Chile - The Pinochet Era

Chile - The Pinochet Era

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Chile - The Pinochet Era


Salvador Allende Gossens was elected the first Marxist president of Chile in 1970. He governed Chile from 1970 until 1973, the year of his death. The Allende government was not very successful. It approved sharp increases in the minimum wage whilst attempting to prevent price increases in consumer goods, in an effort to end Chile's economic slump. This resulted in disaster for the country, as inflation soared, strikes became common and opposition towards the Allende government increased.

This led to a violent coup on September 11, 1973, in which military authorities, led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, took power over Chile. Allende was killed during this attack.

This period in Chile's history put an end to many years of democratic rule in Chile. It also had dramatic and life-changing effects on Chileans, as at least ten percent of the population, or approximately two hundred thousand people, were affected by repressive situations. These situations included arrests, threats, a relative in prison, killed or "disappeared", and expulsion for political reasons from the place of work or university.

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On the 11th of September 1973, the Chilean armed forces staged a coup d'etat, in which president Allende was killed. A junta was installed which was composed of three generals and an admiral. It was led by the new president, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Pinochet not only took control of the government, but also of the military.
Many thousands of people died in the fighting which erupted between those in support of and those in opposition to the junta.

Soon Pinochet emerged as the dominant figure and the rest of the junta acted as a sort of legislature. During a short period, General Pinochet received support of many people, political parties and other nations, as they believed that the dictatorship of Pinochet would restore the status quo as it had been before 1970. It was not long before these supporters realised that the military officers in power had different objectives, including the repression of all left wing and centre political forces.

The junta imprisoned, killed and tortured its opponents; dissolved congress; put limitations on the press; and banned political parties. An intelligence service known as DINA was established shortly after the coup. They kept secret detention centres where political prisoners were tortured, murdered or brutalised. A private enterprise economy was installed.

The policies of Pinochet's government encouraged the development of free enterprise and a new entrepreneurial class, and resulted in an increase in exports of fruit, forestry and sea products, stabilising the economy.

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However, this caused unemployment and a decline in wages, which, in turn, lowered the standard of living of lower and middle classes.
Gradually however, Chile fell into national debt, as Pinochet's economic policies required extensive borrowing from other countries. Inflation and unemployment numbers also rose.

Unfortunately, in 1980, a new constitution was put in place by Pinochet, providing for continual military rule and legal immunity against criminal charges for himself. By 1986, most Chileans were demanding an end to military rule and a return to democratic government. Organised protests were staged and other countries such as the United States applied additional pressure. On October 5, 1988, voters rejected Pinochet in a constitutionally mandated plebiscite. This led to the election of a civilian government in 1989, headed by Patricio Aylwin Azocar as president. Due to the 1980 constitution, however, Pinochet was to remain as army commander for eight years.

The Chilean Supreme court recently removed Pinochet's legal immunity and he is due to be tried for his alleged involvement in the torture and death of thousands who opposed his military regime. The Court has already tried and brought to justice more than fifty military officers for crimes committed during the Pinochet era.

Since the return to a civilian government, the practice of torture has declined dramatically, but has not disappeared. Many other things have changed, including the elimination of the right to arrest people for mere suspicion or "crimes' such as vagrancy or begging; equality under the law for all religious groups; and equal rights for children regardless of the marital status of their parents. Unfortunately, some laws have remained, such as the banning of homosexuality; the fact that Chileans do not have the right to freedom of speech and child labour is still fairly common.


What mechanisms did General Augusto Pinochet use to establish and maintain his rule and control of Chile?


General Pinochet used several devious and often inhumane methods of ensuring his long-term power over Chile.

Firstly, Pinochet realised that in order for him to succeed, he would have to change the way the Chilean government functioned. He did this by dissolving all political parties, which eliminated the chance of anyone else coming into power.

He also ensured that loyalists were appointed into key posts and increased their pay and benefits. This decreased the possibility that they might disagree with him or encourage opposition. He appointed new generals so that by 1980, all active-duty generals owed their positions to him.

These things, in combination with the military's isolation from civil society, resulted in the military being loyal to Pinochet, and prevented politicization by civilians.
Not only did Pinochet win the hearts of the military; he changed Chile's constitution so that he was guaranteed to remain in a position of authority in the Chilean government for his entire life. The new constitution also gave him legal immunity, which enabled Pinochet to commit so many Human Rights' Violations without being punished for so long.
These violations were another method that Pinochet used to maintain authority. He used secretive methods to control the population of Chile and quell any opposition. He repressed the people by censoring the media and by imprisoning, abducting or exiling whoever he considered to be a threat to his power. His main targets were; people who were involved with leftist political parties or the Popular Unity government; trade unionists; representatives from the cultural world, intellectuals and university staff and students; human rights activists; members of opposition groups and anyone who was associated with or related to these people. The list of victims is endless; Pinochet did not even distinguish between children and adults.

Once arrested, they were taken to camps and the majority experienced some form of torture. Torture included such horrifying things as electrocution; the removal of fingernails; beatings; immersion in liquids; burning by cigarettes; sexual abuse and psychological torture. Many more forms were also used. The military then killed the prisoners, set them free, or simply classified them as "disappeared''. Most of the disappeared were last seen in torture camps, and are presumed dead.

In total 3 197 people died or went missing between September 11, 1973 and March 11, 1990 at the hands of the state agents of repression. Countless people were affected by the terror, Chileans were all affected by the repression. General Pinochet used this fear to stop people from opposing him, hence maintaining his power.


Encyclopaedia Britannica 1999
World Book Encyclopaedia 1995
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