Media mogul Agustin Edwards Eastman, who was widely regarded as the Rupert Murdoch of Chile, died on April 24, at age 89, leaving a legacy of close collaboration with Henry Kissinger and the CIA in instigating and supporting the September 11, 1973, military coup. Edwards was the only Chilean—civilian or military—known to meet face-to-face with CIA Director Richard Helms in September 1970 in connection with plans to instigate regime change against Socialist leader Salvador Allende, who had just been elected president.
Declassified CIA and White House documents posted today by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University show conclusively what Edwards repeatedly denied – that he and his newspaper, El Mercurio, became a critical part of U.S. plans to foment a military coup against President Allende.
National Security Archive
- Edwards’ extraordinary influence on U.S. policy and CIA intervention in Chile did not stop there. When CIA covert action—which included the assassination of Gen. Rene Schneider—failed to block Salvador Allende’s inauguration, the Edwards media empire became the leading clandestine collaborator in fomenting a military coup d’etat. President Nixon personally authorized covert CIA funding to sustain El Mercurio so that it could become a media megaphone of opposition, agitation and misinformation against the Allende government. In the aftermath of Allende’s overthrow, the CIA explicitly credited its media propaganda project in Chile for playing “a significant role in setting the stage for the military coup of 11 September 1973,” and continued to secretly funnel money to the Edwards group so that El Mercurio could “present the Junta in the most positive light for the Chilean public.”
- During his lengthy conversation with CIA Director Helms and one of his top aides, Kenneth Millian, Edwards not only pushed for a U.S.-backed, preemptive, coup to block the inauguration of the duly elected next president of Chile, Salvador Allende; he also provided detailed intelligence on potential coup plotters in the Chilean armed forces and discussed “timing for possible military action.” According to the CIA memorandum of conversation with Edwards, titled “Discussion of Chilean Political Situation,” they systematically reviewed the strength and coup potential of each branch of the military.
- After the meeting with the CIA director, Edwards stayed in Washington for a number of days to continue to share more detailed information with agency officials as the CIA mobilized to implement President Nixon’s orders to orchestrate a coup. On September 18, Helms reported to Kissinger that “Further conversations and a more exhaustive debriefing are going on with Mr. Edwards right now.”
- Henry Kissinger, according to declassified transcripts of his telephone calls, attempted to arranged an ultra-secret meeting between Edwards and President Nixon. On the evening of September 14, 1970, Kissinger called Nixon’s scheduler, Stephen Bull, and requested that Edwards quietly be ushered into the Oval Office before a meeting Nixon had scheduled the next morning with the deputy chairman of the German Christian Democratic Union party, Gerhard Schroeder. “Does Edwards need more than 15 minutes?” Bull asked. “Absolutely not,” Kissinger replied. “We will schedule you from 9:15 to 10:00,” Bull stated. “In that 45 min[ute] period we will do Edwards at the beginning and then bring in Schroeder.” Kissinger asked for the Schroeder meeting to start at 9:45. To keep the Nixon-Edwards meeting secret, Kissinger then instructed Bull: “don’t let [Edwards and Schroeder] meet. Get Edwards out.”
- President Nixon personally authorized over $1 million dollars in September 1971 “to keep the paper [El Mercurio] going.” (The initial funding amounted to the considerable sum of 67 million escudos.) CIA and White House documents show that the Edwards media group received almost $2 million in covert CIA funds between the fall 1971 and May 1972. The money was used to pay El Mercurio’s bills and debts, and cover the “monthly operating deficits” in order to assist opposition forces—El Mercurio “does help give heart to the opposition forces,” states a memo to Henry Kissinger—and to provide positive media coverage for the anti-Allende candidates in the March 1973 Congressional elections. In addition, CIA records reveal that the Edwards Group received secret funds from the ITT corporation in $100,000 increments through a Swiss bank account.
- In May 1973, the CIA Station in Santiago identified “the El Mercurio chain of newspapers” as among “the most militant parts of the opposition” which “have set as their objective the creation of conflict and confrontation which will lead to some sort of military intervention.” The secret CIA cable continued: “Each [militant part] in its own way is trying to coordinate its efforts with members of the armed forces known to them who share this objective.” The CIA credited its “propaganda project” in which El Mercurio and the Edwards media outlets where the key actors, as having “played a significant role in setting the stage for the military coup of 11 September 1973.” According to a secret CIA post-coup report, “Prior to the coup the project’s media outlets maintained a steady barrage of anti-government criticism, exploiting every possible point of friction between the government and the democratic opposition, and emphasizing the problems and conflicts which were developing between the government and the armed forces.”
- After the coup, El Mercurio continued to receive covert CIA funding until June 1974. The CIA determined the funds were needed to assist the newspaper’s effort to help the Pinochet regime consolidate its power. “Since the coup, these media outlets have supported the new military government. They have tried to present the Junta in the most positive light for the Chilean public,” according to a CIA request for continuing covert monies for El Mercurio. “The project is essential in enabling the [CIA] Station to help mold Chilean public opinion in support of the new government….”
Full report, documents: