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William D. Rogers, at 80; a specialist on Latin America and aide to Kissinger

WASHINGTON - William D. Rogers, 80, a District of Columbia lawyer and Latin America specialist who became a top adviser to Henry A. Kissinger at the State Department in the mid-1970s and afterward as an international consultant, died Sept. 22 near Upperville, Va., after suffering a heart attack during a fox hunt.

Mr. Rogers periodically interrupted his long career as a partner in the Arnold & Porter law firm for government assignments in Republican and Democratic administrations.

His most-remembered work as a public servant was in the mid-1970s, when he held two posts under Kissinger, who was secretary of state: assistant secretary for inter-American affairs and undersecretary for economic affairs.

During those years, he played prominent roles in sensitive negotiations. They included planning the US handover of the Panama Canal, applying financial and political pressure to help end Ian Smith's white regime in majority-black Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and holding secret talks with Cuban emissaries about softening relations with Fidel Castro's regime. The last effort was scuttled when Castro sent troops to Angola during its civil war.

Mr. Rogers also served as a presidential envoy to investigate the 1980 slaying of Catholic US churchwomen in El Salvador by the country's security forces. He also was appointed senior counselor to a Kissinger-led commission that made recommendations about military and economic assistance in Central America in the early 1980s.

In 1982, Mr. Rogers was among the founding employees of Kissinger's New York-based international consulting firm and later became its vice chairman.

Mr. Rogers remained a staunch supporter of the former secretary of state, particularly after books and news accounts showed Kissinger's public service in an unsavory light.

Mr. Rogers was incensed about negative portrayals of Kissinger's legacy on human rights - and, by extension, his own - especially regarding the US relationship with Chile during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

In 2003, he persuaded the State Department to distance itself from a statement by Secretary Colin L. Powell that the US policy toward Chile in the 1970s was "not a part of American history that we are proud of."

Mr. Rogers said of Powell: "He was implying that the US was morally responsible for what happened in Chile. He bought the myth."

Subsequently declassified US documents showed that Mr. Rogers pressed his boss to make human rights a central part of private discussions with Pinochet during Kissinger's visit to Chile.

Kissinger praised Mr. Rogers this week, calling him a "great advocate of human rights" and an "absolutely dedicated man who stood for fundamental values."

But Mr. Rogers's influence on Kissinger is a matter of dispute. Peter Kornbluh, an authority on Chile, noted in his book "The Pinochet File" that a secret memorandum on Kissinger's talks with Pinochet "reveals no effort at 'moral persuasion,' no mention of democracy, and only minimal concern expressed on human rights."

William Dill Rogers - no relation to President Nixon's secretary of state, William Rogers - was born May 12, 1927, in Wilmington, Del. He majored in international affairs at Princeton University and graduated from Yale University's law school in 1951.

After two clerkships, including one for US Supreme Court Associate Justice Stanley Reed, Mr. Rogers joined the law firm of what was then Arnold, Fortas & Porter.

At the time, the firm was gaining recognition for its defense of people branded communists. Mr. Rogers participated in the firm's successful defense of Owen Lattimore, a scholar and political adviser accused of being a Soviet spy.

Mr. Rogers's later legal work took him to Latin America, which soon became a consuming interest. From 1961 to 1965, he worked for the Alliance for Progress, an economic aid program started under President Kennedy. Mr. Rogers eventually resigned as its deputy coordinator, citing disenchantment with the decreasing financial attention to Latin America the United States was paying as the Vietnam War commanded more money.

In a 1999 interview with a publication of the D.C. Bar, he said one of his first major assignments was to fly to the Dominican Republic shortly after the 1961 assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

"I went down with $10 million in my pocket," he said, "and told the shaky junta that was trying to run things, 'You will be pleased to know that we are bringing you this money.' The three-man junta laughed nervously and said if they accepted that, they would be strung up from the nearest lamppost; it was $25 million or nothing.

"We sent a telegram back to Washington, but nothing happened for days, because in January 1962, Washington was inundated with a snowstorm.

"When I announced that I was going to leave the Dominican Republic, our ambassador said no. He said that the junta had insisted that I stay until the matter was resolved. It's probably fair to say they kidnapped me, but I was under the most polite restraint. We finally got the $25 million authorized, and that was my first exposure to the politics of development assistance by the US in Latin America."

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