December 10, 2006

General Augusto Pinochet, one of the most brutal dictators in South American history, died today. A buddy of Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet took over power in a military coup on September 11, 1973 from a democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende and effectively controlled the country till late 90s. More than 3000 people were killed or disappeared in his reign and toward the end of his life he faced numerous legal problems connected to his human rights record and corruption. He is credited with giving wings to economic progress of Chile that saw it transformed into one of the most prosperous countries in South America. He is also widely held responsible for the smooth transition to democracy after his dictatorship.

This is the gist of what one could read in various newspaper accounts of his death. With a few exceptions, none of the reports goes beyond these talking points to mention a few inconvenient facts. What are those inconvenient facts? The not so thinly disguised American support for the coup that brought Pinochet to power and the indulgence of many American administrations in the face of reports of widespread human rights violations (as a typical example, a detailed and more than 2500-word story in the New York Times does not even mention this). But it is well-established now. The Nixon administration ran a well-planned campaign to destabilize the Allende government (by financing strikes, spreading propaganda , supporting military opposition etc). Any talk of the "other 9/11" is naturally embarrassing. Indeed, as Colin Powell said, "[i]t is not part of American history we are proud of".

As for the supposedly "beneficial" legacy of Pinochet, namely the relative prosperity of Chile, as a result of his policies, there are many troubling aspects to it.

Oftentimes it is the left-wing ideologues who are (rightly) faulted for supposing that they know better. Indeed, this is the reason why one Marxist leader after another, assumed dictatorship insisting that everyone simply trust him. Ironically in Chile's case it is the right-wing ideologue Pinochet who thought he knew better. That prompted him to overthrow the first democratically elected Marxist president in the world. Any argument acquitting Pinochet on the basis of good consequences is not valid.


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