Was Augusto Pinochet a Villain or Hero for Chile?

By: PanAm Post Staff - Feb 24, 2015, 9:10 am

No Buts: Pinochet Was a Tyrant

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto

With the September 11, 1973, coup orchestrated by a Chilean military junta, Salvador Allende’s Marxist administration wasn’t the only thing to disappear. With it went Chile’s long tradition of democracy.

Once in power, the regime banned all political activities and cracked down on dissenting voices, particularly during the first months following Allende’s death. Army chief Augusto Pinochet rose to supreme power within a year.

Chile’s National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture estimates that over 40,000 people fell victim to the ensuing dictatorship, 3,000 of which — at the very least — died or disappeared. In addition, around 200,000 Chileans left their country between 1973 and 1990, forced to seek political asylum abroad.

Pinochet defenders usually evoke the free-market policies implemented during his administration as his main redeeming strength.

Allende had indeed brought Chile to the brink of economic collapse and ignited nationwide political conflict, but the military’s only goal was to terminate with the Marxist government, not to inaugurate a liberal experiment.

The free-market reforms that made the later “Chilean miracle” possible were never among Pinochet nor the junta’s goals. Instead, their usual preference was for economic nationalism and a planned economy.

It was only in an attempt to legitimize his excesses with a good track record of economic progress that Pinochet gave in and let the “Chicago Boys” bring their brand of free-market capitalism to the opposite end of the hemisphere.

Not only was a dictatorship unnecessary to put those reforms in place — the rest of Latin America headed in that direction under democratic governments — but they also proved insufficient to secure economic progress for Chile.

The nation lacked the legitimacy needed to attract significant foreign backing. It was only the return to democracy that led to an investment boom, in turn reducing poverty and turning the country into an example heralded throughout the region today.

Pinochet was forced to step down because Chileans realized that economic freedom is insufficient without political freedom.

Those who call themselves advocates for a free society should know better than to defend him by now.

Luis Eduardo Barrueto is a Guatemalan journalist based in London, United Kingdom, currently pursuing a masters degree in journalism and globalization. Follow him @lebarrueto.

Pinochet Averted Communism

By Carlos Sabino

EspañolTo understand and judge people from the past, it’s necessary to consider the circumstances in which they made their decisions, the alternatives available, and the means they had at their disposal. In the case of Augusto Pinochet, this is even more relevant, because there are still unusually passionate discussions about his administration.

In 1970, Salvador Allende won the presidential elections with barely 37 percent of the votes, on a platform that promised to turn Chile into a socialist paradise. Instead, it soon became a nightmare. After a year of a public spending bonanza, the economy slumped: shortages and lines resulted, and workers’ quality of life visibly worsened.

The Allende administration fomented a climate of confrontation and political tension while ignoring laws or applying them arbitrarily. Groups of socialist hardliners were preparing to attain absolute power through violence.

In 1973, Chilean society became even more polarized, and intense conflicts arose after the governing coalition failed to win legislative elections. The perceived alternatives at the time were reduced to just two: an uprising from the radical left, or a nationalistic military coup d’état to prevent Chile from descending into communism.

Was Chile really heading toward communist dictatorship? There’s no definite way to answer the question, but a majority of the population thought so. Many Chileans believed in those ominous times that unless they took drastic measures, the country would head down a dangerous and irreversible path.

Even the Chilean Congress encouraged the army to step in to preserve freedoms and the Constitution, for the military were the only ones with enough power to prevent chaos.

General Pinochet was the head of the Chilean army, which until then had obeyed the government’s orders. But pressure to spur into action augmented with every passing day, and in September, supported by the Chilean navy and air force, Pinochet joined the plotters of the coup d’état. The attack was not bloodless, but it achieved the fundamental goal demanded by most Chileans: ending the communist threat.

It’s true this meant the ousting of a democratically elected president, but could the Allende administration really be called democratic? Was his electoral “triumph” enough to legitimize the imposition of a societal model that most Chileans rejected, amid huge demonstrations and clear warning signs of collapse?

During Pinochet’s coup d’état and his long period in power, violations of human rights undoubtedly took place, but in such circumstances could one really expect something else? The excesses committed during the crackdown of opponents cannot be waved away, but they need to be considered in their historical context.

While we should condemn the brutality of that period, we have to consider two of Pinochet’s most important merits: his handling of the economy and the way he finally stepped down.

The Pinochet government respected the economic liberties of its citizens, freed an economy trapped by a socialist model, and boosted the country’s growth, reducing poverty like never before. Pinochet, unlike Fidel Castro, was also wise enough to hand over power voluntarily. He wasn’t motivated by personal ambition, and while he did help orchestrate a coup against an elected government, the majority of Chilean society then were ready to accept any solution to prevent communism from taking over.

A balanced assessment of his administration comes out as positive: he allowed Chile to return to democracy, all the while promoting the prosperity the country still enjoys today.

Carlos Sabino is a sociologist, writer, and university professor. He is the director of graduate studies in history at the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala.

Was Augusto Pinochet a Villain or Hero for Chile?

Snowden a Worthy Hero in State-versus-Individual Thriller

By: Adam Dubove - @dubdam - Feb 23, 2015, 7:50 pm

EspañolCitizenfour tells the story of one man in a million. When Edward Snowden decided to reveal to the world the evidence of massive data collection carried out by the US National Security Agency (NSA), he also sacrificed the life he'd known up until that point, trading it for a life on the run. Although the whistleblower downplays his own importance, understanding his character is vital to comprehending how and why the biggest surveillance revelation of the 21st century came about. When documentarian Laura Poitras received her first communication from Snowden, he was still employed as an NSA analyst, contracted by private firm Booz Allen. This dirty relationship between the federal government and private business is one of the defining threads of his story, but Snowden was preparing to join the fight between "state power and the people’s ability to meaningfully oppose that power." Snowden wanted Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald to be the first to know about the information he had access to. "You asked why I chose you," Snowden wrote to Poitras in one of their first exchanges. "I didn't. You chose yourself." Poitras, whose Citizenfour received the Academy Award for best documentary feature on Sunday, was known along with Greenwald as one of the most prominent critics of the US national security regime. Both had condemned the way Washington had used the concept of "terrorism" to clamp down on individual rights with minimal justification. The documentary focuses on the consequences of Snowden's revelations regarding the US PRISM interception program, along with TEMPORA espionage carried out by the United Kingdom's NSA counterpart, GCHQ. It also addresses the US monitoring of communications by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the highest echelons of Brazilian business and politics. But the role played by the North Carolina native himself is what makes the film stand out. Taking a Stand Snowden's insistence on rigorous security measures for all communications serves to hammer home the reach of US intelligence into the most basic areas of individual privacy. He uses a computer that has never been connected to the internet, a "magic mantle of power" (a sheet or blanket used to cover himself while he writes his password), and a wireless VoIP telephone. His brief jolt of panic after a fire alarm goes off during an interview is a reminder that Snowden faces the constant threat of capture and rendition. The former NSA analyst takes all of these measures because he knows the intimate details of how governments spy on millions of people around the world. "How can we say the government … is founded on the consent of the governed, if our consent is not informed?" Snowden said at the International Students for Liberty Conference on Friday, February 13. For him, this point is fundamental: governments should obey their citizens, and not be the ones that give the orders. One man taking a stand was enough to make the most powerful government in the world tremble. The reaction of most US politicians to his revelations shows that the world in which Snowden aspires to live in is far from being realized. Instead of criticizing and shutting down illegal espionage programs, US officials are instead pursuing the now-exiled Snowden. He fled to Hong Kong, assisted by a group of human-rights lawyers, and ended up in Russia, his passport annulled by the US government. The film represents the figure of Snowden in all his significance. It shows how he disseminated his revelations, which proved so vital to kick-starting a debate around massive surveillance systems which still remain largely in the shadows today. It also explores his significance in the eternal struggle waged by the state against the individual. One man taking a stand was enough to make the most powerful government in the world tremble. Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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