Henry Kissinger once quipped that Chile was a dagger pointed straight at the heart of Antarctica. That quip melted in the white heat of another 9/ll-Sept. 11, 1973, when the Chilean military ousted from power the first Marxist-Leninist regime to reach power via the ballot box.
The revolution that put an end to the government of Salvador Allende Gossens would become the most successful in the history of Latin America.
It would also become the most reviled in the annals of Latin America.
Since-by comparison with other major Latin American revolutions of the 20th century-it was also the least bloody, the question is-why? Why has the man who led that revolution-Augusto Pinochet Ugarte-become one of the most vilified figures of modern times, routinely grouped (in the literature of the left, which is to say, most literature) with Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Francisco Franco. (Stalin, Mao, or some of the genuine African butchers, somehow dont make it into the rogues gallery of the left).
The essence of the answer is one the left cannot-and never will-accept.
Pinochet, and those who accompanied him, stopped cold the advance of Communism in the hemisphere. Far from a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica, Chile would have given the Soviet Union a strategically-invaluable base from which to project power across the southern Pacific, into neighboring South American countries-greatly amplifying the significance of the base they already possessed in Castros Cuba, greatly complicating the geopolitical security risks for the United States at a time when the Cold War was at its peak.
Halting the advance of Communism inevitably triggered an avalanche of propaganda-and outright lies-emanating from the Soviet Union and its satrapies. Within days of the coup, Radio Moscow announced that 700,000 persons had been killed, that hospitals had been destroyed, and Nobel Laureate (and lifelong Communist) Pablo Neruda murdered. Not a word of that was true, but those Big Lies provided the smokescreen for an unending procession of “little” lies.
But the attacks came not only from outright Communists. Chilean exiles-mainly Communists, socialists, radicals, Christian Democrats-were welcomed with open arms by their counterparts across Europe and Latin America, in international organizations from the United Nations on down.
Writing recently, Prof. Alan Angell, Director of Latin American Studies at Oxford University-and surely, no supporter of the Pinochet government-observed that Chilean exiles found “strong and generalized support,” not given the leftist exiles from the military regimes of Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay.
“It is difficult,” he wrote, “to exaggerate the impact the Chilean coup had on the political conscience of a great number of countries…”
Mexico, always supportive of leftist causes, decreed three days of official mourning, as did Argentina, ruled then by Juan Domingo Peron, and Venezuela. Britains Labor Party gave a standing ovation to Allendes last Ambassador, first time a foreigner had been invited to address the annual convention since “La Pasionaria” during the Spanish Civil War. Fidel Castro, visiting Hanoi, said the ouster of Allende made plain: “There is no longer any alternative except a revolutionary struggle.”
Shrill voices were raised in the United States, as well. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D.-Mass.) rose on the floor of the Senate to assert that the waters of the Mapocho River-mostly, a dry gulch which traverses Santiago-were clogged with bodies of the dead. A few weeks later, he proposed a “Sense of Congress” resolution calling on the President to cut off all but humanitarian assistance to Chile.
The New York Times editorialized that even humanitarian aid ought be ended. The liberal-dominated Congress, in the thrall of the Watergate investigations, soon launched a series of investigations into what had gone “wrong” in Chile. While the overwhelming majority of Chileans celebrated their deliverance from what a former president termed “a carnival of madness,” a leading U.S. academic said the military “will haul the nation back to the Stone Age, where a primitive and simplistic warrior village will be bedded down for a long sleep…”
The generals and admirals who threw out a communist-style regime now found themselves under fire not only from the left, but from the very citadel of western resistance to-Communism!
The truth is that the Big Lie did not begin on September 11. It began with the election of Salvador Allende, on Sept. 4, 1970. It was quickly overlooked that he had edged his nearest, rightist rival by a mere 40,000 votes (1.3 percentage points). It was quickly forgotten that Allende was voted in by the Congress only in return for signing a Statute of so-called “Guarantees,” which he would confess just four months later he had signed purely as “a tactical necessity.”
The problem is that he had no electoral mandate to lead the country along any such road, and as the months wore on, he-his government-resorted ever more to lawlessness, arbitrary and frequently violent measures. By March of 1973, the man who more than any other individual was responsible for Allendes ascent to power-former President Eduardo Frei Montalva, the Christian Democrat who had preceded Allende in the presidency, would lament: “Chile is in the throes of an economic disaster; not a crisis, but a veritable catastrophe no one could foresee would happen so swiftly nor so totally. . . the hatred is worse than the inflation, the shortages, the economic disaster. There is anguish in Chile. . .” Two months later, he warned of an impending “totalitarian danger.”
But the world took no note of that. Nor would the world take note of the reality that the Pinochet government inherited a wreckage.
The country the military bequeathed-when they voluntarily relinquished power on March 11, 1990-was (and is) the most dynamic, flourishing economy in all of Latin America, underpinned by the sturdiest institutions. Indeed, the Constitution that the military and their civilian colleagues painstakingly crafted, and which was overwhelmingly approved in a plebiscite in 1980 (as were reforms they agreed to in another, in 1989), remains in force today, after 13 years of democratic (but decidedly hostile to them) center-left governments.
What the world does see is human rights abuses-and abuses there unquestionably were. But the toll of dead and missing was not 700,000; or even the 25,000 or 50,000 so commonly claimed-but 2,279. And more than half of that number fell during the first three months after the revolution, months of serious fighting at first, sporadic battles thereafter.
The left, led by the Communists, has seen to it that human rights is the one and only topic-something between ironic and galling coming from the Communists, members of the political movement with more blood on its own hands than any in all of recorded history. With a socialist now once again in the Chilean presidency, it is not surprising that by now, even in Chile, human rights overshadows every other topic in this, the 30th anniversary year.
As for Pinochet, approaching 88, he lives on, ostracized ever more since his illegal arrest five years ago in London and subsequent release when a blue-ribbon medical panel found him mentally unfit to stand trial. (That was later reaffirmed by a Chilean medical panel). Meanwhile, those who served with him find themselves ever more in prison, or facing prison. Former terrorists, or those who aided and abetted them, occupy government posts, receive honors.
For the military, who did not seek power but responded reluctantly to the clamor of a desperate people, their victory, however just, was precarious from the start. And now, truly, the victors are the vanquished.