Operation Condor: Chilean Media Tycoon Admits Meeting with CIA Ahead of Coup

Operation Condor: Chilean Media Tycoon Admits Meeting with CIA Ahead of Coup

Agustín Edwards is currently facing a lawsuit for his role in the 1973 military coup. Photo by Luisaxt / Twitter

El Mercurio owner Agustín Edwards acknowledges meeting US intelligence agency but denies receiving funding to destabilize ousted President Salvador Allende.

A trial investigating the role played by the owner of Chile’s largest media group in the 1973 coup has turned to the involvement of the CIA following Augustín Edwards Eastman’s admission of meeting with U.S. intelligence agents.

Agustín Edwards is currently facing a lawsuit for his role in the 1973 military coup. Photo by Luisaxt / Twitter

Edwards, owner of El Mercurio S.A.P, has admitted meeting with the CIA but denied receiving funding as part of the U.S. intelligence agency’s efforts to destabilize President Salvador Allende’s democratically elected Marxist government.

Appearing as a defendant in a lawsuit brought against him by two associations representing families of victims of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Edwards denied the charge of criminal involvement in the lead up to the military coup of Sept. 11, 1973.

Edwards’ case is the first lawsuit to bring charges against a civilian for a role in the coup, though others have been fingered. Along with the media baron, the Association of Families of the Disappeared (AFDD) and the Association of Families of Victims of Political Execution (AFEP), have implicated three other high profile public figures including: Former President Patricio Aylwin of the center-left Christian Democrats (DC), Roberto Thieme and Pablo Rodríguez Grez, secretary general and president of the ultra-right paramilitary group Patria y Libertad respectively.

Edwards, Kissinger and the CIA

In his testimony Edwards denied unequivocally information brought forward by Peter Kornbluh, John Dinges and declassified CIA documents that paint him as one of the principal authors of the overthrow of Allende.

Edwards admits meeting with then-CIA director Richard Helms and then U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger on Sept. 15, 1970, shortly after Allende triumphed in Chile's election. He maintains, however, that attempts to destabilize the Marxist government were not discussed.

“The meeting [with Helms and Kissinger] took place days after Salvador Allende’s election, and we talked about the fact that a communist president was elected in a democratic country, but we never discussed inciting a coup or the transfer of funds to El Mercurio,” Edwards said during his testimony.

Kornbluh, author of “The Pinochet Files” and head of the National Security Archive's Chile documentation project, said the documents from the time tell a different story.

The evidence shows that Edwards personally played the role of lead lobbyist for an aggressive pro-coup policy from the United States against Allende's election and government,” Kornbluh told The Santiago Times.

Lawyer for the prosecution, Eduardo Contreras, repeatedly questioned Edwards over the issue of CIA funding. Despite evidence in the form of declassified CIA documents, Edwards denied the paper was part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign.

“I repeat that El Mercurio has not received money from the United States, nor did it have a close relationship with the CIA,” he said.

Kornbluh speculated that additional CIA documents that currently remain classified may further incriminate Edwards.

“The CIA does not funnel US$2 million to places like El Mercurio without keeping records of when, how and how much,” Kornbluh said. “There are budget, payment and meeting reports written by CIA bagmen who transferred monies to Edwards Group officials that remain secret.”

While testifying in court, Edwards denied having any editorial control over the El Mercurio media group, in an attempt to distance himself from the accusations of propaganda.

“I am a shareholder of El Mercurio and on the board of directors, but neither now nor then did I have any control of its editorial line,” Edwards said.
Zúñiga refuted Edwards’ claim, maintaining the paper operated as a propaganda wing of the government during Pinochet’s dictatorship.

[Edwards] has always encouraged an editorial line that was absolutely supportive of the dictatorship,” Zúñiga told The Santiago Times. “[El Mercurio] is completely incorrect — behind a facade of seriousness. Here in Chile, if El Mercurio says something, you can be sure it was said by the authorities.”

Speaking at the trial, Contreras reportedly said that through his denial of any involvement in promoting a coup, Edwards remained true to the iconic rebuff — coined by student protesters in 1967 — against the paper “El Mercurio miente,” or “El Mercurio lies.”

Other authors of the coup?

The AFDD has pointed fingers at several other civilians for their involvement in the coup, most prominently Patricio Aylwin of the center-left Christian Democratic (DC) party who became the first president following Chile’s return to democracy in 1989.

Gabriela Zúñiga, communications director for the AFDD, explained that the inclusion and testimony of former president Aylwin is an important part of the overall case.

“The Christian Democratic party played a fundamental role in the coup,” she told The Santiago Times. “Today, the DC is trying to whitewash and clean up its past, which is almost impossible as they supported the coup. And within the DC the person who backed the coup was Patricio Aylwin.”

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