WikiLeaks cable: Chile suspected that the US exported biological agents to Pinochet regime

A newly released State Department cable details the Chilean government’s investigation of the 1982 death of ex-president Eduardo Frei Montalva. The Chileans had just charged six people with assassinating him by poisoning him with a chemical agent of some sort. In the middle of discussing the US government’s involvement in the investigation, a few small details about a Chilean inquiry to the US government are revealed.

U.S. involvement in the investigation took another strange turn in October 2009 when two Chilean Policia de Investigaciones (PDI) officers assigned to the Frei case attempted to speak with officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. The officers wanted to know if the CDC sent strains of “clostridium botulinum” (toxin or antidote) to the Chilean Institute of Public Health in 1981 or 1982. The officers requested the meeting with the CDC through the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) rather than through a U.S. law enforcement agency, creating another situation where Chilean authorities did not follow proper protocols. After consulting with Post and [Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs], the CDC declined to meet with the Chilean officers because they did not follow established rules for arranging such a meeting. The State Department’s Chile desk officer verbally notified the Chilean Embassy in Washington about the need to follow proper channels when conducting investigations and Post’s Legatt discussed the issue with the PDI officials (US Embassy in Santiago, 4 Feb. 2010, ¶ 11).

It seems relevant to note that clostridium botulinum was one of those exported to Iraq in the 1980s according to a 1994 report by the Senate Banking Committee.

It may also be worth noting that this is not the first time the US has been suspected of providing biological warfare agents to Latin American rightists.

[In 1981] an epidemic of dengue fever swept the Cuban island. Transmitted by blood-eating insects, usually mosquitos, the disease produces severe flu symptoms and incapacitating bone pain. Between May and October 1981, over 300,000 cases were reported in Cuba with 158 fatalities, 101 of which were children under 15. In 1956 and 1958, declassified documents have revealed, the US Army loosed swarms of specially bred mosquitos in Georgia and Florida to see whether disease-carrying insects could be weapons in a biological war. The mosquitos bred for the tests were of the Aedes Aegypti type, the precise carrier of dengue fever as well as other diseases. In 1967 it was reported by Science magazine that at the US government center in Fort Detrick, Maryland, dengue fever was amongst those “diseases that are at least the objects of considerable research and that appear to be among those regarded as potential BW [biological warfare] agents.” (William Blum, Killing Hope, Ch. 30)

In the 1984 trial of Cuban exile Eduardo Victor Arocena Perez, the defendant testified about a boat which traveled to the island in 1980:

The group that was ahead of me had a mission to carry some germs to introduce them in Cuba to be used against the Soviets and against the Cuban economy, to begin what was called chemical war, which later on produced results that were not what we had expected, because we thought that it was going to be used against the Soviet forces, and it was used against our own people, and with that we did not agree. (Transcript, 10 Sep. 1984, p. 2187)

In short, there is much evidence to suggest that the US has given dangerous biological warfare agents to unsavory characters that it viewed as favorable at the time.

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