How 'weak' Allende was left out in the cold by the KGB

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By far the most important of the KGB's contacts in South America was Salvador Allende Gossens (codenamed Leader by the KGB), whose election as President of Chile in 1970 was hailed as “a revolutionary blow to the imperialist system in Latin America”.

Allende was the first Marxist anywhere in the world to win power through the ballot box. He was unlike any stereotype of a Marxist leader. During his visits to Havana in the 1960s, he had been privately mocked by Castro's entourage for his aristocratic tastes: fine wines, expensive objets d’art, well-cut suits and elegantly dressed women. Allende was also a womaniser. Gabriel García Márquez described him as “a gallant with a touch of the old school about him, perfumed notes and furtive rendezvous”.

Despite the private mockery which they aroused in Allende’s Communist allies, however, his bourgeois appearance and expensive lifestyle were electoral assets, reassuring middle-class voters that their lives would continue normally under an Allende presidency. As even his opponents acknowledged, he had enormous personal charm.

Allende’s election left President Nixon, according to his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, “beside himself” with rage. Having berated the Democrats for more than a decade for allowing Cuba to go Communist, Nixon now faced the prospect as a Republican president of seeing Chile follow suit. There was, he angrily told Kissinger, “only a one in ten chance” of preventing Allende’s confirmation, but the attempt must be made in order to “save Chile” from communism. The CIA drew up a two-track plan. Track 1 was to find some method of persuading the Chilean Congress not to vote Allende into office. Track 2 was to engineer a military coup. Both failed. On October 24, Allende was formally elected President by vote of the Chilean Congress.

Regular Soviet contact with Allende after his election was maintained not by the Soviet Ambassador but by his KGB case officer, Svyatoslav Kuznetsov, who was instructed by the centre to “exert a favourable influence on Chilean government policy”. According to Allende’s KGB file, he “was made to understand the necessity of reorganising Chile's army and intelligence services, and of setting up a relationship between Chile’s and the USSR’s intelligence services”. Allende was said to react positively.

CIA covert action against Allende continued during his presidency. Nixon gave instructions to “make the [Chilean] economy scream”.

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