Chilean film “No” recently vaulted into international consciousness after winning the Art Cinema Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, for its depiction of a plebiscite in 1988, in which General Augusto Pinochet peacefully relinquished his power after 7 years and 6 months as President of Chile.
The film generated a wave of international coverage, and brought the spotlight back to the administration of Pinochet, who passed away in 2006. Much of the focus of attention has placed more emphasis on his administration than the film itself.
In 1976, the KGB approved “Operation TOUCAN,” as a propaganda initiative to capitalize on Pinochet’s human rights violations.
The initiative was started as a reaction to the removal of their Marxist ally, Salvador Allende, by Chile’s military. Despite intensive efforts by the Soviet Union to prop up Salvador Allende as a close ally in their global effort to expand Marxist influence internationally, the Chilean military removed him from power for defying Chile’s Supreme Court, and wrecking the Chilean economy after only 3 years and 7 months in power through his drastic Marxist policies. A coup led by General Augusto Pinochet would remove him from power in 1973.
Smarting from the loss of such a staunch ally in South America to compliment Cuba in the region, the Soviet Union’s KGB launched Operation Toucan in conjunction with Cuba’s Dirección de Inteligencia (DI), as a propaganda campaign to influence the media globally and place a spotlight on Chile’s military rule. While an exact number may never be attainable, estimates place the number of extra judicial executions, and disappearances at 3200 during his rule.
After the first year of Operation TOUCAN, a survey of Articles in the New York Times in 1976 reported fully 66 articles focusing on Chile’s human rights record, compared to just 3 covering Cuba’s communist dictatorship, and a paltry four covering Cambodia’s communist Khmer Rouge. In that same year, Pol Pot was in the midst of an atrocious killing spree in Cambodia, responsible for the death of an estimated 1.5 million of Cambodia’s 7.5 million people. Operation TOUCAN worked.
This disparity of coverage from Western media is difficult to explain in the absence of Operation TOUCAN, as deaths under the communist Khmer Rouge regime have been estimated at as many as three million. Even Communist Cuba has been responsible for more human rights violations, and estimates reach as high as thirty three thousand deaths under Castro’s rule.
In 2008, “Che,” a film celebrating the life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara received rave reviews from international media, including an award at the Cannes Film Festival, despite the thousands of political executions during the Cuban Revolution. Che was one of Castro’s closest assistants in the Cuban Revolution. Far from being ostracized by international press, the Castro regime is currently heading the CELAC (a Latin American political body) despite the atrocities its government has committed.
Ironically, the Soviet Union itself far out paced Chile, Cuba, and even Cambodia in terms of human rights atrocities, with estimates of deaths under the soviet empire reaching sixty one million people. Put another way, the organizers of Operation TOUCAN, were responsible for 18,750 deaths for every one under Pinochet’s rule.
Certainly, the tumultuous years under Allende and Pinochet will continue to be of intense cultural relevance and the cause of much soul searching by Chileans, but one cannot help but imagine the KGB would be proud about the reaction by international media over “No.”