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 VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Raul Castro Steps Out of Brother's Shadow With US Deal

Cuban president scores diplomatic triumph, surge in support with this week's deal that ends decades of hostility with United States
More

US Report: Immigration Officials' Apprehensions Rose in 2014

Apprehensions of Mexicans fall 14 percent; those of individuals from other countries, predominantly in Central America, rise 68 percent
More

Strife, Mutual Interests Mark Cuba-US Ties

Island nation was once a vacation destination for Americans; over years, many Cubans sought refuge across the Florida Straits
More

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change
More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings
More

Cubans Imagine New, More Prosperous Life Without an Old Foe

News of the historic shift in US-Cuban relations echoed quickly through the Spanish colonial plazas of Old Havana this week
More