Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pinochet Is Dead

If it's true that the good die young, then it's very fitting that Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile's unelected ruler from 1973 to 1990, lived to be 91:

Gen Pinochet seized power in a coup in 1973. More than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during his rule which ended in 1990.

He was accused of dozens of human rights violations but had never faced trial because of poor health.

He died surrounded by his family," the hospital's Dr Juan Ignacio Vergara told reporters.

He said more details would be made available later, Reuters news agency reported.

Gen Pinochet suffered a heart attack a week ago. He underwent an angioplasty to unblock an artery and received the last rites from a Catholic priest.

But in the days afterwards his condition had been thought to be improving.

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Buenos Aires says about 150 Gen Pinochet supporters had been keeping a vigil outside his hospital since he was taken ill.

Our correspondent says he believes they will be joined now by other supporters as news of his death spreads.

He adds that there has been no immediate reaction from his opponents as yet, but that they are sure to feel very cheated that they have not been able to bring him to court to face the various charges being made against him.

Despite his human rights record, many Chileans loved him and said he saved the country from Marxism.

But even many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts that were under investigation at the time of his death, our correspondent notes.

In June 1973, Gen Pinochet led the armed forces in a dramatic coup against the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende.

The violence of the uprising and the oppression that followed shook the world. He went on to become one of South America's best known military rulers of the 1970s and 80s.

Earlier in November, Gen Pinochet was placed under house arrest over the abduction of two people in 1973.

The charges related to the Caravan of Death - a military operation to remove opponents of his rule.

One of the many details this extraordinarily kid-gloves article leaves out is the fact that the "dramatic coup" that put Pinochet in power was engineered by the C.I.A. Salvador Allende, who was enormously popular in Chile, was killed in the coup. The United States, to be plain, helped to overthrow the leader who had been chosen by the Chilean people in a free, fair, democratic election; and installed in his stead a military dictator who in short order instituted a reign of terror that lasted for over a decade.

The BBC article gets the date of the coup wrong, too. The coup did take place in 1973 -- but not in June. The exact date of the coup was September 11, 1973. For more information about the coup and its U.S. sponsorship, see this extensive list of links to declassified primary source documents at the National Security Archive. Also see here for abundant information on Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, the two Americans who were abducted and murdered soon after the coup took place -- with the knowledge and complicity of the U.S. government. The 1982 film "Missing" is about the disappearings and killings of Horman and Teruggi, and the subsequent fight by Ed Horman, Charlie's father; and Beth Horman, Charlie's wife, to find out what happened and to get accountability from the Chilean and U.S. governments.

For those who find meaning in synchronicity, it's also worth noting that Jeane Kirkpatrick died only two days before Pinochet. Kirkpatrick, as I wrote here yesterday, was a key architect of and spokesperson for the U.S. policy that supported far right, fascistic regimes like Pinochet's against leftist, socialist, or Marxist regimes or movements (what Kirkpatrick called "authoritarian" versus "totalitarian" governments).

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