Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday took a surprise meeting with a Chilean presidential candidate who often speaks favorably of the country’s time under military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
José Antonio Kast is locked in a runoff election against a left-wing challenger and is often referred to as Chile’s Jair Bolsonaro, the would-be dictator in Brazil who regularly speaks warmly of his own nation’s time under a military dictatorship. Rubio, who is Cuban American and a member of the Republican Party, has long had links to the Latin American right.
“If Pinochet were alive, he would have voted for me,” Kast has said.
Kast’s family has deep ties to the dictatorship. His father, Michael Kast, was a lieutenant in the Nazi army before fleeing to Chile and raising sons who shared his far-right politics. One son, Miguel Kast, was appointed by Pinochet to be minister of labor and then president of the central bank. He was one of the so-called Chicago Boys, a collection of young economists trained by Milton Friedman, set loose on Chile to launch a neoliberal experiment that saw social spending slashed and wealth funneled upward to the very rich. Christian Kast, according to journalist Javier Rebolledo’s book “A La Sombra De Los Cuervos,” was linked to peasant massacres under Pinochet, and José Antonio Kast campaigned against the the plebiscite that rewrote the Chilean Constitution and paved the way for Pinochet’s removal. “I’m not a pinochetista, but I value everything he did,” Kast has said, adding that the dictatorship “laid the foundations of modernity.”
Kast, though, is looking to roll back some of that modernity, and is running on a pledge to prohibit abortion, eliminate the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity, withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, and expand prison construction.
On November 21, Kast and leftist Gabriel Boric finished in the top two in the first round of voting — 28 percent for Kast, and 26 percent for Boric — edging out the centrist candidates in the race and creating the need for a December 19 runoff. Polls have shown Boric moving into the lead, and Kast’s trip to Washington and his visit with Rubio is an effort to burnish his international bona fides. According to the Chilean outlets El Mostrador and La Nación, Kast and Rubio were joined over lunch by Issa Kort, Chile’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, along with at least 20 executives from U.S. companies with interests in Chile, including PepsiCo Marketing Manager María Paulina Uribe and UnitedHealth Group Vice President for International Relations Joel Velasco. (In 2018, UnitedHealth acquired South American health giant Banmédica.)
Chileans elected Salvador Allende in 1970, the first socialist to come to power in South America through the ballot box, and the United States worked relentlessly to undermine him, with President Richard Nixon famously ordering policymakers to “make the economy scream” in order to “prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.” It became official CIA policy to support his overthrow by coup, and in September 1973, Pinochet assaulted the presidential palace and Allende took his own life rather than be captured. Pinochet tortured, executed, and disappeared thousands as he consolidated power and served as dictator until 1990.
In 2017, José Antonio Kast proposed immediate pardons for incarcerated former members of Pinochet’s military regime. Asked in October by journalist Paulina de Allende-Salazar why the proposal was absent from his current presidential platform, Kast maintained that his plan had not changed but noted that it would only apply to regime members who were now of advanced age — which, as Allende-Salazar pointed out, would apply to all of them. Kast then tempered his proposal by saying that in some cases, house arrest might be more appropriate. In 2013, he claimed that the Pinochet regime’s infamous 1987 Corpus Christi massacre, also known as Operación Albania, was not an act of state violence, but rather of personal vengeance. He later claimed to the press that he had confused the event with the Caso Degollados, or “case of the slit throats,” a police killing that occurred two years earlier.
Kast has objected to the characterization of his father as a Nazi, claiming that his service in the German army was involuntary. But according Kast’s mother, Olga, in her memoir “Misión de amor,” or “Mission of Love,” while Michael Kast was at first reluctant to rise through the Nazi ranks because “dying as a hero did not interest him,” after a sergeant explained that a higher position would offer him more decision-making power on the battlefield, he volunteered for a promotion. As the war was nearing its end, Rebolledo details, Michael Kast burned his army paperwork and obtained false records claiming that he was a member of the Red Cross. He took up his new identity in 1947, during the process of denazification, but the new German officials didn’t believe him. They pulled his official file from the Nazi regime, but a friendly prosecutor threw it in a fire and let Kast go, thanking him for his honesty.
Christian Kast, José Antonio’s older brother, was alleged to have been present at the site of “los crímenes de Paine,” a series of mass killings that began in September 1973, shortly after Pinochet’s forces toppled Allende’s government, and were still being prosecuted last year. In his official police statement, a survivor identified then-17-year-old Christian Kast among a group of the regime’s allies present while the military police were beating a group of civilian farmers. In 2008, a lawyer argued that because of his age at the time of the events, Kast should undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he could be held accountable. The evaluation was never completed, and Christian Kast was never found guilty of involvement. The survivor told Rebolledo in 2015 that he could no longer remember clearly if Kast was there.