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Pinochet Rebuilt Chile from the Ashes

By: Letter to the Editor - Feb 26, 2015, 12:32 pm

EspañolAugusto Pinochet is a man of his time that must be put in context to be fully understood.

The Popular Unity (UP) pact drawn up in 1969 [that backed Salvador Allende in his 1970 presidential campaign] was based on Marxist totalitarianism and drew inspiration from the armed groups that were so common during that decade in this hemisphere. To say the UP was a democratic enterprise is to ignore that even at its best it never garnered electoral support beyond 43 percent of the Chilean population.

Let’s not forget the UP administration controlled 85 percent of Chile’s production sector and 92 percent of the banking industry, so the theory of an economic boycott can be discarded. The climate of political violence led to instances of systematic murder and sexual abuse by armed groups with Salvador Allende’s support.

The “Chilean path to socialism” systematically undermined the country’s institutions. Allende ignored several rulings issued by the Supreme Court, the Comptroller’s Office, and Congress. The UP government was planning to hand over Chilean territory to the USSR as payment for Soviet loans, which was denounced at the time by Senator Pedro Ibáñez Ojeda.

Manifestantes conmemoran el 41 aniversario del golpe de Augusto Pinochet a Salvador Allende (Flickr)
Chileans still celebrate the anniversary of Augusto Pinochet’s ousting of Salvador Allende. (Flickr)

Chile’s Chamber of Deputies condemned the UP over the emergence of armed groups backed by the government, the breakdown of the rule of law, and the absence of a democratic mandate for Allende.

The call to arms by Carlos Altamirano on September 9, 1973, was the trigger that motivated the navy to organize the military uprising, followed by the army and the rest of the security forces. Avoiding a civil war and restoring order were the main goals of the military action.

This, however, didn’t prevent the subversive guerrilla from springing into action. Groups such as MIR and the Manuel Rodríguez Front were soon followed by the Lautauro movement and other minor cells.

The subversive war was the reality, not the idealized picture of a religiously inspired youth movement fighting for freedom. Victims totaled 3,200, out of which 1,700 were military officers.

Internal repression was not based on ideology but on clear danger to the public: that’s why the government sent 1,500 people on exile (no more, no less). Excesses were committed, and cannot be denied, but many of these were tried in military court.

But to speak of genocide is inappropriate, given that Pinochet’s government never engaged in a systematic annihilation of political, ethnic, or religious groups. It’s worth noting that many artists stayed in the country as vocal activists.

Pinochet’s military government needs to be understood as part of an internal response to a serious crisis that arose between September 1973 and July 1974. For more details, read my Allende and Pinochet: The Forgotten Truths. The military junta, when viewed in this light, took on the vital role of reconstructing the country and not a mere parenthesis in history.

To carry out this project they devised a new Constitution and new forms of government. Multiple political leaders, and the Chicago Boys, were recruited to take up the task.

From then onward, the principles of economic and political liberty were consistently defended; there would be no more state or private monopolies, and democracy was to be defended from demagogy. These became the guiding principles of Pinochet’s government. The 1978 referendum and the 1980, 1988, and 1989 plebiscites attest to that spirit of democracy.

Pinochet was without a doubt the man in charge, and even though it wasn’t a perfect government, it was a good government for Chile. He built the foundations for a solid system respectful of individuals, all amid international isolation, an internal war that cost thousands of lives, natural disasters, and economic crisis.

We should remember that 10 million Chileans took part in the country’s most revolutionary process, and it was a revolution of freedom. It was no miracle; it took hard work based on key ideas.

Pinochet, villain or hero? History is no court of justice, but let’s not forget that few have taken up the challenge of rebuilding a country from the ashes and propelling it to progress.

Francisco Sánchez Urra
Coordinator of Acton Circle Chile
History PhD candidate at Francisco Marroquín University
Author of Allende and Pinochet: The Forgotten Truths
Santiago, Chile