189. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

RP M 77-10044


We believe the Chilean military junta is firmly in power and is unlikely to face a serious challenge to its authority over the next few months. There are longstanding differences among the junta members which could cause some strains, but anything as drastic as a breakup of the junta seems highly unlikely. Even if the junta should eventually fall apart, the position of President Pinochet, who is also commander in chief of the army, would probably not be threatened.

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At the present time, Pinochet is seeking to modify the order of succession to guarantee that under any circumstances the army would hold the presidency. Under the present rules, a navy or air force officer could theoretically get the top job should the President retire or die. Pinochet also wants to institutionalize within the presidency:

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There have been some indications that Merino and Leigh are giving some thought to retiring, [3½ lines not declassified] any time soon. In any event, we believe that neither Merino’s nor Leigh’s departure would seriously weaken the President. The resignation of Leigh would, however, be of greater significance since it would clearly be for political reasons, and it might force Pinochet, for the first time, to do some political fence-mending.

The navy and air force will attempt to water down Pinochet’s proposals, but probably will gain no more than small concessions. Pinochet is dealing from a position of vastly superior strength. He commands the army, whose military and political dominance are clear to all. Moreover he can point to considerable public support. We believe that serious challenge from the other services is unlikely.

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Because of Pinochet’s predominant position, we envision no fundamental change in junta policies in the near term, whether in the area of the economy or human rights. The junta believes that its economic policies—which it recognizes have been harsh—have produced demonstrable economic improvement. Last year’s inflation rate, for example, was roughly half of that of 1975, and the balance of payments situation has also been encouraging. As for human rights, the officers genuinely believe that they have already done what they can to improve the situation. During the last year, some 2,700 political prisoners were released. The US embassy reports that of the 800 remaining political prisoners, only one is being held without charges, and it has heard of no cases of torture so far this year.2 We believe further substantial improvement on the human rights front is unlikely.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 80T00071A, Box 7, Folder 27. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Prepared in the Latin America Division, Office of Regional and Political Analysis; coordinated with the Office of Economic Research [less than 1 line not declassified]. For an addendum to this memorandum, see Document 191.
  2. In telegram 487 from Santiago, January 18, the Embassy summarized human rights in Chile since the beginning of 1976 and recommended that the Carter administration “consider how U.S. influence can best be applied to encourage further steps toward the restoration of normal conditions in Chile.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770018-1102)