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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Audit Finds US Housing Aid Program in Haiti Falls Short

Results show post-earthquake USAID program has delivered only a quarter of planned number of homes at nearly twice the budgeted cost
More

Mourning, Memories in Garcia Marquez's Languid Hometown

Nobel Prize-winning author's early years in Aracataca inspired characters, tales for major novel
More

Powerful Earthquake Rattles Mexico

US Geological Survey says quake measuring 7.5 on Richter scale, was centered in the western state of Guerrero, north of Acapulco beach resort
More

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support
More

Colombian Novelist Garcia Marquez Dies at 87

Author of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' won Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982
More

Salsa Legend Cheo Feliciano Dies in Car Crash

Police say singer was alone in his jaguar when he hit a post before sunrise Thursday
More