History20 Dec 2010 11:23 am
“He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) … Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex.” – Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, National Review
Military leader General Pinochet seized power of Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, in a bloody military coup that toppled the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. He then led his country into an era of robust economic growth. However, Pinochet soon made it clear that he had little use for political parties, banning all of them. He also dissolved Congress and scrapped the Constitution. He blamed the democratic political system for having allowed a coalition of Socialists and Communists to take control of the government. In a 1973 news conference, he asserted that Chile would require “an authoritarian government that has the capacity to act decisively” and would not return to the traditional political party system for a generation. It was a vow he kept.
Under Pinochet, the Chilean press was censored, and labor strikes and unions were banned. A fearsome security apparatus known as the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA, persecuted, tortured and killed Pinochet opponents within Chile and sometimes beyond its borders. A government-commissioned report issued in 2004 concluded that almost 28,000 people had been tortured during the general’s rule and it is estimated that more than 3,200 people were executed or “disappeared” by Pinochet.
Pinochet managed to block virtually all attempts to prosecute members of his security forces for human rights abuses. Through intimidation and legal obstacles, he sought to ensure his own immunity from accountability and in fact was never brought to trial. But in an astonishing turn of events nearly a decade after he stepped down, he was detained in Britain and then, on his return to Chile, forced to spend his retirement years fighting a battery of legal charges relating to human rights violations and personal corruption.
During those last years he lived in near seclusion, mostly at his home in Bucalemu, about 80 miles southwest of Santiago, scorned even by many of his former military colleagues and conservative civilian ideologues. Many were disillusioned by revelations that he held, at the least, $28 million in secret bank accounts abroad. He died in 2006, at the ripe old age of 91.
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