Useful Notes: Augusto Pinochet

He had almost as many bank accounts as he had snazzy uniforms.

"By the end, Chileans had become wearily used to the way in which he fell dramatically ill whenever the workings of justice took a step nearer to his archives or his bank accounts. Like Franco, he long outlived his own regime and survived to see his country outgrow the tutelage to which he had subjected it. And, also like Franco, he earned a place in history as a treasonous and ambitious officer who was false to his oath to defend and uphold the constitution. His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century."

Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, better known to the rest of the world as Augusto Pinochet, was the dictator of Chile, reigning as president of the Government Junta of Chile from 1973 to 1990. He was the commander in chief of the Chilean army from 1973 through 1998. He assumed power in a coup d'état on 11 September 1973, overthrowing the Unidad Popular government of Salvador Allende and ending civilian rule a week before its 48th anniversary.

Born in 1915, Pinochet rose slowly through the ranks of the Chilean Army, reaching the position of Commander-in-Chief in 1973, following the retirement of his predecessor and mentor, Carlos Prats. He ascended to the post in the midst of considerable national turmoil. Allende’s Marxist-Social Democratic coalition government had narrowly won office in a three-way election promising a sweeping platform of land reform and nationalization. Attempts at carrying out those promises had been met with considerable opposition from Chilean landowners and the middle class, as amply represented in the majority-conservative Chilean congress. In addition to the mounting economic and constitutional crisis, he faced a quiet undercurrent of discontent within large parts of the military, which believed Allende was going to lead Chile down the path to national destruction. His actions, which culminated in a month-long visit by Fidel Castro, had also alarmed the Nixon Administration, and in particular Henry Kissinger, who saw Allende as a Communist front. With this in mind, the USA imposed sanctions to "make the Chilean economy scream" (in Nixon's words) and lent its support to Admiral José Toribio Merino and Air Force General Gustavo Leigh’s plot to remove Allende, a plan which was altered at the last minute to include Pinochet. On September 11th the military surrounded the Presidential Palace. Allende committed suicide and the junta assumed control of Chile, establishing the precedent that 9/11 is a bad day for democracy the world over.

Initially power was shared among the members of the junta, but within a year Pinochet, the last man to join the coup d’état, managed to manoeuvre his way into the Presidency, eventually ousting the other junta leaders. An archconservative and proponent of laissez-faire economics, Pinochet reimposed social order through strict authoritarian controls, put the army in charge of all government positions, and handed control of the Chilean economy over to a group of US-educated economists known as the “Chicago boys”. Fans of Pinochet will point to the substantial economic growth as proof that his rule was not all bad. Non-fans will point out that Chile's economic growth lagged somewhat behind the South American average throughout Pinochet's term in office (partially but perhaps not entirely attributable to the decline in the price of the main export, copper), suffered two economic crises, and also to the severely increased poverty, inequality and social exclusion that his policies created.

Of course, no amount of economic growth can cover the fact that Pinochet was a nasty, nasty individual, who implemented incredibly harsh anti-opposition laws during his regime. Between 1,200–3,200 people were killed, up to 80,000 were interned, and up to 30,000 were tortured by his regime, including women and children.

Much of what went on in Pinochet's prisons was utterly sickening, with stories of dogs being trained to rape prisoners, and rats being inserted into the vaginas and anuses of detainees not being the worst of them. The "parrilla" ("electric grill"), which involved prisoners being strapped to tables and tortured with electric shocks, was so ubiquituous that President Michelle Bachelet admitted she was treated better than other detainees because she was not subject to them.

Many of the victims simply disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again, enduring their prolonged confinement, torture, and executions out of the public eye. Not content with savaging his own population, Pinochet lent the services of his secret police force, the DINA, to the Pan-South American Operation: Condor, a joint operation launched by Pinochet himself between the Argentine, Paraguayan, Uruguayan, Brazilian, Bolivian, Peruvian, and Chilean juntas that aimed to stamp out Communist activity (violent and peaceful alike) all across the continent. Estimates as to the deaths caused by this politicide vary, with some reaching 60 000.

Despite this, Pinochet remained popular with the prosperous conservative sectors of society, many of whom still feared a return to the chaos of Allende's presidency. This may have led him to believe that he could continue to be President through more legitimate means. In 1988, he held a referendum on the dictatorship, and to his surprise, lost. He was forced to step down as President, though he continued on as Commander-in-Chief of the Army until 1998, when he retired to become a Senator-for-Life. Having pardoned himself of all charges, Pinochet was immune from prosecution on all human rights violations. The subsequent center-left governments would maintain and expand his economic policies, including governments led by Allende's own Socialist Party. While he was put under house arrest on a trip to Britain in 1998, he made it home in 2000…only to be arrested on seventy-five charges of kidnapping from which he had not pardoned himself. The new government believed Pinochet’s return had damaged the country’s reputation, and pressed on with the case. Pinochet’s lawyers put up a strong defence, claiming the general was senile and could no longer remember the crimes he had committed. Before the case could actually reach trial, Pinochet died on the 10th of December, 2006, at the age of 91. He remains a controversial figure to this day; while most people across the political spectrum revile him he has defenders both within Chile and without, who argue that his regime was a necessary evil or even a positive good.

Works featuring Augusto Pinochet and his regime include:

Film
  • The Academy Award-nominated Chilean film No (2012), starring Gael García Bernal, chronicles the attempts of Chile's opposition parties to oust Pinochet in 1988 and 1990, with the focus being on the media battle that was waged against him. Pinochet himself is not portrayed by any actor—rather old footage of him is used.
  • The Costa-Gavras 1982 film Missing, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, chronicles the disappearance of American journalist Charles Horman, who vanished in the aftermath of Pinochet's coup while on assignment in Chile.
  • The House of the Spirits , a critically panned All-Star Cast film (Antonio Banderas, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Winona Ryder, and so on) based on Isabel Allende's novel of the same name.
  • Of Love And Shadows, also based on an Isabel Allende novel (and also starring Antonio Banderas), is a romantic film set in Pinochet's Chile, in which magazine editor Irene falls in love with Francisco, a photographer with leftist sympathies who opens her eyes to the atrocities being committed by the military.
  • While it is never explicitly confirmed, the unnamed South American country in Death and the Maiden, is often identified as Chile under Pinochet.
  • Machuca is about two friends, one poor and one wealthy, living through the last days of the Allende presidency, and the first days of the coup d'etat. The richer friend, Gonzalo Infante, eventually abandons the poorer one, Pedro Machuca, in order to save himself from Pinochet's soldiers during the clearing out of a ghetto.
  • The Black Pimpernel, a Swedish production filmed in Chile, chronicles the life of Swedish Ambassador Harald Edelstam, who saved the lives of more than 1300 Chileans during Pinochet's coup, transporting them first to his embassy, and then to Sweden.
  • Dawson Isla 10, is a historical drama about the lives of Allende's former cabinet members who were imprisoned on the titular islands by the Chilean Navy in the aftermath of the coup d'etat.
  • Post Mortem, set during the coup itself, is about a pathologist's assistant trying desperately to track down his lover who has vanished in the coup, even as the military forces him to cover up the causes of death of the people whose bodies are piling up in his mortuary.
  • Nostalgia for the Light, a beautiful award winning documentary about women who, decades after the end of the dictatorship, are still searching for the bodies of the relatives that Pinochet had disappeared.
  • The Battle of Chile, a three-part documentary from the same director as Nostalgia for the Light, chronicling Chile's history from the end of the Allende government through the coup d'etat.
  • It's Raining On Santiago, a 1975 French film on the coup d'etat (taking its name from the code words broadcast over the radio to signal its start) and its immediate aftermath.

Literature
  • The novella By Night in Chile is set in Pinochet's Chile, and features the dictator, portraying him as a petty man engaged in one upmanship with the dead Allende, claiming to be more educated than the dead President. The novella is told from the point of view of Father Urrutia, a dying priest who was once chosen to give Pinochet and his other top generals lessons on Marxism.
  • The novella Distant Star, from the same author as By Night in Chile, tells the story of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, a Chilean airman and would-be poet who is gradually revealed as one of the architects of Pinochet's regime.
  • 'The plot of 'The House of the Spirits'' by Isabel Allende takes place with the overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in 1973 by Pinochet as background.

Music
  • "Mothers of the Disappeared" from U2's album The Joshua Tree commemorates the "Madres de Plaza de Mayo", a group of women who protested in the streets and whose children had been "disappeared" by the dictatorial regimes of Pinochet in Chile and Jorge Rafaele Videla in Argentina. The song also criticizes the Ronald Reagan administration for backing these regimes.
    • "One Tree Hill", from the same album, references the Chilean political activist and folk singer Víctor Jara, who was tortured and murdered when dictator Pinochet took over Chili in 1973.
    Jara sang, his song a weapon in the hands of love
    You know his blood still cries from the ground