Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Legacy of Pinochet

Over at the World Socialist Web Site, Bill Van Auken has written an insightful article entitled “Mourning for Pinochet – U.S. Establishment Shows Its Affinity for Fascism”, in which he observes that the recent death of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was for “the most influential layers of America’s corporate and financial elite . . . [an] occasion for both mourning and tributes”.

Here’s an excerpt:

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, for example, carried an editorial Tuesday entitled “The Pinochet Paradox”. The paper’s editorial board, which generally reflects the right-wing views within the Bush White House itself, cautioned its readers that Pinochet’s “real story is more complicated” than that of a military dictator who abolished liberties.

The editorial is laced with gross distortions and outright lies. It claims, for example, “The popular notion that the US sanctioned the [1973] coup [which overthrew the democratically-elected Chilean socialist leader Salvador Allende] or condoned Pinochet’s torture hasn’t held up under historical scrutiny.” On the contrary, documents released by the Clinton administration (though the most incriminating evidence from the CIA and Pentagon still remains classified) make quite clear that the US government was fully informed of plans for the September 11, 1973 coup—as well as the killings and torture that followed—and fully supported it. Moreover, they confirmed the role of the Nixon and Ford administrations in seeking to quell international criticism of the barbaric regime established by Pinochet.

Similarly, the Washington Post carried a Tuesday editorial headlined “A Dictator’s Double Standard,” with the subtitle, “Augusto Pinochet tortured and murdered. His legacy is Latin America’s most successful country.”

This piece likewise seeks a “balanced” approach, while deriding the ex-dictator’s critics. “For some he was the epitome of an evil dictator,” the editorial states. “That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with US support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left: socialist Salvador Allende, whose responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked.”

While acknowledging that thousands were killed, tens of thousands tortured and hundreds of thousands exiled, the Post quickly adds, “It’s hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America.” It credits Pinochet for “free market policies” that produced “the Chilean economic miracle.”

What is the nature of this “miracle” that they all celebrate? For the likes of the well-heeled and self-satisfied publishers and editors at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, Chile is a miracle because they can stay at five-star hotels, eat at gourmet restaurants and visit upscale shopping malls in Santiago, while earning handsome returns on investments in Chilean stocks.

Conditions of life for the masses of workers and poor who inhabit the slums outside the circle of skyscrapers and luxury housing reserved for Chile’s rich and their foreign counterparts, as far as they are concerned, are beside the point.

This myth of the “Chilean miracle” and the supposed credit due Pinochet for laying foundations—built with the blood and bones of his tens of thousands of victims—for a free-market renaissance are repeated ad nauseam by virtually every section of the mass media.

According to government statistics, over 20 percent of Chile’s population lives in poverty. But this official count does not include retired workers and the disabled subsisting on woefully inadequate pensions; many think the real poverty rate is closer to 40 percent.

The country ranks as one of the most socially unequal in the world. This is the real legacy of the Pinochet regime and the reign of terror it unleashed against the Chilean working class. Between 1980 and 1989, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population saw its share of the national income climb from 36.5 percent to 46.8 percent. During the same period, the 50 percent of the population at the bottom of the income ladder saw their share plummet from 20.4 to 16.8 percent.

In the aftermath of the coup, Chile saw the steepest fall in real wages and sharpest increase in unemployment ever recorded in Latin America. The dictatorship ushered in social conditions for working people that can only be compared with those that prevailed during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

. . . The “miracle” was granted to the wealthiest layers of society along with the military and its political cronies. They enriched themselves through the plundering of the working class and state property. Wholesale privatizations were carried out without any rules or scrutiny, in what amounted to a vast robbery of social resources. Pinochet’s personal participation in this corrupt process has come to light in the form of some $27 million squirreled away in secret overseas bank accounts.

Under the constitution dictated by Pinochet, the government has been barred from even investigating this orgy of corporate criminality—what the Wall Street Journal sanctimoniously refers to as “the return of private property, the rule of law and a freer economy.”

To read Van Auken's article in its entirety, click here.

NOTE: The photograph accompanying this post depicts a street theater performance calling for the closure of the US Army School of the Americas. This photo was taken in Washington, DC, in 1998, and is part of my online photographic exhibit, Faces of Resistance.

The School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In marking General Pinochet’s death,
SOA Watch has documented the dictator’s links to the SOA:

“The Nixon administration and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a significant role in financing, supporting and preparing the scenario for a military coup in Chile. The U.S. government spent millions of dollars on arming right wing militias, financing the right wing press and paying off Chilean politicians as a means of preventing and then overthrowing Salvador Allende’s “Unidad Popular” government. During 1970-75, shortly before and after the coup, Chile sent over 1500 troops to the U.S. Army School of the Americas then located in Panama where Chilean soldiers attended courses in counter-insurgency, irregular warfare, psychological-operations, combat arms orientation.

“Although Augusto Pinochet himself did not attend the School of the Americas, a large number of his colleagues did. Many of the highest ranking officers involved in the coup attended the school and the institution held Pinochet in high esteem. For many years, a personal note and a ceremonial sword donated by the Chilean dictator were on display at the SOA’s commandant’s office.”

For more on Pinochet's links to the SOA, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post, Remembering Sister Rita.

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