Letter From Chile

Thoughts on Pinochet and Castro

While traveling by bus in Chile in January 2008, I drew the attention of two other English-speaking passengers to a graffito, which read:

Viva Pinochet


As people whose sole knowledge of the world came from the left-wing press and broadcasters, they were both shocked and puzzled that Pinochet and liberty could be linked in praise.  How could a man who had been responsible for 2,000 to 3,000 deaths, caused many more to be jailed and tortured, and created the conditions whereby well over 100,000 people went into exile inspire such a tribute?  Pinochet had overthrown a democratically elected socialist government by a military coup.  How could he be a champion of freedom?

Shortly afterward there came a curious but decisive answer.  The gaga dictator Fidel Castro resigned, though only to let his brother take over.  Castro was not truly leaving voluntarily but merely going the way of Mao and Tito.  Pinochet, by contrast, allowed the Chilean opposition parties to organize fully in 1987 and gave the Chileans a plebiscite in 1988 as to whether he should continue as military ruler or allow a democratic regime to take over after multiparty elections.  When he lost the referendum, he resigned.  Even so he had got 45 percent of the votes, which is a lot of support.  He had been in office for a mere 15...

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