Sunday, October 1, 2023

Pinochet, 50 years after the military coup in Chile, more present than ever

Half a century ago, a bloated-chested general with dark glasses crushed Chilean democracy with a bloody blow. He tortured, disappeared and executed thousands of people, but far from being unanimously condemned, the figure of Augusto Pinochet has re-emerged forcefully in Chile.

The soldier, who died in 2006 without setting foot in a prison or courtroom, is the symbol of the ultra-conservative right-wing that dominates the Chilean electoral scene, while paradoxically being the left-wing heir to Salvador Allende, the Marxist president, the Pinochet fell half a century ago in full Cold War, with the consent of the United States.

“He is the only western dictator in contemporary history who, 50 years after the coup, has more than a third of the population for himself,” says sociologist Marta Lagos, director of the Mori polling institute.

In fact, Pinochet has never been more popular in a democracy than he is now: 36% of the population believe he “liberated Chile from Marxism”, according to Cerc-Mori pollsters.

A decade ago, Pinochet received the lowest approval rating: 18%.

The lawyer Luis Silva of the Republican Party and the most elected in May in the election of the council that is drafting a new constitution that should theoretically replace the one promulgated by the dictatorship (1973-1990) described himself as a “statesman” him recently. ).

The Republican Party, which controls this council, gained strength due to nostalgia for the Pinochetists and the concern of a majority of Chileans about insecurity (54% see it as the main problem) and the arrival of migrants.

“Never a statesman,” replied President Gabriel Boric, 37, who was not born at the time of the 1973 coup.

“He was a dictator, corrupt and a thief,” added the only one of the five post-dictatorship presidents who publicly condemned him.

On March 11, 1990, Pinochet surrendered power after a lost referendum, but remained at the head of the army for another eight years. He was a life senator until his resignation in 2002.

He died at the age of 91 while under house arrest on three counts of human rights abuses and one count of embezzlement of public funds. His 17-year dictatorship left 3,200 dead and missing.

The Democratic Coalition, a coalition of centre-left parties, ruled 20 years after the end of the dictatorship without ever challenging the figure of Pinochet. This “smooth” transition ultimately gave it “validity,” explains the sociologist Lagos.

“Not only is it reproducing what is happening in much of the world with a resurgence of the most radical right, but in Chile the center-left governments have sinned by omission,” agrees Santiago University analyst Marcelo Mella.

Inspired by the free-market theory of the “Chicago Boys,” Pinochet applied the model of privatization that Chile enjoyed for years of prosperity and economic stability.

Former Concertación minister Jorge Arrate believes that the figure of the dictator has remained in force – with periods more or less popular – while “the fundamental institutions of neoliberalism” have never been reformed.

In 2019, popular discontent erupted with massive and often violent protests against the social inequality that Pinochet’s model spawned. The left came to power under Boric but lost the referendum on his proposed new constitution.

After this “drunkenness” on the left came a reappraisal of the opposite: Pinochet and “the orderly figure” the Republican Party upholds, says historian Patricia Arancibia.

Pinochet was never tried for the crimes of the dictatorship, so he received no unanimous societal sanction. There was a lack of time to convict him, says former Supreme Court President Milton Juica between 2010 and 2012. During the military regime, this court “was completely sympathetic to the regime,” he says.

It was not until 2000 that detailed investigations into complaints of kidnapping, rape, murder and torture began. Around 250 soldiers are imprisoned for human rights violations.

It was only this year that the Supreme Court issued final judgments in iconic cases such as the “Caravan of Death” and the 1973 murder of singer-songwriter Víctor Jara.

“A lot of those who said they would never go to prison started going,” says Juica.

Even in the schools, the dictatorship, which was described in the school books as a military government, only started to be talked about late. “There was silence for almost 20 years,” criticizes history professor Francisco Hevia.

Since 2009, “there was a change and he realized that it was an authoritarian regime imposed by force,” adds this professor, who was born the year democracy returned to Chile.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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