News / Americas

Forty Years After Military Coup, Pinochet Again Divides Chile

Human rights activists shout slogans at a memorial for Chile's deceased former president, Salvador Allende, whose democratically elected government was toppled in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, September 4, 2013.Human rights activists shout slogans at a memorial for Chile's deceased former president, Salvador Allende, whose democratically elected government was toppled in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, September 4, 2013.
x
Human rights activists shout slogans at a memorial for Chile's deceased former president, Salvador Allende, whose democratically elected government was toppled in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, September 4, 2013.
Human rights activists shout slogans at a memorial for Chile's deceased former president, Salvador Allende, whose democratically elected government was toppled in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, September 4, 2013.
Reuters
Four decades after a military coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile, a fierce debate over his long rule has shaken up the presidential election, with some right-wing politicians under fire for their past support of the former dictator.
 
Pinochet, who was then the head of the army, toppled the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, in a violent coup on September 11, 1973.
 
He finally gave up power in 1990 and died in 2006, but Pinochet and his legacy have again dominated Chile's politics in recent weeks as the 40th anniversary of the coup approaches.
 
The rightist Alianza bloc's already weak chance of victory in November's election has been further damaged by the association of its more extreme UDI party with the coup.
 
Many UDI politicians supported Pinochet, and continue to justify the military takeover by citing the chaos of the Allende years.
 
That is something the left-leaning bloc has leapt upon.
 
“There are facts that are not known, justice that hasn't come, pain and wounds that haven't healed. And there are people who do not recognize nor repent over what they did and didn't do,” Michelle Bachelet, a former president and the front-runner in this year's campaign, said last week on the campaign trail.
 
Bachelet was directly affected by the violent side of Pinochet's rule.
 
Her father, an air force general, remained loyal to Allende after the coup and was imprisoned, where he died of a heart attack after months of torture. Bachelet herself was also arrested and tortured and went into exile.
 
Bachelet's closest rival for the presidency is Evelyn Matthei, the nominee of the Alianza bloc.
 
Matthei's father was also an air force general, but he sided with Pinochet and she herself campaigned for the 'yes' vote in a 1988 referendum on whether Pinochet should remain president for eight more years. His defeat in that vote led to him step down in 1990.
 
In response to demands from leftist opponents for her to apologize, Matthei defended her record on human rights and said: “I was 20 years old when the coup happened. I don't have to ask forgiveness.”
 
Incumbent President Sebastian Pinera, a moderate right-winger whose opposition to the dictatorship was key to his own electoral success, said Chile still had a way to go to reach reconciliation.
 
“Truth and justice are two moral imperatives for any society who lived through times as traumatic as those,” he told journalists in a meeting at the presidential palace, La Moneda, to discuss the anniversary. “We still lack truth and justice.”
 
Changing perceptions
 
Over 3,000 people “disappeared” - presumed killed by the military government - during the Pinochet years. Thousands of others were forced into exile or imprisoned in clandestine detention centers, where torture was carried out almost as a matter of routine.
 
Allende committed suicide in La Moneda as the troops moved in. Footage of the palace being strafed by the air force has become a potent symbol around the world of Chile's break with democracy.
 
This week, in a shabby building opposite La Moneda hung with an enormous Allende photo, union activists are preparing to commemorate the anniversary. They say reconciliation for them will be difficult until all those responsible for atrocities are brought to justice.
 
“For what my parents suffered, what we suffered, my children have seen me cry. Without wanting to, I have passed that pain to them and afterwards it will pass to my grandchildren,” said 53-year-old Luis Ancapil.
 
Pinochet also pushed through free-market reforms that many believe set the foundation for Chile's economic progress. That has moderated criticism of his rule over the years, but perceptions of his dictatorship are increasingly negative.
 
Some 55 percent of Chileans now describe Pinochet's government as “all bad,” compared with 35 percent just three years ago. Only nine percent describe it as “all good,” according to a poll released this week by research center CERC.
 
It has only been in recent years, with the advent of the Internet and cable television, that most Chileans have really started to learn the truth of what happened during the dictatorship, said Pablo Salvat, politics professor at the University of Alberto Hurtado in Santiago.
 
“The new generation is pushing. They want their parents to tell the truth, how it was, what happened, who is responsible,” said Hurtado.
 
Electoral block
 
About 75 percent of Chileans believe traces of the military dictatorship remain today, according to the CERC survey.
 
Pinochet's legacy lives on in a privatized education system, the subject of regular student protests, which Bachelet has pledged to reform.
 
To do that, however, she has to overcome another legacy of the Pinochet-era, an electoral system that makes it very difficult for any one party to gain a significant majority in Congress.
 
Bachelet wants to reform that too, but she would need to persuade the right to support her or win the sort of majority that is next to impossible under the current system.
 
The final part of her three-pronged initiative is to raise taxes in order to pay for the education reforms. Again, she would need to win over the skeptical Alianza.
 
“Probably no country has an experience like that, a democracy in which a minority can veto the majority and where the majority in the end cannot do what the people wanted when they voted for them,” Bachelet complained recently.
 
Her supporters have high expectations she will deliver on her pledges, and might not accept compromises with the right, warned Salvat. “If Bachelet wins, she is going to have it difficult. ... People will go out on the street demanding she carries out the reforms she promised,” said he.
 
But the framework that Pinochet and his allies created cannot easily be dismantled, said Sergio Bitar, who served as a minister under both Allende and Bachelet, in an interview with Reuters. “The feeling is that you are in a cage,” said he.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

Drownings of Migrants Along Rio Grande Increase

Increased patrols are pushing immigrants, desperate to avoid detection, to choose more dangerous and remote crossings into South Texas, leading to surge in drownings
More

US, Cuba Teams Discuss Telecommunications Issues

US delegation visited Cuba this week as the two nations continued efforts to restore diplomatic relations broken over 50 years ago
More

Egyptian Court Adjourns Trial of Al Jazeera Journalists to April 22

Two journalists are charged with aiding a terrorist organization, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt banned following 2013 army takeover
More

Rio Exhibition Dramatizes Olympian Bay Cleanup Task

Display highlights problem of trash in Guanabara Bay, where sailing, windsurfing events are to take place in next Summer Games
More

Chile Says Drought Permanent, Lays Out Water Plan

President Michelle Bachelet says government will invest in desalinization plants and reservoirs to ensure access to potable water
More

Poll: Venezuelan Leader's Popularity Inches Up to 25%

Rise comes after United States declared Venezuela a security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials
More