Augusto Pinochet regime (Chile, 1973–90)
On September 11, 1973, the Chilean Armed Forces staged a military coup. President Salvador Allende Gossens died during an infantry-tank assault on the La Moneda presidential palace, and a junta composed of three generals (army, airforce and police) and an admiral, with Army Commandant Augusto Pinochet Ugarte as president, was installed.
The Chilean military reported having suffered 34 killed in stiff fighting in Valparaiso and Santiago on 11–12 September: two army sergeants, three army corporals, four army privates, 2 marine lieutenants, 1 marine corporal, 4 marine cadets, 3 marine conscripts and 15 carabiniers. In mid-September, the military junta claimed its troops suffered another 16 dead and 100 injured by gunfire in mopping-up operations against left-wing guerrillas Allende civilian supporters, and Pinochet warned: "sadly there are still some armed groups who insist on attacking, which means that the military rules of wartime apply to them." On 23 October 1973, 23-year-old army corporal Benjamín Alfredo Jaramillo Ruz, who was serving with the Regimento Cazadores, became the first fatal casualty of the counterinsurgency campaign in the mountainous area of Alquihue in the Valdivia Province after being shot by a guerrilla sniper. The Chilean Army suffered 12 killed in various clashes with MIR and GAP guerrillas in October 1973.
On 20 September 1973, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was given permission to set up an administration office in Santiago, which helped find countries to accept 20,000 Chileans who had been detained or who feared military prosecution. According to an official report by the United States government, 80,000 Chileans were exiled in the 1970s.
During the first three months of Pinochet's military regime, the Chilean armed forces and supporting police units suffered 162 killed in clashes with left-wing guerrillas and civilian supporters in the form of MIR and Chilean Communist Party militants.
At the beginning the junta received the support of the oligarchy and of a sizable part of the middle class. This support by moderate political parties, including many Christian Democrats, can be explained by their belief that a military government represented a transitional stage necessary to restoring Chilean democracy as it had been before 1970.
Very soon they were to discover that the military had their own political objectives, including the repression of all left-wing and guerrilla forces. The Christian Democratic, National, and Radical Democracy parties were declared to be in “indefinite recess,” and the Communists, Socialists, and Radicals were outlawed. In 1977 the traditional parties were dissolved, and a private enterprise economy was instated.
The policies of the military government, though encouraging the development of free enterprise and a new entrepreneurial class, resulted in worldwide condemnation, causing unemployment, a decline of real wages, and, as a consequence, a worsening of the standard of living of the lower and middle classes. Political and social conditions were complicated by the global economic crisis. In 1981 a new constitution, as well as an eight-year extension of Pinochet’s presidential term, was enacted after a tightly controlled plebiscite was held in 1980. The document included specific provisions for a transition to civilian government over the same eight-year period and mandated that a referendum be held in 1988 on whether the ruling junta’s president was to remain in office.
Large-scale popular protests erupted in 1983, and several opposition parties, the Christian Democratic Party being the largest, formed a new centre-left coalition, the Democratic Alliance (Alianza Democrática or AD). The Roman Catholic Church also began openly to support the opposition. In August 1984, 11 parties of the right and centre signed an accord, worked out by the archbishop of Santiago, Raúl Cardinal Silva Henríquez, calling for elections to be scheduled before 1989. Additional pressure came from the Jimmy Carter presidency and other countries that had supported Chile economically but now showed signs of impatience with Pinochet’s regime and with the numerous reports of human rights violations attributed to his military crackdown.
The economic and political climate continued to be volatile in the late 1980s, with increasing pressure for governmental change, acts of terrorism multiplying, and the economy, though showing some signs of recovery, remaining basically unstable and precipitating strikes and protests from the labour sector. Although Pinochet made occasional concessions, he showed little sign of relinquishing his control or relaxing his restrictive policies. To organize opposition to Pinochet, who was chosen as the junta’s candidate for the 1988 presidential plebiscite, 16 centrist and leftist parties formed the Command for No (Comando por el No). On October 5, 1988, voters rejected Pinochet. As the country prepared for its first free presidential and legislative elections since 1973, Command for No—renamed the Coalition of Parties for Democracy (Concertación de los Partidos por la Democracia; CPD)—and the government negotiated constitutional amendments that were approved in a national referendum in July 1989, among them the revocation of Article Eight, which banned Marxist parties. Two months later the government declared, with some restrictions, that all political exiles were permitted to return to Chile.
In the December 1989 presidential election, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin Azócar, leader of the CPD, won by a large margin over his closest opponent, Hernán Büchi, a former finance minister and the government-endorsed candidate. The coalition also gained a majority in the lower chamber and nearly half the seats in the upper chamber. Aylwin, who took office in March 1990, supported Chile’s free-market system but also emphasized social and political change. Before stepping down, Pinochet was able to appoint several new Supreme Court justices and to claim a lifetime senatorial seat; he also retained significant power as commander of the armed forces until his retirement from the military in 1998.
Chile became embroiled in an unprecedented controversy in 1998. While visiting Great Britain, Pinochet was detained when Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón requested his extradition in connection with the torture of Spanish citizens in Chile during his military regime. The case caused the United States and other countries to release documents relating to those who had “disappeared” in Chile under Pinochet’s rule. In January 2000 Pinochet with the help of Baroness Margaret Thatcher won an appeal on medical grounds and was permitted to return home, but Chilean authorities continued to investigate numerous charges of earlier human rights abuses. Stripped of the immunity from prosecution he had enjoyed as a former president, Pinochet was indicted later that year, though the case was later dismissed. In January 2005, however, Chile’s Supreme Court upheld another indictment of Pinochet, who was once again without immunity (which is removed on a case-by-case basis under Chilean law).
- "On September 20, 1973, just nine days after the coup, the UNHCR opened an office in Santiago and mobilized many efforts to facilitate the withdrawal from Chile of those politically persecuted by the regime and their reception in different countries. More than 20,000 were assisted by UNHCR in those years." Transitions to Democracy: A Comparative Perspective, Kathryn Stoner, Michael McFaul, p. 218, JHU Press, 2013
- "Since the overthrow about 80,000 Chileans have moved out of their country." U.S. Refugee Programs: Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 96th Congress, Second Session, April 17, 1980, p.398, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980
- "Since the events of September 1973, about 80,000 Chileans have fled their country." World Refugee Crisis, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979
- Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Professional Soldier, 1900–2001, Robert L. Scheina, p. 326, Potomac Books, 2003