President Barack Obama artfully dodged a request from Chilean reporters Tuesday for an apology for CIA meddling in Latin America, but he caved in to another demand.
“President Obama, can you take a photograph with the Chilean press, please?” one reporter asked at the end of an Oval Office statement by Obama and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
“A photograph with the press?” Obama asked. “OK, why don’t we go outside?”
The U.S. leader was less forthcoming on the matter of apologizing for the CIA’s long history of meddling in the affairs of Latin American governments.
The CIA has denied direct involvement in the overthrow and death of Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 but has acknowledged trying to prevent him from assuming the presidency three years earlier.
And it has acknowledged supporting the military junta that took control of country after the coup.
Bachelet, then a college student, was imprisoned and tortured following the coup, as was her mother. Her father, who had been an air force general in the Allende government, was imprisoned and tortured to death.
Asked if it was time for an apology for the CIA’s activities in Chile, Obama said, “I’m interested in going forward, not looking backward.”
“I think that the United States has been an enormous force for good in the world. I think there have been times where we’ve made mistakes,” he said. “But I think that what is important is looking at what our policies are today, and what my administration intends to do in cooperating with the region.”
That said, he did manage a chuckle at U.S. expense — over the old joke that there’s never been a coup in the United States because it has no American Embassy.
Someone else told the joke, Bachelet insisted after it was attributed to her.
“I just said it was a good joke,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” said Obama, laughing.
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Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama, Bachelet pose with Chilean traveling press)