Augusto Pinochet, the son of a customs official, was born in Chile on 26th November 1915. Educated by conservative Marist priests he was twice rejected by Chile's military college. He was eventually accepted and he graduated in 1937 as an infantry officer.
Pinochet gradually rose through the ranks and by 1948 was a commander of a prison camp for members of the banned Communist Party. According to his memoirs, it was this experience that alerted him to the "truly diabolical attractions of Marxism".
In 1954 Pinochet was appointed as lecturer at Chile's senior military school, the Academy of War. Ten years later he became deputy director of the organization. In 1968 he published a book on Geopolitics, a subject he taught at the Academy of War. However, Pinochet was attacked by specialists outside Chile for comprehensive plagiarism.
In 1970 Salvador Allende, the leader of the Chilean Socialist Party, was elected president. He therefore became the first Marxist in the world to gain power in a free democratic election. He attempted to build a socialist society but was opposed by business interests.
Allende's decide to take action to redistribute wealth and land in Chile. Wage increases of around 40 per cent were introduced. At the same time companies were not allowed to increase prices. The copper industry was nationalized. So also were the banks. Allende also restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, China and the German Democratic Republic.
The CIA arranged for Michael V. Townley to be sent to Chile under the alias of Kenneth W. Enyart. He was accompanied by Aldo Vera Serafin of the Secret Army Organization (SAO). Townley now came under the control of David Atlee Phillips who had been asked to lead a special task force assigned to remove Allende.
The CIA attempted to persuade Chile's Chief of Staff General Rene Schneider, to overthrow Allende. He refused and on 22nd October, 1970, his car was ambushed. Schneider drew a gun to defend himself, and was shot point-blank several times. He was rushed to hospital, but he died three days later. Military courts in Chile found that Schneider's death was caused by two military groups, one led by Roberto Viaux and the other by Camilo Valenzuela. It was claimed that the CIA was providing support for both groups.
Allende's attempts to build a socialist society was opposed by business interests. Later, Henry Kissinger admitted that in September 1970, President Richard Nixon ordered him to organize a coup against Allende's government. A CIA document written just after Allende was elected said: "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup" and "it is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG (United States government) and American hand be well hidden."
David Atlee Phillips set Michael V. Townley the task of organizing two paramilitary action groups Orden y Libertad (Order and Freedom) and Protecion Comunal y Soberania (Common Protection and Sovereignty). Townley also established an arson squad that started several fires in Santiago. Townley also mounted a smear campaign against General Carlos Prats, the head of the Chilean Army. Prats resigned on 21st August, 1973.
Salvador Allende appointed Pinochet as commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army. Allende was unaware that Pinochet was plotting with the CIA to remove him from power. On 11th September 1973, Pinochet led a military coup against Allende's government. Allende died in the fighting in the presidential palace in Santiago.
Pinochet immediately closed down the Chilean Parliament, suspended the constitution, banned all political and trade union activity and imposed strict controls over the media. Pinochet, who had appointed himself president, ordered a purge of the left in Chile. Over the next few years more than 3,000 supporters of the Allende regime were killed.
People in positions of authority who were suspected of holding liberal opinions were also removed from power. It is estimated that around 10 per cent of the Chilean judiciary were dismissed during this period. Pinochet was also responsible for thousands of people being tortured and large numbers were forced into exile.
The CIA gave Michael V. Townley the task was to deal with those dissents who had fled Chile after General Augusto Pinochet gained power. This included General Carlos Prats who was writing his memoirs in Argentina. Donald Freed argues in Death in Washington: The Murder of Orlando Letelier that: "On September 30, 1974, shortly after the first anniversary of the violent overthrow of the Allende government, Townley and a team of assassins murdered Carlos Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires. Their auto was exploded by a bomb."
Promoted to the rank of major by General Juan Manuel Contreras Townley made regular visits to the United States in 1975 to meet with Rolando Otero and other members of the White Hand group. In September 1975, Townley's death squad struck again. Former Chilean vice-president Bernardo Leighton and his wife were gunned down in Rome by local fascists working with DINA.
On 18th September, 1976, Orlando Letelier, who served as foreign minister under Salvador Allende, was traveling to work at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington when a bomb was ignited under his car. Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, a 25 year old woman who was campaigning for democracy in Chile, both died of their injuries.
The director of the CIA, George H. W. Bush, was quickly told that DINA and several of his contract agents were involved in the assassination. However, he leaked a story to members of Operation Mockingbird that attempted to cover-up the role that the CIA and DINA had played in the killings. Jeremiah O'Leary in the Washington Star (8th October, 1976) wrote: "The right-wing Chilean junta had nothing to gain and everything to lose by the assassination of a peaceful and popular socialist leader." Newsweek added: "The CIA has concluded that the Chilean secret police was not involved." (11th October).
William F. Buckley also took part in this disinformation campaign and on 25th October wrote: "U.S. investigators think it unlikely that Chile would risk with an action of this kind the respect it has won with great difficulty during the past year in many Western countries, which before were hostile to its policies." According to Donald Freed Buckley had been providing disinformation for the Pinochet government since October 1974. He also unearthed information that William Buckley's brother, James Buckley, met with Michael V. Townley and Guillermo Novo in New York City just a week before Orlando Letelier was assassinated.
The FBI eventually became convinced that Michael V. Townley was organized the assassination of Orlando Letelier. In 1978 Chile agreed to extradite him to the United States. Townley confessed he had hired five anti-Castro Cubans exiles to booby-trap Letelier's car. Guillermo Novo, Ignacio Novo, Virgilio Paz Romero, Dionisio Suárez, and Alvin Ross Díaz were eventually indicted for the crime.
Townley agreed to provide evidence against these men in exchange for a deal that involved him pleading guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit murder and being given a ten-year sentence. His wife, Mariana Callejas also agreed to testify, in exchange for not being prosecuted.
On the 9th January, 1979, the trial of Guillermo Novo, Ignacio Novo and Alvin Ross Díaz began in Washington. General Pinochet refused to allow Virgilio Paz Romero and Dionisio Suárez, two DINA officers, to be extradited. All three were found guilty of murder. Guillermo Novo and Alvin Ross were sentenced to life imprisonment. Ignacio Novo received eighty years. Soon after the trial Michael Townley was freed under the Witness Protection Program.
Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement. As Malcolm Coad pointed out: "This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s. The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports and debt crisis. The state bailed out most of the country's banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent."
Pinochet also received help from Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government. This included Britain supplying arms to the regime and blocking attempts by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in Chile.
As a result of Pinochet's policies, the gap between rich and poor widened to give the country the worst income distribution in the region after Brazil. In 1983 mass protests took place in Chile. This resulted in further repression and in September 1986 the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front came close to assassinating Pinochet.
In October 1988 a referendum took place to decide if Pinochet should be the only candidate in the forthcoming presidential election. Much to his surprise and dismay, this proposal was rejected, and he won only 44 per cent of the vote.
In 1989 Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, won 55 per cent of the votes to become Chile's new president. Pinochet did however remain as commander-in-chief of the army, a position he was able to use to make sure there were no prosecutions against any members of the security forces suspected of human rights abuses during his period of power.
General Pinochet visited Britain in 1994 to inspect a missile project being developed jointly between the Chilean Army and the Royal Ordnance Arms Company. He was warmly welcomed by members of the John Major government. Norman Lamont, one of Major minister's became one of Pinochet's greatest defenders.
In March 1998 Pinochet resigned as head of the Chilean army but became a senator, therefore guaranteeing him parliamentary immunity for life. However, later that year, while on a visit to London, Pinochet was arrested by the British police, following a request by judges investigating the torture and disappearance of Spanish citizens during Pinochet's period in power.
Five Law Lords ruled in December 1998 that Pinochet was not immune from prosecution. However, the ruling was set aside when it was discovered that one of the judges had links with Amnesty International. In January 1999 seven Law Lords voted 6-1 that Pinochet must face extradition to Spain but that he was also immune from prosecution for crimes committed before 1988. In January 2000, the British home secretary, Jack Straw, gave permission for Augusto Pinochet to fly home to Chile on compassionate grounds.
When he arrived home the authorities in Chile stripped him of his parliamentary immunity and proceedings against him began. Eventually, in July 2001 the Chilean courts decided to suspend the investigation on grounds of "dementia".
In 2005 a US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation. It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.
Augusto Pinochet died on 10th December, 2006.