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The CIA in Latin America

Inside the Company: CIA Diary

by Philip Agee
Stonehill, 639 pp., $9.95

Salvador Allende lost the Chilean presidential election in September of 1964. The winner was the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei. At that time the victory was considered one more episode in the long and peaceful history of Chilean democracy. It has come to light now, however, that Salvador Allende’s defeat at that time was a secret victory of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which had spent millions of dollars to bolster the parties of the right and buy votes against the socialist candidate. Philip Agee, who was then a CIA officer in Montevideo, has revealed this fact and many others in this impassioned book which appeared last winter in London and is now being published in the US.

Our problem at the time,” Agee told me when I met him in London last winter, “was the fact that the finance office at CIA headquarters in Washington had been unable to obtain sufficient Chilean currency in the banks of New York and had to buy it in Lima and Rio de Janeiro. But even in that way they had been unable to meet their needs.

Our purchasing agent in Montevideo,” Agee went on, “was the First National City Bank, which sent its men to Santiago to buy Chilean escudos with the greatest discretion and in small, separate amounts. They returned two days later bringing in the cash in the usual way: putting it among the clothes in their luggage and bribing customs officials.” It was so much money that it took Agee a whole day to count it. “The next day,” he said, “we sent it back to Santiago by diplomatic pouch.”

Philip Agee told me these things, speaking in Spanish devoid of any regional accent and with the look and the mental precision of a good math student. What strikes one most about him, however, is his natural and modest manner. In 1957, educated to be a “good Catholic,” a graduate of Notre Dame, where he majored in philosophy, he was recruited by the CIA at the age of nineteen. He served as a field intelligence officer for eight years, being stationed in Quito, Montevideo, and Mexico City. In 1969 he left the CIA, convinced through his own experience that the United States was supporting injustice and corruption in order to retain and expand its imperialist control over Latin America. It took him four years to write this book, which takes the form of a diary meticulously reconstructing his day by day activities. It is a solid book, serious and careful, and one reads it through without a break.

During our long and intense conversation, as we examined facts and recalled events, we reached a point where we were ready to absolve the CIA of all blame. In fact, with all of its power and money, the CIA could not have accomplished a thing without the connivance of the governing classes of Latin America, without the venality of our civil servants, and without the almost limitless possibilities for corruption that are open to our politicians.

In Ecuador, for example, the personal physician of President J. M. Velasco Ibarra—a Colombian named Felipe Ovalle—peddled a weekly report to the CIA. Thanks to the complicity of postal officials, mail from Cuba, the USSR, and China was sent to the offices of the CIA where an official named John Bacon would open the letters, make photocopies, seal them up again, and return them intact to the Postal Service. An Ecuadorian ambassador to the United Nations was a CIA agent. So, too, were three Uruguayan diplomats in Havana, a correspondent of the Ansa agency in Montevideo, a colonel in the junta that succeeded President Arosemena, a Treasury minister, two leaders of the Social Christian party, and the sales manager for Philip Morris in Latin America. Fidel Castro’s own sister Juana was “used” by the CIA.

The CIA has concealed microphones placed in many hotel rooms in Latin America, thanks to the cooperation of the owners. In its own offices it can listen in on the conversations of leftwing politicians, thanks to the complicity of local intelligence services, who also supply it with daily lists of people going abroad and can furnish the files on any citizen. The Montevideo office monitors an incalculable number of telephone calls by means of a clandestine network of thirty sets of cables installed by the telephone company itself.

In his book, Agee tells how after Carlos Arosemena took power as president of Ecuador in 1961, the vice president of the Senate, Reinaldo Varea, set up a meeting with Jim Noland, the head of the CIA office in Quito, so that the latter could help him become the vice president of the republic. Noland got the job for him with the help of the conservative leader Aurelio Dávila. The two men were unaware, apparently, that they were both in Noland’s pay. Once Varea became vice president, the CIA raised his monthly stipend from $700 to $1,000. “Noland said,” Agee writes, “if he gets to be President we’ll pay him even more.”

The CIA is not always so tight with its payments, however. When it attempted to recruit a communications officer of the Cuban embassy in Montevideo it offered $30,000 for a complete report on Cuban intelligence operations, $50,000 more for the key to coded messages, $3,000 a month for all the time he worked for the CIA within the Cuban embassy. In 1967 the budget of the Latin American section of the CIA was thirty-seven million dollars for routine expenses alone.

The ultimate aim of the United States during Agee’s period with the CIA was to have the countries of Latin America break relations with Cuba, so that her isolation would be complete. To achieve that goal, Agee and his fellow CIA officers promoted military coups and public disorders, circulated forged documents through the journalists on their secret payroll, financed strikes, arranged bloody repressions of demonstrations by students and workers. They gave money to parties of the right, corrupted reformist leaders, and ultimately established a system of brutal but effective secret police control—the “empire of the gorillas” as it is called throughout Latin America.

Universities were easy focal points for agitation and provocation. Teams of students were recruited to distribute handbills secretly printed under CIA direction—some anticommunist, some attributed to leftists as a provocation. As Agee observes, “None of the team except the leader himself knows about US Embassy sponsorship of the operation.”

Agee in this book tells how the CIA overthrew President Velasco Ibarra of Ecuador because he refused to break relations with Cuba. For the CIA it was not good enough that Velasco was willing to denounce communism and expel Cuban diplomats from his country. Through the politicians in its pay, the CIA kept pushing for a total break in relations:

Today Velasco finally made his expected move for Conservative Party support. Noland has been insisting with Dávila that he do all he can to sustain the Conservatives in making a break with Cuba their condition for supporting Velasco. Thus Velasco’s offer today of the Ministry of Labor was rejected by the Conservatives, and Velasco’s position continues to weaken.

When Velasco’s successor Arosemena soon after gave in to the implacable pressures from the US and broke off relations with Cuba, “we had,” Agee recalls, “a champagne victory celebration in the station, and [CIA] headquarters…sent congratulations.” Arturo Frondizi in Argentina was put under similar pressure before he fell. As for Arosemena, he later insulted the US ambassador at a dinner party and the next morning was deposed by a four man junta, dominated by a colonel who served as “liaison” with the CIA.

Briefly back at headquarters in Washington in 1964, Agee followed the maneuvers by which the US succeeded in getting the OAS to impose economic sanctions on Cuba and to urge all its members to break relations with it. A major charge in this campaign concerned a shipment of arms that the Venezuelan government said it had discovered within its territory. A Belgian dealer, the purported seller of the weapons, declared that he had supplied them to Cuba. Although not directly involved himself, Agee was not convinced: “the whole campaign built around the arms cache has looked to me like a Caracas station operation from the beginning. I suspect the arms were planted by the station, perhaps as a joint operation with the local service, and then ‘discovered.’ ”

The most difficult but also the most fruitful operation, however, was the one in Brazil. In 1964, after Jim Noland had become chief of the CIA’s Brazil office in Washington, he told Agee that “Brazil is the most serious problem for us in Latin America—more serious in fact than Cuba since the missile crisis.” The CIA was briefly embarrassed when a committee of the Brazilian parliament began to turn up evidence that its Rio de Janiero station “spent during the 1962 electoral campaign at least the equivalent of some twelve million dollars…and possibly as much as twenty million.” However by April 1964, it was, as Agee writes, “all over for Goulart in Brazil much faster and easier than most expected”—and the CIA took much of the credit. Ned Holman, the CIA station chief in Uruguay, informed Agee that “the Rio station and its larger bases were financing the mass urban demonstrations against the Goulart government….” Goulart’s fall, Agee writes, was “without doubt largely due to the careful planning and consistent propaganda campaigns dating at least back to the 1962 election operation.”

With Goulart gone, the US succeeded in implanting a peculiarly ruthless and thuggish system of police power in Brazil. “The decision was made,” Agee writes, “apparently by President Johnson himself, that an all-out effort must be made not only to prevent a counter-coup and insurgency in the short run in Brazil, but also to build up their security forces as fast and as effectively as possible for the long run. Never again can Brazil be permitted to slide off to the left….”

Agee is nowhere more eloquent and scathing than when he reconsiders, in 1973, the effects of this malignant inspiration and remembers the day “when the cables arrived in the Montevideo station reporting Goulart’s overthrow. Such joy and relief! Such a régime we created. Not just through the CIA organization and training of the military régime’s intelligence services,” but through the billions of dollars in US government assistance and private investment in Brazil.

All this to support a régime in which the destitute, marginalized half of the population—some fifty million people—are getting still poorer while the small ruling élite and their military puppets get an ever larger share….

All this to create a façade of “economic miracle” where per capita income is still only about 450 dollars per year—still behind Nicaragua, Peru and nine other Latin American countries—and where even the UN Economic Commission for Latin America reports that the “economic miracle” has been of no benefit to the vast majority of the population.

All this for a régime that has to clamour for export markets because creation of an internal market would imply reforms such as redistribution of income and a slackening of repression—possibly even a weakening of the dictatorship.

All this to support a régime denounced the world over for the barbaric torture and inhuman treatment inflicted as a matter of routine on its thousands of political prisoners—including priests, nuns and many non-Marxists—many of whom fail to survive the brutality or are murdered outright. Repression in Brazil even includes cases of the torture of children, before their parents’ eyes, in order to force the parents to give information.

This is what the CIA, police assistance, military training and economic aid programmes have brought to the Brazilian people. And the Brazilian régime is spreading it around: Bolivia in 1971, Uruguay in February [1973] and now Chile.

Inside the Company is a fascinating book. In it one discovers why the overthrow of Cheddi Jagan, the prime minister of British Guiana, was “largely due” to the CIA. One learns, not without surprise, that it was the CIA which sent a diplomatic pouch from Miami bearing the precision weapons used to assassinate the Dominican dictator Trujillo after he had fallen out of the good graces of the United States government. The book confirms the fact that the teams of torturers working in Latin America receive their training at the Counter-Insurgency School in the Canal Zone. (In Uruguay, “torture of communists and other extreme leftists was used by our liaison agents in the police.”) Agee establishes, finally and categorically, that in 1964—when Cuba was expelled from the OAS—there were many more proven reasons to have expelled the United States instead on grounds of its persistent and bloody intervention in the internal affairs of Latin America.

The piling up of so many infamous acts, and especially the invasion of Santo Domingo by US Marines in 1965, brought Agee face to face with his own conscience. When the US invasion crushed the groups led by Juan Bosch, he found himself reconsidering the entire US position in Latin America. Bosch, he felt at the time, stood for reforms that

will allow for redistribution of income and integration. Rightist opposition to his land reform and nationalistic economic policies brought on his overthrow by the military in 1963 after only seven months in power. This was another chance for him to turn the balance towards marginalized peasants and to channel income from industry, mostly sugar, into education and social projects.

Now, just as the Constitutionalists have the upper hand to restore Bosch to power, we send in the Marines to keep him out. Nobody’s going to believe Johnson’s story of another Cuba-style revolution in the making. There has to be more to the problem than this…. They just don’t want Bosch back in and the ‘they’ is probably US sugar interests….

The more I think about the Dominican invasion the more I wonder whether the politicians in Washington really want to see reforms in Latin America…. The worst of this is that the more we work to build up the security forces like the police and military, particularly the intelligence services, the less urgency, it seems, attaches to the reforms. What’s the benefit in eliminating subversion if the injustices continue?

Agee, having begun as a loyal international police agent, ends by calling for “the end of capitalist imperialism and the building of socialist society.” For the US edition of his book, which he says the CIA has “tried to delay and suppress,” he has this conclusion:

The Congressional investigating committees can, if they want, illuminate a whole dark world of foreign Watergates covering the past thirty years…. The key question is to pass beyond the facts of CIA’s operations to the reasons they were established—which inexorably will lead to economic questions: preservation of property relations and other institutions on which rest the interests of our own wealthy and privileged minority. This, not the CIA, is the critical issue.

translated by Gregory Rabassa

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