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Agustín Edwards Eastman dead; Chilean publisher who backed Pinochet

Agustín Edwards Eastman, owner of the newspaper El

Agustín Edwards Eastman, owner of the newspaper El Mercurio, in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 12, 2016. Edwards died in Santiago, Chile, on April 24, 2017, at age 89. 

Agustín Edwards Eastman, a Chilean newspaper publisher who collaborated with the CIA to help foment the 1973 coup that brought strongman Augusto Pinochet to power, and who used the power of his press to bolster Pinochet’s regime through years of brutal repression, died Monday. He was 89.

His death was announced by his Santiago-based newspaper, El Mercurio. The publication reported that he had complications from a surgery. Edwards had been in a coma for some time.

Edwards was a scion of one of Chile’s most prominent, prosperous families. A grandfather served as president of the League of Nations.

The family was best known for its ownership of newspapers throughout Chile, said Víctor Herrero, a Chilean journalist and author of a 2014 biography of Edwards. Since the 1800s they had owned the right-leaning El Mercurio, the jewel of their media empire.

Edwards assumed leadership of the newspaper at 29 and became, in the description of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, “the Rupert Murdoch of Chile.” His holdings gave him significant influence and he deployed it abundantly in the 1970s to help defeat the democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende.

“He lobbied for a coup at the highest levels of the Nixon White House,” Peter Kornbluh, chief of the archive’s Chile Documentation Project, wrote in an email.

According to the National Security Archive, an anti-secrecy group, Edwards was “the only Chilean — civilian or military” — known to have met in person with then-CIA director Richard Helms in the effort to depose the newly elected but not yet inaugurated Allende in 1970. Counseled by then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, President Richard M. Nixon favored deposing Allende to curb leftist influence in Latin America.

After Allende took office in 1970, Edwards’ newspaper became one of the nation’s most powerful critics of the government. According to documents examined by the National Security Archive, “Nixon personally authorized covert CIA funding to sustain El Mercurio so that it could become a media megaphone of opposition, agitation and misinformation against the Allende government.”

On Sept. 11, 1973, Pinochet mounted a military coup and succeeded Allende after Allende killed himself in the presidential palace. With continued financial backing by the CIA into 1974 — totaling about $2 million — El Mercurio reported favorably on Pinochet’s junta in an effort to cement its control.

According to the National Security Archive, Edwards steadfastly denied discussing a coup with Helms or accepting CIA funds. Allegations of his dealings with the CIA were revealed first by the Church Committee on U.S. intelligence abuses in the 1970s, Dinges said.

Last year, Edwards was named as a client of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers.

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