Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Controversial Legacy of Former Chilean Dictator ; General Pinochet Is Credited with Stablilizing Chile's Economy, but Is Best Known for His Repressive Rule and Alleged Human Rights Violations

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Controversial Legacy of Former Chilean Dictator ; General Pinochet Is Credited with Stablilizing Chile's Economy, but Is Best Known for His Repressive Rule and Alleged Human Rights Violations

Article excerpt

The death Sunday of one of South America's most notorious dictators, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, frustrated the efforts of those who had hoped to see him condemned for the human rights abuses committed during his 17-year rule.

Yet Gen. Pinochet, who overthrew Chile's democratically elected Marxist government in a 1973 coup, leaves behind a disputed legacy that is also lauded for impressive economic successes.

The date of his death - Dec. 10, the UN's International Human Rights Day - could not have been more symbolic. The international effort to bring Pinochet to justice epitomized the global struggle to end impunity for human rights abusers in Latin America.

"It's no consolation to anyone that Pinochet has been subjected to a long legal battle, given that it has never resulted in a condemnation. That's what his victims will lament most about his death," says Sergio Laurenti, executive director of the Chilean wing of Amnesty International.

A paradoxical and symbolic regional figure, Pinochet is one of the most recognized emblems of Latin America's Dirty Wars against leftists during the 1970s and '80s.

Pinochet's rise

In 1970, Chile became the first country in Latin America to elect a socialist leader. President Salvador Allende quickly moved to nationalize foreign-owned industries and rectify Chile's gross economic disparities. But by 1972, internal dissent, failing production, and covert international attempts to undermine Mr. Allende's government combined to create an atmosphere of high political tension that many Chileans feared would crescendo into class warfare or civil war.

On Sept. 11, 1973, two weeks after being appointed commander in chief of Chile's Army, Pinochet led a military junta of four officers who sent war planes to bomb the presidential palace, La Moneda. Once Pinochet's treason and the forces against him became clear, Allende committed suicide.

Pinochet imposed a curfew and ordered mass arrests in an effort to root out opposition. Declaring himself president in 1974, he eliminated Congress, political parties, freedom of speech, habeas corpus, and trade unions. At least 27,000 people were tortured while in detention, and an estimated 3,200 Chileans were killed or disappeared during his rule.

Political scientists say that, although many dictators elsewhere in Latin America were responsible for more deaths, Pinochet is the most notorious because of what he embodies.

"He overthrew Latin America's first democratically elected Marxist leader, who himself was a symbol," says Robert Funk, a political science professor at Santiago's Diego Portales University.

In 1998, Pinochet narrowly lost a referendum on his rule, giving way to a democratic government in 1990, led by center-left president Patricio Aylwin.

Though condemned for its brutality, his regime is credited with stimulating economic growth.

"Pinochet, of course, became known for the economic reforms that he championed, which became perhaps the first case of neoliberal reform, not only in Latin America but in the world, and which were then copied by governments such as those of [US President Ronald Reagan] and [British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher]," Funk says.

Pinochet managed to control inflation, unite the country with highways, and bolster Chile's economic growth. He is credited with heralding an economic miracle for this developing nation, whose economy is now considered the most stable in the region.

Debating a symbolic legacy

Although it has been 33 years since Pinochet's military coup, and more than 16 years since the end of his rule, he still stirs passions on both sides.

Car horns honked here in celebration on Monday, while tens of thousands of his opponents gathered in plazas across the country to cheer and celebrate his passing. The celebrating was punctuated by low-level violence when police clashed with masked anti-Pinochet demonstrators, snarling traffic on Santiago's main boulevard. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.