Miller Receives Chile’s Top Civilian Award for His Work on Human Rights and Democracy

Mar 19, 2014 Issues: Foreign Affairs
Congressman Miller (left), Chillean Foreign Minister Munoz (center), and Senator Tom Harkin (right)
Miller Receives Chile’s Top Civilian Award for His Work on Human Rights and Democracy

WASHINGTON, DC – The government of Chile, one of South America’s oldest democracies that suffered through a nearly 30-year-long brutal military dictatorship, presented its highest civilian award for a non-Chilean this week to Congressman George Miller (D-CA) for his work in Congress to promote human rights and democracy in Chile.

Miller received the award (see photo), the Order of Bernardo O’Higgins, along with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), with whom Miller is traveling to meet with Chile’s president, foreign minister, and other leaders. Past recipients of this award include the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Saul Landau, an award-winning filmmaker, author, journalist, and close, long-time friend of Miller’s, who died last year at his home in Alameda.

In March 1976, less than three years after Chile’s democratically elected president was assassinated in a military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet with assistance from the Nixon Administration, Miller, Harkin, and a third colleague, former Congressman Toby Moffett (D-CT), traveled to Chile to investigate claims of human rights abuses carried out by Pinochet’s Junta.

Upon returning from their trip, Miller’s first as a member of Congress after taking office in January 1975, Harkin, Miller and Moffett led legislative efforts to stop U.S. aid to Pinochet’s military regime and pressed for the extradition of Junta members who were found responsible for the September 1976 assassination in Washington, D.C. of a Chilean national and his American colleague who were working against the Pinochet regime. Miller and Harkin continued to work together on human rights issues involving Chile and other countries throughout their 40-year long careers in Congress.  Both lawmakers have announced that they will be retiring at the end of this year.

Miller issued the following comment upon receiving the award:

“Thank you to the government of Chile, to President Bachelet and to Foreign Minister Munoz. I am deeply honored to receive this award - the Order Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile’s most prestigious civilian award to a non-Chilean.

“What a special honor to share this important day with Senator Tom Harkin and other long-time friends, like Joe Elderige -- allies in the fight for justice and democracy in South America. We are both in great company with past recipients like Senator Edward Kennedy and my close friend and wonderful mentor Saul Landau.

“It was Saul who schooled both Tom and me on human rights abuses perpetrated on innocent civilians. And I accept this award in Saul’s memory. He urged us to travel to Chile in our first term in Congress, and as Tom has shared, in those days we weren't quite sure what we were getting into. Instead of Grimaldi, where Tom made his critical discovery, I went to Valparaiso to meet with workers and union leaders. I remember being followed the entire time.

“When we returned to the Congress, we went to work, we spoke of what we saw to anyone who would listen. Our trip in 1976 was about trying to change the understanding of what was happening in Chile.  It was a transformational experience for me to see a country being robbed of its democracy. And it led me to focus on human and labor rights during my time in Congress.

“Today, things are much different. Chile is a vibrant democracy with a strong economy leading the region into the 21st century. It is possible because of the many courageous Chileans, here and abroad, who refused to give up and accept the unacceptable. Theirs is a remarkable story, and especially inspiring for those of us who believe in the power of democratic institutions.

“Thank you so much for bestowing on me this high honor. I'm humbled and grateful to receive it. My work in the U.S. Congress may be coming to an end, but my friendship with Chile and its people -- and all that your great country stands for -- will continue.”