Monday, December 11, 2006

To paraphrase an old Saturday Night Live punchline, General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, is still dead.

Unfortunately, his ghost will continue to haunt us for some time as he remains a figure of menace and loathing far beyond his actual crimes, which were considerable. Naturally, for Chileans, Pinochet's polarizing yet iconic status makes sense, they, after all, lived through the Pinochet regime while we did not. Yet from the rhetoric you might think the ancient generalissimo of Santiago had eclipsed Stalin, Hitler and Mao in the pantheon of tyranny. For example:

Christopher Hitchens:

"And, also like Franco, he earned a place in history as a treasonous and ambitious officer who was false to his oath to defend and uphold the constitution. His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century."

Well. If we start with Imperial Germany's democide of the Herrero in Namibia and work our way forward from there to the year 2000, given the stiff competition Pinochet has in the mass murder department, I'm not really capable of the same level of shock as is Christopher Hitchens. The current ruler of the Sudan, General Omar Bashir, has racked up around 100 times as many dead as did Pinochet and Bashir does not even play in the truly big leagues of genocide ( not yet, but give him time). So the normative issue here really isn't one of body counts.

wu ming of ProgressiveHistorians , gets the reason for Pinochet's "celebrity" status among dictators, right:

"Pinochet came to power in a military coup on September 11th, 1973, backed and advised by the Nixon regime as and bankrolled by corporations such as ITT, Anaconda and Kennecott, as well as banks such as Chase Manhattan and Bank of America, against the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende, uncle of Chilean author Isabel Allende. Allende was later found shot to death, ostensibly as a suicide, but more likely assassinated. Piniochet's death squads tortured and killed political dissidents, leftist intellectuals, and musicians such as Victor Jara, with exceptionally gruesome methods, and without the families of los desparecedos ever knowing their fate. And all the while, the American government happily supported those crimes, out of fear for peacefully elected socialists."

In other words, Pinochet was not only an evil, murderous and vainglorious thug, more importantly, he was a successful counterrevolutionary ! That's why Pinochet is accorded the political attention less competent but equally (or more) sinister ex-dictators like Baby Doc Duvalier, Suharto and Idi Amin are denied.

Allende's martyrdom ( I agree with wu ming that Allende was probably assassinated) has long obscured his close ties to the Soviet and Cuban intelligence services that preceded his election and the large financial investment the KGB secretly made in Allende's political career ( slush funds that mirrored the better known CIA payments to Allende's political rivals) [1]. That Allende wished to bring Chile into " the socialist camp" in an alliance with Cuba and the USSR is fairly certain. Less certain, is the domestic regime he might have eventually imposed in Chile, had he outmanuvered his opponents on the right and consolidated his rule, but " peaceful" and " democratic" would have been unlikely descriptors.

While long memories of the Left and Pinochet's own affectation for comic opera fascist uniforms, have propelled Pinoochet into a league of infamy where comparisons are regularly made with Franco, Milosevic and Hitler, a far better historical analog might be the Roman dictator Sulla. It was Sulla, whose bloody career was was a mix of dreaded proscriptions and sound structural reforms that stabilized the late republic and restored prosperity. It was Sulla, who surrendered power and enjoyed a luxurious (if notorious ) retirement, even as his fellow citizens did not again breathe easily until Sulla himself drew his last.

Let Chile catch its breath.

1. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB And the Battle for The Third World, p. 69-85
A fine book "The World Was Going our Way"

As you note and show, it actually sheds light on a number of coups and shady activity in Central and Sout AMerica during the Cold War. However, in light of the USSR's heavy involvement in Africa and South America, and especially the Cuban missle crisis, chances could not be taken.
Excellent post
A very good post, Mark.

I commented on his passing as well:

Pinochet is one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth centuries -- in many ways the Chang Kai-Shek of Latin Ameria. The differences being, of course, that Pinochet also succeeded in the democratic transition of his countries (while the KMT strongman left that job to his son).
Isn't it taking it a step too far to say he was a "great man"? Sure the structural reforms were very good (but we have Milton Friedman to thank more for that than Pinochet,) however, I do not know that it is necessary to slaughter your opponents to get your way. The Sulla analogy is a very good one; does it mean that we should be waiting for a Chilean Caesar in the next 30 to 40 years? Great post.

Chirol, Dan, TDL

Thank you, gentlemen. Much appreciated.

Interesting juxtaposition with the death of Kirkpatrick, who penned " Dictatorships and double-Standards". Chile appears to have bourne out her thesis. So does Taiwan, albeit with the two-generational family rule alluded to by Dan ( Chiang Kai-shek was a better ruler of Taiwan than he was of China).

I also note the minimal coverage -in comparson to Pinochet - given to the enormous crimes of Haile Menghistu Mariam, the one-time Marxist dictator of Ethiopia. Mariam was convicted of murdering 150,000 but his responsibility for the famine looms still larger.
Probably Nixon was no more, as Christopher Hitchens would say, “false to his oath to defend and uphold the constitution” than Pinochle, who do you think had the better body count?
Pinochet saved his country from the total devastation of communist dictatorship. He killed a tiny number of people to do it. The people he killed were a select, focused set of people who were implicated in trying to destroy his country. He instituted good policies and turned the country over to democracy after having saved it from communist destruction. He is a cross between Franco and Lee Kwan Yew. The people he killed were Leftist intellectuals who were well-connected to the usual gang of international cheerleaders for mass murder, and these people very, very rarely catch a bullet themselves. So, his very focused destruction of his country's foes was a huge shock. In the 20th century, with its rivers and lakes and cataracts of blood shed by communists, leading only to poverty, misery and tyranny, what Pinochet did is virtually nothing on the debit side of the ledger. RIP, general.
Hi Lex,

Like your description of Pinochet as a cross between Lee and Franco. That's a pretty fair descriptor of his regime.

Maxim Gorkii, one of the first of the intellectual cheerleaders of revolution, didn't catch a bullet but he was probably murdered on Stalin's orders. Stalin come to think of it, was a far greater scourge of these ppl as a class than was Pinochet.

The French Revolution, too, claimed quite a few of them. But I agree with you, the Lillian Hellmans, Marcuses, Derridas, Hobsbawms, etc. cheered on a lot of monsters from a position of comfortable safety.
I would argue that not being as bad as the worst does not qualify an individual as great. Although I agree with your assessment that the policies Pinochet eventually endorsed lead to stability and the strong economic growth and liberalization that is now occurring (would it be fair to say that even the mainstream leftist of Chile look more like moderate Dems., or I am off base on that?)

Isn't typical of intellectuals to be cheerleaders of movements that are critical of free markets and civilized man while they are safely protected by the wealth and civil societies they despise so?

"...not being as bad as the worst does not qualify an individual as great."

He waged a civil war of extraordinary focus and brevity, which was quickly and totally successful. The model is civil war, not peaceful law enforcement or peace-time politics. Allende and his supporters were waging a civil war against a majority of Chileans, aided by armed foreigners and money and guns coming in from the USSR and Cuba. Allende violated the law, started a civil war on the sly, was pounced on by his opponents, he lost, he died, good riddance. Pinochet is not like a Nixon who also killed people, he is like a Grant who won a potentially devastating war in one blow at minimal cost. Again, RIP, General Pinochet.
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