What irony that the widow of Salvador Allende should be in the crowd in the Plaza de la Constitucion to hail this week's election of the first Socialist president since her husband died in a violent coup in 1973.
Chile had been the playground of Anaconda Copper and International Telephone and Telegraph, which Allende threatened to nationalize.
National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger laid down the Nixon Doctrine on popularly elected but left-leaning regimes at an interagency meeting in 1970. He reportedly said, "I don't know why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."
Richard Helms, then CIA director, left a meeting with President Nixon, Mr. Kissinger, and Attorney General John Mitchell on Sept. 15, thinking, he later said, "If ever I carried a marshal's baton in my knapsack out of the Oval Office, it was that day."
So the CIA orchestrated a $10 million plan to topple Allende, although it denied any responsibility for his death in the 1973 military coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power.
Those were the cold-war days when intervention in third-world countries was justified in the name of containing Soviet power. Chile was only one of the places - think of Iran, Guatemala, Angola, Indonesia - where American presidents deployed their CIA covert warriors to oust leaders and install more-acceptable regimes.
The irony is that in virtually all cases, the new regimes, from Iran's Ayatollah to Indonesia's General Suharto, were less democratic and more repressive than the ones they succeeded. In the case of Chile, there were thousands of killings and kidnappings during Mr. Pinochet's military dictatorship.
Another irony is that Britain's announcement that Pinochet will not be extradited to Spain because of ill health may have helped to provide the narrow margin of victory for Ricardo Lagos Escobar. The president-elect has promised an investigation and the possible prosecution of Pinochet.
Mr. Lagos, with a Duke University doctorate in economics, is a more moderate socialist than Allende was, more in the centrist mold of President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But you might say it has taken a quarter century and countless lives to get Chile back where it was before the North American colossus decided to save it.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society