei Montalva in 1964 with overt and covert funds and subsequently supported his government in the implementation of urban and rural reforms. This support spawned considerable resentment against the United States in Chile's conservative upper class, as well as among the Marxist left.

The election of Allende was viewed in Washington as a significant setback to United States interests worldwide. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was particularly concerned about the implications for European politics of the free election of a Marxist in Chile. Responding to these fears and a concern for growing Soviet influence in the Western Hemisphere, the United States embarked on a covert campaign to prevent Allende from gaining office and to destabilize his government after his election was ratified. Although the United States did not have a direct hand in the overthrow of Allende, it welcomed the coup and provided assistance to the military regime.

The widespread violations of human rights in Chile, combined with a strong rejection of covert activities engaged in abroad by the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, galvanized United States congressional opposition to United States ties with Chile's military government. With the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, the United States took an openly hostile attitude toward the Chilean military government, publicly condemning human rights violations and pressing for the restoration of democracy. Particularly disturbing to the United States government was the complicity of the Chilean intelligence services in the assassination in Washington of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and one of his associates, a United States citizen. That incident contributed to the isolation of the Pinochet government internationally and led to a sharp rift in relations between both countries. The Chilean military turned elsewhere for its procurement needs and encouraged the development of a domestic arms industry to replace United States equipment (see The Defense Industry, ch. 5).

With the defeat of Jimmy Carter and the election of Ronald Reagan, the pendulum in the relations between both countries swung the other way. Reagan argued that anticommunist authoritarian regimes should not be antagonized for fear that they might be undermined, leading to the triumph of a Marxist left, as in Nicaragua. Chile would be pushed to respect human rights through "quiet diplomacy," while the United States government reestablished normal ties with the dictatorship.

The new policy did not last long. After the riots in Santiago in 1983, the United States began to worry that the Pinochet government was no longer a solution to a potential threat from the far left, but part of the problem. United States officials increasingly began to reflect the concerns of prominent conservatives in Chile, who believed that Pinochet's own personal ambitions could stand in the way of a successful transition back to civilian rule.

The shift in policy became far more apparent in Reagan's second term, when the Reagan administration, struggling to oppose the leftist government of Nicaragua, sought to show its consistency by criticizing the right-wing government of Chile. The United States made it clear that it did not see the Pinochet government's plebiscite as a satisfactory step toward democracy supported the option of open and competitive elections. Whereas in the early 1980s the United States government had embraced the military regime while refusing to take the democratic opposition seriously, by the end of the decade the United States was actively backing the opposition in its effort to obtain a fair electoral process so that it could attempt to defeat Pinochet at his own game. Pinochet's defeat was considered by Washington to be a vindication of its policies.

With the election of Patricio Aylwin in Chile, relations between the two countries improved greatly. The administration of George Bush welcomed Chile's commitment to free-market policies, while praising the new government's commitment to democracy. The United States also supported the Aylwin government's human rights policies and came to a resolution of the Letelier assassination by agreeing to a bilateral mediation mechanism and compensation of the victims' families.

A few issues have complicated United States-Chile relations, including the removal of Chilean fruit from United States supermarkets in 1991 by the Food and Drug Administration, after tainted grapes were allegedly discovered. The United States also objected to Chile's intellectual property legislation, particularly the copying of drug patents. However, these issues pale by comparison with the strong ties between the two countries and the admiration that United States officials have expressed for Chile's remarkable economic performance. As evidence of this "special" relationship, both the Bush and the Bill Clinton administrations have indicated United States willingness to sign a free-trade agreement with Chile in the aftermath of the successful negotiations with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA -- see Glossary). Although Chile has pressed strongly for the agreement as a way to ensure access to United States markets, the United States in 1991 was replaced by Japan as Chile's largest trading partner, with the United States accounting for less than 20 percent of Chile's world trade. Ironically, in the post-cold war era, anti-Americanism in Chile is more prevalent in military circles and among the traditional right, still bitter about United States support for democratic parties prior to the plebiscite and concerned that the United States has hegemonic presumptions over the region.

Data as of March 1994




Last Updated: March 1994


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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