Henry Kissinger: A Controversial Legacy

By: Max Rothman

On November 29, 2023, former United States diplomat and politician Henry Kissinger passed away at 100. Kissinger served as the Secretary of State and a National Security Advisor during the 1970s for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Kissinger was known for his significant involvement in United States’ foreign affairs, winning the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end the Vietnam War. Despite this accolade, Kissinger’s legacy remains the subject of significant controversy due to his involvement in the brutal dictatorships in South America during the 1970s. Regarding the blatant human rights abuses committed by South American dictatorships, critics claim that Kissinger was complicit at best and supportive at worst.

A prominent example of Kissinger’s purported infamy regarding his support of South American dictatorships lies in the role he played in the overthrow of democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende. As early as 1970, Kissinger plotted with the CIA on how to remove Salvador Allende, citing fear of Marxism spreading to other South American countries. This effort to overthrow Allende was ultimately successful and ushered in the regime of General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s regime committed substantial human rights abuses against those deemed to be involved in radical left-wing ideology, leading to thousands of people being “disappeared.” These abuses were far from incidenta, and were part of a expansive coordinated effort by South American military regimes known as Operation CondorUnclassified documents reflect Kissinger’s role as “the chief enabler of Gen. Augusto Pinochet when he took power in 1973.”

Operation Condor began in the 1970s and involved South American countries such as Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. These countries implemented a coordinated, systematic operation to crack down on individuals suspected of being affiliated with radical left-wing movements. Many of these suspects were “disappeared,”  meaning they were tortured, interrogated, and executed. As recently as March of 2023, mass graves containing victims of Operation Condor were discovered. After the Argentine coup of 1976 that installed a right-wing military regime, Kissinger expressed support for military dictators of this sort. 

The debate surrounding the legacy of Henry Kissinger is likely to continue far into the future. Kissinger’s positive contributions to international affairs may be commendable; however, it is difficult to reconcile them with his involvement in one of South America’s darkest periods of history. As the international community continues to contemplate Kissinger’s legacy, the families of the victims of Operation Condor continue to search for answers as to what happened to their disappeared friends and family. 

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