U.S.-Chilean history haunts Rice visit

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With photographers snapping away, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared last summer that decades of American foreign policy toward the oil-rich Middle East had been a failure.

For 60 years, she told a Cairo audience, the U.S. "pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region," achieving neither. It was a candid confession, one that remains emblematic of a Bush administration foreign policy that supporters contend is now placing the long-term benefits of "spreading of freedom" ahead of the once-perceived short-term advantages of embracing despots.

But today Rice will pose for pictures at another event — one that will undoubtedly evoke a tableau of America's far longer history of embracing brutal regimes in its own backyard. She will attend the inauguration of Chile's president-elect Michelle Bachelet, who in her youth was tortured and exiled at the hands of a military junta backed by Washington.

Official Washington, before and during the Bush administration, has rarely expressed second thoughts about America's troubled history in Chile and the rest of Latin America.

Nor does it look as if Rice is about to buck that trend, despite her strong personal support for Bachelet and the contention that the U.S. is now putting an increased emphasis on morality in America's foreign policy.

The history of American intervention in Latin America — overt and covert — didn't start or end in the Chile of Bachelet's youth.

But Washington's policy of regime change there in the early 1970s crystallized regional and international attention around that behavior, attention that lingers amid the recent declassification of documents.

Chile remains, in the words of author and national security historian Peter Kornbluh, the "ultimate study of morality — or the lack of it — in American foreign policy."

The conflict began with Chile's 1970 presidential election of Salvador Allende, the first democratically elected socialist president in the Western Hemisphere. Because of Cold War fears about leftists assuming power in America's back yard, the Nixon administration did everything it could to keep Allende from taking office.

Between the election and Allende's inauguration, Nixon himself instructed the CIA to foment a coup.

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