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Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte

On 11 September 1973 a right-wing coup evicted the left-wing regime of President Allende. The coup was led by a military junta, of whom General Pinochet was the leader, and he later became head of state. The Pinochet regime remained in power until 11 March 1990 when Pinochet resigned. There is no real dispute that during the period of the Pinochet regime appalling acts of barbarism were committed in Chile and elsewhere in the world: torture, murder and the unexplained disappearance of individuals, all on a large scale. Though Pinochet's power was undisputed, and he could have held onto it for the rest of his life had he wanted - he stepped down as soon as the country became stable and prosperous, handing control over to a democratically elected government.

Although it is not alleged that Pinochet himself committed any of those acts, it is alleged that they were done in pursuance of a conspiracy to which he was a party, at his instigation and with his knowledge. He denied these allegations. To those of left-wing political convictions Pinochet is seen as an arch-devil: to those of right-wing persuasions he is seen as the savior of Chile. More than 3,000 people disappeared or were killed during his 17-year rule, with some 28,000 people tortured. Pinochet's "death squads" put half-dead political opponents into helicopters, hovered over the ocean and threw them out.

Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was born into a middle class family on 25 November 1915 in Valparaiso. He attended the University of Chile for 2 years, specializing in judicial and social science, before entering the Chilean Military Academy. He was unable to meet the physical requirements for admission to the academy for 2 successive years, but the reason is not a matter of current record. Upon his graduation from the academy in 1936, Pinochet was commissioned a second lieutenant. He subsequently worked his way steadily through the ranks, generally in infantry assignments. During 1949-51 he was a student at the Command and General Staff Course of the Army War College. Important posts he has held in recent years include those of a Commander, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1961-63: chief :of staff, 2d Army Division; 1968: commander, 6th Army Division, 1967-71: and commander, Santiago Garrison, March 197l­January 1972. A military geographer, Pinochet has been an instructcr at the Chilean Army War College in Quito (1956-59). From 1964 to 1968 he served as deputy commandant of the Chilean Army War College. He was a member of the Geographic Society of Chile and has written three geography books, at least one of which is used as a secondary school text book.

Pinochet was totally dedicated to the establishment in Chile of a new political and ecomomic order totally free of all vestiges of Marxism. A man known for his toughness, he would not tolerate any opposition to the government. He dislikes politicians of all persuasions and reserves particular antipathy for the Christian Democratic Party. To international critics, Pinochet was the personification of the evils they see in Chile. Defensive in the face of criticism, he recognized that there were human rights abuses in the country, but he has been unwilling or unable to effect the< significant improvements demanded. The President has been outspokenly indignant at attempts to stop the flow of US military aid to Chile, reserving particular wrath for Senator Edward Kennedy, who has led such efforts.

Pinochet was nevertheless genuinely popular in Chile. His frequent public appearances throughout the< country at times gave him the semblance of a grassroots politician, and he has expressed a desire to be an elected President one day. Outwardly tough, rigid and disciplined, Pinochet could be warm and fatherly. He was straightforward and forceful and is occasionally impulsive in his public comments. He visited the United States at least three times. Married to the former Lucia Hiriart, the President had five children and seven grandchildren. He speaks only a little English.

Described prior to the coup as apolitical, Pinochet had never been involved in partisan politics. He came down hard on politicians of all persuasions, blaming them for the economic and political problems that necessitated the overthrow of Allende. He had been particularly concerned with the Marxist influence in Chile and has promoted the government’s attempts to eliminate all vestiges of that philosophy from the country. Despite on and off frictions between the government and the recessed Christian Democratic Party, the general favored maintaining contact with the party to elicit its views on the government's domestic policies.

Acknowledgíng that there was a problem in the area of human rights violations in the initial months` after the coup, he since claimed that measures had been taken to rectify the situation. In an August 1974 interview he stated that there would be no more executions and that some military men had been punished for maltreatmenti and torture of prisoners. He insisted, however, that stringent internal security measures are necessary to prevent a resurgence of extremist activity and that se1f­censorship of the press will be relaxed on1y "when the situation is norma1." Conscious of Chile's need for a better image abroad. the general is said to have authorized the expenditure of up to one million dollars to have a US advertising agency improve its tarnished image.

The armed forces justified the coup as necessary to stamp out Marxism, avert class warfare, restore order, and salvage the economy. They enshrined the National Security Doctrine, which defined their primary task as the defeat of domestic enemies who had infiltrated national institutions, including schools, churches, political parties, unions, and the media. Although civilians filled prominent economic posts, military officers took most government positions at the national and local levels. Immediately on seizing power, the military junta--composed of the commanders in chief of the army, navy, air force, and national police--issued a barrage of decrees to restore order on its own terms.

The first phase of the dictatorship (1973-75) was mainly destructive, aimed at rapid demobilization, depoliticization, and stabilization. The armed forces treated the members of the UP as an enemy to be obliterated, not just as an errant political movement to be booted from office. The military commanders closed Congress, censored the media, purged the universities, burned books, declared political parties outlawed if Marxist or in recess otherwise, and banned union activities.

The worst human rights abuses occurred in the first four years of the junta, when thousands of civilians were murdered, jailed, tortured, brutalized, or exiled, especially those linked with the Popular Unity parties. The secret police, reporting to Pinochet through the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia--DINA), replaced in 1977 by the National Information Center (Centro Nacional de Información--CNI), kept dissidents living in fear of arrest, torture, murder, or "disappearance."

Throughout the second half of the 1970s, the Roman Catholic Church and international organizations concerned with human rights denounced the widespread violations of decency in Chile. Although officially neutral, the Roman Catholic Church became the primary sanctuary for the persecuted in Chile from 1975 to 1985 and so came into increasing conflict with the junta.

The former members of Popular Unity went underground or into exile. In the early years of the dictatorship, their main goal was simply to survive. Although the Communists suffered brutal persecution, they managed to preserve their organization fairly intact. The Socialists splintered so badly that their party nearly disappeared by the end of the 1970s. Draconian repression left the Marxists with no capacity to resist or counterattack. They did, however, manage to rally world opinion against the regime and keep it diplomatically isolated. By the end of the 1970s, most Christian Democrats, after initially cooperating with the junta, had also joined the opposition, although not in any formal coalition with any coherent strategy for restoring democracy.

Pinochet soon emerged as the dominant figure and very shortly afterward as president. After a brief flirtation with corporatist ideas, the government evolved into a one-man dictatorship, with the rest of the junta acting as a sort of legislature. In 1977 Pinochet dashed the hopes of those Chileans still dreaming of an early return to democracy when he announced his intention to institutionalize an authoritarian regime to preside over a protracted return to civilian rule in a "protected" democracy.

Pinochet established iron control over the armed forces as well as the government, although insisting that they were separate entities. He made himself not only the chief executive of the state but also the commander in chief of the military. He shuffled commands to ensure that loyalists controlled all the key posts. He appointed many new generals and had others retire, so that by the 1980s all active-duty generals owed their rank to Pinochet. He also improved the pay and benefits of the services. The isolation of the armed forces from civil society had been a virtue under the democracy, inhibiting their involvement in political disputes; now that erstwhile virtue became an impediment to redemocratization, as the military remained loyal to Pinochet and resisted politicization by civilians.

Although aid and loans from the United States increased spectacularly during the first three years of the regime, while presidents Nixon and Gerald R. Ford were in office, relations soured after Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 on a platform promising vigorous pursuit of human rights as a major component of his foreign policy. During the Carter administration, a significant source of contention was the 1976 assassination in Washington of the former Chilean ambassador to the United States by agents of Pinochet's secret police. The victim, Orlando Letelier, had served under Allende. In response to United States criticism, General Pinochet held his first national plebiscite in 1978, calling for a yes or no vote on his defense of Chile's sovereignty and the institutionalization of his regime. The government claimed that more than 75 percent of the voters in the tightly controlled referendum endorsed Pinochet's rule.

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Page last modified: 04-12-2012 19:01:37 ZULU