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Augusto Pinochet

General Pinochet

General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (born November 25, 1915) was a military dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He came to power in a bloody coup d'etat which overthrew the government of the elected president, Salvador Allende. Chile returned to democracy in 1990 after Pinochet lost a plebiscite in 1988. Together with the rightist dictatorships of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia, Pinochet has been accused of participating in the so-called Operation Condor.

Table of contents
1 Early Career
2 Coup of 1973
3 Economic successes
4 Return to democracy
5 Arrest
6 See further
7 External links

Early Career

Pinochet was born in Valparaíso. He went to primary and secondary school at the San Rafael Seminary of Valparaíso, the Quillota Institute (Marist Brothers), the French Father's School of Valparaíso, and in the Military School, which he entered in 1933. After four years of study, he graduated from the latter with the rank of Infantry Alférez.

In September 1937, he joined the "Chacabuco" Regiment, in Concepción. Two years later, in 1939, then with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant, he moved to the "Maipo" Regiment, of the Valparaíso garrison. He returned to the Infantry School in 1940. In January, 1943 he married Lucía Hiriart Rodríguez, with whom he had five children: three daughters and two sons.

At the end of 1945, he joined the "Carampangue" Regiment, in Iquique. In 1948, he entered the War Academy, but he had to postpone his studies, because, being the youngest officer, he had to carry out a mission of service in the coal zone of Lota. The following year, he returned to his studies in the Academy.

After obtaining the Title of Officer Chief of Staff, in 1951, he returned to teach at the Military School. At the same time, he worked as a teacher's aide in the War Academy in the military geography and geopolitics clases. In addition to this, he was active as Director of the Insitutional magazine "Cien Aguilas" (One Hundred Eagles), an organ for the views of the Officers.

During the beginning of 1953, with the rank of Major, he was sent for two years to the "Rancagua" Regiment in Arica. While there, he was appointed professor of the War Academy, and he returned to Santiago, Chile to take up his new position. He also obtained a baccalaureate, and with this degree, he entered the School of Law of the University of Chile.

Begining in the year 1956 Pinochet was chosen together with a group of young officers to form a military mission that would collaborate in the organization of a War Academy of Ecuador in Quito, which obligated him to suspend his law studies. He remained with the Quito mission for three-and-a-half years, during which time dedicated himself to the study of geopolitics, military geography and intelligence.

At the end of 1959, he returned to Chile and was sent to General Quarters of the I Division of the Army, in Antofagasta. The following year, he was assigned Commander of the "Esmeralda" Regiment, 7th of the Line. Owing to his success in this position, he was appointed Subdirector of the War Academy in 1963.

In 1968, he was named Chief of Staff of the II Division of the Army, in Santiago, and at the end of the year he was appointed Brigade General and Commander in Chief of the VI Division of the Iquique Garrison. In his new function, he was also appointed Intendent Representant of the Tarapacá Province.

In January of 1971, he rose to Division General and named Commander General of the Santiago Army Garrison. At the beginning of 1972, he was appointed General Chief of Staff of the Army.

With rising domestic strife in Chile, Pinochet was appointed Commander in Chief of the Army on 23 August 1973 by the president, the socialist Salvador Allende.

Coup of 1973

General Pinochet came to power in a military coup d'etat on September 11,1973. The coup leaders used fighter jets to bomb the Presidential Palace which housed Allende.

The role of Pinochet in the planning of the coup is subject to discussion. It is commonly accepted that Pinochet was the leading plotter of the coup and used his position as commander of the Army to co-ordinate a far-reaching scheme that was coordinated with the other branches of the military. This is the account of events that Pinochet himself affirms in his memoirs. In recent years, however high military officials from the time have said that Pinochet only reluctantly got involved in the coup a few days before it was scheduled to occur. Whatever version is true, once the Junta was in power, Pinochet soon consolidated his control, first retaining sole chairmanship of the Junta(originally agreed to be rotated among all members), and then proclaiming himself the President of the Republic.

In contrast to most other nations in Latin America, Chile had, prior to the coup, a long tradition of civilian democratic rule; military intervention in politics had been rare. Some political scientists have ascribed the bloodiness of the coup to the stability of the existing democratic system, which required extreme action to overturn.

Allende's economic policy involved state ownership of many key companies, notably U.S.-owned copper mines. A large portion of the population welcomed an intervention of the military to end the chaos caused by Allende's economic policies and foreign-backed domestic political opposition to them, culminating in a national transport owners' strike. Pinochet promised to promote the development of a more open market, in his own words "to make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs".

Pinochet as Chairman of the Junta following the Sept. 11 coup

The Allende government was friendly with Cuba. Declassified US archives prove that the United States government approved funds for actions to prevent Allende's election and, later, to destabilize his regime. The role of the US in the coup itself has not been established, but a document released by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2000 titled "CIA Activities in Chile" revealed that the CIA actively supported the military Junta after the overthrow of Allende and that it made many of Pinochet's officers into paid contacts or agents of the CIA or US military, even though the agency knew that they were involved in systematic and widespread human rights abuses. [1]

The violence and bloodshed of the coup itself was continued during Pinochet's administration. Once in power, Pinochet ruled with an iron hand. Dissidents were "disappeared" or murdered for speaking out against Pinochet's policies. It is unknown exactly how many people were killed by government and military forces during the 17 years that he was in power, but the "Rettig Commission" listed 2,095 deaths and 1,102 "disappearances". Torture was also commonly used against dissidents. Thousands of Chileans fled the country to escape the regime.

Pinochet's presidency was also frequently made unstable by riots and isolated violent attacks. Assassination attempts were common, which increased government paranoia and in the eyes of some contributed the cycle of oppression.

The situation in Chile came to international attention in September 1976 when Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States and minister in Allende's cabinet, was murdered by a car bomb in Washington, D.C Gen. Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor as army commander, who had resigned rather than support the moves against Allende, had died in similar circumstances in Buenos Aires two years earlier.

In October, 1999, the US State Department declassified a collecton of 1,100 documents produced by various US agencies which dealt with the years leading up to the military coup. One of these documents gave an indication of the scale of US collaboration with Pinochet. It establishes that US military aid was raised dramatically between the coming to power of Allende in 1970, when it amounted to US$800,000 annualy, to US$10.9 million in 1972, as the coup plans were implemented.

On September 10 , 2001, a suit was filed by the family of Gen. Rene Schneider, once head of the Chilean general staff, accusing former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of arranging his 1970 murder for opposing a miltary coup. [1]

Economic successes

Pinochet's brutal political repression existed in parallel with economic reforms. To formulate his economic policy, Pinochet relied on the so-called Chicago boys, who were economists trained at the University of Chicago and heavily influenced by the monetarist policies of Milton Friedman. Privatisation, cuts in public spending and anti-labour policies alienated Chile's working classes, though more prosperous strata benefited from real growth.

Under the Pinochet government, Chile's economy staged a massive recovery. Some global economists dubbed this recovery the Miracle of Chile while others have disputed this claim.

From May 1983 the opposition and labour movements organised demonstrations and strikes against the regime, provoking violent responses by the security forces. In September 1986, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on Pinochet's life by the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), thought to be connected to the outlawed communist party. Pinochet suffered only minor injuries.

Return to democracy

According to the transitional provisions of the 1980 constitution, a plebiscite was held in October 1988, to vote on a new eight-year presidential term for Pinochet. In the plebiscite the advocates of a "No" vote won, and, again according to the provisions of the constitution, open elections were held the next year. Pinochet left the presidency on March 11, 1990.

Due to the transitional provisions of the constitution, Pinochet remained the Commander-in-Chief of the Army until March 1998. Upon leaving that post, he took a senatorial position for life, granted by the constitution Pinochet had drafted to all former presidents with at least six years in office. His senatorship made an eventual prosecution in Chile harder.


While travelling abroad, Pinochet was arrested in October 1998 in London. The arrest warrant was issued by judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain, and he was placed under house arrest in the clinic where he had just undergone back surgery. The charges include 94 counts of torture and one count of conspiracy to commit torture. Britain had only signed the international convention against torture recently, so all of the counts were from the last 14 months of his regime.

There was some controversy over whether he should be brought to trial due to his fragile health. He was 82 years old at the time of his arrest. There was also some legal maneuvering in an attempt to prevent his extradition to Spain. The government of Chile opposed his arrest, extradition, and trial. The British Prime Minister decided in the end not to grant his extradition on humanitarian grounds. On his return to Chile, however, a judge had been named to investigate a large number of criminal suits against him. The appropropiate courts stripped him of his parliamentary immunity, and he was prosecuted. The cases were dismissed by the Supreme Court of Chile for medical reasons (vascular dementia) in July 2002. Shortly after the verdict, he resigned from congress, and lives as an ex-president.

Chilean people are divided among those that see him as a brutal dictator who ended the democratic regime of Allende and led a regime characterized by torture and the protection of the rich and those who believe that he saved the country from communism and led the transformation of the Chilean economy into a modern one. Even though there is increasing acknowledgement of the brutality of his regime, his followers try to explain that in the context of the increasing violence in Chilean society on the part of armed and political revolutionary groups in the decade before the coup.

See further

External links