194. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Vice President’s Meeting with Former Chilean President Eduardo Frei


  • Vice President Walter Mondale
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Dr. Eduardo Frei, former President of Chile
  • Denis Clift, Special Assistant to the Vice President
  • Robert A. Pastor, NSC Staff Member (Notetaker)

The Vice President said that he had watched Frei’s career with great interest and was pleased to talk to him about the matters that interested President Frei. President Frei responded by saying that he was honored to have this appointment and asked whether Vice President Mondale would rather ask questions or have him make a statement. The Vice President said that he was aware that President Frei had come from Europe and he would very much appreciate his observations about Europe as well as about Chile. Also, he wanted to know how Frei viewed current economic and political developments in Chile. He asked whether Frei saw any possibilities of the present government evolving toward a more democratic one.

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Frei said that he spoke with Willy Brandt and with the Spanish Prime Minister.2 He was especially concerned to talk with the Christian Democrats in Germany, and said that after the United States, the opinions of the Germans weigh most heavily on the Chileans. He went to Spain also because Spain has an influence on Chile, and finally to the U.S. because President Carter’s concern for human rights will have a great impact on Chile and on all of Latin America. He said that the policy will create problems in the short term, but in the long term it is the only way. However, we should not look just at individual cases or countries; he insisted that we look at the entire structural problem.

Frei said that he felt Chile was at a crossroads, and that the armed forces was faced with a decision on whether it should turn towards democracy or towards increased repression. As of now the junta is based solely on force; it has no political program of any kind. But that cannot last long. He estimated that 75 percent of the people in Chile and even members of the armed forces believe that the political system is at a crossroads and that something must change.3

Frei then said that he believed the position of the United States was key to the future of Chile.4 He said that they (referring to the Christian Democrats and other democratic political forces in Chile) do not seek American intervention or want the American Government to be linked to any single party. But the U.S. can create conditions—by words, policies, and meetings—that will have great influence on the developments in Chile. But he said that the U.S. had to have more than words; the conduct and the personality of the American Ambassador is very important, and it is also important to have a coherent and consistent policy. He used the example of General Leigh, who had visited Argentina recently and said that it did not matter what the [Page 593] White House thought; all that was important was the Pentagon, and he felt that the Pentagon was strongly supportive of the Chilean junta.

Mondale replied: “Well said.” Brzezinski then stressed that the President’s position on human rights is not cynical; it is sincere, but it is also not a crusade. The President intends by identifying with human rights groups and forces around the world to strengthen the pressures that will have an influence on making democratic governments increasingly probable. But effective implementation of this overall policy depends on the internal situations in individual governments. We can create a moral framework but we cannot determine internal conditions. He used the analogy of the USSR’s view of the world’s progress towards Communism. Dogmatists in the Soviet Union want much more direct revolutionary activity; while pragmatists believe that all that is necessary is to create the right global conditions, and Communism will emerge on its own.

Brzezinski said that he felt human rights is a compelling idea, which is historically right, and he felt that it corresponds with the conditions in advanced developing and industrial countries like Chile. He stressed that the goal of U.S. human rights policy was to create a moral framework, but that we will not use direct government involvement to influence internal events. He said that some progress had been achieved in many countries, and he hoped that some progress would occur in Chile as well. Frei responded by saying that at no time had he advocated the U.S. should either break diplomatic relations with Chile or use the U.S. Embassy for intervention. If democracy were to be imposed on Chile, it would be a failure. We are looking for a broad consensus, he said, in Chile and he hoped that the armed forces would be incorporated within this consensus.

Frei said that the U.S. can help. The Government of Chile needs a lot from the U.S. He said that unless Chile grants at least a minimal respect for human rights, for labor association, and for other political activity, the U.S. should make clear that the Chilean Government would not find a welcome here. He said that if the U.S. is sincere in wanting improvements in human rights, then it should be prepared to help in Chile.

Brzezinski said that our policy is world-wide; we are encouraging forces which promote human rights, and that together with these domestic forces our own government will be working toward this goal, and he felt that history was on our side.

Frei said that the nuances are very important because of the differences in each country. He said that the most recent information from Chile was that there was increased repression, but there was more rigidity than repression by the junta. He characterized the present political conditions as “less brutal, but more rigid.”

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Vice President Mondale then said that Dr. Brzezinski had defined our policies quite well. We are deeply and consistently committed to human rights and to encouraging democratic instincts in all countries. This is a view which is deeply held by the President. We are for human rights not because we are against Communism, but because we believe in human rights. In the past, Mondale said that we had gotten these two objectives—anti-communism and human rights—confused, and we often intervened in a clumsy way; a good example is Chile. When he was a member of the Church Committee,5 Mondale said that he was ashamed to learn of our behavior in Chile. Personally he said, what we did in Chile in the last decade imposes on us a special responsibility to deal with the situation in Chile with good sense and respect for our own values as well as Chile’s.

Frei said that he agreed that special care should be taken, but he only asked for consistency in implementation of this policy.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 9, Chile, 2-8/77. Confidential. All brackets are in the original. The meeting took place in the Vice President’s Office.
  2. Brandt was the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the former chancellor of the FRG; Adolfo Suarez Gonzalez was the Spanish prime minister.
  3. In a May 24 memorandum to Mondale regarding the meeting with Frei, Brzezinski wrote, “On March 15, 1977, General Pinochet extended the state of siege and banned all political parties, confiscating property, and prohibiting all political activity. Pinochet said he plans to continue in power indefinitely, and democratic groups in Chile are losing hope. That is why Frei, who is a cautious person, has embarked on an effort to broaden and intensify international opposition to Pinochet and perhaps build support for an alternative government.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 67, Vice President, 2-9/77)
  4. Brzezinski wrote to Mondale that Frei’s request to meet with Carter “presented us with a difficult decision since the press became aware of it. If we refused to meet with him, Pinochet would see it as an endorsement of his regime, and human rights groups in the US would say that our policy was only aimed at the Soviet Union.” Brzezinski noted that Pinochet might interpret Frei’s high-level reception in the USG “as a sign that the US is crowning his opposition, and he may accelerate the current wave of repression.” (Ibid.)
  5. A reference to the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, 1975–76.