259. Letter From the First Secretary of the Embassy in CHILE (Hurwitch) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1
I have had very much in mind your request for another opinion as to whether an Allende victory would be seriously detrimental to US national security interests. While a month in Chile hardly constitutes a valid basis in time for a definitive response, I am moved to write now before I become too deeply immersed in political detail, knowing that should the scene alter significantly I might write again.
I think that what is fundamentally happening in Chile is that political power has slipped from the hands of the upper classes and both the middle class (PDC) and the working class—or its spokesmen—(the FRAP) are making a determined bid to possess it. Traditionally, the middle class has looked upward and has been politically allied with [Page 577] the upper class. The comparatively recent emergence of the Christian Democratic party as an important political force, however, has brought a change. The PDC stems from and has in turn rallied to it the Chilean middle class, an agglomeration ranging in socio-economic terms from lower to upper middle class and in political terms from leftish to conservative orientations, and has attracted significant segments of the working class, as well. The upper class parties (Liberals and Conservatives) have in turn, somewhat reluctantly, come out in support of Frei, the candidate, but most find the PDC program too radical. The Socialists and Communists (now FRAP) have for decades struggled unsuccessfully to wrest political power from the upper classes through peaceful means via the ballot. Had not the PDC with its strong candidate attracted timely support, I think the FRAP with its good candidate would this time have had its best chance for victory to date. Whichever party wins, I believe, will effect social changes (diminishing the influence of the propertied classes) from which Chile probably will not be able to turn back. While under-estimating the resiliency of the upper classes would be foolhardy (they seem to have succeeded nicely in corrupting the Radicals), the ideology and spirit of the PDC seems to involve something deeper than mere political competition. The FRAP in power would recognize the upper classes only to the extent its purpose was served.
The Catholic Church has entered this game with a fair-sized stack of chips. The liberal wing of the Church, which is dominant here and ably represented by Cardinal Silva, is deeply attached to the Frei campaign and should derive considerable prestige and impetus from a Frei victory, within Church circles especially. Repercussions of a PDC victory in both Latin American political and Church circles should redound to our benefit. Conversely, an Allende victory in Chile would have discouraging effects throughout the Hemisphere.
On the other side, Radio Habana has been clamoring for an Allende victory. After his reverses in Venezuela and Brazil, Fidel must be desperate to demonstrate to his Soviet patrons through an Allende victory that they are indeed backing the right horse. The FRAP campaign appears well-financed and that Fidel among other outsiders has purchased a stack of chips would not be surprising. For the Soviets, an Allende victory should significantly strengthen their “peaceful coexistence” line to the discomfiture of the Chicoms, and encourage the USSR to allocate more resources elsewhere in LA to propagate similar victories. A Chilean base on the mainland would of course be very valuable to the USSR (cf. the long frontier with Argentina).
A Frei victory, on the other hand, could lead to greater adherence by Latin American left extremists to the Chicom line of violence. While in many senses a “violence” line might be easier for us to handle in [Page 578] Latin America, it may not be amiss for our policy planners to take a look now at the implications for US policy toward the Hemisphere of a Frei victory as it relates to the Soviet/Chinese split.
To move from the broader dimensions of the significance of the Chilean elections, from which I really do not think the local situation can or should be divorced, assessments of the FRAP and Mr. Allende are of course critical. Ernst Halperin had done the best recent study of the Communists and Socialists in Chile that I have read (it is entitled Sino-Cuban Trends: The Case of Chile—Tom Hughes’ people have it). One gains the impression in Chile that the Socialists are more intellectually inclined and not as tough-minded or as well organized as the Communists who constitute the dominant element in the FRAP. They are, incredibly enough, often more left than the local Communist Party, are less addicted to the via pacifica and are rather admiring of China.
Allende is a good vote getter, but does not seem to be a man of outstanding ability, courage or intelligence. Although many here maintain that once in power Allende would control or break with the Communists, the evidence is that he has made strong public and private commitments to them (nationalization of the copper mines, Cabinet membership, etc.) and has a long history of unmarred relations with them (dating from 1951). Given the stakes, it is really difficult to see how the outside as well as the local Communists would readily surrender their considerable financial and other investments in an Allende victory. Nor would Allende, given a thin margin of victory at best together with his personal qualities, be likely to be an independent— a la Castro. He might adorn his administration with as many respectable trappings as possible—pacts with the Radicals, and, less likely but still possible, with the left wing of the PDC. Beneath the dress, however, the heart of the matter should I think be regarded as heavily Communist-influenced, unless there were an accompanying open break with the Communists or similar clear evidence that Allende had chosen a course not hostile to us. I should be inclined to view ambivalence on his part negatively, for little in his past appears to warrant giving him the benefit of a doubt in view of his Communist alliance.
An Allende victory would constitute a defeat for US policy. It probably would be accompanied by alarms from the U.S. press and business interests, inevitably justified by Castro crowing and Soviet needling of the Chinese. As a practical matter, whatever our assessment of the significance of an Allende victory, we may find our maneuverability the day after the election (results are known rapidly here) severely circumscribed. (I have often thought that the real tragedy for us of Castro’s having embraced the Marxist, rather than our, world lay in the limitations now placed upon the flexibility of US policy toward situations which superficially resemble that of Cuba.) Another [Page 579] “Castro” in the Hemisphere, particularly one who achieved power through the democratic process in a country where we have invested the highest rate of per capita assistance, would be awfully tough to handle from both the international and domestic standpoints. This would clearly be a case where one and one totalled much more than two and the consequences throughout the Hemisphere of a second Castro would be serious. I would hope that we would, nevertheless, be able to avoid precipitate action and to retain enough flexibility to encompass the possibility that Allende unexpectedly might decide to steer his course in our direction either voluntarily or as a result of our margin of influence. The risks of a policy on our part which appears to accept Allende, however, could I think only be justified by expectations based on something much more concrete than a general notion that good-will on our part will engender a similar response.
You may imagine how pleased I am to be here and to have the opportunity to chew on this problem with very competent colleagues. I hope the foregoing has not needlessly taken too much time out of your busy day.
With warm regards.