GENERAL AUGUSTO PINOCHET ; Military Dictator of Chile for 17 Years Who Was Pursued by the Courts on Charges of Murder and Torture
Hugh O'Shaughnessy, The Independent (London, England)
In nearly two centuries of independent history, Chile never produced a man with a more acute political nose than Augusto Pinochet. Whatever his military gifts may have been - and, like those of most of his Latin American confreres, these were never tested in battle except against his own people - his talent for intrigue, allied to a single-minded ambition, exceeded by far that of his countrymen, military and civilian.
His talents brought him supreme power during a 17-year dictatorship which formally ended in 1990. Thereafter, as commander- in-chief of the Chilean army until March 1998, he enjoyed an informal authority which cowed the civilian governments of Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle and Ricardo Lagos which had succeeded him.
It was only a rare hubristic error he committed in coming to London in late 1998 which brought about his arrest, confinement and consequent humiliation. This robbed him of the admiration for his skills that many practitioners of politics had, joyfully or grudgingly, for long harboured. Nevertheless, his name will live on in the history books, albeit for an achievement which even his prescience could scarcely have foreseen: his capture on an extradition warrant and the ensuing legal battle has provided a locus classicus in the development of international human rights legislation and the global fight against the use of torture. Ironically, he had often expressed verbally and in his actions his disdain for human rights and his promotion of the effective use of torture.
The future dictator was born in the port city of Valparaiso in 1915, son of a customs official, Augusto, and his wife Avelina. An education in the city's best Catholic schools gave him a grasp of the importance of religion. This was to come in useful in his later political career where he had to sort out his Catholic friends and sympathisers - many of whom were to be found in the Vatican - from the many opponents who stood up to him within Chile's own powerful Catholic Church. Though he was rumoured to have become a freemason and thus flouted Catholic teaching, he was always careful to try to project an image of piety by frequenting the sacraments and publicising his devotion to the Virgin of Mount Carmel, protectress of the Chilean army.
In 1933, bent on a career as a soldier, he entered the army as an officer cadet, emerging four years later as an ensign in the infantry. From his early days as a soldier he had no hesitation in demonstrating his abiding interest in intellectual matters. In the 1940s he pursued all the opportunities for study that the army offered him, specialising in geopolitics and military geography. Those subjects have always been of immediate relevance to the armed forces of a country as long, thin, apparently indefensible and as surrounded by disgruntled neighbours as Chile is. In 1948 Pinochet entered the Academy of War. His studies, however, were interrupted by some months sorting out the miners in the coal region of Lota, a spell of duty which, in the light of history, can be seen to have eerily anticipated similar activity by his idol and champion Margaret Thatcher against Arthur Scargill some decades later in Britain. He obtained a staff officer status, in 1951 being posted to the Military School. Besides teaching his specialised subjects he edited a magazine for officers, Cien Aguilas ("A Hundred Eagles"). Between 1953 and 1972 he produced five books on geopolitics, geography and military history.
After two years' duty in the Rancagua regiment in Arica on the often tense border with Peru he started a law degree at the University of Chile but in 1965 was plucked out to join a group of officers with the job of organising a War Academy in Quito. Three and a half years in the Ecuadorean capital gave Pinochet a chance of living geopolitics at first hand: Ecuador was an ally of Chile because both had …
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Publication information: Article title: GENERAL AUGUSTO PINOCHET ; Military Dictator of Chile for 17 Years Who Was Pursued by the Courts on Charges of Murder and Torture. Contributors: Hugh O'Shaughnessy - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 11, 2006. Page number: 34. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.