Published: 14/12/2006

Gerardo Iglesias, IUF Regional Secretary for Latin America, and Carlos Amorín

Former dictator Augusto Pinochet achieved many of the things he set out to do, but by dying of natural causes in a hospital bed at a ripe old age, surrounded by loved ones and with a fan club (however small in numbers) mourning him in the streets, he doubtless realized his final and most macabre dream.

The facts are abundantly documented – the murders, “disappearances”, tortures and other human rights violations, as well as the sordid fortune amassed through murder, theft, and arms and drug trafficking, topped off by the thinly veiled compensations for his subservience to the great global powers and for the betrayal of his people and his neighboring nations.

The “timorousness” of the Chilean justice system in the Pinochet case leaves a sickeningly bitter taste in our mouths. The handling of Pinochet contrasts with the vigorous attitude displayed in other cases, like that of the three Uruguayan military officers who, on Pinochet’s orders, kidnapped the chemist Eugenio Berríos and held him captive in Uruguay, under democratic rule. The body of Berríos would later be found buried on an Uruguayan beach. These three military officers were extradited to Chile, where they were charged and released on bail, without permission to leave the country. The general, however, could go on laughing.

Pinochet was not an evil specter, but rather the most finely tuned product of an army bred from the start in the purest and harshest of Prussian traditions, spiked with strong doses of Nazism and Catholic fundamentalism. Pinochet and his regime turned Chile into a gigantic laboratory for the application of the most abhorrent theories of the Chicago Boys. The deadly economists found a perfect executor in the butcher of Santiago, laying the foundations of an economic model that, with some variations, persists to this day.

Pinochet rode to power on the back of the Cold War, loaded with ammunition from the ITT Corporation; his mission was to reduce to ashes what was then one of the most organized and politically active and aware peoples of Latin America. The cruelty and brutally of the repression were proportional to the fear that these popular organizations aroused in the local and global dominating classes.

Under his dictatorship, repression of the labour movement was total. No more unions, no more talk of labour rights, no more collective bargaining agreements, wages reduced to nothing more than a handout, and a bullet for anyone who dared protest. The “Chilean model” was not only built on 30 thousand disappeared, but also on a suffocated, threatened, controlled, persecuted and starved people.

Pinochet and his henchmen went farther than anyone else in the construction of a regime that placed no limits on business. It didn’t take long for transnational corporations to perceive the enormous benefits offered by that national military complex that behaved like an occupation army, and they set up shop in Chile with great fanfare. The foundations of that system remain to a great extent intact. The political and legal impunity secured by Pinochet and the classes that backed him and benefited from his crimes forces us to keep a careful watch on Chile’s future. The murderer’s death should serve to unleash a decisive struggle forcing Chilean society to define the place of Pinochet –and everything he symbolizes – in the country’s history, a task which means placing in those same pages of history the other face of Chile: the humanizing and democratizing face that remains symbolized by Salvador Allende.

The indications are not promising, and not only in Chile. In Argentina, for example, we should be greatly alarmed by the recent and still unexplained disappearance of Julio López, a key witness in the trials against the genocidal murderer Etchecolatz, and by the relentless campaign of threats and intimidation being waged against well-known human rights activists in that country, many of whom are survivors of the “dirty war”. In Brazil, President Lula continues to ignore the requests that human rights bodies have been making for years, calling on him to open the military files so that the people can learn the true story of Brazil’s dictatorship, another military regime that introduced an economic model –the “Brazilian miracle”– that preceded the model implemented by Pinochet and which, in many aspects, it heralded.

In Uruguay the most notorious military and police officers accused of commanding the repression under the Condor Plan – another invention of the butcher of Santiago – have been judicially charged and are awaiting trial in jail, along with the former dictator Juan María Bordaberry and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Juan Carlos Blanco. These actions by Uruguay’s judiciary are a clear step forward in the quest for justice, still hindered by the Law of Expiry of the Punitive Powers of the State, whose annulment is now being sought by important sectors of society through a campaign supported by IUF Latin America. Nevertheless, we still need to implement the first part of the demand voiced for so long by the left now in power: truth. The reports provided by the military concerning the fate of the disappeared have been blatant disinformation operations, and here too the military files are protected in the shadows of the heavily guarded military headquarters.

Pinochet’s death should be a call for reflection on the powerful consequences left by the military dictatorships on the societies of Latin America. It must lead us to track, analyze and expose the traces of impunity; it must reinforce our commitment to an unwavering struggle for democracy with social justice, with memory, with justice for all and with dignity.

Let nobody forget the butcher of Santiago… and let nobody ever fear him again!