Useful Notes: Augusto Pinochet
Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte
"He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) ... Pinochet's name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex."
— Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, National Review
, 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 1981. 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 social democratic government had been elected on promises of land reform and social justice, and the attempts at carrying out those promises had been met with considerable opposition from Chilean conservatives and landowners, as well as a growing part of the military, which believed Allende was going to lead Chile down the path to national destruction. His actions 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 Marino 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 in the Presidency, eventually ousting the other junta leaders. An archconservative and proponent of laissez-faire economics, imposed strict social controls, put the army in charge of all government positions, and handed control of the Chilean economy over to a group of economists known as the “Chicago boys”. Fans of Pinochet will point to the period of economic growth as proof that his rule was not all bad. Non-fans will point out that Chile's economic growth lagged way behind that of the South American average throughout Pinochet's term in office, suffered two economic crises and only improved after he left, and also 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. 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 between the Argentine, Paraguayan, Uruguayan, Bolivian, Peruvian, and Chilean juntas that aimed to stamp out Communism all across the continent. Estimates as to the deaths caused by it vary, with some reaching 60 000.
Despite this, Pinochet remained popular with the conservative sectors of society, which 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. 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 which he had not pardoned himself from. 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 revile him he has defenders both within Chile, and without, who continue to insist that he did nothing wrong.
Tropes relating to Augusto Pinochet and his regime include:
- Armies Are Evil: Under Pinochet, the Chilean Army, once renowned for its loyalty to the civilian government and respect for the Constitution became an instrument of his will. Officers were placed in control of most government ministries, and were used as a police force and a tool of oppression. To this day many Chileans do not trust their army.
- Big Brother Is Watching: The DINA, combined with the Army and various other police and intelligence agencies rapidbly eroded any sense of privacy that Chileans might have had.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Allende appointed Pinochet to head the Chilean Army because he was seen as a loyalist general with a healthy respect for the Constitution. This appraisal could not have been more wrong.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Betrayed his mentor, Carlos Prats, his President, Salvador Allende, his compatriots in the junta, Marino and Leigh, and eventually his own followers, when he stole from the country.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: A feature of the regime, as it was in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay as well. Much of what went on in Pinochet's prisons was truly 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 Michelle Bachelet admitted she was treated better than other detainees because she was not subject to them.
- Commissar Cap: In true military dictator style he favored them.
- Dark Messiah: Saw himself as the saviour of Chile and claimed God had appointed him to the task. Many of his supporters cling to this view of him, decades after the fall of his regime and years after his death.
- Deceptive Disciple: Of Carlos Prats, the loyalist General who was the previous Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army. Pinochet acted as his loyal Number Two, only to drive him from the country upon seizing power and then have him killed while he was in exile in Argentina.
- Despotism Justifies the Means: As Pinochet's regime wore on, it became increasingly clear that what mattered to The Generalissimo was keeping himself in power, and little else.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Quite fond of this.
- Draco in Leather Pants: Pinochet retains a strong base of support within Chile in the form of a Vocal Minority of right-wingers and militarists who insist that he did nothing wrong. Abroad anticommunist, right-leaning figures like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher did their utmost to portray Pinochet as a defender of democracy who had acted to save his nation from Communism, even as he continued to ratchet up the bodycount. Thatcher in particular considered Pinochet a personal friend and did everything she could to ensure that he was never punished for his crimes.
- The Dreaded: A feared figure on the Chilean left to this day (on the right he remains a hero to far too many).
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: His wife and children who he does seem to have cared about deeply.
- Evil Old Folks: Pinochet was already an old man when he seized power, and died an unrepentant bastard.
- Family Values Villain: Pinochet was an old school Catholic moralist and tried to impose his sense of morality (torturing dissidents? Okay! Divorce? No!) on Chile by force, placing Moral Guardians in positions of authoriy and denouncing modern life as depraved and Communist.
- The Generalissimo: One of the most iconic examples, Pinochet quickly displaced his allies in the junta and became sole dictator of Chile as well as the head of the armed forces.
- General Ripper: A case study in what happens when one of these makes the graduation to President Evil. Pinochet was ragingly paranoid about the supposed Communist threat and was prepared to kill, torture, and imprison large sections of his population in order to combat it.
- Glorious Leader: Began to portray himself as this to Chileans as the military coup wore on and he displaced his allies in the junta. By the mid-seventies Pinochet was claiming to be the only one who could save Chile from Communism. Many of his countrymen believed him.
- Good Old Ways: Promised to return Chile to the stability and morality of its past, after the turbulence of the Allende era. This earned him the support of the rich and powerful, many of whom had been disturbed by Allende's land reforms and increased taxes on them.
- Happily Married: By all accounts he and his wife Lucia Hiriart were quite happy together.
- Hypocrite: Claimed to be protecting Chile from Communism and saving her from bankruptcy. Stole millions of dollars from the treasury for his own personal use. He also may have run black cocaine to users in the USA and Europe, despite his stance as a Family Values Villain.
- Kangaroo Court: Under Pinochet the courts were controlled by the military, thus ensuring that any chance of a fair trial for dissenters was swiftly erased.
- Karma Houdini: Pinochet was never convicted of any crimes, dying before he could be brought to trial.
- Lawful Evil: Used horribly evil means to impose his personal "codes". Subverted - though not enough to make him Neutral Evil - in that he also robbed Chile blind and ignored his "Catholic" upbringing and mores when it came to torturing, killing and disappearing dissidents. So, yeah. Lawful Evil and a Hypocrite.
- The Man Behind the Man: His coup and regime were backed by the United States as part of a wider strategy against communism in Latin America.
- Man in White: One of the uniforms he favoured in public appearances was white. It can be seen in the page picture.
- Military Coup: How Pinochet took power in the first place.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Pinochet has frequently been accused of fascist or neofascist leanings. Given the nature of the Chilean Army at the time (which had originally been modeled on that of Imperial Germany) and his own right-wing authoritarian leanings, and rabid anticommunism, these accusations have some merit.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Richard Nixon's White House sponsored Pinochet's coup d'etat due to fears that Salvador Allende, the legally elected Social Democratic President of Chile was a Dirty Communist. Pinochet's regime was as brutal, if not moreso than many Communist governments around the world. Of course, American companies still managed to make a profit, and Pinochet professed his undying allegiance to the USA, so Nixon (and Ronald Reagan who renewed aid to Pinochet after Jimmy Carter cut it off) weren't too unhappy about that.
- The Patriarch: Ruled his own family as one, and portrayed himself as Chile's father-figure in much of his propaganda.
- Police State: With the Army, the national police, and the DINA all coopted by Pinochet and all on the look out for potential dissidents, Chileans learned to keep their heads down.
- President Evil: Pinochet had thousands tortured, imprisoned without trial, or disappeared during his term as President and forged alliances with The Process of National Reorganisation in Argentina and various other South American juntas so that he could help them do the same. By any standard, that's pretty damn evil.
- Raised Catholic: Pinochet was raised as a conservative Catholic, and it left its stamp on him in terms of his sense of what was moral.
- Retired Monster: Following his leaving the Presidency in 1989 and his retirement from the Army in 1998. Pinochet never apologised for his crimes, never returned the millions of dollars he had embezzled from the government, and died without any apparent regrets.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Pinochet's conservative revolution killed thousands, tortured and jailed thousands more, and left permanant scars on the Chilean psyche.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Pinochet had few problems with robbing the country blind, despite his anticrime stance.
- Secret Police: The Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional, or DINA started out as an army intelligence unit but was separated from the regular army in 1974, and turned into a national secret police force that answered only to its own leaders and to Pinochet. In addition to spying on the populace and disappearing dissidents, DINA also took part in a number of international opeartions, including the assassination of Carlos Prats in Argentina and Orlando Leitelier in Washington.
- Unperson: Alongside The Process in Argentina, Pinochet pioneered the process of "dissappearing" enemies, and then making the discussion of what had happened to the dissappeared a taboo subject. In the end it backfired, leaving people determined to find out just what had happened to the disappeared.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: More charitable interpretations of Pinochet paint him as one. It is hard, however, to reconcile his rhetoric about saving Chile with his theft of millions of dollars from the treasury.
- Would Hurt a Child: The disappeared included many teenagers and young children.
Works featuring Augusto Pinochet and his regime include:
- The Chilean film No chronicles the attempts of Chile's opposition parties to oust Pinochet in 1988 and 1989, 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 film Missing from the eighties chronicles the disappearance of 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 film depicting the life of a young woman during Pinochet's dictatorship.
- Of Love And Shadows (1994) 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 under the general.
- While it is never explicitly confirmed, the unnamed South American country in Death and the Maiden, if 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, filmed in Chile, chronicles the life of Swedish Ambassador Harald Edelstam, who saved the lives of 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 cabinent 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, an 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.
- The novella By Night in Chile is set in Pinochet's Chile, and features the general, 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.