Third president of the Brazilian military dictatorship, Emílio Garrastazu Médici was received with pomp by the American government in December 1971.
At a gala at the White House, shortly after the performance of Itzhak Perlman, a young violinist who would be consecrated years later, American agent Richard Nixon raised his glass of white wine and toasted Medici: ” We must work together for a great future for its people, our people and all the peoples of the Americas ”. The Brazilian responded with a smile.
The dinner preceded the confabulation, as revealed by international journalist and analyst Roberto Simon in the recently published book “Brazil Against Democracy – The Dictatorship, the Coup in Chile and the Cold War in South America” .
On his last morning in Washington, Médici met in the Oval Office Nixon and General Vernon Walters, a connoisseur of Brazilian affairs, who acted as interpreter.
Far from the lyricism of Perlman, they went through arid themes of South American politics and economy to reach Chile, a country which, under the command of the socialist Salvador Allende, worried the two presidents. Nixon asked, “Do you think the armed forces are capable of shooting you down?”
The Brazilian’s response appears in a US government document to which Simon had access. “President Médici said he thought that [os militares do Chile] were able, adding that Brazil has exchanged many officers with Chileans and clarified that Brazil is working to this end [um golpe no Chile]. “
Allende was chosen by the Chilean people in a democratic process in September and October 1970, assuming the presidency previously held by Eduardo Frei, of the Christian Democracy.
On September 11, 1973, less than two years after the conversation between Médici and Nixon, the Chilean military summit, with General Augusto Pinochet in the lead, struck a blow, pulling Allende out of power. That same day, at the Palacio de La Moneda, the socialist leader placed the AK-47 rifle (a gift from friend Fidel Castro) between his knees, pointed it at his chin and committed suicide.
Obviously, the fall of Allende is the result, above all, of a movement of the armed forces of the Andean country, with the support of other sectors of society. But, as Simon shows through archives (obtained from Brazil, Chile and the United States) and dozens of interviews, the actions of Brazilian diplomacy to end the socialist government have always been consistent – and often, explicit – over the years 1001 days when Allende was in office.
“In the lexicon of the military regime, the country which had always been a Brazilian ally had metamorphosed into the ‘bridgehead of international communism in South America'”, writes the author, former columnist of Folha and former reporter for the newspaper O Estado. from S. Paulo.
“The dictatorship believed that after Cuba a new pole of armed subversion in the Americas had emerged.”
Brazil’s motivation to obsessively seek Allende’s departure was primarily geopolitical. Economic reasons do not have a central role. Trade between countries increased during these years, and unlike with the United States, no Brazilian company was nationalized by Popular Unity, the coalition that commanded Chile.
Simon recounts in detail how Câmara Canto, Brazilian ambassador to Santiago, promoted links with Chilean officials – starting with the navy – for the fall of Allende.
In an operation led by Canto, closely watched by then Foreign Minister Gibson Barbosa, the Brazilian government invited retired officer Alberto Labbé, who was rehearsing an insurgency against Allende, for a visit to the country. and a series of conversations.
Labbé, as soon as it turned out, did not have enough strength to threaten the socialist government, but he was nonetheless celebrated by the Brazilian authorities in mid-1972.
The following year, when Allende’s defeat was over, amid machine gun fire at La Moneda, Canto said to all who called him: “We won.”
With the Socialists on the sidelines, Médici’s membership in Pinochet became so unconditional that the Foreign Ministry began to make every possible move to make life difficult for Brazilian exiles at risk in Santiago. Toucan Senator José Serra and Marco Aurélio Garcia (1941-2017), special advisor to the presidency in the Lula years, were among the hundreds of Brazilians who had to seek asylum in embassies in other countries.
“Chile [dos anos Allende] represents the most disturbing episode in the history of Brazilian diplomacy in recent decades. Diplomacy was totally confused with repression, ”says the author. “Instead of offering protection to Brazilians, the consulate in Santiago was, in practice, an outpost of repression.”
By exposing this modus operandi of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the face of political unrest in Chile, the journalist dismantles one of the myths that have been perpetuated since. The military governments themselves of the following years spread the version that, as Simon writes, “the ‘excesses’ committed were the fault of certain radicals within the regime, people who acted in isolation.”
The book shows that the anti-Allende conspiracy and, later, the pro-Pinochet Brazilian initiatives followed a chain of command. It was, after all, state policy.
Another myth that the author opposes is that the country presided over by Medici was strongly active in Chile in the service of Nixon’s power. “Brazil was acting alone. It was the interests of the country’s government and also of the business and press elite, which were deeply against Allende, ”he said.
“Of course, there was an affinity with the United States, as Medici’s meeting with Nixon in Washington demonstrates. But the book makes it clear that there was no joint operation by the two countries to overthrow Allende. They each functioned in their own way, Brazil did not need to follow the orders of the United States. “
Not so close to Nixon, as we imagined. And much closer to Pinochet than we thought.