Today’s Washington Post carries an article reviewing the career and legacy of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the general who lead the overthrow of the elected Chilean government with US support in 1973. General Pinochet died yesterday from a massive heart attack.
I won’t comment on the pluses and minuses of the coup itself, other than to say most accounts attribute too much influence to the United States (which, no doubt, did play a supportive role) and not enough Chile’s own history and politics. It’s the typical anti-American narcissism of the Left that sees the US as the center of all the world’s ills, while ignoring local conditions.
Okay, so I did comment a bit.
More to the point is what happened after this modern-day Sulla seized power. He and his cronies, while waging a war against communists and other far Leftists, brutally repressed Chilean society, leading to the torture and murder of thousands:
Pinochet assumed power on Sept. 11, 1973, in a bloody coup supported by the United States that toppled the elected government of Salvador Allende, a Marxist who had pledged to lead his country "down the democratic road to socialism."
First as head of a four-man military junta and then as president, Pinochet served until 1990, leaving a legacy of abuse that took successive governments years to catalogue. According to a government report that included testimony from more than 30,000 people, his government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Two-thirds of the cases listed in the report happened in 1973.
Pinochet’s regime also engaged in foreign assassinations, most notably that of his predecessor, General Carlos Prats, in Argentina, and Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean foreign minister, in Washington. To this day Chileans suffer from the after-effects of what happened to them in the 70s an 80s: the current president suffered torture under Pinochet and lost her father to the General’s tender mercies.
Defenders of Pinochet say he saved Chile from a Marxist takeover. They also argue that his free-market economic reforms created the strongest economy in Latin America. (Indeed, I’d love to see the US adopt the Chilean social security system.) All that may be true, but so much blood and corruption stains his hands that any accomplishments are forever tainted. He was a military reactionary hostile to liberal democracy itself — not democracy’s savior.
Augusto Pinochet never faced justice in this life, so let’s hope he gets a full helping of it in the next.