Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet

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.

Primary Sources

(1) CNN Online News (22nd February, 2003)

The Chilean government applauded remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell this week that the United States was "not proud" of its role in the 1973 coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, Chilean newspapers reported on Saturday.

Powell's comments on Thursday on the US Black Entertainment Television network, were seen by Chileans as the first time Washington has acknowledged that it intervened in events related to the bloody putsch and death of socialist President Salvador Allende.

In the interview, Powell was asked why Washington considers itself "the moral superior" in the Iraq conflict. The interviewer cited the Chilean coup as an example of the US government acting against the wishes of a local population.

"With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of," Powell answered.

Under Pinochet's iron-fisted rule, that lasted 17 years, leftist political groups were persecuted and about 3,000 people were killed or disappeared, according to an official report.

"We now have a more accountable way of handling such matters and we have worked with Chile to help it put in place a responsible democracy," Powell added.

(2) Isabel Hilton, The Guardian (11th December, 2006)

Augusto Pinochet had resorted so often to claims of ill health to avoid the pressing attentions of Chile's judges that even the administration of the last rites last week failed to convince his opponents that his end was near. Pinochet's long and brutal dictatorship and its half life of lingering political influence, had invested him with such iconic status that he seemed immortal.

His death robs his opponents of the satisfaction of seeing him sentenced for his crimes. But Pinochet lived to see his corruption exposed and his claims to honourable motives discredited.

Pinochet was admitted late to the plot that led to the coup against President Salvador Allende on September 11 1973. His genius was to appropriate power to himself and to use terror, both to eliminate opponents on the left and to intimidate those members of the armed forces who upheld constitutional rule. The dictatorship he installed was not the bloodiest in Latin America. It was shocking because it happened in a country proud of its democratic traditions.

For his supporters, Pinochet was the man who had saved Chile from communism. For his opponents, he was a murderer who had destroyed the rule of law. For the last 10 years, the dismantling of his reputation has been a struggle to reassert legal norms and restore the right to remember those years.

It was a powerful process. After his arrest in London in October 1998, Pinochet claimed sovereign immunity. But on November 25 1998, the House of Lords rejected his appeal. At the Pinochet Foundation in Santiago, his supporters had prepared a 77th birthday party, complete with giant screens on which they waited for their leader's expected victory message. When the judgment went against him, the party ended in mayhem. Meanwhile, in the house of the widow of one of the disappeared, there were tears of joy.

Two years later the decision of the then home secretary, Jack Straw, to allow Pinochet to return to Chile on grounds of ill health seemed to mock that moment. But his return allowed the Chilean judiciary to declare its own breach with the regime.

Juan Guzman, a senior judge who had begun his career in Pinochet's military courts, took on the case with a diligence and seriousness that confounded both Chile's critics and Pinochet's supporters. He excavated graveyards, interviewed witnesses, took statements and patiently built his dossiers.

Pinochet's lawyers fought back with more claims of ill health, and Guzman was not able to complete the prosecution. But the trial remains a historic process that gradually dismantled Pinochet's impunity and rewrote his legacy. It became clear Pinochet would never have the statue he had planned to erect for himself behind the Moneda palace.

Supporters continued to believe the trial was just another political conspiracy in an ungrateful nation. Their disillusionment did not come until Pinochet's corruption came to light as a piece of collateral damage in the war on terror: scrutiny of suspected funds for terrorism uncovered secret bank accounts. The mythical upright soldier was discovered to have salted away a sum one judge estimated at $28m. Like Al Capone, Pinochet was finally called to account by the tax man.

By the end, Pinochet had only a handful of supporters. He lived to see Chile return to normality, and to elect as president the daughter of a man tortured to death under his regime.

For me, though, Pinochet's lasting legacy is a young woman called Nilda who as a child clung screaming to her father as soldiers dragged him away. He never came back and Nilda has never stopped looking for his grave. Her wounds will never heal.

(3) Malcolm Coad, Guardian (11th December, 2006)

Pinochet himself would later claim that, for security reasons, he had been planning the coup alone for two years with student officers at the military academy. Other generals, who certainly were involved in the plotting, said that he was considered untrustworthy and played no role. What is not in doubt is that three days before the coup, he was given an ultimatum by the commanders-in-chief of the navy and air force to join them or suffer the consequences.

On the day itself, there was little doubt Pinochet was in charge. "He realized what had dropped into his lap and had no alternative but to follow it through," said one of his closest civilian aides later. Amateur recordings of radio transmissions between the golpista command posts that day reveal the Pinochet the world would come to know. While negotiating Allende's surrender, he joked crudely about flying the president out of the country and crashing the plane on the way. "Kill the bitch and you finish the spawn," he said.

Within a year, as the army asserted its overwhelming strength among the armed services, plans for a rotating presidency between the four members of the ruling junta of service chiefs were dropped and Pinochet was named President of the Republic. A tight group of civilian and military advisers designed a regime focused on him as the incarnation of the military's "historic mission to remake the country". Potential rivals were either retired or died in mysterious circumstances. In 1974, General Prats became one of the victims, killed with his wife in exile in Buenos Aires by a bomb attached to their car - an attack later shown to have been carried out by Pinochet's agents.

The rank of Captain-general, hitherto held only by the Liberator of the country from the Spanish in the early 1800s, Bernardo O'Higgins, was revived for Pinochet. His uniform hat was tailored higher than that of other officers. Officially he became the visionary who, guided by "the mysterious hand of God", had made Chile "the only country in history to have broken free from the yoke of communism". He was reported to enjoy the special protection of the Virgin Mary, patron of both the army and the country. Such was the origin of the saint-like statuettes of Pinochet and the posters of "The Immortal" so widely seen at demonstrations supporting him after his arrest in London.

This personality cult was only one of the ways in which the regime so notably avoided the factionalism that plagued the region's many other military dictatorships. Chile's army was already the most hierarchically disciplined in the region, the legacy of late 18th-century Prussian advisers, and this was skilfully translated into personal devotion to Pinochet. Limitations were placed on the services' own role in day-to-day government, with the brunt of this being left in Pinochet's own hands and those of his circle of advisers. A ruthless secret police watched the regime as much as the opposition.

In the regime a strict ideology reigned, based in personal loyalty to Pinochet, anti-communist dogma of "national security", and the extreme neoliberal economic doctrine imported by a generation of technocrats known as the "Chicago Boys", after the university where some had received their training. Pinochet's own wiliness - his most evident political talent apart from ruthlessness - also came into its own, as he proved adept at nipping factions in the bud and playing them off against each other. In the mid-1980s he would use the same skill with success against the re-emerging opposition.

Especially shocking was the level of repression in a country with a longstanding parliamentary tradition and a hitherto mild record of military involvement in politics by regional standards. Official investigations since 1990 have confirmed over 3000 deaths and disappearances at the hands of Pinochet's security forces. Torture was institutionalised, secret detention centres operated into which detainees disappeared never to be seen again, and murder squads were despatched to kill prominent dissidents abroad.

Meanwhile, in laboratory conditions, with political parties and trade unions banned, the "Chicago Boys" set about radically remaking the heavily state-dependent economy. 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.

Following the debacle, a more moderate group of neoliberals succeded in stabilising the now streamlined macroeconomy. A young and vigorous new breed of capitalists emerged, centred on new exports such as fish, timber and fruit. Reforms such as the privatisation of the pension system became highly influential around the world, growth became steady and Chile became a byword for economic success - though the gap between rich and poor widened to give the country the worst income distribution in the region after Brazil.

(4) The Boston Globe (12th December, 2006)

In America, the danger is not that too much is remembered of the Pinochet era but that too much of the American role in helping to foment those old horrors may be forgotten.

There is a deceptively comforting story line that sequesters the present from the past, disguising any continuity between the regime change produced in Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, and other American experiments of that nature. In that reassuring historical narrative, Pinochet was perhaps guilty of trampling on democratic niceties and of kidnapping, torturing, and killing socialists and Marxists , but he represented, after all, the lesser of two evils. The alternative evil was commonly depicted as Soviet influence, left-wing radicalism, the expropriation of private property, and falling pro-American dominoes across Latin America.

The former US ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, who passed away three days before Pinochet, once propounded a theory to justify American backing for military dictatorships in Latin America. Her rationale rested upon a distinction between totalitarian states like those in the communist world and mere authoritarian regimes. The latter were supposed to be more tolerable because, in contrast to the communist states, they left open the possibility of eventually permitting a return to democracy. It was a theory that failed the test of time, as demonstrated by the nearly bloodless implosion of communism and the flowering of democracy in Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia.

Reflecting the spirit of such Cold War notions, a CIA document from the month after Allende was elected president on Sept. 11, 1970, says, "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" - US government - "and American hand be well hidden." Whatever the details of US complicity in Pinochet's eventual seizure of power, Americans must not forget that their own democratic leaders share complicity in the disappearances, torture, and killings perpetrated after 1973 by their man in Chile.

(5) Jeremy McDermott, The Scotsman (12th December, 2006)

The human-rights abuses committed under Pinochet's military junta were widely known throughout the country.

Rights groups estimate that more than 3,000 people were killed after 1973 when Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president, was overthrown and allegedly took his own life with a gun given to him by his friend, Fidel Castro.

Most of the murders took place in the first year of military rule, when Santiago's National Stadium was turned into a detention and torture centre.

Pinochet was facing charges over the "Caravan of Death" in 1973, when it is alleged a military death squad rounded up suspected leftists from prisons around the country and murdered them.

However, it was not such abuses that led to his support eroding - it was allegations of corruption, in 2005, when undeclared foreign bank accounts containing some £15 million were traced to him and members of his family.