The Academic and the Censor

The Case of the Missing Letter in Foreign Affairs

By David Gallagher

I am writing from New York. It is one of those frigid days in which the air is cold, but the sun is shining and the city bursts with energy and the joy of living. But this provides no escape from the dark affairs of our political past. The dark shadows of human rights abuses are almost more relevant here and now than in Chile itself. These shadows are now not just our own: they have become global, universal. Practically every day something is published in the U.S. press about the Riggs bank accounts in which General Augusto Pinochet hoarded millions of dollars or Operation Condor, a state-sponsored terror network set up by the Pinochet government to do away with opponents. But the “Chilean” history that makes the greatest impression on me is one that the editor of a famous New York journal tells me over lunch.

This story begins towards the end of 2003, when a distinguished expert in Latin American affairs, Professor Kenneth Maxwell, published a review of Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File in the journal Foreign Affairs. Maxwell, discussing the book based on files recently declassified by the U.S. government, insinuates that the United States was complicit in the Chilean coup and in certain later violent actions. His review provoked Henry Kissinger’s fury. William Rogers, Kissinger’s lifelong collaborator, sent Foreign Affairs a fulminating reply, but Maxwell refuted it with brutal efficiency.

Here, the situation gets nasty. Pressured by its bosses, the Council on Foreign Relations, the journal reaches an unusual agreement with Rogers. Rogers would respond to Maxwell’s rebuttal, but Maxwell would not have the right of reply to him: Rogers would have the last word. James Hoge, the journal’s editor, was breaking a sacred principle observed by that publication that writers always have the right of reply. Hoge was reacting to the heaviest type of pressure from two businessmen, who had already donated more than $34 million dollars to the Council on Foreign Relations. A lot of money to insist on editorial independence.

What was Maxwell’s worst offense? He described a confusing series of telegrams that few would have learned about, had it not been for the exaggerated repressive haste on the part of Kissinger and his operators. Maxwell recounts that on August 23, 1976, Washington sent a telegram to its ambassadors in the Southern Cone, asking them to warn each country that an assassination campaign of enemies within and beyond its borders “would create a moral and political problem” and would now be looked upon askance by the United States. Frowned upon going forth? Was this a new development? How was such a campaign viewed before the telegrams were sent?

These questions pose the first enigma. In the case of Chile, U.S. Ambassador David Popper held on to the telegram, because he felt that its contents would be offensive to the Chilean government. In any case, on September 20, Washington sent a second telegram, asking its embassies to overlook the first one. What had happened in the meantime? After 27 days, did Washington decide that political assassinations were legitimate? What makes the situation even worse is that, as Maxwell points out, “by cruel coincidence,” the day after the second telegram was sent, Orlando Letelier, a Chilean diplomat under the Allende government, was killed in Washington DC, along with his American assistant Ronnie Moffit. Coincidences of any kind, whether cruel or happy ones, do not necessary imply cause and effect. But the nervous sensibility of Kissinger and Rogers appeared to perceive an implicit accusation.

The story has a happy ending for Maxwell. His academic colleagues supported him without reservations. He resigned from the Council and was named Senior Fellow at Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. He almost immediately wrote a fascinating document about the episode, which has been published as part of the Center’s Working Papers on Latin America series . The paper is entitled, “The Case of the Missing Letter in Foreign Affairs: Kissinger, Pinochet and Operation Condor.” To read it is like reading a mystery novel.

It can hardly be believed that a journal with the prestige of Foreign Affairs would sacrifice its reputation this way. Fortunately, this is a case in which, thanks to the determination of North American academics, the censors lost out and Maxwell had the last word.

David Gallagher, a former Oxford University Lecturer in Latin American Studies and Fellow of St. Antony´s College, Oxford, is a Founding Partner of ASSET-Chile, an independent investment banking business. He is a director of Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP), and Chairman of the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation. Gallagher writes a column in El Mercurio, Chile’s leading newspaper and is the author of Modern Latin American Literature (Oxford, 1974), Improvisaciones(Santiago, 1990) and Otras Improvisaciones (Santiago 2004). This article was translated from the Spanish originally published in El Mercurio, Santiago de Chile.