THE CHILEAN SULLA
To paraphrase an old Saturday Night Live punchline, General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, is still dead.
Unfortunately, his ghost will continue to haunt us for some time as he remains a figure of menace and loathing far beyond his actual crimes, which were considerable. Naturally, for Chileans, Pinochet’s polarizing yet iconic status makes sense, they, after all, lived through the Pinochet regime while we did not. Yet from the rhetoric you might think the ancient generalissimo of Santiago had eclipsed Stalin, Hitler and Mao in the pantheon of tyranny. For example:
“And, also like Franco, he earned a place in history as a treasonous and ambitious officer who was false to his oath to defend and uphold the constitution. His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century.”
Well. If we start with Imperial Germany’s democide of the Herrero in Namibia and work our way forward from there to the year 2000, given the stiff competition Pinochet has in the mass murder department, I’m not really capable of the same level of shock as is Christopher Hitchens. The current ruler of the Sudan, General Omar Bashir, has racked up around 100 times as many dead as did Pinochet and Bashir does not even play in the truly big leagues of genocide ( not yet, but give him time). So the normative issue here really isn’t one of body counts.
“Pinochet came to power in a military coup on September 11th, 1973, backed and advised by the Nixon regime as and bankrolled by corporations such as ITT, Anaconda and Kennecott, as well as banks such as Chase Manhattan and Bank of America, against the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende, uncle of Chilean author Isabel Allende. Allende was later found shot to death, ostensibly as a suicide, but more likely assassinated. Piniochet’s death squads tortured and killed political dissidents, leftist intellectuals, and musicians such as Victor Jara, with exceptionally gruesome methods, and without the families of los desparecedos ever knowing their fate. And all the while, the American government happily supported those crimes, out of fear for peacefully elected socialists.”
In other words, Pinochet was not only an evil, murderous and vainglorious thug, more importantly, he was a successful counterrevolutionary ! That’s why Pinochet is accorded the political attention less competent but equally (or more) sinister ex-dictators like Baby Doc Duvalier, Suharto and Idi Amin are denied.
Allende’s martyrdom ( I agree with wu ming that Allende was probably assassinated) has long obscured his close ties to the Soviet and Cuban intelligence services that preceded his election and the large financial investment the KGB secretly made in Allende’s political career ( slush funds that mirrored the better known CIA payments to Allende’s political rivals) . That Allende wished to bring Chile into ” the socialist camp” in an alliance with Cuba and the USSR is fairly certain. Less certain, is the domestic regime he might have eventually imposed in Chile, had he outmanuvered his opponents on the right and consolidated his rule, but ” peaceful” and ” democratic” would have been unlikely descriptors.
While long memories of the Left and Pinochet’s own affectation for comic opera fascist uniforms, have propelled Pinoochet into a league of infamy where comparisons are regularly made with Franco, Milosevic and Hitler, a far better historical analog might be the Roman dictator Sulla. It was Sulla, whose bloody career was was a mix of dreaded proscriptions and sound structural reforms that stabilized the late republic and restored prosperity. It was Sulla, who surrendered power and enjoyed a luxurious (if notorious ) retirement, even as his fellow citizens did not again breathe easily until Sulla himself drew his last.
Let Chile catch its breath.
1. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB And the Battle for The Third World, p. 69-85