General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte1 (born November 25, 1915) was head of the military government that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He came to power in a violent coup that deposed Salvador Allende, the first Socialist to be elected president of Chile. The coup ended a period of strained relations between the United States—which had actively sought Allende's removal—and the South American country. (See also 1970 Chilean presidential election; Chilean coup of 1973; List of Presidents of Chile.)
On September 11, 1973, the military led by Pinochet stormed the presidential palace and seized power from president Allende, who was found dead soon after. A junta headed by Pinochet was established, which immediately suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress, imposed strict censorship, and banned all political parties. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against leftist elements in the country. As a result, approximately 3,000 Chileans were executed or disappeared, more than 27,0002 were imprisoned or tortured, and many were exiled and received abroad as political refugees.
In 1980 a new constitution was approved via a dubious referendum which prescribed a single-candidate presidential plebiscite in 1988 and a return to civilian rule in 1990. Pinochet lost the 1988 plebiscite, which triggered multi-candidate presidential elections in 1989 for his replacement. Pinochet transferred power to Patricio Aylwin, the new democratically elected president, in 1990 but retained his post as commander-in-chief of the army until 1998, when he assumed a seat in the Chilean Senate which was intended to be his for the duration of his life according to the constitutional changes of 1980. In 1998 Pinochet, who still had much influence in Chile, travelled to Britain for medical treatment. While there, he was arrested on a warrant from a Spanish judge and kept under house arrest for several months, eventually being released on medical grounds. He returned to Chile as an accused criminal who had escaped trial on compassionate grounds, and never recovered his authority or prestige. He was forced to abandon his senatorial seat in 2002 due to a Supreme Court ruling that he suffered from "vascular dementia" and therefore could not stand trial for human rights abuses, claims that had been formally filed against him by the hundreds, for more than a decade, but never acted upon. In May 2004 Chile's supreme court ruled that he was capable of standing trial, and he was charged with several crimes in December of that year.
Supporters of Pinochet credit him with staving off what they saw as a beginning of communism, and for implementing neoliberal market policies that laid the groundwork for rapid economic growth that continued into the '90s. His opponents charge him with destroying Chile's democracy, killing and torturing thousands of opponents, catering exclusively to private interests, and adopting economic policies that favored the wealthy and hurt the middle- and low-income sectors in Chile.
Augusto Pinochet was born in Valparaíso on November 25, 1915, the son of Augusto Pinochet Vera and Avelina Ugarte Martínez. He went to primary and secondary school at the San Rafael Seminary of Valparaíso, the Quillota Institute (Marist Brothers), the French Fathers' School of Valparaíso, and in the Military School, which he entered in 1933. After four years of study, in 1937, he graduated with the rank of alférez (Second Lieutenant) in the infantry.
In September 1937, he was destined to the "Chacabuco" Regiment, in Concepción. Two years later, in 1939, then with the rank of sub-lieutenant, he moved to the "Maipo" Regiment, garrisoned in Valparaíso. He returned to Infantry School in 1940. On January 30, 1943, he married Lucía Hiriart Rodríguez, with whom he had five children: three daughters and two sons.
At the end of 1945, he was destined to the "Carampangue" Regiment, in the northern city of 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 service mission 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 at the War Academy, giving military geography and geopolitics classes. In addition to this, he was active as editor of the Institutional magazine Cien Águilas ("One Hundred Eagles").
At 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 to take up his new position. He also obtained a baccalaureate, and with this degree, he entered the University of Chile's Law School.
Pinochet (left) and Allende in 1973
In 1956 Pinochet was chosen, together with a group of other young officers, to form a military mission that would collaborate in the organization of the War Academy of Ecuador in Quito, which forced him to suspend his law studies. He remained with the Quito mission for three-and-a-half years, during which time he 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 Headquarters of the I Army Division, based in Antofagasta. The following year, he was appointed Commander of the "Esmeralda" Regiment. Due to his success in this position, he was appointed Sub-director of the War Academy in 1963.
In 1968, he was named Chief of Staff of the II Army Division, based in Santiago, and at the end of that year he was promoted to Brigadier General and Commander in Chief of the VI Division, garrisoned in Iquique. In his new function, he was also appointed Intendant of the Tarapacá Province.
In January 1971, he rose to Division General and was named General Commander 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 Army Commander in Chief on August 23, 1973 by president Salvador Allende.
Military coup of 1973
Main article: Chilean coup of 1973.
Pinochet (sitting) as head of the military junta.
General Pinochet came to power in a coup d'état on September 11, 1973, in which rebels bombed the Presidential Palace. President Allende died during the capture of the palace. The exact circumstances of his death are disputed. It is generally agreed that he committed suicide with an AK-47 assault rifle  (http://www.presidencia.gob.cl/view/viewGaleriaPresidentes.asp?id=31&seccion=Presidencia%20por%20Dentro&interfazseccion=Galeria%20Presidentes#a31) which bore a golden plate engraved "To my good friend Salvador Allende from Fidel Castro". However, some supporters still insist that he was killed by Pinochet's military forces while defending the palace.
Since Pinochet was the chief of the oldest branch of the military forces (the Army), he was made the head of the victorious junta — this position was originally to be rotated among the four branches, but was later made permanent. The junta immediately moved to crush their left-wing opposition, arresting hundreds and killing many of them. Thousands more were arrested and tortured over the next three years, and over 2,000 killed. Internationally, the Pinochet government became known for severe human rights abuses, including many "disappearances".
In his memoirs, Pinochet affirms that he was the leading plotter of the coup and used his position as Commander of the Army to coordinate a far-reaching scheme with the other two branches of the military and the national police. 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, and followed the lead of other branches (especially the Navy) as they triggered the coup.
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 being proclaimed President on June 27, 1974. He was also promoted to the supreme Army rank of Capitán General (literally Captain General), previously borne by colonial governors and by Bernardo O'Higgins, a hero of Chile's war of independence and first head of state.
Pinochet's economic policy
Pinochet as self-proclaimed President
Once in power, Pinochet immediately set about making market-oriented economic reforms. He declared that he wanted "to make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs". 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.
Pinochet launched an era of economic deregulation and privatization. To accomplish his objectives, he abolished the minimum wage, rescinded trade union rights, privatized the pension system, state industries, and banks, and lowered taxes on wealth and profits. Supporters of these policies (most notably Milton Friedman himself) have dubbed them "The Miracle of Chile", due to the 35% increase in real per capita GDP from 1960 to 1980 (later, from 1980 to 2000, it increased by 94%, but Pinochet was no longer in power after 1990). Opponents dispute this "miracle" label, pointing out that the unemployment rate increased from 4.3% in 1973 to 22% in 1983, while real wages declined by 40%. However, Pinochet did manage to address at least part of these problems during his final years as President, since unemployment was down to 7.8% in 1990. The shortage problems during the final years of Allende's administration were also remedied.
The privatizations, cuts in public spending and anti-union policies generally had a negative impact on Chile's working class and a positive one on the country's more wealthy strata.
The former President Allende's economic policy had involved nationalizations of many key companies, notably U.S.-owned copper mines. This had been the primary reason for the external (mostly American) opposition to Allende's government. Much of the internal opposition to Allende's policies was from business sectors, and recently released US government documents confirm that the U.S. funded the lorry driver's strike ( (http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,260382,00.html)), which was to a significant degree responsible for the chaotic situation just before the coup.
Suppression of opposition
Chile's military junta of 1973
Pinochet engaged in brutal and bloody political repression. Once in power, Pinochet ruled with an iron hand. Dissidents who were murdered for speaking out against Pinochet's policies are said to have "been disappeared." It is not known 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. In 2004, The National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture produced the Valech Report after interviewing an estimated 35,000 people, who claimed to have been abused by the regime. About 28,000 of those testimonies were regarded as legitimate.
Pinochet's presidency was frequently made unstable by riots and isolated violent attacks. Assassination attempts were common, which increased government paranoia and in the eyes of some contributed to the cycle of oppression.
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.
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. General 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, Argentina, two years earlier.
End of the Pinochet regime
From May 1983 the opposition and labour movements organized 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 Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), thought to be connected to the outlawed Communist Party. Pinochet suffered minor injuries.
According to the transitional provisions of the 1980 constitution approved in a tightly controlled plebiscite by 75% of voters, a plebiscite was scheduled for October 5, 1988, to vote on a new eight-year presidential term for Pinochet. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the plebiscite should be organized according to all the disposition of the Law of Elections. That included an "Electoral Space" during which all positions, in this case two, the Sí, and the No, would have two free slots of equal and uninterrupted TV time, simultaneously broadcasted by all TV channels, no political propaganda could be made outside those spots. The allotment was scheduled in two off-prime time slot: one before the afternoon news and the other before the late-night news, from 22:45 to 23:15 each night (evening news were from 20:30 to 21:30, and prime time from 21:30 to 22:30). The opposition, headed by Ricardo Lagos, took full advantage, producing colorful, upbeat advertisements, telling the Chilean people to vote "No". Lagos, in an interview, boldly called out Pinochet for all the "disappeared" persons. The Sí, spots, instead, were dark and tried to instill fear of a return to the chaos of the UP government, telling citizens that voting "no" was equivalent to voting for a return to those days.
In the plebiscite the advocates of a "No" vote won with a 55% versus 42% from the "Sí" option, and, again according to the provisions of the constitution, open presidential elections were held the next year, at the same time as the election of the congress that would have happened in either case. Pinochet left the presidency on March 11, 1990.
Due to the transitional provisions of the constitution, Pinochet remained as Commander-in-Chief of the Army until March 1998. He was then sworn in as a senator for life, a privilege first granted to former presidents with at least six years in office by the 1980 constitution. His senatorship and consequent immunity from prosecution protected him, and legal challenges only began after Pinochet had been arrested in Britain.
While traveling abroad, Pinochet was arrested in October 1998 in London, England, under an international arrest warrant issued by judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain, and he was placed under house arrest, initially in the clinic where he had just undergone back surgery, later in a luxurious rented house. The charges include 94 counts of torture of Spanish citizens and one count of conspiracy to commit torture. The government of Chile opposed his arrest, extradition, and trial.
There was a hard-fought 16-month legal battle in England over whether Pinochet was immune from prosecution as a former head of state. The highest court of the land, the House of Lords, decided that only charges after Britain had signed the International Convention against Torture in 1988 could be considered, but the ultimate outcome was that extradition could proceed.
However, after this decision was reached there were questions about Pinochet's allegedly fragile health, and after medical tests the Home Secretary Jack Straw ruled, despite the protests of legal and medical experts from several countries, that he should not be extradited, and on 2 March 2000 he returned to Chile.
Much had changed in Chile during this period as a consequence of Pinochet's arrest. Several hundreds of cases against him were submitted. Crucially, the practice of making victims disappear without trace rebounded on Pinochet: while all those involved had been granted an amnesty for crimes committed in the past, missing persons were deemed to be victims of an ongoing kidnapping which had not ended before the 1978 amnesty law cut-off. Pinochet was arrested, but the Supreme Court several times ruled that he was not fit to stand trial, on mental health grounds. He later gave a lengthy, and lucid, television interview, claiming he was never a dictator; victims' lawyers claimed that this was evidence that he was fit to stand trial. In January 2005 the Supreme Court upheld his indictment on murder and kidnapping charges; the outcome is not known at the time of writing.
Legal action after return to Chile
In 2000 the Santiago Court of Appeals voted 13 to 9 to strip Pinochet of his parliamentary immunity, and he was prosecuted. However, the cases were dismissed by the Supreme Court for medical reasons (vascular dementia) in July 2002. Shortly after the verdict, he resigned from Congress and lived quietly. He rarely made public appearances, and was notably absent from the events marking the 30th anniversary of the coup, on September 11, 2003. Two years later, on May 28, 2004 the Court of Appeals voted 14 to 9 to revoke Pinochet's dementia status, and thus his immunity from prosecution. In arguing their case, the prosecution presented a recent television interview Pinochet made to a Miami-based television network. The judges found that the interview raised doubts about the mental incapacity of Pinochet. On August 26, 2004, in a 9 to 8 vote the Supreme Court confirmed the decision that Pinochet should lose his senatorial immunity from prosecution. On December 2, 2004 the Santiago Appeals Court stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution over the 1974 assassination of his predecessor, Gen. Carlos Prats, who was killed by a car bomb during exile in Argentina. On December 13, 2004 Judge Juan Guzmán placed Pinochet under house arrest and indicted him over the disappearance of nine opposition activists and the killing of one of them during his regime.
A year-long U.S. Senate investigatory committee released a report about Riggs Bank on July 15, 2004, which had solicited Pinochet and controlled between $4 million and $8 million of his assets. According to the report, Riggs participated in money laundering for Pinochet, setting up offshore shell corporations (referring to Pinochet only as "a former public official") and hiding his accounts from regulatory agencies. The report said the violations were "symptomatic of uneven and, at times, ineffective enforcement by all federal bank regulators of bank compliance with their anti-money laundering obligations." Five days later a Chilean court formally opened an investigation into Pinochet's finances for the first time on allegations of fraud, misappropriation of funds and bribery. Then, a few hours later, the state prosecutor Chile's State Defense Council (Consejo de Defensa del Estado), presented a second request for the same judge to investigate Pinochet's assets but without directly accusing him of crimes. On October 1, 2004 Chile's Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Internos) filed a lawsuit against Pinochet, accusing him of fraud and tax evasion, for the amount of 3.6 million dollars in investment accounts at Riggs between 1996 and 2002. Pinochet could face fines totaling 300 percent of the amount owed and prison time if convicted.
Chileans remain divided on his legacy. Some see him as a brutal dictator who ended democracy and led a regime characterized by torture and favoritism towards the rich, while others believe that he saved the country from Communism and led the transformation of the Chilean economy into a modern and very successful one.
On the economy, Pinochet's reforms had mixed success. After a downturn at the end of the 1960s, Chile's economy entered a period of growth when Allende was elected. However, by the time the coup took place in 1973, the economy was in disarray. Things initially grew worse during Pinochet's rule. Unemployment spiralled from 4.4% in 1973 to 19.9% in 1976, peaking at 30.4% in 1983. (http://www.unc.edu/home/pconway/aea2000/Chilemac.pdf) Although Pinochet's reforms attracted massive foreign investment, very little of that money was invested in production. The price of Chile's exports fell and wages were reduced. Income distribution became more regressive, and both relative and actual poverty increased. Homelessness and malnutrition, which had been reduced under Allende, became more widespread, and there was a sharp increase in the infant mortality rate. Many small businesses went bankrupt whilst the economy, including newly privatised industries, came to be dominated by monopolies with connections to the junta and by foreign corporations. Inflation peaked in 1976, but was then slashed and the economy started to grow again towards the end of the 1970s. Although unemployment remained high, poverty started to fall. However, a second recession hit Chile in 1982, and the economy did not start to grow again until 1986. Unemployment also started to decline, and had fallen to 7.8% in 1990, when Pinochet left the Presidency. Some years later, during the 1990s, the newly democratic Chile enjoyed an economic boom. Growth during this period far exceeded anything in the rest of Latin America. As of 2004, Chile is now considered an example of success, having sustained export and GDP growth through many years. The relationship between Pinochet's policies and this post-Pinochet boom remains an issue of controversy.
Any doubts about the human rights abuses carried out by the Pinochet regime have been stilled by several detailed reports and the emergence of evidence. As of January 2005 the Chilean Army has accepted institutional responsibility for past abuses. Other institutions accept that abuses took place, but blame them on individuals rather than official policy. Lucia Pinochet Hiriart, August Pinochet's eldest daughter, has said the use of torture during his 1973-90 regime was "barbaric and without justification" after seeing the Valech Report.
1 Pronunciation: SAMPA: /aw"gusto pino"tSEt/; IPA: /aw'gusto/ or /a'gusto/, /pino'ʧεt/ or /pino'ʧε/.
2 Many human rights organizations say more than 200,000 were arrested and tortured. The recently released Valech Report tells of some 28,000 arrests in which the majority of those were tortured.
- Augusto Pinochet Ugarte Foundation (http://www.pinochet.cl/) (In Spanish)
- BBC coverage (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/special_report/1998/10/98/the_pinochet_file/newsid_198000/198306.stm) (special report)
- Article: "Doubts Remain over Pinochet's Fate: Chile's 'antiquated penal code' could be his undoing" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3604122.stm)
- "The crimes of Augusto Pinochet" (http://www.trentu.ca/~mneumann/pinochet.html) (several case studies)
- Article: "Persistent Persecution of Pinochet" (http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/2000/04-10-2000/vo16no08_pinochet.htm) (The New American)
- Valech report on political imprisonment and torture, November 2004 (in Spanish) (http://www.gobiernodechile.cl/comision_valech/index.asp)