In the '70s, US diplomat Jeffrey
Davidow helped cover up the atrocities of Chile's Pinochet regime. Today he
consorts with drug traffickers. Is this who we want representing US interests
by Al Giordano
In Madrid, Spain, six time zones away from Chile, General Augusto
Pinochet is standing trial for torture under international law. Pinochet came
to power in a violent US-backed military coup; his military junta deposed and
murdered elected president Salvador Allende in September 1973. But though he
was a brutal dictator by any measure, he was only a cog in the wheel of Chilean
oppression. US officials funded and protected his barbarity, which, critics of
US foreign policy now take for granted, was planned not in his country, but in
the United States.
Pinochet, 83, is taking the fall for his Washington sponsors, among them the
late president Richard Nixon and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. In
the process, another name has surfaced from the wealth of recently declassified
documents released in connection with the trial -- that of Jeffrey Davidow, the
current US ambassador to Mexico, who cut his diplomatic teeth as an officer in
the US embassy in Chile during the coup.
Exactly how large or direct a role Davidow played in US-Chilean politics in the
early '70s is difficult to pin down. Davidow, who refuses to answer questions
about his alleged involvement, was posted to the US embassy in Chile from 1971
to 1974 and held the title of political officer. Last week, Josie Shumake,
Davidow's press secretary at the US embassy in Mexico, downplayed Davidow's
authority during that time, telling the Phoenix that Davidow "was a
junior member" of the US embassy during the Chilean coup. But typically -- and
judging by the high-profile political activities of Jan Erik Hall, who
currently carries the title of political officer at the US embassy in Mexico
under Davidow -- the post of political officer in a US embassy is not an
Declassified memos document Davidow's active support of the US's now
discredited pro-Pinochet policies, a position Davidow has never publicly
addressed. The Mexican press is poring over the Pinochet-trial evidence looking
for links between Davidow and specific events of the Chilean coup -- just as
the ambassador comes under fire, from critics on both sides of the border, for
diplomatic behavior reminiscent of the high-handed tactics employed by the US
embassy in Chile 25 years ago.
In 1973, in the aftermath of the Chilean coup, a US citizen and
journalist named Charles Horman was assassinated by the Pinochet military. The
incident returned to the international spotlight in 1982, when the Horman
murder was dramatized in director Constantin Costa-Gavras's film
Missing, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. The Oscar-nominated
screenplay recounted the frustrated efforts of the Horman family to locate
Charles Horman in the face of US embassy officials' indifference. The martyred
journalist's widow, Joyce Horman, and the Center for Constitutional Rights are
currently preparing to re-open their lawsuit against the US government and
then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger for the wrongful death of Horman.
The global conscience was pricked again this past October 8, when a US
State Department memo, reported by London's Independent, revealed that
US officials may have played "an unfortunate part" in the murder of Horman by
members of Pinochet's military regime. According to the 1976 memorandum, which
was addressed to Harry Shlaudeman, then the chief of inter-American relations,
and kept secret for 23 years:
In the best of cases, US Intelligence may have been involved in providing or
confirming information that helped motivate [Horman's] murder by the government
of Chile. At worst, US intelligence was aware the government of Chile saw
Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the
logical outcome of the government of Chile's paranoia.
Further, the memo spelled out that the US government's role in the
Horman assassination was "negligent -- or worse -- complicit."
The newly released public document does not mention Davidow, but the Mexico
City-based magazine Milenio has laid some of the blame for the Horman
cover-up at Davidow's door. According to Milenio, at least 18 of the
5000 documents from the CIA and other agencies that were declassified on
June 30 refer to Davidow's direct role in protecting the right-wing
military coup -- a role that included advising investigators on the US
government's official position on the Horman disappearance.
According to the widening public record of this shameful chapter in US foreign
relations, Davidow was certainly aware of the Pinochet regime's massive
violations of human rights. In a memorandum dated May 22, 1974, Davidow
acknowledged the existence of "many thousands of detainees who have not been
brought to trial," eight months after the coup d'état. Chilean security
forces, according to Davidow's memo, "often arrest individuals, interrogate
them, keep them in custody, and, as much as two weeks later, issue the warrant
for arrest based on information they have extracted during the
The word "interrogation" here is a euphemism for electric shocks, savage
beatings, sexual violations, and mutilations -- the tortures for which General
Pinochet now stands trial. Davidow, according to the newly opened files, was
instrumental in relaying the State Department's hands-off approach toward these
atrocities when they occurred, parroting what was then the US's standard policy
of ignoring human-rights issues among its Latin American allies.
"The US Government of course recognizes the internal security problems
confronting Chile," Davidow told the leaders of the military regime, as
documented in his own "talking paper" for a 1974 meeting with the generals.
He went on to acknowledge the concern of some US congressmen about "the
human-rights questions . . . and the adverse effect upon
the American public." Yet Davidow clearly instructed the Pinochet regime not to
worry too much about the US Congress: "It is not the desire of the US
Government to tie the question of human rights to that of assistance," he
And on March 3, 1974, Davidow wrote another memo -- presumably again to the
military government -- suggesting there was "a conspiracy on the part of the
enemies of Chile to paint the Junta in the worst possible terms."
Ambassador Davidow declined to be interviewed by the Phoenix about his
role in Chile and his behavior as ambassador to Mexico, requesting that
questions pertaining to the issues addressed in this article be submitted in
writing. The ambassador received 31 detailed written questions. He responded by
fax and declined to answer, citing "inaccuracies, falsehoods, and apparent
biases in the questions," and criticizing assumptions taken "from other biased
or poorly researched press accounts."
Davidow remains the highest-ranking official involved in the Chilean coup who
continues to make US policy abroad.
The US ambassador to Mexico is one of the nation's most important diplomats, as
former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld learned when his 1997 nomination to
that post was squashed in Congress. As Jeffrey Davidow himself is quoted as
saying on the US embassy's Web site, "There is simply no country in the world
which impacts the daily lives of Americans to a greater extent than Mexico, nor
any country which impacts the daily lives of Mexicans more than the US."
Today in Mexico City,
students march against the embassy
MEXICO CITY, DECEMBER 16 - Thousands of striking students from the National
Autonomous University of Mexico will converge this afternoon on the US embassy,
site of a violent confrontation last Friday. The 270,000 students of the
nation's largest university have been striking on campus since April, demanding
cancellation of a federal plan to charge tuition for the first time. The
strikers, who have strongly allied themselves with the revolt of the indigenous
Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, have six demands in total, including the
democratization of the campus and an end to government espionage against
students and professors. US and World Bank meddling in the Mexican
higher-education system has been a bone of contention throughout the strike,
which is now in its 192nd day and has caused the university president to
Last Saturday, when 500 students marched on the US embassy, officials
threatened to call in the Marines and opened a lawsuit against the students for
$650,000 (US) in damages (14 embassy windows were broken by flying debris).
Press flaks for Davidow's embassy later denied making the military threat
and this week said that they never intended to sue the students. This one-two
punch of knee-jerk overreaction followed by denial is increasingly the modus
operandi within Davidow's bunker. Mexico City officials, however, insist that
the threat to "send in the Marines" was made. And 73 university students remain
in prison, charged with vandalism against the embassy and with orchestrating a
riot, a charge that can bring seven years in jail. As a result, the fragile
peace talks between striking students and university officials have been
suspended and it appears that Christmas will herald the 200th day of the
strike. Once again, the US embassy has alienated a key element of Mexican
society -- in this case, university youth -- and worsened US-Mexican relations.
Yet in Mexico today, Davidow's critics accuse him of supporting human-rights
violations and electoral fraud, of enjoying cozy relations with notorious drug
traffickers, and of manipulating partisan politics within the Mexican system.
There are 350,000 Americans now living or traveling in Mexico, many of whom
feel unprotected or, worse, endangered by current embassy policies.
For many Mexicans and Americans living in Mexico, what happened in Chile in
1973 -- thousands of disappearances, assassinations, tortures, and atrocities
-- is a frightening preview of what has begun to happen in Mexico today. It is
as though the real-life movie -- a story of terror, corruption, and official
impunity -- were scripted by the same sick author. And what happens in Mexico
today, as Davidow acknowledges, profoundly affects what will occur in the
United States tomorrow.
More disturbing still is Davidow's current role in what can be described as the
Pinochet-ization of US Mexican policy.
Six examples of Davidow's behavior since becoming ambassador in July 1998
reveal how he has worked against both the interests of the American people and
the good relations of the US government with Mexican civil society. He has
slowed, not eased, Mexico's path to democracy. And future relations between the
two nations and peoples have already been harmed by his behavior.
* Davidow has refused to acknowledge the existence of violent paramilitary
organizations in the war-torn state of Chiapas.
In December 1997, 45 unarmed Tzotzil parishioners were killed in a Catholic
church in the rural highlands of the Mexican state of Chiapas. Every
human-rights organization, Mexican and international, that has investigated the
Acteal massacre has concluded that the bloodbath was the work of
government-backed paramilitary groups. Members of the Mexican armed forces and
police agencies who protected the assassins for seven hours -- while the
innocents were brutally tortured and killed -- have since been imprisoned as
accomplices in the killings.
Shortly after Jeffrey Davidow took the helm of the US embassy in Mexico, seven
months after the massacre, the paramilitary groups had grown so out of control
that they kidnapped two US "military advisers" who were snooping around Chiapas
and held them for eight hours, mistaking them for human-rights observers. The
embassy and the Mexican government intervened to gain the advisers' release.
But afterward, Davidow insisted to the press corps that "we don't know of any
paramilitary groups" in Chiapas -- a statement that, if nothing else, undercuts
the credibility of his office.
* Davidow has defended the reputation of Carlos Hank Gonzalez, a Mexican
businessman and politician whom US law enforcers and the Federal Reserve Bank
have called a drug trafficker, a money launderer, and "a threat to the security
of the United States."
Carlos Hank Gonzalez, professor-turned-politician-turned-billionaire,
famous for the phrase "a politician who is poor is a poor politician," is one
of the most powerful members of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary
Party, or PRI. In power for 70 of Hank's 72 years, the PRI is the
longest-standing ruling party on earth. Hank recently caused a major scandal in
Costa Rica when federal legislators there discovered that their nation's
president maintains a close friendship with him and helped him establish a
beachhead in Costa Rica for his business interests. Among them, according to
the Costa Rican congressmen: the trafficking of massive volumes of cocaine
toward the US.
When the Washington Post reported on June 2 that Hank and his two
sons are under investigation by a joint task force of the FBI, the DEA, the
CIA, the US Treasury Department, and Interpol for drug trafficking and money
laundering, Davidow called the report "an old act of theater" by US press
organizations with the motive of soiling bipartisan relations.
"Ambassador Davidow defends from head to toe the almost retired professor,"
wrote former Mexican anti-drug prosecutor Eduardo Valle in his June 27
column for El Universal, a leading national Mexico City daily. "This is
normal and understandable. In the 1997 meeting when [Hank and his business
group] were received by the now-president of Costa Rica, Miguel Angel
Rodriguez, a US citizen was present. Is there a need to give his name? Well,
his name is Jeffrey Davidow."
Or, as the Geopolitical Drug Observatory of the European Union noted in its
November 1998 report:
Carlos Hank Gonzalez is untouchable and probably will remain being so in the
United States as well as Mexico, at least until the 2000 elections. So much
more so because his company is stockholder of a business that employs ex-US
Ambassador James Jones . . . and because according to the
ex-president of Costa Rica, Rafael Caldera, the successor to Jones in Mexico,
Jeffrey Davidow, was also an invited guest at the Mexican palace of the
* Davidow plays partisan politics on behalf of Mexico's ruling party
-- which includes covering up electoral fraud, thus further alienating US
interests from pro-democracy movements in Mexico.
After the elections in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero (home to the
tourist centers of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Taxco) on February 7, 1999,
PRI officials directly robbed tens of thousands of votes to give their
gubernatorial candidate a "victory" of less than one percent. The fraud has
been thoroughly documented by opposition and non-governmental organizations.
But the Mexican government sought to discredit the peaceful citizen movement
against electoral fraud in the state, and PRI officials charged that the
pro-democracy movement had been infiltrated by violent "guerrilla"
organizations. Davidow, true to form, then authorized a US State Department
"travelers' advisory," warning US citizens not to vacation near Acapulco
because of this alleged threat of armed guerrilla activity. The violence never
materialized. The citizen activists in Acapulco and its environs proved to be
well organized, mature, and nonviolent in their efforts to reclaim their stolen
Acapulco, punished economically by Davidow's unfounded travelers' advisory,
returned the favor this month. On October 3, a left-wing coalition won the
municipal elections in Acapulco by a landslide, despite additional attempts at
fraud by the ruling party. The new mayor, Zeferino Torreblanca, known for his
activism on behalf of human rights, is unlikely to castigate US tourists for
the dark role their ambassador played against democracy in his region. At a
time when the ruling PRI's hold on power is crumbling, many observers scratch
their heads at Washington's and Davidow's apparent policy of coddling the aged
regime. The defeat of Davidow's favored PRI in Acapulco presages a US policy
fracas on a national scale in Mexico.
* Davidow has abandoned and betrayed US citizens, journalists, and
human-rights observers who have been deported from Mexico for their presence in
the war zone of Chiapas.
Mexican officials have expelled more than 400 foreign observers and journalists
from the country since 1994. The presence of foreigners in the conflict zone of
the indigenous Zapatista rebellion has proven inconvenient to the
"low-intensity warfare" strategy (as Pentagon manuals label it) of the
US-backed Mexican government. For example: would the 1997 Acteal massacre have
happened if there had been an American or foreign observer or journalist
present? The ruling party's pretext for expelling so many foreigners has been
Article 33 of the Mexican constitution, which forbids foreigners from
running for public office or meddling in Mexican political affairs. (Mexican
federal judges have begun to reverse the expulsions as an illegal use of
In many cases, US citizens in Chiapas have been detained illegally by police or
military officials, and some of them have been kidnapped by the paramilitary
groups that Davidow claims don't exist. Whereas European ambassadors -- from
Italy, Norway, the European Union -- have worked to protect their citizens from
this kind of harassment and violation of their human rights, Davidow has ceded
the matter of expulsions to the Mexican government.
* Davidow's embassy has tolerated illegal espionage activities against
Mexican and American citizens in Mexico.
The mansion at 56 Cima Street in Mexico City was seized from top drug
trafficker Amado Carrillo Fuentes -- the Lord of the Skies -- years ago.
According to a February 19, 1999, report in El Universal, the
palace is now a US Drug Enforcement Administration spy center. The Mexico City
daily contends that the mansion is home to a sophisticated computer system that
listens to private telephone conversations of government officials, political
parties, opposition leaders, journalists, and US citizens in Mexico who are not
charged with or suspected of any crime. According to El Universal, the
US government selectively shares this illegally obtained political information
with Mexico's ruling party. Thus, the Mexican government overlooks the fact
that the espionage center is against the laws of both nations, which forbid
wiretaps without signed judicial warrants.
According to the national Mexican daily, luxury cars with US embassy plates
enter the compound twice a week to collect the illegally gathered information.
Neighbors of the mansion have taken note.
A DEA official last month testified before a congressional committee in
Washington that the newspaper report forced intelligence agencies to relocate
their operations. Nobody in the embassy or the State Department, however, has
questioned the illegal nature of the espionage itself. At best, Ambassador
Davidow has turned a blind eye to his embassy staff's involvement in illegal
* As ambassador, Davidow is responsible for all presidential visits
to Mexico. In that capacity, his office orchestrated the siting of last
February's presidential "anti-drug" summit near Mérida, Yucatán,
on the property of a publicly accused drug trafficker and money launderer,
BANAMEX president Roberto Hernández Ramírez.
Why did President Bill Clinton agree to hold his anti-drug meeting at
the hacienda of an alleged cocaine trafficker? The White House has never
discussed the matter, and the mainstream press has never pressed the question.
Clearly, part of the motive of Mexico and the US was to "wash" the image of
Hernández, the subject of a two-year journalistic investigation by the
Mérida daily Por Esto! that charged that the narco-banker's
properties on the Caribbean coast are a key entry point for tons of Colombian
cocaine on their way to the US (see "Clinton's Mexican Narco-Pals," News and
Features, May 14).
The gamble, like so many of Davidow's projects here, has already gone awry.
Last month, a Mexican federal judge threw BANAMEX's libel case against the
newspaper out of court, stating that Por Esto!'s journalists had indeed
proven the existence of tons of cocaine on Hernández properties.
And the Federal Reserve Bank has now invoked what are known as "death
penalty" charges against BANAMEX for laundering drug money; the
Hernández bank could lose its license to practice in the US for its
involvement in the drug trade.
In his attacks on the free press, in his support of illegal wiretaps, in his
counter-insurgency efforts on behalf of electoral fraud and the ruling party in
Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow behaves as though he were still working for Nixon and
Kissinger rather than Clinton and Madeleine Albright. His presence in the US
embassy in Mexico City sheds light on the fact that, despite the hype, not much
has changed in US policy toward Latin America since the Pinochet years.
Now comes the international trial of General Pinochet, the former Chilean
dictator. The Pinochet case is, potentially, a two-edged sword, setting
precedent for wealthier governments to prosecute Third World dictators while
allowing the material authors of their crimes in Washington and other capitals
to escape responsibility. Yet the Spanish-driven prosecution has had a
positive effect, so far, in forcing the release of thousands of documents
that finally prove what critics of US foreign policy have said for years about
Washington's clandestine and illegal diplomacy.
President Bill Clinton, more cynical at the end of his presidential tenure than
at the start, would surprise many if he fired Jeffrey Davidow from the State
Department. But if he allows Davidow to continue his Mexican dirty work, he
places in danger the future of US-Mexican relations, and, indeed, US standing
in all of Latin America. He also places at risk his own legacy in the rapidly
changing history of human rights in this hemisphere. The time has come to say
adios to Davidow and to everything he represents, which apparently does
not include the American people abroad or the US Constitution at home. If we
don't, the next Pinochet-style tragedy lurks around the corner; in fact, right
Former Boston Phoenix political reporter Al Giordano writes from
Latin America, where he has investigated human rights and the drug war since
1997. He receives e-mail