The Road to Viña del Mar

Who decided to hold the November 1981 meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) in Viña del Mar, the Chilean seaside resort city by the sea where the 1973 coup against Allende was planned? Was it Friedrich von Hayek, as I claimed in The Nation and The Reactionary Mind?

The short answer is: it’s complicated.

And in that complexity we get a glimpse of Hayek’s intimate involvement in the Pinochet experiment and the deep affinities he and his associates saw between his ideas and the regime’s actions.

That, at any rate, is what I discovered after a week of digging in the archives of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where the Hayek and the MPS papers are held. This post is Part 1 of my findings; Part 2 will come out later today or tomorrow.

• • • • •

In November 1977, Hayek traveled to Chile to receive an honorary degree from the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María in Valparaiso. He gave interviews to the media, delivered lectures to professors and the public, and met with businessmen and government officials, including Pinochet himself. (For a copy of Hayek’s itinerary, see pp. 116-17 of this pdf of the archival material.)

The trip had a tremendous impact on the regime, claimed Carlos Cáceres—one of Hayek’s hosts, member of Pinochet’s Council of State, and soon to be a high-ranking minister in the regime—in a letter to Hayek of April 28, 1978 (p. 144):

In several occassions [sic], the President of the Republic as well as the members of the economic committee, have made public statements acknowledging your comments about the chilean economy.

Cáceres thanked Hayek for getting him invited to a meeting of the MPS that was to be held later that year in Hong Kong. “I consider that the topic to be discussed, ‘The Order of Freedom,’ is of extreme importance to what is going on in Chile and in the free world in our days.” Alas, he informed Hayek, he could not go; Pedro Ibáñez, president of the Valparaiso business school where Cáceres was dean, would go instead. While there Ibáñez would “make a formal proposal in order that the 1980 General Meeting [be] held in Chile.”

This is the first mention I’ve found in any of the MPS or Hayek archives of a possible meeting in Chile. Significantly, it’s in a letter to Hayek. My best guess is that Ibáñez and Cáceres originated the idea—perhaps in consultation with Hayek while he was in Chile (the offhand tone suggests Hayek was already familiar with the idea), though that’s speculation.

On July 8, 1978, Ibáñez wrote Hayek (pp. 146-147). Like Cáceres, he affirmed the importance of Hayek’s trip to Chile the previous year: “There is an increasing debate on the new political Institutions. Hence your ideas constantly emerge as frequent subjects of discussion.”

He then turned to the real subject of his letter: the possibility of holding the MPS meeting in Chile.

As I am presently working on my plans to attend the Hong Kong meeting, I feel I should let you know in advance of a request I would like to put before the Board of Mont Pelerin.

I sincerely feel that there are good valid reasons to consider Chile as the place for the 1980 meeting of the Society. Economic as well as political developments in my country may be worth reviewing and analyzing on the spot.

Needless to say, a group of top economists, business leaders and government officials would be only too glad to co-operate and welcome the members of the Society.

I can assure you that the Chilean group could arrange an interesting and appropriate programme, including of course entertainment of such a distinguished group.

Although Chile might be considered by some people to be at the end of the world, I doubt whether Hong Kong is really any closer!

If you share my view regarding the above, do you think I could count on your support and backing, when the time comes to set forth this suggestion to the Board of the Society?

Looking forward to meeting you at Hong Kong…

I haven’t been able to find any response from Hayek to Cáceres or Ibáñez in the archives.

But here’s what we know: A full three years before the MPS meeting was held in Viña del Mar, and a full two years before the MPS Board voted to hold it there, Hayek—who was honorary president of the MPS and a board member—was  brought in on ground-level discussions by what seem to be the two originators of the idea. I was not able to find any other record of a high-level MPS official being consulted; from the point of view of the Chileans, Hayek was the man to convince.

Also note Ibáñez’s promise that the Pinochet regime would be involved in the meeting. Clearly the Chileans thought that, for Hayek, the government’s presence was a feature, not a bug. Note as well that Ibáñez emphasized not only the economic but also the political significance of the Chilean setting (many of Hayek’s—and Milton Friedman’s—defenders think the free marketeers’ sole interest in Chile had to do with economics rather than politics.)

The subject doesn’t come up again in the archives until December 1980, when the Board announced that the MPS decided at the “recent General Meeting” (p. 1) to hold a regional meeting in Viña del Mar in November 1981. Hayek was at that meeting: in fact, as he explains in a letter to Edwin Feulner, treasurer of the MPS and also head of the Heritage Foundation, he personally had the MPS change the general meeting dates to September 7-12 so that he could attend (p. 6).

Subsequent to that decision, the Board—including Hayek—was closely involved in the planning and financing of the Viña conference. On December 2, 1980, Ibáñez sent MPS President Chiaki Nishiyama the first rough draft of the program and asked him for his “comments and observations” (p. 44). On December 16, he sent the same draft to Feulner and said, “I will much appreciate your comments, suggestions and if necessary your criticisms to what I propose above. The programme is totally tentative” (p. 46). On April 10, 1981, he wrote to Feulner that the planning committee of the Viña conference would be meeting in Santiago on April 24 and that Hayek and Nishiyama would attend (Hayek already had informed Cáceres on February 17 that he would attend; see p. 156). Ibáñez added that Hayek and the Chileans would “discuss the Speakers responses (fairly good) members attending, agenda, guests to be invited, etc.” He also promised to send Feulner the third draft of the agenda (p. 47).

At that April 24 planning meeting, Hayek discussed with the Chileans the contents of the Viña program and the financing. According to Cáceres, “a number of decisions were adopted concerning the topics to be dealt with and the speakers and panelists who it was thought should take part in the debates” (p. 12). Nishiyama promised the Chileans that the MPS would provide anywhere from twenty to forty thousand dollars in funding (p. 13). That promise would later prove to be a source of controversy between the Chileans and the Board because of the size and cost of the Viña meeting and because of Nishiyama’s promise to fund part of it (pp. 9-10). In the end, MPS gave the Chileans $30,000 to fund the meeting (pp. 59, 63).

After Hayek left Chile, Cáceres wrote him (on May 27, 1981), once again extolling the impact of his visit on the country (p. 161).

It was a rewarding and unforgettable experience to talk to you about so important and relevant contemporaneous political problems. The press has given wide coverage to your opinions and I feel no doubt that your thoughts will be a clarifying stimmulous [sic] in the achievements of our purposes as a free country.

So, Hayek was in on the decision—from the beginning—to hold the meeting in Viña, and he also played a large role in planning the meeting and in discussing its finances.

In my next—and final post—I look at the Viña meeting itself. Hear the Mont Pelerin Society kvell to its members: “Even David Stockman…could not envision what is politically possible in the land of Augusto Pinochet.”


  1. swallerstein July 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm | #


    I don’t know how much you know about Cáceres, but he’s an operator, very very important behind the scenes on the Chilean far right.

    As Interior Minister for the dictatorship, he handled the secret negotiations with the opposition and the secret agreements which constitute the so-called “Chilean transition.”

    • Corey Robin July 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm | #

      I don’t know much. So feel free to fill us all in!

  2. swallerstein July 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm | #

    I’m no expert, but there is nothing innocent about Cáceres. He’s not an academic per se or an intellectual, but a behind the scenes person, Machiavellian, like an advisor to a Renaissance Pope.

    He’s diplomatic enough to have successfully negotiated all the agreements of the transition with the most moderate sectors of the opposition to the dictatorship, agreements which did not touch the model imposed by Pinochet and the Chicago boys.

    Always smooth, elegant. In the páginas sociales of El Mercurio, the right-wing establishment newspaper, you can often see him attending important social functions or at the opera.

    His hands are bloody, but when he dies, everyone is going to cry, because he is on the board of so many charities and was such a philanthropist.

    He’s much much too smooth to have ever said anything incriminating or even with shock value.

    That’s the picture.

  3. swallerstein July 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm | #

    What I mean to communicate about Cáceres is that he’s not interested in Hayek because he enjoys getting together to discuss equations for determining interest rates or other esoteric macro-economic things.

    Cáceres is always up to something. He wants to use Hayek as an ideological justification of the dictatorship.

    During the dictatorship, Section E of the Sunday El Mercurio (the “intellectual” section) is full of long articles about Hayek and Von Mieses and Popper too, all written in favor of the dictatorship. Friedman too of course.

    I don’t know if Hayek himself wrote articles for El Mercurio, but El Mercurio is more Pinochetista than Pinochet himself.

  4. Jeet Heer July 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm | #

    Fascinating stuff. Although I know you’ve probably had your share of Hayek by now, I actually think these posts prove there is a lot more to be said about him. What I’d love to see is a full-dress biography of Hayek (and also von Mises) written by someone who is not an acolyte but is willing to ask hard questions.

    • Corey Robin July 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm | #

      I’ve been thinking the same thing, Jeet. There’s a real fundamental reckoning to be hand here, that’s not polemical, but that does for the free market right what books like The God That Failed did for the Communist Left.

      • Jeet Heer July 17, 2012 at 11:19 pm | #

        Part of the problem is that for a long time, most of the people who wrote about the right were fellow rightists. There’s a big literature of conservative apologia and hagiography (my favorite example is Nash’s history of post-war conservative intellectuals which has only 3 references to racism in a 500+ page book, dealing with a period where race was central and much discussed by the people he’s writing about). This is starting to change a little bit now with your book, the new books on Rand, Rick Perlstein’s work on Goldwater and Nixon. But still, lots of work to be done. The God That Fails analogy works or Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims (about leftist tourism in Leninist countries).

  5. Corey Robin July 17, 2012 at 11:21 pm | #

    Jeet: Are you working on anything in this vein?

    • Jeet Heer July 17, 2012 at 11:37 pm | #

      Not so much about the dictatorship issue but in my thesis I talk about the tension between elitism and populism in William Buckley and Willmoore Kendall (as part of a larger argument about the origins of conservative populism). A fair bit of outgrowth from that can be found on the blog Sans Everything. See here for an example:

  6. Tomas Anderson July 18, 2012 at 11:09 am | #

    Corey, As a Chilean, I congratulate you for researching issues concerning my country’s complex recent history. You are providing a lot of interesting material that should be considered in any serious discussion about this epoch. But I am surprised at your conclusion regarding the question: Who decided to hold the MPS 81 meeting in Viña del Mar? From your own account, there is nothing that allows to affirm that it was Hayek. It all points to Pedro Ibañez (Carlos Caceres was always only his assistant, a sort of COO).

  7. Tomas Anderson July 18, 2012 at 11:16 am | #

    PS. You say “Viña del Mar, the Chilean seaside resort city by the sea where the 1973 coup against Allende was planned”. You are confused here. First, the coup was planned in Chile’s capital, Santiago. Probably you have in mind the important role in the coup of Admiral Merino, head of the Navy, who indeed had his HQ in VALPARAISO, Chile’s main port and base of the Navy. But Valparaiso is by no means Viña del Mar, that, as you say, is a seaside resort. I understand that once you agree that the coup was not planned in Viña, the “drama” of the MPS meeting in Viña goes away and then you cannot “nail” Hayek for this meeting taking place in a seaside resort. But facts are facts. Sorry.

  8. swallerstein August 4, 2012 at 10:20 am | #

    Hello Corey:

    I don’t know if you read Spanish, but this journalist is investigating the relation between civilian ministers of the Pinochet government and the security forces of repression.

    That might produce some information on Cáceres if you follow his work.

    Until now, very few facts have been published on the participation of the civilian ministers in the repression. All of the people tried for human rights violations so far have been military figures or civilians of very low level.

  9. Alan Arthur Rush April 11, 2023 at 7:27 pm | #

    Hi Corey, this is Alan A. Rush from Tucumán, Argentina. Recently retired university teacher & researcher. Just discovered your excellent blog. Concerning the Mont Pelerin Society’s relation with Chile under Pinochet, have you or could you get some information about Karl Popper’s opinion & eventual participation supporting Hayek, Pinochet, etc.? He did publish a reprint of an 1979 article in the CEP review, a MPS oriented Chilean think tank. Well, thanks in any case, AR

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