Charles Horman, by Ella Zimbalist

Charles Horman, an American filmmaker, freelance writer and political liberal, was shot in the National Stadium in Chile by the Chilean police in September of 1973. Literally, the blood was on the hands of the Chilean Police, but, figuratively, it was arguably on the hands of the United States. The death of Charles Horman reflects the United States imperialism in Chile at the time.

Imperialism takes many forms; it is not always overt. Classic examples of imperialism are the Ancient Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire or the British Empire, however there is a broad spectrum of imperialism that includes covert imperialism. This covert type of power is how more modern day imperialism usually works. Covert action of this sort is what killed Charles Horman in 1973. “In some respects, the U. S. involvement in overthrowing Allende is nothing new. Such tricks have been played before, have been denied and lied about before (Wallis 1).”

The United States had a large presence in Chile during 1963-1973. The goal of the United States was to protect what it thought to be in its best interest. Their biggest goal was to prevent the election of the socialist politician Salvador Allende. The United States used many covert action techniques not only to prevent Allende’s election to office, but also to strengthen his opposition and to eventually help overthrow Allende. Some of the techniques used were heavy propaganda, utilizing and aligning with multinational corporations, implementing the so-called “spoiling campaign”, support of opposing political parties, and, finally, facilitating the military coup. (A coup is an overthrow of the government and comes from the French term coup d’etat, which means, “blow to the state.”)  Charles Horman fits into this story because he knew about the United States involvement in the coup, and in September of 1973 was arrested and brought to the National Stadium in Chile where he was killed for his knowledge. The United States overstepped their bounds by its involvement in the overthrow of Allende and the death of Charles Horman.

Allende was an active member and founder of Chile’s Socialist Party which was formed in 1933.  In 1945, he was elected to senate (Houser 12). Allende ran for president three times before he finally got elected. The first time he ran was in 1952 mainly for the purpose of laying “the foundation for a national party of the left (Hauser 10).”  Six years later he ran again, and lost once more.  In 1964, he ran and lost a third time. It wasn’t until the 1970 election that Allende finally won despite the huge effort made by the United States to ensure he would not be elected. He won by a very close margin against his opponents, Rodomiro Tomic and Jorge Alessandri (Hauser 16). 

“The most extensive covert action activity in Chile was propaganda (Church Report 6).” Approximately $12.3 million was spent by the United States on propaganda in elections and in the media between 1963 and 1973. In 2013 dollars, this amount is equal to $73.8 million.  Most commonly the propaganda was executed through media assets. These assets would write articles or editorials about topics such as the criticism of the Soviet Union that supported the interests of the United States on a national level and that were critical of the ideals of the Chilean left wing (Church Report 7). There was also use of the technique “black propaganda” to set two sides against each other, in this case it was used in an attempt to turn different socialist and communist groups of the time against each other. Other propaganda efforts financed by the United States included hanging up posters or passing out political pamphlets. These actions were often taken to influence a political campaign, however many were still done in the absence of a political campaign (Church Report 8). There was also a lot of propaganda involved in the media. The CIA supported and subsidized many media projects that included wire services, intellectual magazines and right-wing newspapers. Perhaps the biggest and most useful media endeavor was the support of the El Mercurio, which was a Santiago daily in opposition to the Allende regime. El Mercurio and other media outlets financed by the CIA played a pivotal role in setting the scene for the 1973 military coup (Church Report 8).

As well as spending a significant amount of money on propaganda, another big focus was political parties and elections. The United States had a big fiscal impact on nearly all of the elections from 1963 to 1973, this was not limited to presidential elections but also included congressional elections. In the 1964 election, the CIA gave $2.6 million ($15.6 million in 2013 dollars) to a Christian Democrat running against Allende (Church Report 9). In the 1970 election, there was also significant involvement of the CIA, this time, however, the focus was not on a specific candidate but on making sure Allende was not elected. In total between 1971 and 1973 the “40 Committee (of U.S. government agencies) authorized nearly $4 million ($24 million in 2013 dollars) for opposition political parties in Chile” (Church Report 10).

Multinational corporations were aligned with the United States in attempts to ensure that Allende was not elected. The most prominent of these corporations was International Telephone and Telegraph Inc, (ITT). ITT was advised by the CIA about safe ways they could channel funds to Allende’s opponent Alessandri and his National Party (Church Report 12). The CIA and ITT had a significant amount of influence in Chile, “ITT proposed more aggressive direct intervention by the U.S. government, offered subsidies to the CIA, pressured the ambassador, and favored efforts directed toward an immediate overthrow (Petras and Morley 28).”

In the 1970 elections, the CIA implemented what was called the “spoiling campaign.” The purpose of this campaign was not to support any one candidate; rather, its focus was on the defeat of Allende. “The "spoiling" operations had two objectives: (1) undermining communist efforts to bring about a coalition of leftist forces which could gain control of the presidency in 1970; and (2) strengthening non-Marxist political leaders and forces in Chile to order to develop an effective alternative to the (Allende’s) Popular Unity coalition in preparation for the 1970 presidential election (Church Report 21).” This was the basis for much of the propaganda, covert action and other clandestine activities.

In 1970, the covert actions and involvement of the United States reached a high point. After the election, but before Allende’s inauguration, the U.S. realized that the only way to prevent Allende’s accession to power was by a military coup. The CIA established connections with several military groups and passed to them free weapons and tear gas (Church Report 10). In the October of 1970, one of the military groups that the CIA was aligned with successfully attempted to kidnap and kill the Chief of Staff of the Chilean Army, General Rene Schneider, although the CIA did not directly approve this plan, they were in contact with this group earlier in the week. After Allende’s inauguration, some of the coup plotting ended, however the United States stayed in contact with some of the military groups in Chile.

There has not always been so much information about the United States covert action in Chile; as a matter of fact Charles Horman was killed because of his knowledge of the United States involvement in the military coup. Charles was born May 15th 1942 in New York City. Charles was raised in New York by his parents Elizabeth and Ed. In 1960, he graduated from the Phillips Exeter Academy in Rockingham New Hampshire, and then, in 1964, he graduated from Harvard University (Houser 5).  After graduating he joined the Air Force and was honorably discharged.  In June of 1968 he married his wife Joyce. Their life took a dramatic turn when in 1971 they went to live in Latin America (Houser 29). They were living in Chile temporarily where Charles was doing freelance writing, and was involved in an anti-imperialist newspaper called FIN. Throughout his life “he was an idealist, with an optimism about people and human nature that led him to write, ‘Nothing attempted with love or kindness is bad’ (Houser 9).”

On a trip to the coastal town of Viña del Mar with his friend Terry Simon, who was visiting from the United States, Charles learned about the United States involvement in the coup, because the hotel he stayed at was filled with military officers.  At the end of the day on September 11, 1973, the officers were in the bar, drinking and celebrating about the successful overthrow of Allende.  

The Costa Gravas film, Missing, portrays the dangerous and brutal conditions in Santiago during days after the coup. Six days after the military coup, on September 17, 1973, the Chilean police arrested Charles. Charles’s wife Joyce and father Ed looked endlessly for him while being fed misinformation and false hope from the United States embassy and consulate.  Nearly a month later, Tu Jarvis, an employee of the Ford Foundation, informed Ed Horman that his son had been killed in the national stadium in Santiago. Charles Horman was one of two Americans killed during the coup.

The actions taken by the United States in Chile were a prime example of covert imperialism. The problem with this is that once the United States inserted itself in trying to get rid of Allende, they did not implement a better solution. Instead Pinochet took over and started one or the worst periods in Chilean history with an extremely oppressive dictatorship.  Many people believe that this pattern of entering a country and leaving it worse then it started has been repeated in current day countries, for example, Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the big reasons that what happened in Chile has had a large impact is because “our own government had been caught in a plot to assassinate democratically elected foreign officials" (Hoeffel Kornbluh).