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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

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

Weapons Found on Chinese-Flagged, Cuba-Bound Ship

Authorities in Cartegena, Colombia, detained ship Saturday; captain faces trafficking charges
More

US Weighs Venezuela’s Order to Cut US Embassy Staff

US State Department dismisses Caracas’ charge of undermining government as ‘baseless’
More

Venezuela Lets Uruguay Pay for Oil With Goods, Services

Struggling economy, currency controls in Venezuela have led to shortages of medicine, toilet paper, flour, shampoo, other basic goods
More

US Proposes Making Radio Marti, Broadcaster to Cuba, Independent

Officials say proposal was unrelated to Cuba outreach and aimed at modernizing the broadcaster
More

Venezuela to Require Visas for US Travelers

Move eliminates United States from list of 65 countries exempt from tourist visa requirements
More

Chilean Volcano Goes Quiet After Overnight Eruption

Volcano, located near popular tourist resort of Pucon around 750 km (460 miles) south of Santiago, is one of South America's most active
More