A Closer Look At Augusto Pinochet
November 1st, 2019 | JH
My next-door neighbours are from Venezuela and they are vividly aware of the situation unfolding in that devastated country. After a recent visit back to Venezuela, my neighbour recounted the stories that have now become familiar to anyone who follows international news. The empty shelves, degraded currency and a state of total disarray. Poverty and crime are now staples of the culture and it will take a generation to fix what’s been broken.
I asked my neighbour what he thought should be done about the situation and he believes a coalition of military forces should go in and take over. I asked his wife about her opinion. She is originally from Chile and has first-hand experience with using a military coup d’état in order to sort problems out. Her assessment of government rulers in Venezuela?
“They need to be killed. They’re Communists. You have to kill them, or they won’t leave.”
"Democracy carries within its breast the seed of its own destruction. There is a saying that democracy has to be bathed occasionally in blood so that it can continue to be democracy.Fortunately, this is not our case. There have been only a few drops." - Augusto Pinochet
I have a fascination with Augusto Pinochet and his coup d’état of 1973. Chile was basically the Venezuela of it’s day. I’ll spare you a summary of the whole history lesson and provide you with this link for some background.
The knock against the Pinochet regime is that they kidnapped, tortured and murdered Chilean citizens without due process. Roughly 3000 people died during his dictatorship and this is viewed as a horrible human rights violation and war crime.
I visited the Museum of Memory in Santiago, Chile and it was a heavy experience. The museum walks the visitor throughout the Pinochet-era (from 1973-1989) and focuses mostly on the negative elements of the period. I had to consider the opposing side of the situation, however, and think about the positive elements of the regime that the museum whitewashed in favour of the ‘evil Pinochet’ narrative. Context is everything. In this case Pinochet took extreme measures in order to prevent Chile from becoming Venezuela.
The democratic government of Allende was Soviet-styled Communist and was preparing to unleash the sort of collapse that we now know would have happened had Chile’s military not intervened. The people rounded up by Pinochet were not random citizens…they were connected to the Allende government or various far-left organizations that were pushing Chile towards Communism. Did Pinochet go too far? Yes, most agree that he did. Not only did he go too far with persecution, but also with punishment, but the country was bordering on civil war and terrible things happen in those circumstances.
Here are a few reasons to consider why Pinochet was not what the liberal narrative claimed he was.
1. Margaret Thatcher respected him
He was a Cold War ally and whatever sins he committed were overlooked in favour of his accomplishments. This was a staple of Cold War-era relations in the West. Allying with dictators was perfectly fine so long as they were against the Soviets. Still, Thatcher knew that he killed thousands and still supported him publicly and enthusiastically years later and it makes me curious about her briefings and behind-the-scenes intelligence on the issue.
It’s difficult to find anything published in favour of Pinochet and modern culture insists on condemning him for the deaths of his opponents, but as my neighbour said, “They’re Communists. You have to kill them, or they won’t leave.” Thatcher must have thought so too.
2. The Milton Friedman/Chicago School economists used Chile as a laboratory experiment
After the coup was successful the Pinochet regime decided to become rabidly anti-Communist in their approach to the economy. Chile adopted the most right-wing, libertarian policies that have ever been seen. It was a mixed success and modern leftists like to pedantically go through the data in an attempt to discredit this period, but in the context of the times and the successful wake that was left behind…it’s hard not to see the positive influences that aggressive right-wing policy can enable.
Imposing 16 years of right-wing orthodoxy onto an entire generation reaps results. Today Chile is the best country in South America.
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"Not only did he go too far with persecution, but also with punishment."
3. Peaceful transition to a cleaner democracy
One thing I learned during my travels in South America…not just Chile, but also Argentina and Brazil…is that military coup d’états would arrive and then eventually transition back into democracies. When I was taking a tour of Buenos Aries our guide was explaining how Argentina had multiple coup d’états over the century. I asked her about the last one in the late 70’s/early 80’s and enquired as to why they transitioned back to democracy. She said the seven-year time frame was up and they just relinquished power. It was a coup with a timetable apparently.
The pattern in South America throughout the 20th century seemed to be… democracy until it was corrupted or unstable, and then the military would step in and clean house…and then eventually transition back to democracy. This seems paternalistic on behalf of the military, but in a lot of ways…how nice is it to have a safety net in place should democracy begin to fail?
When I look at the sheer madness of our democratically elected politicians and witness the gong show they deliver us, I can’t say I’d be that sorry to see a Pinochet-styled leader with a wide-berth and a firm-hand getting things back in order. After some time, democracy is restored and new serious-minded, cleaner-cut government can resume serving the people.
Contrast this with left-wing dictatorships like Cuba or North Korea or Venezuela. They never let their grips off the levers of power, no matter how many suffer…no matter how bankrupt the state and the ideology that goes with it, they don’t leave.
4. Chileans are still divided
If Pinochet was so bad then why did he garner 44% support in a referendum…16 years after he seized power? Clearly many Chileans wanted a return to democracy, but Pinochet was not without a high level of approval. He’s a polarizing figure, but not a completely unpopular one.
"The armed forces saved me," right-wing congressman Ivan Moreira told Chilean state television this month. "They saved me from living under a regime, a Marxist dictatorship. Pinochet saved the lives of an entire generation." BBC link
It seems to me that the same type of people who hate Pinochet are the same types of people who think Trump is the new Hitler. Reality is more nuanced, and the fact that Pinochet’s legacy is even up for debate is evidence enough that his accomplishments are worth investigating.
“Any organization that is not explicitly right-wing, sooner or later becomes left-wing.” – Robert Conquest’s second law of politics.
The concern with the modern West is that democracy simply isn’t fundamentally strong enough to prevent leftward drift and ultimately collapse. One hundred years ago Communism was the anti-Western bogeyman that was threatening our civilization and many people across the West turned to fascism to stop the spread. In many ways they were correct to do so, as liberal democracy wasn’t up to the challenge. After World War 2, the United States and many countries throughout the West adopted various components of fascism (military-industrial complex, permanent-professional bureaucracy, entrenched social welfare state, intelligence networks etc.) in order to function as a better bulwark against the spread of Communism.
When Communism fell, the newer and softer version…Globalism/Cultural Marxism took its place. Once again liberal democracy is allowing leftist domination to ascend and once again people are turning to nationalism/populism (soft fascism) in order to push back. It’s through this lens that Pinochet can be seen as a Cincinnatus, temporarily protecting Chile from Communism and a Venezuelan-styled collapse. It’s through this lens that Trump or Putin or Bolsonaro or Duterte function as compromise figures today, authoritarians protecting their nations from the failings of democracy and the rise of the new left.
Will it be enough?
Hopefully, but if not and escalation is required, Pinochet offers us an example of salvation.
“And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1787at
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