- (December 1999)
Pinochet: the other side of the story.
While all eyes are on Britain's struggle to decide whether general Pinochet
should be extradited to Spain as a criminal or returned to his homeland as
an ex ruler, something historical is happening in Chile. Since 1973, when
Pinochet killed the democratically-elected communist president Allende and
seized power, the world has heard only one version of the facts: Pinochet was
an evil man, a little Hitler of the impoverished south, who made thousands
of opponents "disappear" and ruled brutally over poor Chileans.
The story is quite different, and is finally being told, of all people, by
Pinochet's own enemies: the Socialist Party, which hopes to win the next
elections thanks to its revisionist attitudes.
Although it does not promote Pinochet among angels, the new version of the
facts shows that blame was not all on one side, and that many Chileans were
more than pleased by the infamous coup.
Ricardo Lagos, the socialist candidate to president, has admitted that Allende
made several mistakes which sent Chile's economy plunging into a free fall.
He has admitted that Allende's government was "experimenting" beyond the
constitutional law, by allowing communist-inspired abuses against private
property. He clearly blamed Allende for the country's hyperinflation, shortages
and financial collapse that were mentioned by Pinochet as the very reasons
for seizing power. Nunez Munoz in person, the elderly president of the
Socialist Party, criticized those who think that the CIA was responsible for
the coup. While the United States obviously did not feel too sorry, it was
Allende's own debacle.
The truth is that Pinochet's coup against Allende was welcomed by many,
as any visitor to Chile in those years can report.
The Christian Democrats, the largest party in Chile, approved the coup, albeit
with reservations. Patricio Aylwin (who would become Chile's first democratically elected president after Pinochet's resignations) thanked the army for "saving Chile's democracy".
Students and workers were persecuted, and the methods cannot be excused.
But there is also no doubt that Chile's economy started reviving almost
immediately, and within a few years it overtook all the economies of South
America. Chile came to be called "the Switzerland of Latin America", thanks
to its cleanniness, efficiency and (relative) wealth. So much so, that today
most Latin-american economies are clearly inspired by Pinochet's experiment,
and the leader of neighboring Peru, Fujimori, has clearly replicated Pinochet's
authoritarian strategies (with equal success, at least initially).
While the West was flooded by communist propaganda describing Chile as hell,
Pinochet was probably enjoying the highest approval rate in the whole of
Latin America. He is the only dictator in modern history who let people vote
against him. It is now clear that Pinochet was convinced of winning that
referendum. He lost it by a very narrow margin. Two or three years earlier,
when Chileans were still afraid of a revival of communism, he would have won it.
Proof is that Allende's disciples have lost all elections since the return
to democracy. Over and over again, Chileans have voted to keep the leftists out
of the government.
It appears that, 30 years later, the Left is finally capable of facing its
guilt, not only of exposing Pinochet's guilt.
All of this does not erase the crimes committed by the army, crimes which
Pinochet must have been aware of, crimes committed mostly against unarmed
students. But the fact that socialists are finally able to face "their"
responsabilities in that national tragedy bodes well for the national
reconciliation. Now that they too apologized to the nation, they can aspire
to the post of president.
Note for Europeans: There is a widespread belief in Europe that Allende was
"democratically" elected by the majority of Chileans. That is not correct.
Allende's party only won 36% of the votes. Allende was elected by Chile's parliament in a confused and rigged procedure. After being elected, Allende proceeded
to change the rules of the game in order to guarantee that his party would truly win all future elections (a` la Soviet Union). Not only the facts prove it, but Allende even said it in public that his goal had become to make "the revolution irreversible" and to "destroy the burgeois state". Eventually, Chile's parliament tried to revoke his mandate (an impeachment motion failed by only two votes), but Allende refused to resign. That is when the army took over and installed Pinochet. There was certainly nothing democratic in Pinochet's coup, but there was also little that can be called "democratic" in Allende's election and in his government.
Note of December 2001:
The UDI, founded as the right-wing party of Pinochet's followers, increased
its share of the votes to 25% in 2001, thereby becoming the largest party in
Chile. Ricardo Lagos is still president, but Joaquin Lavin looks set to win
the next presidential election in 2005.