The death of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, criminal dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990, aroused mixed feelings among human rights defenders. While rejoicing that this incredibly evil person is gone from this Earth, they also wanted this mass murderer tried and convicted in a Chilean court.
Under Pinochet’s brutal rule, thousands of workers, students, artists, progressives and their leaders were murdered, kidnapped and disappeared. Tens of thousands were tortured and 10 percent of the population forced into exile.
Pinochet did not commit these crimes without help. President Richard Nixon, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and big corporations like ITT helped engineer the 1973 coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. The 1975 Select Committee Report by Sen. Frank Church revealed, “On September 15, 1970, President Nixon informed CIA Director Richard Helms that an Allende regime in Chile would not be acceptable to the United States and instructed the CIA to play a direct role in organizing a military coup d’etat in Chile.” This document also showed that the U.S. role in the coup was illegally kept secret from Congress. It adds, “In the end, the whole of U.S. policy making may be affected.”
Pinochet set up “Operation Condor,” a terrorist alliance that killed Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his associate Ronni Moffett, in a 1976 car bomb in Washington, D.C.
This shameful period of our history has lessons for us today. We are living under another president known for his secrecy, disregard for the Constitution, use of terror and “improperly close” relations to multinational corporations.
Pinochet did not totally get away with his crimes. He bragged in 1975, “There will be no elections in Chile during my lifetime nor in the lifetime of my successor.” But popular uprisings in Chile forced him to put his rule to a referendum vote. He lost, and elections have returned to Chile. Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist and the first woman president of Chile, now leads the country.
Latin America is seeing a popular, left and progressive rebirth, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez leading the way. Other Latin American progressive presidents elected are Evo Morales in Bolivia, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Tabare Vasquez in Uruguay, “Lula” da Silva in Brazil, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
Chilean heroes, like martyred President Allende and Communist Party leader Gladys Marin, will be remembered long after humanity forgets the nightmare of Augusto Pinochet.