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.
US intelligence reports implicated Allende in the assassination of several opponents, while KGB files smuggled out of Russia by Vasily Mitrokhin indicate that Allende received funds from the Soviet Union. Allende was formally condemned by Chile's parliament for systematically destroying democracy in Chile. 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. Kissinger privately told Nixon that Allende might declare martial law.
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. 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." 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." 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, 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.
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). In turn, this allowed Chile to make a long-term transition to sustainable democratic rule that would likely have been otherwise inconceivable.
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.
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.
- “Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile’s Democracy,” Resolution of the Chamber of Deputies, Chile, August 22, 1973.
- BBC profile http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6167237.stm
- Augusto Pinochet Biography http://www.moreorless.au.com/killers/pinochet.html
- 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.
- http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/world/americas/10cnd-pinochet-timeline.html?ex=1174449600&en=7b24f9d3e63ff60a&ei=5070 NYTimes