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Augusto Pinochet

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Pinochet, here seen dressed as his wrestling persona, "M. Bison".
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Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (1915—2006), pronounced almost like "pee-no-shit"[note 1] in Spanish, was a murderous dictator and money launderer[1] who ruled Chile from 1973 until 1990. He attained rule by overthrowing the democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende by military force (with support from the US government, as was the case with other Latin American dictatorships), following a resolution from the right wing-dominated Chilean Congress accusing Allende of many "civil rights abuses."[2] Ironically, however, he himself performed many of those alleged abuses to a way much greater extent than his predecessor.

A fierce supporter of economic neoliberalism, he has been called the "ultimate free marketeer",[3] although he did not respect dissidents' self-ownership enough to refrain from interning them in soccer stadiums, brutally torturing and murdering them, including the great Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara. Not only he betrayed President Allende, he also car-bombed General Carlos Prats (his exiled predecessor in the role of Commander-in-Chief of the Army), and poisoned former President Eduardo Frei Montalva and possibly the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda.[4] He was kind of a dick.

Life and ascension to power[edit]

Born in the province of Valparaíso, Pinochet entered the military career at 17, after having been rejected three times. According to his biographer, James Whelan, Pinochet lived a quiet childhood, with his mother playing a very important role in the formation of his character.

Quietly, but quickly, Pinochet rose through the officer corps and, as early as the 1950s, was involved in politics, as he headed the clampdown[5] on the Chilean Communist Party. Paradoxically, it was for his apparent lack of political ambition that he advanced to the rank of Commander-in-Chief, under the left-wing Popular Unity government led by Allende, who believed in Pinochet's trusworthiness.

In fact, many believed that Pinochet backed Allende's government. Since Allende's election in 1970, Chile had teetered precariously on the edge of full-blown civil war. Allende's socialist platform advocated nationalizing foreign-owned industry and rectifying Chile's gross economic disparity. Further polarizing the situation, the US government under Richard Nixon smuggled funds to the military for arms and anti-Allende propaganda. The US also funded the far-right paramilitary group Patria y Libertad (Fatherland and Liberty), which carried out a terrorist campaign against the government.

Allende appointed Pinochet Commander-in-Chief of the Army on August 23, 1973, but by September 9, Pinochet had been peer-pressured[6] into joining a CIA-supported four-man junta to overthrow the government. By September 11, Santiago was under a state of siege that would be lifted infrequently over the next 17 years.

The bombing of the presidential palace, La Moneda, on September 11, 1973

Early on the morning of September 11, the junta informed Allende that he must surrender to the army. Allende refused, and British-made warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Pinochet's treachery perhaps shocked Allende most, and in the first hours of the coup he believed that the junta had taken his general hostage. Once Pinochet's treason and the forces against the ousted leader became clear, Allende committed suicide.

Pinochet was not the leader of the coup. It had been masterminded by the alcoholic self-proclaimed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Admiral José Toribio Merino, and by the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, General Gustavo Leigh,[note 2] and supported by the CIA, the Brazilian military dictatorship, and the intelligence services of Australia of all goddamn places.[7] Pinochet was a coward and only reluctantly joined the conspiracy two days before the coup. However, after the death of Allende was confirmed, Pinochet assumed complete control of the group because he decided that such a volatile situation could be controlled only by one leader, specifically, by the Commander-in-Chief of the oldest branch of the Chilean armed forces (the Army, of course).

Dictatorship[edit]

Declaring himself as "Supreme Chief of the Nation" in 1974, Pinochet abolished the Constitution and eliminated Congress, political parties, freedom of speech, habeas corpus, and trade unions. He also founded the DINA (the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional — National Intelligence Directorate) as his secret police, charged with ferreting out opposition and silencing the nation with intimidation and oppression. All of this, of course, was in the name of preserving liberty and human rights.

A brutal reign of terror began immediately after the coup, interning and torturing thousands of dissidents in Santiago's soccer stadium and other improvised concentration camps. The Pinochet regime is charged with killing or "disappearing" thousands of citizens and causing thousands more to flee during his rule; Amnesty International cited a figure of between 10,000 and 20,000 Chileans killed in the coup and in the months following the coup in 1974;[8] the currently accepted number is slightly over 3,100.[9] The Pinochet dictatorship also participated in Operation Condor since 1975. Operation Condor was a secret CIA operation (similar to Operation Gladio in Europe) which effectively synchronized the repressive activities of the security forces in the region, with the DINA in Chile acting as a nucleus or base of operations. Within the framework of Operation Condor, the participating military dictatorship in the region (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay), assisted by European neofascists, West German, French and British intelligence services, and Cuban anti-communist terrorists, murdered over 60,000 people and illegally detained an additional 400,000 (most of whom were tortured).[10] The United States initially backed Pinochet's takeover, especially through Henry Kissinger, and actively supported the Pinochet regime militarily and economically after the takeover. The CIA also assisted Pinochet in the creation and establishment of the DINA in the aftermath of the coup and made many of its operatives, such as its director Manuel Contreras (a School of the Americas graduate), into paid contacts.[11] However after a series of prominent atrocities, including the gruesome murders of former Allende Ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier and his 25-year-old American assistant Ronni Karpen Moffitt by a car bomb in downtown Washington D.C. the international community cautiously removed support, but only on the surface. The United States formally suspended military aid to Pinochet under the Carter Administration in 1977.

Like the haze overhanging Pinochet's quick about-face, questions remain about the dictator's motives for ruling through terror, which did not exclude the assassination of fellow generals such as Carlos Prats (former Army Commander-in-Chief and Vice-President under Allende; killed with his wife Sofía Cuthbert in a car bomb blast in Argentina),[note 3] Alberto Bachelet (father of future President Michelle Bachelet; jailed, tortured, and beaten to death for opposing the 1973 coup), Augusto Lutz (head of the Military Intelligence Service and one of the organizers of the coup who became a critic of Pinochet's brutality;[note 4] poisoned), and Óscar Bonilla (Minister of Interior and Defense and personal friend of Pinochet turned critic, helped save many political prisoners and ordered the arrest of the chief of secret police; killed in a not-so-accidental helicopter crash),[note 5] among others. Some note a driving lust for power that Pinochet concealed well in the army, while apologists believe that Pinochet was at heart a nationalist, condoning one-man rule to return order.

Pinochet called a plebiscite for the 1988 presidential election, but lost. Contrary to popular belief, the dictator did not accept defeat gracefully; he was very embittered over his loss and only grudgingly agreed to accept it when the armed forces demanded he do so.[12] He stepped down from the presidency in 1990, to be substituted by the democratically-elected Patricio Aylwin. Yet politics in Chile remained under his watchful eye as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, frequently reminding the new authorities of his lingering control. For example, on December 1990 he placed the Army in alert after his son was placed under investigation for corruption,Wikipedia's W.svg and he would throw an even worse shit fit in 1993 after the investigation was re-opened.

Friedman-fighter[edit]

Today's Chilean society remains sharply divided towards Pinochet. At the beginning of his tenure, Pinochet gave free rein to a group of economists called the "Chicago boys," nicknamed because of their devotion to University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman's free-market theories.

By offering generous incentives to foreign investors and privatizing business, it has been argued Pinochet's dictatorship transformed Chile into a modern land of plenty and boosted life expectancy, salaries, access to health services, and educational standards above those of any other Latin American country. Even today, conservatives around the world herald Pinochet's economic ends and ignore his means, even though his practices ended up increasing the income disparity ratio in Chile, a large proportion of the populace was in poverty and they could not protest or demand better salaries, and in fact Chile's GDP per capita under Pinochet consistently lagged behind the South American average and only increased after his time in office. Yay?

Terrorism, U.S. Wingnut complicity and apologia[edit]

Orlando Letelier in 1976

In September 1976, a car bomb in Washington, D.C. killed exiled Chilean Pinochet critic, Orlando Letelier, and his American assistant. There was good reason to suspect Pinochet's hand in this assassination, but Pinochet vigorously denied it. Documents declassified by the Obama Administration, however, document that Pinochet directly ordered the hit on Letelier.[13]

Throughout much of the 1970s William F. Buckley and his right-wing rag National Review had money funneled in from Chile via the so-called American-Chilean Council (ACC) to support paying many of their writers, who in turn announced Pinochet innocent of all crimes. This hackery included spewing all sorts of speculative, alternative scenarios to the Letelier murder and attacks on the victim. John Judis observed in his biography of Buckley:

In March 1977, National Review editor Kevin Lynch, who had also worked for the ACC, suggested that Letelier had been a Cuban agent and that the Chilean government had nothing to do with his killing. In July, the National Review speculated on whether Letelier had been "an agent of the USSR."[14]

One National Review author claimed Letelier had ties to "international terrorism" and Buckley himself argued that "there are highly reasonable, indeed compelling, grounds for doubting that Pinochet had anything to do with the assassination."[14]

Last years and death[edit]

Judge Baltasar Garzón in 2005

On March 10, 1998, Pinochet stepped down from the Army, and entered the Senate as Senator-for-life, a post created in the Constitution written under his regime. On October 16, while recovering from back surgery in London, Pinochet was arrested on a warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, who sought his extradition to Spain on charges of torturing and murdering Spanish citizens in Chile. Held for 17 months, British authorities allowed him to return to Chile because of "deteriorated health". However, as soon as he put a foot on Chilean soil, his health problems seemed to disappear as he stood up from the wheel chair he was in and started to walk like nothing had happened to him. What an asshole.

In 2001, Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia issued a first indictment of Pinochet on human rights charges. But the case faltered because courts found his poor health ruled out a trial. Three years later, a U.S. Senate investigation revealed that Pinochet had a fortune in foreign bank accounts, estimated by a Chilean judge at US$28 million, and he was indicted for tax evasion. Pinochet's alleged ill health again seemed to vanish when he was no longer under indictment. Not all Pinochet's wealth came for tax evasion (the junta was, by South American standard not very corrupt), but from the manufacture of "black cocaine" - so called as apparently the carbon additive mixed into the raw cocaine makes the source of the product difficult to determine.[15]

In 2006, Pinochet suffered a heart attack, and died on December 10 (Human Rights Day,Wikipedia's W.svg oh baby). Days before, on his 91st birthday, Pinochet had issued a half-assed statement taking "full political responsibility" for the crimes of his regime, just like Jorge Rafael Videla not too long after. Despite the evils committed under him, Margaret Thatcher stood by him until the end.[16] Why? Ideological affinities aside, without Chilean radar and support for UK warships and downed UK special forces' she may have lost the Falklands War, and thus the next election, not to mention the huge export revenue driven by arms sales to Chile. [17] Say what you will, she remembered her friends.

Free Helicopter Rides[edit]

"Free helicopter rides for leftists" is a meme circulating on alt-right/ancap message boards.[18][19] It's "funny" because Pinochet ordered thousands of executions of various people who he took a dislike to, sometimes by having them thrown out of helicopters over the open ocean (though such "death flightsWikipedia's W.svg" happened way more often in Argentina under Jorge Rafael Videla's junta; Bolivia's own junta committed similar murders too, albeit throwing prisoners into the jungle instead of the ocean). And frankly, helicopter rides were the least evil thing Pinochet did; the forced incest at gunpoint, pedophilia, cannibalism, insertion of living rats and spiders into a victim's rectum or genitals, and dog-rapes were far worse. For some reason the Pepes never seem to bring those up.[20][21] For "anarcho"-capitalists, these guys sure do love iron-fisted dictators.

In 2016, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte invited comparisons to the death flights. He definitely wants to be Pinochet[note 6] and throw people out of a helicopter, even if he's telling stories.[22]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. The pronunciation of "pee-no-shit" is /pi'noˈʃɪt/ in IPA. The actual pronunciation of Pinochet has 4 different pronunciations but not that one: /pinoˈʃet/, /pinoˈtʃet/, /pinoˈʃe/ or /pinoˈtʃe/.
  2. Leigh was forced out of the military junta in 1978 for challenging Pinochet, after it became clear that the dictator had no intention of calling for democratic elections. He was replaced by Fernando Matthei, the father of future center-right presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei.
  3. 32 years after the assassination, Prats's grandson would literally spit on the dictator's coffin.
  4. Before his change of heart, however, General Lutz was involved in the murder and disappearance of American journalist Charles Horman, the case which is depicted in the film Missing.Wikipedia's W.svg
  5. Free helicopter rides for anticommunists!
  6. Despite being an anti-American "leftist."

References[edit]

  1. Augusto Pinochet 'amassed $21m fortune', Belfast Telegraph
  2. Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile's Democracy
  3. Political Compass
  4. Cancer Didn’t Kill Pablo Neruda, Panel Finds. Was It Murder?, The New York Times
  5. Some desperate reference to The Clash! surely needs to be entered here.
  6. The dictator's shadow: life under Augusto Pinochet
  7. Questions over Australian involvement in Chile coup
  8. Amnesty International Annual Report 1973-1974, 38: [1]
  9. [2]
  10. Los Archivos del Horror del Operativo Cóndor by Stella Calloni, on Nizkor's website (Spanish)
  11. CIA Acknowledges Ties to Pinochet's Repression, George Washington University
  12. Constable, Pamela and Arturo Valenzuela, A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet, p. 310-311
  13. Pinochet directly ordered killing on US soil of Chilean diplomat, papers reveal, The Guardian
  14. 14.0 14.1 When Will National Review Apologize for Cooperating With Murderous Dictator Augusto Pinochet? The Chilean general ordered an assassination on American soil, and the conservative magazine came to his defense by Jeet Heer (October 9, 2015) New Repulic.
  15. Pinochet 'sold cocaine to Europe and US' by Jonathan Franklin, The Guardian, Tuesday 11 July 2006
  16. Thatcher stands by Pinochet, BBC
  17. 'Without Chile's help, we would have lost the Falklands' by Harriet Alexander, The Telegraph, 07 Jul 2014
  18. Futrelle, David, "If Donald Trump offers you a free helicopter ride, say no", We Hunted the Mammoth 6.17.16. Pinochet negotiating some free flying saucer rides
  19. "I Need a Pinochet" - Bonnie Tyler cover (because fuck intellectual property rights).
  20. Comerford, Cathy, "Law lords told of Pinochet atrocities", Independent (20 January 1999 00:02 GMT).
  21. "Chile, Germany establish Colonia Dignidad commission", Deutsche Welle 13 July 2017. Pinochet helicopter memes should be replaced with Pedobear cartoons.
  22. "Philippines Duterte: I threw suspect from helicopter", BBC 12.29.16.