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The Death of a Dictator and his Authoritarian Legacy

by Gjermund E Jansen Tue Dec 12th, 2006 at 04:28:30 PM EST


Augusto Pinochet
On Sunday the 91 year old Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet died of heart complications at the Santiago Military hospital.  The death of Pinochet closes a chapter in Chile's history that involves the deposing of a legally elected government and the introduction of one of the most ruthless dictatorships South-America has experienced.

Augusto Pinochet was born in the Chilean city of Valparaiso in 1915.  After ending primary and secondary school at the San Rafael Seminary of Valparaíso he joined the Military School in 1933 starting a military career that allegedly was pushed on him by his mother and even encouraged further by his ambitious spouse Lucia.  

The young Pinochet rose through the officer corps in an army based on Prussian traditions of discipline and loyalty to the constitution, but as early as the 1950s he was involved in political struggles, as he headed the clampdown on the Chilean Communist party.

Paradoxically though, it was for his apparent lack of political ambition that he advanced to the rank of general under the left-wing Popular Unity government led by Salvador Allende in the early 1970s, a career that was finally crowned by Pinochet's appointment to Army Commander in Chief on August 23, 1973.
   


Pinochet the Junta leader


Pinochet in front as the Junta leader
(click for a larger image)
What President Allende didn't realize though was that Pinochet had other plans and that his ambitions were greater than becoming the Army commander-in-chief and short of a month later the general used his newly acquired position as Army commander to coordinate a coup d'etat against the Allende government resulting in the death of the democratically elected president and the setting up of a military junta lead by Pinochet himself.

The Junta, made up of a quartet of General Pinochet representing the Army, Admiral José Toribio Merino representing the Navy, General Gustavo Leigh representing the Air Force, and General César Mendoza representing the Carabineros (uniformed police), moved quickly in order to neutralize the opposition and soon the Chilean Parliament was closed down, all political and trade union activity was banned, and in 1974 the Junta appointed their leader as president of the Chilean Republic.

By mid 1975 the new regime set about introducing a series of economical reforms influenced by the free-market philosophy of Milton Friedman and to be formulated by a set of economists trained at the University of Chicago, USA, nicknamed the Chicago Boys.  The aim according to Pinochet was to:

"make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs."
The policy led to an extensive privatization and deregulation of the economy resulting in a substantial growth, a growth that paradoxically was very much dependent on the performance of the state owned copper company Codelco nationalized by the Allende government.  

As Pinochet began to consolidate his power, being a man of some experience in rooting out opposition, he turned on his critics and began a policy of persecution leading to mass arrests, assassinations, torture and the mass exodus of people that opposed the new military regime.    

Operation Condor and the persecution of the opposition


Top, left to right: Pinochet with the Bolivian
dictator Hugo Banzer Souarez (1975), and
with the Argentinean dictator Jorge Videla
(1978), and below with the Paraguayan
dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1974)
(Click for larger image)
During the 1970s Chile was not the only country that fell victim to a military take over in South-America.  

Bolivia had experienced a military coup some nine years earlier when the general and vice-president René Barrientos had ousted the democratically elected President and assumed Presidential powers himself.  

But Barrientos reign was cut short by his death in a helicopter crash in 1969 and after a short interim period a new strong man of German ancestry by the name of Hugo Banzer Suarez, sized the power through another bloody coup and assumed the Presidency, a position he held for seven years without democratic elections.    

Parallel to Barrientos take over in Bolivia another military coup was successfully executed in the neighbouring country of Brazil by the army chief of staff, Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco.  

In the beginning Castelo Branco tried to maintain a degree of democracy but had to give in to the hard-liners and accept the succession of Minister of Army Costa e Silva, a move that strengthened the military's position as the supreme political power in the country, a position they would hold for 21 years.  

In Paraguay another right wing general of German decent had assumed dictatorial powers some 10 years before and was busy formulating a policy of persecution against the opposition in general and the left wing opposition in particular.  His name was Alfredo Stroessner, a man known to have definite sympathies to ex-Nazis and ex-Fascists, whom he according to sources used as military instructors, and some  were even incorporated into his own army as commissioned officers.

With the seizure of power in the two countries Uruguay and Argentina by right wing military regimes in 1973 and 1976 respectively, the stage was set for a coordinated policy against so-called left wing elements all over the South-American continent and beyond, a coordinated policy dubbed Operation Condor.

The Condor plan was initiated in a meeting between security service representatives of the five participating countries Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay held at the headquarters of the Chilean Intelligence Service (DINA) in Santiago in 1975.  

The meeting was held in a period of cold war rivalry between the Soviet Union and the USA and the right wing Juntas saw the left wing opposition as a proxy for the Soviet Union in their fight against the US and themselves.  The fact that left wing guerrilla movements emerged in many of these South-American countries during the 1960s and 70s was seen as a threat to these Juntas very existence and thus had to be dealt with no matter the consequences.

Update [2007-1-31 5:12:36 by Jerome a Paris]: The following blockquote was originally written, word for word, by J. Patrice McSherry, Professor of Political Science and Director, Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS), Long Island University, in this article: Operation Condor: Deciphering the U.S. Role and should have been attributed to her. Another paragraph below is similarly a verbatim, but unattributed quote from Dr McSherry's work, and it was necessary to credit her work.

In this context, U.S. national security strategists and their Latin American counterparts began to regard large sectors of these societies as potentially or actually subversive.  

The doctrine gave the militaries a messianic mission: to remake their states and societies and eliminate "subversion." Political and social conflict was viewed through the lens of counter subversive war; the counterinsurgents believed that world communism had infiltrated their societies.  

Operation Condor allowed the Latin American militaries to put into practice a key strategic concept of national security doctrine: hemispheric defence defined by ideological frontiers, superseding the more limited concept of territorial defence.  

(...) Condor was a covert intelligence and operations system that enabled the Latin American military states to hunt down, seize, and execute political opponents across borders. Refugees fleeing military coups and repression in their own countries were "taken care of" in combined transnational operations irregardless of international law

, the best known Condor operation probably being the killing of the Chilean ex-diplomat and anti-Pinochet activist Orlando Letelier and his assistance Ronni Karpen Moffitt in a car-bomb explosion in Washington D.C. in 1976.  

At the heart of this covert network of operations was Pinochet's most trusted man, the intelligence chief Manuel Contreras, also known as "Condor One."  General Manuel Contreras had been appointed head of the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) in 1973 and was, according to the report "CIA activities in Chile" released on September 19, 2000, CIA's contact in Chile during the years from 1974 to 1977.  

The US link:"We'll get by with a little help from our friends."


Countries that participated in Operation
Condor (countries in pink, partly participating
through intelligence cooperation)
(click for a larger image)
The US knowledge of and involvement in Operation Condor has later been confirmed by declassified documents both in the US and in participating South-American countries, but the roots of US involvement in the region stretches back to the 19th century when the South-American colonies fought a war of independence with  Spain.  

The emergence of militant left wing movements in many Latin-American countries during the 1960s and 70s made the US administrations realize that in order to stymie the surge of left wing movements they had to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy.  

As a consequence the Johnson administration began the active lobbying and support of what they believed were anti-communist candidates throughout South-America in an effort to roll back the surge of left wing radicalism.  

The more aggressive foreign policy also involved cross-border cooperation between military and law-enforcement personnel like the US Office of Public Safety's (OPS) training of Uruguayan police and intelligence in policing and interrogation techniques, allegedly including the training of torture techniques, to help the Uruguayans defeat the Tupamaros guerrilla that operated in the urban areas of the country.  

Soon, active US intervention against unwanted political candidates in Latin-American countries was an accepted foreign policy strategy within the State department and during the 1964 and 1970 Presidential elections in Chile a covert anti-Allende campaign was launched by the CIA.  The anti-Allende campaign in 1964 contributed to Allende's defeat while the CIA campaign launched against Allende in 1970, dubbed Project FUBELT, was unsuccessful.  Still the message was clear.  The United States would not sit idly by while so-called anti-American candidates ran for office in countries within the US sphere of influence, especially when they ran for office in their own "backyard."  

Allende's victory didn't stop the US from continuing its campaign against his government.  According to some sources a secret cable sent from Thomas Karamessines, the CIA Deputy Director of Plans, to the Santiago CIA station, dated October 16, 1970, confirmed the United States commitment to undermine the Allende government, saying;

"It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup ... it is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [United States Government] and American hand be well hidden" Karamessines, 1970.
One potential ally within the Chilean military was General Roberto Viaux, who was planning a coup with loyal military officers, but the CIA decided that Viaux's plan was to risky and decided to opt out.  Viaux on the other hand continued to pursue his plan and on October 22, 1970, he kidnapped the Chilean Army Chief of Staff at the time General René Schneider, but Schneider resisted and ended up getting killed.

The U.S. role in the Pinochet coup in 1973 itself remains a highly controversial matter. Claims of their direct involvement in the actual coup are neither proven nor contradicted by publicly available documentary evidence; many potentially relevant documents still remain classified, but what is quite clear is that the coup was very much welcomed by the Nixon administration, which began providing the new military regime with material support soon after the coup.  

The US support was soon extended to most of the other military regimes in the region as well, including the covert intelligence network of Operation Condor.  In order for the network to be efficient it needed a secure line of communication between the participants, something the United States facilitated through their military headquarter in the Panama Canal Zone, at the time.    

[editor's note, by Jerome a Paris] Another paragraph quoted verbatim from Dr McSherry's article

According to The 1978 Roger Channel cable from Robert White, then Ambassador to Paraguay, to the Secretary of State, discovered by research in February 2001, a declassified State Department document, links Operation Condor to the former U.S. military headquarters in the Panama Canal Zone.

In the cable, White reported a meeting with Paraguayan armed forces chief General Alejandro Fretes Davalos. Fretes identified the Panama Canal Zone base of the U.S. military as the site of a secure transnational communications center for Condor. According to Fretes Davalos, intelligence chiefs from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay used "an encrypted system within the U.S. telecommunications network," which covered all of Latin America, to "coordinate intelligence information."  White drew the connection to Operation Condor and questioned whether the arrangement was in the U.S. interest.    

Above mentioned sources clearly shows that the United States had the knowledge of and even supported the covert network, a network that seized to exist after the fall of the Galtieri regime in Argentina in 1982.  

The end of a dictatorship

During the 1980s most of the right wing military regimes in South-America had fallen and been substituted with democratically elected regimes.  In Chile the opposition and labour movements began to organize demonstrations and strikes against the regime, provoking violent responses from government officials.  The violent response from the government led to counter-violence from militant oppositional groups reaching its peak with the assassination attempt on Pinochet in 1986 by a communist guerrilla called the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR).  

In 1988 a plebiscite was held on a new eight-year presidential term for Pinochet, a plebiscite Pinochet lost.  This triggered multi-candidate presidential elections in 1989 to choose his replacement.  Open elections were held a year later in which Pinochet had to transfer his presidential powers to the newly elected President Patricio Aylwin, Chiles first democratically elected President in 17 years.  

Pinochet kept the position as Commander-in-Chief and was sworn in as a life-time Senator the same year.  In 1998, Gen Pinochet finally relinquished his post as commander-in-chief and the very next day, he took up his parliamentary seat as a senator-for-life.

He seemed untouchable until his arrest and subsequent detention in London in October that same year, after an extradition request from Spain, but was released from custody a year later and allowed back to Chile due to health reasons.  

In July 2002, all charges against Gen Pinochet were dropped, after the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that he was mentally unfit to stand trial, but two years later a United States Senate money laundering investigation uncovered a network of over 125 securities and bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other U.S. financial institutions used by Pinochet and his associates for twenty-five years to secretly move millions of dollars.  This led to a Chilean court ruling lifting Pinochet's immunity from prosecution for fraud in 2005 and placing him under house arrest, a position the old dictator remained in until his passing away last Sunday.  

The Chilean government said in a statement on Monday that Pinochet would not receive a state funeral.


This article is also available at Bitsofnews.com.


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Gjermund! Good to see you back (and with one of your solid diaries too!)

By the way, have you heard about this Progressive Historians site...your writing would fit well there too...

Anyway, in a Zurich paper I saw a disturbing photo today. Three young people stnading over the fascist dictators open casket and giving him the fascist salute. It made me gag...

Thanks for posting this.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Tue Dec 12th, 2006 at 04:54:32 PM EST
Thanks Bob, for those kind words.  Yes I have heard of it through the grape vine so to speak, but I can not say that I am to familiar with the site.  

Yes, disturbing indeed.  Fascism still seems to attract some youngsters like moth to candlelight and the Chilean people seems to be divided over their judgement of the dictator's legacy, but usually these extremists are on the fringes of society and thus are more words than action.  

That said, there are a larger portion of Pinochet supporters, but they are not that visible and not that extreme.  I have had some discussions with Chilean expatriates over the recent events and most of them are condemning Pinochet and his legacy for the obvious reason that most of these people are former progressives that were consider as enemies of the Chilean state by
Pinochet's regime.  
   

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Tue Dec 12th, 2006 at 05:10:53 PM EST
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