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Marc Cooper | The Nation

Marc Cooper

Author Bios

Marc Cooper

Contributing Editor

Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, is an associate professor of professional practice and director of Annenberg Digital News at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Cooper's career in journalism began in 1966, when he founded and edited an underground newspaper in high school in Los Angeles. After being expelled from the California State University system for his antiwar activities in 1971 by order of Governor Ronald Reagan, he signed on to work in the press office of Chilean President Salvador Allende. The 1973 military coup found Cooper working as Allende's translator for publication, and he left Chile as a UN-protected refugee eight days after the bloody takeover.

Since then Cooper has traveled the world covering politics and culture for myriad press outlets. He reported on the Yom Kippur War, Lebanon, South Africa, Central and South America, Eastern and Western Europe and domestic American politics for dozens of publications ranging from Playboy and Rolling Stone to the Sunday magazines of the Los Angeles Times and The Times of London.

Cooper was news and public affairs director of KPFK-FM (Los Angeles) from 1980-83 and has been a correspondent for NBC, CBC and Monitor Radio. For television, he has been a reporter and a producer of news documentaries for CBS News, The Christian Science Monitor and PBS Frontline.

Cooper's journalism awards include prizes from The Society of Professional Journalists and PEN America, and several from the California Associated Press TV and Radio Association.

An anthology of Cooper's work, Roll Over Che Guevara: Travels of a Radical Reporter, was published by Verso in 1994. He was also a contributor to the collection Literary Las Vegas, published in 1995 by Holt.

Returning to the system from which he was expelled, Cooper has also taught in the journalism departments at the Northridge and Los Angeles campuses of California State University.

His Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir (Verso), is now available in paperback.

Articles

News and Features

Governer Davis may win re-election only because the GOP's Simon is such
a loser.

Minnesota can be considered a veritable mecca for insurgent third parties. Its governor is maverick independent Jesse Ventura.

Fear still haunts the Arab and Muslim communities of Southern
California.

I arrived here in Chile May 8 as a material witness in a criminal
complaint against former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet for the murder
of an American friend just days after the 1973 coup. But by the time the
week was over, I found myself giving face-to-face testimony against one
of the former top officials of the US Embassy in Chile and--in
effect--against former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The last time I had seen former US Consul General Fred Purdy was on the
morning of September 17, 1973, when I and a handful of other young
Americans living here at the time stood nervously outside his office and
pleaded with him for some sort of US protection. Six days earlier
General Pinochet's military had seized power, declared a state of
internal war and unleashed a ferocious and bloody spasm of terror and
murder. But a gruff, impatient and profane Purdy snubbed our plea and
literally pushed us back into the chaotic streets, telling us we had
nothing to fear from the new military regime--and that the US embassy
could and would do nothing for us.

We would soon learn that at about the same hour we were begging Purdy
for help, a truckload of Chilean troops had kidnapped our fellow
American Charlie Horman from his home a few miles away. Within
forty-eight hours Horman was summarily and secretly executed. As
memorialized in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing, his body
wasn't found for another month, and his killers were never identified.
Within days of Horman's execution, another young American friend, Frank
Teruggi, was also seized and murdered by Chilean forces. And Chile was
plunged into the seventeen-year nightmare of Pinochet's military
dictatorship that stamped out at least 3,000 other lives and sent nearly
a million into exile.

Purdy has never admitted he was wrong, and it's likely he still believes
he never made a mistake. US policy-makers from Henry Kissinger in the
1970s to Otto Reich, George W. Bush's top man on Latin America, have
always been quicker to praise Pinochet for his fealty to American-style
free-market economics than to condemn him for his butchery.

Now, however, Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia--the courageous Chilean
magistrate who last year indicted Pinochet on kidnapping and murder
charges--is helping set the historical record straight. At the behest of
Charlie Horman's widow, Joyce, Judge Guzmán opened a formal
criminal probe into the circumstances of Horman's death, including any
US role. As a witness in Judge Guzmán's chambers for three days,
I was asked to confirm under oath that in the wake of the military
takeover, Purdy and the embassy turned their back on Americans in
need--especially Americans thought to have been sympathetic to Socialist
President Salvador Allende, deposed in the coup.

Under Chile's arcane Napoleonic legal system, Purdy, who now lives in
Santiago, was subpoenaed for a careo--forced to be personally
confronted by me in the presence of the judge. Purdy, now 73, may be
visibly aged but he is the same truculent functionary I remember from
that morning twenty-nine years ago. His objections to my testimony were
loud enough to be heard by others in the waiting room outside the
judge's chambers. He vociferously argued that he had done everything
possible to save American lives in the aftermath of the coup and that
Horman could not be rescued, primarily because he had never sought the
help of the embassy. In recent declarations to the Chilean press, Purdy
had claimed--with no substantiation--that Horman might have been picked
up because he was friendly with an armed ultraleft group. So here we
were, back to 1973. According to Purdy, honest people had nothing to
fear from the Chilean military.

But Judge Guzmán was clear. "I have to tell you, Mr. Purdy," he
said calmly, "there are indications you were involved in a cover-up and
that you have not been fully forthcoming with the investigation." Judge
Guzmán then officially declared Purdy inculpado--a
"suspect"--in his investigation.

Thus Purdy becomes the first former US official to face possible
criminal penalties in a case arising from the 1973 Chilean coup.

Infuriated by the judge's ruling, Purdy stomped from the chambers and
angrily confronted a waiting claque of courthouse reporters. With TV
cameras rolling, Purdy--pressed to explain his behavior in 1973--grabbed
a reporter by the arm and shouted in an odd Spanish-English mix,
"Momen-fucking-tito!" Purdy's indignation, featured
prominently in Chilean newscasts, takes us to the moral center of this
story. Purdy was shocked that a US official might actually be held
responsible in a foreign court for crimes perpetrated by US policy. The
obscure Purdy is now an important symbol in the quest for international
justice. If the "Pinochet principle" established that former heads of
state lack immunity from human rights violations, then so do ex-consuls
general.

Purdy was caught in Guzmán's net only because he retired here and
could not escape a Chilean subpoena. But Guzmán's bigger targets
are sixteen other former US officials, including US Ambassador to Chile
Nathaniel Davis and Kissinger. More than a year ago, Guzmán
requested that Washington make these officials available. Only by
questioning them can anyone begin to answer key questions like what the
US government did or did not know about the murder of its own citizens
and to what degree functionaries like Purdy were following a State
Department line of cover-up for the Pinochet junta. So far Washington
hasn't responded to Guzmán's request. Kissinger told a British
audience in late April that while "it is quite possible mistakes were
made," a certain number of errors are inevitable and "the issue is
whether, thirty years after the event, the courts are the appropriate
means by which determination is made."

Some pieces of the Horman puzzle that have emerged from thousands of
pages of recently declassified documents indeed point to some level of
US involvement. "There is some circumstantial evidence to suggest US
intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death,"
reads one State Department memo, obtained by the National Security
Archive. "At best it was limited to providing or confirming information
that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At
worst, US intelligence was aware that GOC saw Horman in a rather serious
light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of
GOC paranoia."

The Chileans might have been paranoid, but Washington was coldly
calculating. The Nixon Administration found it more compelling to
support Pinochet's regime than to fully investigate and solve the murder
of its own citizens. In early 1974, shortly after Horman and Teruggi's
bodies had been found and Pinochet's blood orgy was rising to fever
pitch, the State Department official in charge of Latin America, Jack
Kubisch, had a private meeting with then-Chilean Foreign Minister Adm.
Ismael Huerta. A confidential US Embassy cable to the State Department
reports that in that meeting "Kubisch raised this subject [of Horman's
murder] in the context of the need to be careful to keep relatively
small issues in our relationship from making our cooperation more
difficult."

The multilingual Judge Guzmán exudes erudite refinement. The son
of a well-known poet, bearded and partial to blazers and regimental
ties, Guzmán seems more the country squire than crusading
magistrate. But his patience and polish, his deliberate
even-temperedness, have led not only to indictments of the
once-untouchable Pinochet but also of fifty-five other Chilean officers.
As he ushered me into his chambers, he stopped first to shake the hands
of several suspect former and active police officials he had cited who
were waiting in an adjacent room. "Sometimes it is very difficult to
have to treat these men you know are criminals and murderers as
gentlemen," he said. "But that's why we have laws to punish them."

In accord with those laws, Guzmán says that if the United States
doesn't act soon on his request to gather testimony from Kissinger and
other US officials, he'll have no choice but to file for their
extradition to Chile. Kissinger could satisfy Guzmán's request by
testifying before a US judge, who would ask the questions Guzmán
wants answered. Guzmán doesn't want to indict Kissinger; he only
wants to hear his testimony on these supposedly "relatively small
issues." But there's a better way: Kissinger should get on a plane to
Santiago and spend a few hours with the judge to help clear up these
crimes. And he can be sure that Judge Guzmán will, at all times,
treat him strictly as a gentleman.

On the eve of George W. Bush's recent tour of Latin America, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes equated the advantages of a global free market with the peaks of the Himalayas, characterizing them as summits so inaccessible that the poor cannot even see them, let alone scale them. Fifteen years of US-prescribed free markets and trade liberalization in Latin America have generated an average annual growth rate of only 1.5 percent, far short of the 4 percent needed to make a serious dent in poverty levels. Add to that the Mexican peso meltdown of 1994, economic stagnation in Central America, the Brazilian currency crisis of three years ago, the political and economic collapse of Peru, endless war in Colombia, coup jitters in Venezuela and the staggering crash in Argentina, and one can understand Fuentes's pessimism.

"Trade means jobs," Bush said as he met with regional leaders and promised a harvest of benefits from his proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--a thirty-two-nation pact Washington hopes to implement by 2005. But for all Bush's talk of a prosperous hemispheric future, his policy initiatives are mired in a cold war past. The Administration has just anointed a former Oliver North networker and interventionist hawk, Otto Reich, to head the State Department's Latin America section. And much as in the days of the Reagan wars in Central America that Reich helped promote, the Bushies seem to believe that the region's ills are better solved by guns than butter. No sooner had Washington signed off on the sale of a new fleet of F-16s to Chile (ending a two-decade ban on sophisticated-weapons sales to Latin America) than the Administration began asking Congress to increase military aid to Colombia and to lift all restrictions on its use. Those critics who argued that the $1.3 billion antidrug "Plan Colombia" would suffer mission creep and inevitably morph into a prolonged counterinsurgency war are now seeing their darkest fears confirmed.

On the economic front, Bush offered little more than warmed-over trickle-down Reaganomics to a continent in desperate need of a lift from the bottom up (the three countries he visited--Mexico, Peru and El Salvador--all suffer poverty rates of 50 percent or more). Certainly not lost on his Latin American audiences was the one-sided nature of the free trade offered by Bush. For nearly two decades now, Latin Americans have been told that by adhering to the "Washington Consensus" of market liberalization they will be able to partake of the rich American pie. But the cold fact is that the US market has remained closed to a cornucopia of Latin American goods.

Some remedy was found in the past decade's Andean Trade Preference Act, designed to lure impoverished Latin Americans away from local drug economies by allowing them to freely export a list of 4,000 goods into the United States. But since ATPA expired last year, the Senate and the White House have balked at its reauthorization because of protectionist pressure from conservative, primarily Southern, textile and agriculture interests. Its reinstatement could shift 100,000 farmers in Peru alone from coca to cotton cultivation.

Washington's refusal to depart from such unequal and inflexible models has--unwittingly--provoked some positive alternative stirrings. The use of armored cars and tear gas barrages in downtown Lima during the US-Peruvian presidential meeting was an official acknowledgment of the growing restlessness with the status quo. Newly elected President Alejandro Toledo has seen his popularity plummet to 25 percent as he has failed to offer economic alternatives. In Brazil center-left candidate Luiz Ignacio "Lula" Da Silva leads in this fall's presidential polls and vows to block the FTAA if elected. Even the incumbent, more conservative, President Enrique Cardoso has begun to steer Brazil toward more independence from Washington. It's still too early to predict how the developing debacle in Argentina will play out.

Finally, El Salvador, where Bush ended his Latin American tour, couldn't have provided a more fitting showcase for the current disjuncture between Washington and its southern neighbors. During the 1980s the United States was willing to spend billions to fight a war against leftist insurgents and promised a bright, democratic future. That conflict was settled ten years ago with a pact that opened up the political system but did nothing to address the social ills that provoked the war in the first place. And once the guerrillas were disarmed, Washington lost interest; in the past decade US aid has been reduced to a paltry $25 million a year. Today El Salvador languishes with vast unemployment, radical economic disparities and a murder rate forty times higher than that of the United States.

Democrats like California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa are probably right when they claim that Bush's trip was aimed more at luring the domestic Latino vote than at building bridges to the South. During his 2000 campaign, Bush excoriated Bill Clinton for squandering a chance to improve relations with Latin America. But now Bush seems to be following in that same sorry tradition.

He's created new projects, made new friends--and some bitter enemies.

A report from Porto Alegre on the "antiglobalization" movement.

Pôrto Alegre, Brazil--In US living rooms, talk about such policy measures as the White House's proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is likely to elicit clueless shrugs.

PÔRTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL--In their last full day of discussion and debate, the thousands of delegates attending the World Social Forum were asking themselves not only what they want but how to

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