Sunday, December 10, 2006

A new face in Hell

Augusto Pinochet died today. The former dictator of Chile was responsible for the toppling of Chile’s democratically elected government in 1973. Under his leadership thousands died or disappeared, tens of thousands were imprisoned and hundreds of thousands had to flee the country. The Chilean secret police, DINA, was behind the car bomb assassination of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC in the fall of 1976 – an act of state sponsored terrorism. He is remembered not only for the human rights abuses that occurred under his leadership but also millions of stolen dollars under investigation at the time of his death.

American writer Marc Cooper worked as a translator for President Salvador Allende prior the overthrow of the democratic government of Chile by General Pinochet. Here is Cooper’s assessment of the damage done by Pinochet:
… He dies not only decrepit and politically abandoned in a Santiago hospital but also discredited and reviled. His very name alone has
come to rightfully symbolize and encapsulate all of the horrors and fears
associated with brutal, dictatorial regimes.

It’s not just the numbers, though they are horrific in themselves. In a country of barely 11 million at the time of his seizure of power, 3,000 murdered by the state, more than a thousand disappeared (some of them thrown into the ocean, others into pits of lime), tens of thousands tortured and hundreds of thousands sent into political or economic exile.

Pinochet also embodied a wave of authoritarianism that swept through all of Latin America during the time of his rule. Similar dictatorships imposed their own brand of fear as they clamped down on Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

Encouraged by a Reagan administration in Washington and rising Thatcherism in Europe, these military regimes instituted a savage free-market capitalism, in many cases reversing decades of carefully constructed social welfare reforms. At gunpoint unions were outlawed, labor laws were abolished, universities were stifled, tuition was hiked, national health care and social security programs were privatized and these already unequal societies were rigidly stratified into rich and poor, strong and weak, the favored and the invisible.

Pinochet even attempted to build a new Terror International by setting up what became known as Operation Condor. Established in Santiago, the short-lived network aimed at making repression and murder more efficient through increased coordination, information sharing and joint secret operations among the allied dictatorships. The most prominent victim of this alliance in murder was former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his associate Ronni Moffett, blown apart by a 1976 car bomb in downtown Washington DC – a bomb set by Pinochet’s dreaded secret police, known as DINA.

Even after this barbaric act of terror, even after the world began to learn of Pinochet’s other mass crimes, it was jarring to see how much the American press still pandered to him as the man who was bringing economic revival to Chile. No matter that his “shock therapy” nostrums prescribed by the recently deceased Milton Friedman pushed Chile to the brink of bankruptcy and that the first public rebellions against the regime in 1983 were as motivated as much by hunger than by political rage.
You can read his entire piece here.

1 comment:

LaReinaCobre said...

I wish I could be amazed that some people still argue the fiction that he was "good" for South America. Talk about moral relativism.

May his victims rest in peace.