Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chilean Patriot Augusto Pinochet Passes On


General Augusto Pinochet (pictured at left, courtesy of Deseret Morning News), who stepped forward at a critical time in Chile's history to save it from Communist dictatorship, died on Sunday, December 10, 2006 after a series of illnesses, culminating in a fatal heart attack. His death puts an end to a decade of intensifying persecution by a wide variety of foes over actions taken during his presidency to neutralize Communist influence and stabilize the country. He was 91. Original story, significantly biased against Pinochet, from the Deseret News.

Even his death did not still the controversy attendant to his name and reputation. Hundreds of Pinochet supporters gathered outside the hospital, weeping and trading insults with people in passing cars. Some shouted "Long Live Pinochet!" and sang Chile's national anthem. However, many other Chileans saw Pinochet's death as a reason for celebration. Some celebrations were festive and even joyous, as hundreds of cheering, flag-waving people crowded a major plaza in the capital, Santiago, drinking champagne and throwing confetti. However, just blocks away on Santiago's main avenue, violent clashes broke out between police and Pinochet opponents who threw rocks at cars and set up fire barricades on the city's main avenue. Police were forced to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the rabble. Police said 23 officers, including a major and a captain, were injured, and added that there were a number of arrests.

Information about his pre-presidential life is available from Wikipedia. Augusto Pinochet's date with destiny began shortly after Chileans elected Marxist Salvador Allende president of Chile in 1970. His election is still considered a fluke, as he won a three-way race in which he received far less than 50% of the vote (somewhat like Tony Knowles' gubernatorial "victory" over Republican Jim Campbell and Alaska Independence Party candidate Jack Coghill in 1994). According to Wikipedia, Allende, who headed the Popular Unity movement, received 36.61% of the vote, while Independent Conservative candidate Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez got 35.27%. Christian Democratic Party candidate Radomiro Tomic finished a distant third with 28.11%. One can surmise by the name "Christian Democratic" that had Tomic not been in the race, most of his voters most likely would have voted for Alessandri, changing the outcome.

However, because none of the candidates received an absolute majority of votes as prescribed by Chile's then-effective 1925 Constitution, the National Congress had to decide between the two candidates who had received the most votes, Allende and Alessandri. The precedent set on the three previous occasions this situation had arisen since 1932 was for Congress simply to choose the candidate with the highest number of votes; indeed, former president Alessandri had been elected in 1958 with 31.6% of the popular vote, defeating the same Allende.

In this case, however, there was an active campaign against Allende's confirmation by Congress, including the initiation of a CIA-organized informational campaign expressing concerns about Chile's future under the Marxist Allende. During this period the CIA generated over 726 articles, broadcasts and similar items. The CIA also encouraged international economic pressure against Chile during this period. In response to tentative feelers extended by Chilean patriots, the United States also began to lay the groundwork for possible assistance to a military coup, authorizing the Ambassador to Chile to encourage further exploration of this outcome amongst his contacts within the Chilean military.

Despite these efforts, the Chilean Congress eventually ratified Allende's presidency, after he agreed to sign a "Statute of Constitutional Guarantees", promising not to undermine the Chilean Constitution.

However, while Allende did not set out to undermine the Constitution, he wasted little time in undermining the country as a whole. He nationalized large-scale industries (notably copper mining and banking), and implemented government administration of the health care system, educational system, a program of free milk for children, and a greatly expanded plan of land seizure and redistribution. The Allende government's intention was to seize all holdings of more than eighty basic irrigated hectares. Because Chilean presidents were allowed a maximum of six years, Allende considered it necessary to move quickly, to the discomfiture of many of the country's citizens. Not only did he have a significant restructuring program organized, but it had to demonstrate immediate success if a Socialist successor to Allende was going to be elected in 1976.

The Allende government then announced it would default on debts owed to international creditors and foreign governments. Allende also froze all prices while raising salaries. His implementation of these policies led to strong opposition by landowners, some middle-class sectors, the rightist National Party, the Roman Catholic Church, and eventually the Christian Democrats.

And there was some initial success, although it proved illusory. In the first year of Allende's term, the short-term economic results of Minister of the Economy Pedro Vuskovic's expansive monetary policy were unambiguously favorable: 12% industrial growth and an 8.6% increase in GDP, accompanied by major declines in inflation (down from 34.9% to 22.1%) and unemployment (down to 3.8%). However, these results were not sustained, and in 1972, the Chilean escudo had runaway inflation of 140%. The average Real GDP contracted between 1971 and 1973 at an annual rate of 5.6% ("negative growth"); and the government's fiscal deficit soared while foreign reserves declined. The combination of inflation and government-mandated price-fixing, together with the "disappearance" of basic commodities from supermarket shelves, led to the rise of black markets in rice, beans, sugar, and flour.

In 1971, following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, despite a previously established Organization of American States convention that no nation in the Western Hemisphere would do so (the only exceptions being Mexico and Canada, which had refused to adopt that convention), Cuban president Fidel Castro took a month-long visit to Chile. The visit, in which Castro participated actively in the internal politics of the country, holding massive rallies and giving public advice to Allende, was seen by those on the political right as proof to support their view that "The Chilean Path to Socialism" was an effort to put Chile on the same path as Cuba.

October 1972 saw the first of what were to be a wave of confrontational strikes. One, by owners of trucks, was joined by small businessmen, some (mostly professional) unions, and some student groups. Other than the inevitable damage to the economy, the chief effect of the 24-day strike was to induce Allende to bring the head of the army, general Carlos Prats, into the government as Interior Minister.

In addition to the earlier-discussed provision of employment, Allende also raised wages on a number of occasions throughout 1970 and 1971; these wages hikes were negated by in-tandem inflation of Chile's fiat currency. Although price rises had also been high under Frei (27% a year between 1967 and 1970), a basic basket of consumer goods rose by 120% from 190 to 421 escudos in one month alone, August 1972. In the period 1970-72, while Allende was in government, exports fell 24% and imports rose 26%, with imports of food rising an estimated 149% [figures are from Nove, 1986, pp4-12, tables 1.1 & 1.7]. Although nominal wages were rising, there was not a commensurate increase in the standard of living.

Export income fell due to a decline in the price of copper on international markets; copper being the single most important export (more than half of Chile's export receipts were from this sole commodity. Adverse fluctuation in the international price of copper negatively affected the economy throughout 1971-72: The price of copper fell from a peak of $66 per ton in 1970 to only $48-49 in 1971 and 1972.

Throughout his presidency, Allende remained at odds with the Chilean Congress, which was dominated by the Christian Democratic Party. The Christian Democrats (who had campaigned on a socialist platform in the 1970 elections, but drifted away from those positions during Allende's presidency, eventually forming a coalition with the National Party), continued to accuse Allende of leading Chile toward a Cuban-style dictatorship, and sought to overturn many of his more radical policies. Allende and his opponents in Congress repeatedly accused each other of undermining the Chilean Constitution and acting undemocratically.

Allende's increasingly bold socialist policies (partly in response to pressure from some of the more radical members within his coalition), combined with his close contacts with Cuba, heightened fears in Washington. The Nixon administration began exerting economic pressure on Chile via multilateral organizations, and continued to back Allende's opponents in the Chilean Congress. Almost immediately after his election, Nixon directed CIA and U.S. State Department officials to "put pressure" on Allende's government.

Matters came to a head on June 29, 1973, when a tank regiment under the command of Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the presidential palace (La Moneda) in an unsuccessful coup attempt known as the Tanquetazo. On August 9, General Carlos Prats was made Minister of Defense, but this decision proved so unpopular with the military that, on August 22, he was forced to resign not only this position but his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Army; he was replaced in the latter role by General Pinochet.

For some months now, the government had been afraid to call upon the national police known as the Carabineros, for fear of their lack of loyalty. A constitutional crisis was clearly in the offing: the Supreme Court publicly complained about the government's inability to enforce the law of the land and, on August 22, the Chamber of Deputies (with the Christian Democrats now firmly uniting with the National Party) accused Allende's government of unconstitutional acts and called on the military ministers to assure the constitutional order. Among other things, Allende was accused of disregarding the courts, attempting to restrict freedom of speech, and supporting unauthorized seizures of farms and private industry for the purpose of establishing state control of the economy.

In early September 1973, Allende floated the idea of resolving the crisis with a plebiscite. His speech outlining such a solution was scheduled for September 12, but he was never able to deliver it. On September 11, 1973, Pinochet acted and overthrew Salvador Allende. After warplanes bombed the presidential palace, Allende killed himself with a submachine gun given him by Fidel Castro rather than be taken prisoner.

While Pinochet quickly prevailed, the aftermath, as is the case in many sudden changes of government, was a bit messy. Some were horrified as Santiago's main soccer stadium filled with political prisoners, some of who were tortured, shot or forced into exile. Chile's current government claims that 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during his 17-year rule (the Rettig Report claims a more modest 2,095), yet has nothing to say about the mearly 3,000 Chinese people who were massacred in one night's orgy of slaughter by the Chicoms in Tiananmen Square in Beijing back on June 4th, 1989.

Pinochet soon revitalized the Chilean economy. Under the influence of a group of Chilean economists who had mostly studied at the University of Chicago Department of Economics (the Chicago Boys), he implemented a set of economic reforms during the dictatorial period that included deregulation and privatization. Among others, they privatized the pension system, state industries, and banks, and reduced taxes. Pinochet's aim was to "make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs." The main copper company, Codelco, remained in government hands due the nationalization of copper established by Salvador Allende, however, private companies were allowed to explore and develop new mines.

Supporters of Friedman's view argue that subsequent events in Chile have vindicated his free market philosophy: Chile's economy is noticeably stronger and more advanced than those of other Latin American nations. Chile's annual growth in per capita real income from 1985 to 1996 averaged 7%, far above the rest of Latin America.

Chile had a strong economic recession in 1982-1983, and most of the recovery and subsequent growth took place after Pinochet left office. While enacting certain changes, the four successive civilian administrations that followed Pinochet, including that of current Socialist president Michelle Bachelet, have not tried to dismantle the Chicago Boys' policies, but they have been making several efforts to reduce the social inequity produced by this model. So even his persecutors acknowledge the worthiness of his economic reforms.

Unlike real dictators like Stalin and Mao, Pinochet gave up power voluntarily. In 1988, after 55% of voters voted against extending Pinochet's term by an additional 6 years, Pinochet graciously accepted the result and allowed multi-candidate presidential elections in 1989 to choose his replacement. Open presidential elections were held the next year, at the same time as congressional elections that would have taken place in either case. Pinochet left the presidency on March 11, 1990 and transferred power to Patricio Aylwin, the new democratically elected president.

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 began only after Pinochet had been arrested in the United Kingdom in 1998 in response to an international arrest warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon (we Americans aren't the only ones who have problems with rogue judges). Pinochet had entered the United Kingdom seeking medical treatment, and the British government took advantage of his condition to detain him and place him under house arrest. He was eventually released on medical grounds by the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

He returned to Chile and resigned his senatorial seat in 2002, after a Supreme Court ruling that he suffered from "vascular dementia" and therefore could not stand trial for human rights abuses — allegations of abuses which had been made numerous times before his arrest, 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. By the time of his death, more than 200 criminal complaints had been filed against him and the Chilean government, in an astounding act of chutzpah, had placed him under house arrest.

There have also been allegations of personal corruption on Pinochet's part. A U.S. Senate investigative committee found Pinochet kept multimillion-dollar secret accounts at the Riggs Bank in Washington. Investigators said he had up to $17 million in foreign accounts, and owed $9.8 million in back taxes.

On November 25th, Pinochet's 91st birthday, in a final act to reconciliate the nation, he issued the following public statement, read by his wife Lucia Hiriart, "Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbour no rancour against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all. ... I take political responsibility for everything that was done"

The Chilean government said Sunday that Pinochet will not receive the state funeral normally granted to a former president, but only military honors at the Santiago military academy. While the Chilean flag will not be lowered to half-mast nationwide in Chile, the government has authorized the flag to be lowered at military installations nationwide. President Michelle Bachelet, who was imprisoned and mistreated during the dictatorship, recently said it would be "a violation of my conscience" to attend a state funeral for Pinochet.

As he requested, Pinochet will be cremated, according to son Marco Antonio, to avoid desecration of his tomb by "people who always hated him." Pinochet is survived by his wife, Lucia, two sons and three daughters.

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