If you come from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, or any other Latin American nation, one of the most striking things about Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Henry Kissinger is the absence in Kissinger’s account of your vast corner of the world.
This should shock no one. Since September 11, 2001, Latin America has been noticeably absent from the U.S. foreign-policy agenda. President Barack Obama acknowledged as much in a conversation with Goldberg published in The Atlantic last April, to which Kissinger is now responding. Not even the increasing presence of China, whose commerce with Latin America grew at a dizzying 31.2 percent per year from 2000 to 2011, managed to draw U.S. attention to the continent, once considered “America’s backyard.” Not that this seemingly diminutive moniker gives much cause for resentment. During this decade, the region enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, with annual GDP growing at about double the pace of the previous one, and poverty plunging from 44 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2015, in part thanks to the new partnership with China.
And yet, it’s not the present-day Latin America, nor the region’s future, that should compel an appearance in Kissinger’s view of the contemporary world, but, rather, the past.
As part of America’s chess game with the Soviets during the Cold War, Kissinger, as secretary of state and national security advisor to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, became an unflinching supporter and, at least in the case of Chile, co-conspirator, of the coups d’etat and military dictatorships that spread throughout South America in the 1970s. Tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed in clandestine camps, their bodies dumped from planes into rivers, their children stolen and given away under false identities. In his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens argued convincingly that Kissinger deserved prosecution “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.” Kissinger also disagrees with Obama that America should ever have to justify its actions, as he suggests in the Goldberg interview.