Augusto Pinochet

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Augusto Pinochet

General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (1915–2006) was a Chilean general who became Chile's head of state (or dictator) from 1973 to 1990. He came to power as a member of a council of military leaders after the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende. Pinochet closed down the Chilean National Congress, banned political parties and established a secret police (DINA, later CNI) to liquidate his political opponents. In the early period of his dictatorship Pinochet sought the advise and expertise of Nazis residing in Chile such as Walter Rauff and Paul Schaefer (founder and leader of the Nazi Colonia Dignidad) to design and establish a system of concentration camps and to employ a policy of force disappearance. Pinochet banned the sole human rights organisation that remained in Chile "The Committee For Peace"; as a response in 1976 the Roman Catholic Church established the "Vicariat of Solidarity" - an underground human rights organisations that assisted victims of the regime and documented human rights abuses.

Assassination of General Carlos Prats

General Carlos Prats and his wife were killed by a car bomb on 30 September 1974, in Buenos Aires, where they lived in exile. The Chilean DINA has been held responsible. In Chile, Judge Alejandro Solís terminated the prosecution of Pinochet in January 2005 after the Chilean Supreme court rejected his demand to revoke Pinochet's immunity from prosecution (as chief of state). The leaders of DINA, including chief Manuel Contreras, ex-chief of operations and retired general Raúl Itturiaga Neuman, his brother Roger Itturiaga, and ex-brigadiers Pedro Espinoza Bravo and José Zara, were charged in Chile with this assassination. DINA agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel has been convicted in Argentina for the murder.

Attempted Assassination of Bernardo Leighton

Bernardo Leighton and his wife were severely injured by gunshots on 5 October 1976, while in exile in Rome. According to declassified documents in the National Security Archive and Italian attorney general Giovanni Salvi, who led the prosecution of former DINA head Manuel Contreras, Stefano Delle Chiaie met with Michael Townley and Virgilio Paz Romero in Madrid in 1975 to plan the murder of Bernardo Leighton with the help of Franco's secret police.[55]

Assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington DC

Another target was Orlando Letelier, a former minister of the Chilean Allende government. Letelier was appointed the ambassador from Chile to the United States while Salvador Allende was in power. He was one of the first members of Allende's former government to be arrested by the Pinochet regime. However, he was released twelve months later due to pressure from Venezuela and the United States. He was ordered to leave Chile, upon which he moved to Washington D.C. He then spend his time lobbying to Congress and other European governments against Pinochet's regime. For this reason he became the voice of Chile's resistance movement. He then got a job as the Director of Planning and Development at the Institute for Policy Studies. Ronni Moffitt was Letelier's assistant at the Institute. She was 26 and recently married when she died. On September 21, 1976 as Letelier and Moffitt traveled to work with Moffitt's husband Michael, the car they were driving suddenly exploded. Letelier and Moffitt both later died at the hospital, while Ronni's husband Michael survived the blast. Although it was not initially clear who had been responsible for the bombing, Letelier had showed up on DINA's radar since his move to the United States. It is also known that the Chilean government had revoked Letelier's citizenship in only several days before the explosion that killed him. The United States government suspected Colonel Contreras as having a part in the assassination of Letelier and Moffitt, however, he divulged nothing to Harry Kissinger and the CIA.[56] Michael Townley, General Manuel Contreras (former head of the DINA), and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza Bravo (also formerly of DINA), were convicted of the murders. In 1978, Chile agreed to transfer Townley to the U.S. in order to reduce the tension about Letelier's murder. Townley was freed and taken into the US witness protection program. The U.S. is still waiting for Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza to be extradited, on charges of murder.

In December 2004 Francisco Letelier, the son of Orlando Letelier, wrote in an OpEd column in the Los Angeles Times that his father's assassination was part of Operation Condor, which he described as "an intelligence-sharing network used by six South American dictators of that era to eliminate dissidents."[57]

Allegations from Supporters of the Pinochet Regime

US intelligence reports implicated Allende in the assassination of several opponents,[1] while KGB files smuggled out of Russia by Vasily Mitrokhin indicate that Allende received funds from the Soviet Union.[2] Allende was formally condemned by Chile's parliament for systematically destroying democracy in Chile.[3] The Chilean Chamber of Deputies Resolution of August 22, 1973, accused Allende of support of armed groups, torture, illegal arrests, muzzling the press, confiscating private property, and not allowing people to leave the country. In the infamous "Cuban Packages Scandal" that precipitated the coup, large quantities of weapons were sent from Castro's Cuba to arm pro-Allende terrorists in Chile.[4] Kissinger privately told Nixon that Allende might declare martial law.[5]

By 1973, as a result of covert US aid to Chilean dissidents and financing of pro-democracy protestors, US intelligence indicated Allende would likely lose the next Chilean election if it was held.[6] According to The Wall Street Journal, faced with illegal seizures of farms and factories, of defiance of judicial orders, unchecked street violence and death threats against the judges themselves, the Supreme Court warned on May 26, 1973, in a unanimous and unprecedented message, that Chile faced "a peremptory or imminent breakdown of legality."[7] Volodia Teitelboim, the chief ideologue of the Communist Party in Chile, declared that if civil war came, "it probably would signify immense loss of human lives, between half a million and one million."[8] On September 11, 1973, Allende committed suicide during a military coup launched by Pinochet, who became President.

General Pinochet headed a military government for 17 years (1973-1990) which suppressed communist revolutionaries in Chile. Pinochet's military government drafted and imposed a new Constitution (1980) that established a gradual and legal path for the return to full democracy and introduced a new binomial electoral system. The constitution introduced an amnesty law for all military officials, and Pinochet granted himself the title of senator for life (Senador vitalicio) that would be enacted once he left the post of Commander in Chief of the Chilean Armed Forces.

General Pinochet instituted free market reforms in Chile in the 1970s that resulted in lower inflation and an economic boom. During this period, he held a plebiscite on his rule and 75% of the people affirmed their support for his emergency government.

During his time in power, including the 1973 coup, at least 1,200 people were killed or vanished. The most common estimate is that 3,000 were killed,[9] while other estimates go as high as 10,000. In addition, over a quarter million Chileans were arrested. Universities were purged of terrorist sympathizers, Marxist books were burned, and rival political parties banned. Thousands of members of the Socialist Party of Chile and the Communist Party of Chile fled the country out of fear of the secret police, which allegedly tortured citizens.[10]

A new constitution was adopted in Chile in 1981, which authorized General Pinochet to serve as president for another eight-year term, to be followed by a plebiscite on his presidency.

Pinochet moved Chile into a market economy, privatizing many inefficient government businesses, and opening the country to foreign investment. The stability that his government gave encouraged foreign investors to come to Chile. He also started one of the first private pension accounts pension systems in the world, which has been highly successful.

Using its leverage over Pinochet to curtail Chilean human rights abuses, the US simultaneously pressured Chile to introduce a series of economic reforms, a process that escalated sharply in the eighties. This led to a period of rapid economic expansion and development without precedent in Latin America, in which growth averaged 7% annually, that came to be known as the "miracle of Chile" (it also included the region's greatest reductions in infant mortality[11]). In turn, this allowed Chile to make a long-term transition to sustainable democratic rule that would likely have been otherwise inconceivable.[12]

As promised, President Pinochet held another plebiscite in October 1988 on the issue of whether he should continue as president. He was defeated by a vote of 55-43%, and subsequent free elections were won by the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, who was installed as president on March 11, 1990.

General Pinochet was a graduate of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In 1998, the leftists who had long hated Pinochet arranged for his arrest while he was in London receiving medical treatment. An unprecedented arrest warrant was issued in Spain for alleged human rights violations that occurred in Chile while he was president. The stunt failed, and Pinochet was subsequently returned to Chile due to his ill health. He was later indicted and charged with kidnapping 19 supporters of Salvador Allende during the 1973 coup in which Pinochet took power. The Chilean Supreme Court suspended the prosecution in July 2002, again due to Pinochet's continuing poor health.

Pinochet died of a heart attack on December 10, 2006.[13]

The Rettig Report

The Rettig Report, officially The National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Report, is a 1991 report by a commission designated by then-President Patricio Aylwin (from the Concertación) encompassing human rights abuses resulting in death or disappearance that occurred in Chile during the years of military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, which began on September 11, 1973 and ended on March 11, 1990. They found that over 2,000 people had been killed for political reasons, and dozens of military personnel have been convicted of human rights abuses.

Indictment and arrest of Augusto Pinochet

General Augusto Pinochet was indicted for human rights violations committed in his native Chile by Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón on 10 October 1998. He was arrested in London six days later and held for a year and a half before finally being released by the British government in March 2000. Authorized to freely return to Chile, Pinochet was there first indicted by judge Juan Guzmán Tapia, and charged with a number of crimes, before dying on 10 December 2006, without having been convicted in any case. His arrest in London made the front-page of newspapers worldwide as not only did it involve the head of the military dictatorship that ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990, but it was the first time that several European judges applied the principle of universal jurisdiction, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former heads of state, despite local amnesty laws.

Pinochet came to power in a violent 11 September 1973 coup which deposed Socialist President Salvador Allende. His 17-year regime was responsible for numerous human rights violations, a number of which committed as part of Operation Condor, an illegal effort to suppress political opponents in Chile and abroad in coordination with foreign intelligence agencies. Pinochet was also accused of using his position to pursue personal enrichment through embezzlement of government funds, the illegal drug trade and illegal arms trade. The Rettig Report found that at least 2,279 persons were conclusively murdered by the Chilean government for political reasons during Pinochet's regime, and the Valech Report found that at least 30,000 persons were tortured by the government for political reasons.

Pinochet's attorneys, headed by Pablo Rodríguez Grez (former leader of the far-right group Fatherland and Liberty), argued that he was entitled to immunity from prosecution first as a former head of state, then under the 1978 amnesty law passed by the military junta. They furthermore claimed that his alleged poor health made him unfit to stand trial. A succession of judgments by various Courts of Appeal, the Supreme Court, medical experts, etc., led to Pinochet's successive house arrest and release, before he finally died on 10 December 2006, just after having been again put under house arrest on 28 November 2006 in the Caravan of Death case.[1]

By the time of his death, Pinochet had been implicated in over 300 criminal charges for numerous human rights violations,[2] including the Caravan of Death case (case closed in July 2002 by the Supreme Court of Chile, but re-opened in 2007 following new medical expertises), Carlos Prats's assassination (case closed on 1 April 2005), Operation Condor (case closed on 17 June 2005), Operation Colombo, Villa Grimaldi case, Carmelo Soria case, Calle Conferencia case, Antonio Llidó case, Eugenio Berrios case, tax evasion and passport forgery.[2][3]

Tax fraud and foreign bank accounts

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report about Riggs Bank on 15 July 2004, which had solicited Pinochet and controlled between USD $4 million and $8 million of his assets. According to the report, Riggs participated in money laundering for Pinochet, setting up offshore shell corporations (referring to Pinochet as only "a former public official"), and hiding his accounts from regulatory agencies. The report said the violations were "symptomatic of uneven and, at times, ineffective enforcement by all federal bank regulators, of bank compliance with their anti-money-laundering obligations." In 2006, Pinochet's total wealth was estimated at $28 million or more.[31]

Five days later, a Chilean court formally opened an investigation into Pinochet's finances for the first time, on allegations of fraud, misappropriation of funds, and bribery. Then, a few hours later, the state prosecutor, Chile's State Defense Council (Consejo de Defensa del Estado), presented a second request for the same judge to investigate Pinochet's assets, but without directly accusing him of crimes. On 1 October 2004, Chile's Internal Revenue Service ("Servicio de Impuestos Internos") filed a lawsuit against Pinochet, accusing him of fraud and tax evasion, for the amount of USD $3.6 million in investment accounts at Riggs between 1996 and 2002. Furthermore, a lawsuit against the Riggs Bank and Joe L. Allbritton, chief executive of the bank until 2001, was closed after the Riggs agreed in February 2005 to pay $9 million to Pinochet's victims in compensation of the money-laundering activity with Pinochet.[32]

Pinochet could have faced in Chile fines totaling 300 percent of the amount owed, and prison time, if convicted before his death. Aside from the legal ramifications, this evidence of financial impropiety severely embarrassed Pinochet. According to the State Defense Council, his hidden assets could never have been acquired solely on the basis of his salary as President, Chief of the Armed Forces, and Life Senator.

See also


  3. “Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile’s Democracy,” Resolution of the Chamber of Deputies, Chile, August 22, 1973.
  9. BBC profile
  10. Augusto Pinochet Biography
  11. Nick Eberstadt, The Poverty of Communism (Transaction Publishers, 1990), pp188, 196-206, 240-6, in which he discusses living standards in Communist Cuba versus Pinochet's Chile.
  13. NYTimes