- PinochetThe Father of Contemporary Chile
Sigan sabiendo ustedes, que mucho más temprano que tarde, se abrirán las grandes alamedas por donde pase el hombre libre, para construir una sociedad mejor. . . . Tengo la certeza de que, por lo menos, habrá una sanción moral que castigará la felonía, la cobardía y la traición.Salvador Allende, Santiago, September 11, 1973
El dolor de quienes han sufrido no me fue ajeno en el pasado y menos lo es hoy. . . . No podemos negar que quienes hasta ahora hemos sido protagonistas de este período de nuestra historia, no hemos sido capaces de materializar iniciativas suficientes, generosas y creativas que eviten traspasar el problema a generaciones que merecen disfrutar el Chile verdadero que, sin duda, ya ha sido construido.Augusto Pinochet, London, September 11, 1999
Augusto Pinochet (1915–2006) was the most transformative president in modern Chile. After the bloody military coup of 1973, he led the longest government—sixteen and one-half years—in that country’s history. His rule is best known for massive human rights violations against political opponents. Thousands were killed; the remains of hundreds were [End Page 250] never found; and many more were imprisoned, tortured, or exiled. Pinochet deservedly became a symbol of brutal military dictatorships in Latin America. Yet through a custom-made constitution promulgated in 1980 and still in force, and a neoliberal economic model adopted before any other country in Latin America, Pinochet also set the foundations of a new Chile. In 1988, caught in an institutional trap of his own making, Pinochet lost a plebiscite for a new eight-year term. Democratic elections were held in late 1989. When he left office in March 1990, almost 40 percent of Chileans lived in poverty. Inequality had worsened. Social exclusion informed many government policies. Indeed, the country was “a nation of enemies.”1 After peacefully surrendering power, Pinochet stayed on as chief of the army until March 1998, when he took a lifetime seat in the senate.
Pinochet’s unexpected arrest in London in October 1998 on an extradition request issued by Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón, who was trying him on crimes against humanity, effectively brought an end to his political career. After twenty-five years at the center of national politics, this arrest transformed Pinochet from a subject to an object of politics. Pinochet was released on humanitarian grounds in March 2000 and sent back to Chile. A week after his arrival, economist Ricardo Lagos became the first socialist president since Salvador Allende. During Lagos’s administration, Pinochet was tried—but never sentenced—in Chile for human rights violations. The autonomous judicial power also investigated accusations of corruption after revelations of secret accounts held in U.S. banks by Pinochet, his relatives, and his associates. Ironically, these revelations came as a result of legislation passed in the United States after the September 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The political and legal repercussions of this later September 11 would inadvertently put the last nail in the already-diminished and deservedly tainted legacy of Pinochet in Chile.
When he died on December 10, 2006, Pinochet was widely perceived as a polarizing and uncomfortable remainder of a difficult period in Chile. Conservative politicians had distanced themselves; dissuaded by revelations of human rights abuses, disregard for democratic principles, or corruption, most prominent public figures who had...