Home / The Good General: Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006)

The Good General: Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006)

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"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves." — Henry Kissinger. Cited in "The United States and Chile: Roots and Branches" Foreign Affairs Magazine Jan 1975.

Pinochet’s death on Sunday, 10th December, 2006 in Santiago Chile revived bitter controversies about his bloody military coup on 11th September 1973 overthrowing the lawfully elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende. On hearing the news of his death thousands of anti-Pinochet protesters gathered in the streets of Santiago disappointed that the General could not be tried for his crimes of genocide and his brutal torture of political opponents during the 17 years of his military regime. Judge Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who tried to extradite the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet from Britain, expressed the anguish of the protesters when he said, "Perhaps we would have liked to have tried Pinochet so victims would have received the compensation and reparation of a sentence. Unfortunately it has not been this way."1

Pinochet's military coup signaled the end of Democracy in Chile and ushered in an era of systematic crushing of political dissent in Chile. Old file pictures show the smoldering remains of La Moneda, the presidential palace in the heart of the nation's capital, Santiago, that symbolized the abrupt termination of Chile’s experiment with Socialist Democracy described by the Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda as "a long petal of sea, wine and snow.’

Even though the horrors of the Pinochet regime cannot be remembered perfectly, as human memory is short and fallible, an attempt must be made to exhume history in order to understand the tragedy that befell ordinary Chileans. Perhaps the starting point would be to turn to eyewitness accounts of the regime’s repression and human right abuses.

Mike Gatehouse, who worked at the Chilean Forestry Institute, recalls the brutality of the early days of the regime. As he says in his own words, ‘We were taken to the National Stadium, Chile's equivalent of Wembley, a large football stadium with other sports facilities clustered around it. We were herded into a mustering area which was full of newly arrived prisoners in white coats, doctors and orderlies from several Santiago hospitals which had been raided that day, victims of a savage proscription by the far-right dominated Chilean Medical Association, which accused them of having failed to go on strike against the legal government. The 'cells' into which we were herded were the team changing rooms. There were 130 prisoners in ours, and at night we were so tightly packed that we could sleep only by lining up in rows and lying down 'by numbers', dovetailing heads and feet.’2

The systematic torture of factory workers, nurses, teachers, university lecturers proceeded in a clinically brutal fashion at the National Stadium. As Gatehouse again recalls ‘The man next to me in my cell was less fortunate. A Brazilian engineer, named Sergio Moraes, he had worked in a factory called Madeco. He was taken out for his first heavy interrogation two days before I was released. When he returned he could hardly hear or speak: he had been hooded and beaten about the head and ears with a flat wooden bat. He told us that among his interrogators were Brazilian intelligence officers.’3 The National Stadium, which became the torture center of the regime, claimed another victim, namely, the protest singer Victor Jara who was tortured to death. The tragic events of the coup and its aftermath is captured most movingly in the film Missing which is based on the real life story of an American filmmaker, Charles Horman, who was among those killed in Chile right after the 1973 coup.

Equally revealing about the General’s junta, described most quaintly by the Economist as ‘ not the bloodiest of the military dictatorships that afflicted South America’, is the moving testimony of Victor Marrellinca who was 19-years-old when General Pinochet's tanks surrounded his university in Santiago, Chile. As he recounts his ordeal at the hands of DINA, the Chilean secret police, ‘I was tortured badly, very badly tortured. Both of my legs, my ankles were smashed up completely with rifle butts and also my chest bone was also and electric shocks. They used to put me in a, dip me into a big tank with sewage water and then lift me up completely naked, of course, and blindfolded and my hands tie up on my back and my legs also tie up and lift me up and put electric shocks everywhere, on all the sensitive parts on my body, especially the genitalia.’4


While it would be tempting to conclude that the acts of terror of the good General were confined to his own country, history records that he nurtured extra-territorial ambitions and put them to deadly practice. For those who believe that the attack on 9/11 on US soil was the most sensational act of terrorism would do well to pause and reflect on the events that took place in Washington DC on September 21, 1976. On this day the agents of the Chilean secret police organization, DINA, detonated a car bomb just blocks from the White House, killing a leading opponent of Pinochet's, Orlando Letelier, and his assistant Ronni Moffitt. ‘Letelier,’ says Roger Burbach, ‘was a man deeply committed to democracy and a more humane world who had served at the highest levels of the Allende government.’5 The assassination of Letelier was a part of an operation known as Operation Condor, which involved the joint operation of Chilean, Bolivian, Argentinean, Paraguayan, Ecuadorian, and Brazilian intelligence agencies to assassinate expatriates who were outspoken critics of fascist regimes.

The murderous career of Augusto Pinochet is inextricably linked to US involvement in Chilean politics and its economy. That this significant fact was ignored by the mainstream US media is indeed strange and calls into question the claims of it being free and impartial in reporting international events where US interests are involved. ‘There is still virtually no discussion’ notes Roger Burbach, ‘ in the mainstream press of the complicity of the U.S. government in Pinochet's coup and long reign of terror. For most of the media, the denunciation of human rights violations starts and ends with Pinochet.’6 Apart from the alternative media and Bay Area mainstream press, which exposed the direct involvement of the Nixon administration in the coup, there has been deafening silence. Even in a recently published piece by Jonathan Kendell titled "Pinochet – a symbol of human rights abuse", the myth that the good General was alone responsible for human right abuses is resurrected, as there is not a word about US involvement in the coup.7

The catalytic events that rescued scholarship from obfuscation and exposed the cosy links between Pinochet and US was the extradition attempt of the Spanish Judge who wanted Pinochet to stand trial for the torture of Spanish citizens. On the basis of a Spanish arrest warrant the British Government put him under house arrest after the good general finished sipping tea with his friend Margaret Thatcher. The arrest of Pinochet for human rights abuse and use of torture forced the Clinton administration to make public documents that threw light on U.S. efforts to promote a coup in Chile, to block Allende's election, and to destabilize his administration once it took office. Moreover ‘through Freedom of Information Act requests, and other avenues of declassification,’ adds Peter Kornbluh of the non-profit National Security Archives, ‘the national security archives has been able to compile a collection of declassified records that shed light on events in Chile between 1970 and 1976.’8 They also pointed to the active involvement of Henry Kissinger and other officials of the Nixon administration in aiding and supporting Pinochet.

The newly declassified documents made available to the public are indispensable for the understanding of US involvement and support of the Chilean Military Junta, which overthrew the elected government of Allende. Of course the declassified documents released bear the heavy mark of censorship by CIA as vital information such as names and places were blacked out with thick lines. Nevertheless, it provided valuable information for researchers. ‘We have learned the details of how the CIA goes about trying to foment chaos in a small country like Chile’ says Kornbluh, ‘we have here a document, for example, which is a blueprint of the CIA plan to create a coup climate where one doesn’t exist.’ 9

The US involvement in Chile dates back to the rising popularity of Salvador Allende, a medical doctor, who came close to winning the 1958 election for presidency. Allende incurred the ire of the US establishment as his political philosophy represented a threat to US economic interests in Chile. At the end of 1968, U.S. corporate holdings in Chile amounted to $964 million. During that year, U.S. corporations averaged 17.4 percent profit on invested capital, and mining enterprises alone turned an average of 26 percent. Copper companies, notably Anaconda and Kennecott, accounted for 28 percent of U.S. holdings, but ITT had the largest holding of any single corporation with an investment of $200 million. According to Laura Allende "over a 42 year period the copper companies earned $420 billion on original investments totalling $35 million."10


Allende’s political programme was to redistribute the highly unequal income of Chile where 2% of the people received 46% of the income. His economic reforms included nationalization of major industries including copper industries, agrarian reforms and expanding the ties of his country with socialist countries. The American policy experts feared that Allende would steer Chile on an independent path, which would be inimical to US corporate interests.

Earlier in the 1964 election the CIA mounted a disinformation campaign aiming at scaring women from voting for Allende. One radio spot had a sound of a machine gun firing with a woman crying out, “ They have killed my child — the communists.” The massive scare propaganda which involved conjuring up images of Cuban firing squads and the rolling of Soviet tanks had the desired effect: Frei received 56% of the vote to Allende’s 39%. Apart from the propaganda blitz planned and executed by CIA, the CIA also funded several grass root organizations run by a Belgian Jesuit priest Roger Vekemans who came to Chile in 1957.The CIA gave him $5 million to support anti-Allende political parties such as the Christian Democrats. The organizations were in the forefront of preaching the gospel of anti-communism.11

As Allende still remained a credible threat to US corporate interests in the 1970 elections, ITT pumped in $700,000 to his opponent Jorge Allesandri of the conservative national party, and used the advice of the CIA on how to channel this money safely. The president of ITT Harold Geneen offered $1 million to the CIA to help defeat Allende. Once Allende got elected, ITT formed a committee representing US corporate interests to weaken the political support for Allende. The committee included Treasury Secretary John Connally and his assistant John Hennessy (a man with solid Wall Street connections).12

Other corporations pursued independent strategies to tighten the noose around Allende’s neck. On the basis of evidence available from the ITT papers and other sources indicated that Anaconda helped finance a campaign of disruption before the election, and that it also joined with Kennecott in what was effectively sabotage in the copper mines. Ralston Purina cut back production sharply. NIBSA, the leading producers of brass valves and other fittings, a subsidiary of Northern Indiana Brass Company, shut down its plant and laid off 280 workers the day before Allende's inauguration. A representative of the parent company, Northern Indiana Brass, was accused of suggesting an "Indonesian solution" (killing all communists) for Chile. Purina, a subsidiary of Ralston Purina and the country's largest producer of animal feed, also cut production sharply.13

In a concerted strategy to strangle the Chilean economy the US commercial banks such as Chase Manhattan, Chemical, First National City, Manufacturers Hanover, and Morgan Guaranty, cancelled credits to Chile. Kennecot filed lawsuits against the Chilean government preventing the export of copper and the government was saddled with $150,000 in legal expenses.

The US government also got involved in the economic destabilization of Chile under Allende. ITT lobbied the US government and asked for its support in cutting off economic aid to Chile. As ITT had access to Kissinger, William Rogers and the CIA, this was easily achieved. After 1970, the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Agency for International Development, and the Export-Import Bank either cut programs in Chile or cancelled credits.

The economy of Chile went into a tailspin. Its foreign reserves fell from $335 million in November 1970 to $100 million by the end of 1971. "Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty.” said Edward M. Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, upon hearing the news of Allende’s election as president of Chile. The ITT memorandum circulated privately in 1970 stated the object of the strategy succinctly ‘A more realistic hope among those who want to block Allende is that a swiftly deteriorating economy will touch off a wave of violence leading coup.’ The words proved to be prophetic as the hostile economic measures ground the economy to a halt. Chile was unable to buy food, medicines and spare parts. The American suppliers refused to sell spare parts to Chile even when offers were made to pay for it in cash in advance. The microbuses, taxis and state owned were immobilized, as no spare parts were available. This in turn led to the trucker’s strike and more economic chaos.14


Though Allende’s economic policies are blamed in mainstream media for causing economic hardship for the people of Chile the real culprit is the deliberate policy of US administration and the corporations to destabilize the economy of Chile. Mass discontent surfaced among the middle class on account of shortage of food and other essential items. Many shopkeepers hoarded goods only to sell them on the black-market. Some strikes such as the trucker’s strike of 1972 were funded by CIA to cause disruption in the flow of commodities. Meanwhile there was a steady barrage of anti-Allende propaganda in the news media. One newspaper had the screaming headlines ‘ Economic chaos! Chile on brink of doom!’

Allende’s party Unidad Popular again won the election in 1973 assuring him another three years of power. This increasingly frustrated the US administration and the destabilization campaign against his government sharpened and increased in its intensity as the days rolled by. Daily, there were acts of terrorism and assassinations by right wing groups fomented by the CIA.

On the fateful day of the coup, US navy ships were present outside the territorial waters of Chile. U.S. observation, communications, and fighter planes roamed the Chilean sky operating from a nearby base in Argentina. The September coup was successful and with Allende dead Pinochet took charge. Immediate financial and political support was granted to Pinochet by the U.S. government, including orders to the CIA to "assist the junta in gaining a more positive image, both at home and abroad."15

For the people of Chile the legacy of Pinochet’s 17-year military rule was a painful one as more than 3000 people were either executed or simply disappeared. Another estimate puts death toll at 20,000 Chileans killed or disappeared and thousands more imprisoned and tortured. ‘Nobody knows how many people died during the coup,’ says BBC, ‘ but it goes without saying that many more died in the ensuing weeks and the military dictatorship that followed. Chilean liberals of all walks of life were rounded up and were either executed or #39;disappeared'.’16 The dreaded secret police DINA inflicted gruesome tortures on political opponents of the regime and many were thrown into the sea from the helicopters supplied by US with their bellies slit so that they would sink. The traumatic effect of the Pinochet genocide multiplies when the anguish of the victim’s relatives is taken into account.

The curtain came down on the Pinochet regime in 1990 when he handed over power to the civilian government after losing the 1988 referendum for the continuation of military rule. He remained Commander-in-Chief of the Army, until March 1998. His last years were spent in obscurity until he gained international prominence for the wrong reasons, namely, his indictment for tax evasion and also for his indictment for the kidnapping and murder of Allende's bodyguards. He was placed under house arrest. He was also dogged by controversies relating to his amassing huge wealth and stashing it in foreign bank accounts under fictitious names.

Pinochet died at the age of 91. In the obituaries the mainstream media blamed the good General for his genocide but a few such as the Economist record that the General ‘ rescued Chile from communism and went to turn it into the fastest-growing economy in Latin America by applying free market policies.’17 Of course this is another spin of the media and figures flatly contradict the myth of economic miracle of Chile under Pinochet. After Allende’s overthrow, national output dropped 15%, the unemployment rate rose to 20%, and wage reductions averaged 15%. If one compares the miracle years of Pinochet with production level of Chile at Allende’s time then a different picture emerges: Chile’s GDP in 1986 had only regained the 1970 level, real wages were still depressed, per capita consumption was 15% lower. In the next five years (1985-1990) the income of the top 10% increased by 90% while the share of wealth for the poorest 25% declined from 11% to 7%. The share of national income for labour fell from 47.7% in 1970 to 19% in 1990. 18 The economic legacy of the Pinochet regime could be best described as dubious.

Pinochet who was known as the 'General with Dark Glasses' puzzled both his admirers and his opponents alike as to why he wore them. In an interview given in USA Today, Nov. 23, 1999 the good General candidly admitted, "Wearing dark glasses was a way of communicating. Lies are uncovered through eye movements, and I, on many occasions, was lying." For once the good general spoke the truth.


1: The Independent online edition- 13 December 2006.


2: Testimony: Detainee remembers Chile 1973-BBC News- Friday, 23 October 1998.

3: Testimony: Detainee remembers Chile 1973-BBC News- Friday, 23 October 1998.

 4: 30 years since Chilean coup ousted President Allende – The World Today – Friday, 12 September 2003 5: State Terrorism and September 11, 1973 and 2001 – Roger Burbach 08 September 20036: Pinochet and the Amnesia of the US Press – Roger Burbach

7: Pinochet- a symbol of human rights abuse- Jonathan Kendell- New York Times News service.

8: Chile and United States – declassified documents relating to the military coup, September 11, 1973- Peter Kornbluh.

9: Online Newshour- Pursuing the Past- February 20, 2001.

10: US responsibility for the coup in Chile – Daniel Brandt.

11: Killing Hope – William Blum-ZED books-pages 207-208.12: US responsibility for the coup in Chile- Daniel Brandt.

13: Gary MacEoin, No Peaceful Way: Chile's Struggle for Dignity, pp. 91-2.

14: Allende’s Chile: An Inside View – Edward Bornstein- also refer How Allende Fell – James Petras and Morris.H. Morley.

15: Pinochet and the Unraveling of the American Century – S. Brian Wilson-1999

16: 11 September 1973 – The Day Democracy Died in Chile – BBC.

17: The passing of a tyrant – The Economist – December 16th 2006.

18: Economic Democracy – J.W.Smith- page 159.

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  • Bliffle

    The enthusiasm with which Kissinger, Nixon, et al, embraced the idea of undermining a fairly elected government gives one a hint as to what may be in store for the USA should the childish voters not elect, in some future election like 2008, an administration suitably inclined to continue the BushCo Long War against Islam.

  • Nice comment…

    Perhaps don’t know what about you are talking.

  • Bliffle

    If the Childe Voters of Chile are not allowed to elect their own leaders why should the (equally childish) Childe Voters of the USA?

  • Anand Menon

    Standard Schaefer writes”…The Chilean experiment originated in an exchange program of economists between the University of Chicago and Chile’s Catholic University in Santiago. In August 1972, more than a year before the military coup, the CIA funded a 300-page economic blueprint which it supplied to the country’s military and some of the most ambitious business families in an effort to hasten the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s socialist government, which had been elected by a small plurality in 1970.

    The Chicago-style monetary plan described efforts to privatize industry, reign in government spending to lower inflation, and to create a more active stock market financed by labor’s own forced savings in order to increase stock prices. The hope was that capital gains would suffice to pay off the loans that the government gave its supporters and cronies to buy industrial companies will little or no cash down.

    Neoliberals call Chile’s 1974-90 period a miracle, but it is best seen as what should have been a warning against imposing similar policies in other countries. Under what became known as the Washington Consensus the economy was subjected to totalitarian libertarian doctrine. Public enterprises were given away of to the junta’s supporters with virtually no money down. The result was mass bankruptcy, economic collapse, and a polarization of wealth and political power that transformed the country that had been one of Latin America’s most stable middle-class democracies…..”

    Prof Michael Hudson writes”…What seems to have upset Mr. Kissinger was the fact that socialism came to power through democratic election. It was a basic axiom of right-wing “free market” philosophy that socialism could only take over by dictatorship. Allende’s victory showed this premise to be wrong. So a theory of society and doctrine of the global future was being threatened.

    A second axiom was that socialist planning could not provide a prosperous economic environment, and especially that prosperity could not be gained by breaking away from what now is called the Washington Consensus. Under Allende, Chile sustained a hefty 8.9 percent increase in its GNP and at first succeeded in reducing the country’s inflation rate. During his nearly three years in office he gained support by providing the poor with better access to housing, education, food and health care than previously.

    Kissinger felt that the United States needed to show that socialism was bound to fail economically. Rather than leaving this to the “free market,” America used the famous “invisible hand” not Adam Smith’s invisible hand of free enterprise, but the covert hand of CIA destabilization.

    One remaining problem had to be countered. That was the threat that Chile’s army might obey its constitution and promote the country’s independence rather than favoring U.S. policies. The leading Chilean general was a constitutionalist who believed that the army should stay out of politics. He had to be murdered in order to replace him with a more U.S.-oriented general, who turned out to be Augusto Pinochet who quickly became an acolyte of the Chicago Boys…..”

    Roger Burbach writing more recently said”…..As the proceedings against Pinochet advanced, new reports of US complicity in the coup and the repression began to surface, particularly about the role of Kissinger. The Chilean courts tried to compel Kissinger to testify, but they received no cooperation from the US Justice Department. French courts also issued orders for the interrogation of Kissinger, making him realize that he like Pinochet did not enjoy international impunity from prosecution. Small wonder that Kissinger wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, decrying the use of the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ by courts to bring human rights violators to justice…..”

    Carl Estabrook writes”…As national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations (1969-77), Kissinger oversaw a murderous American foreign policy, particularly in Latin America and in southern Asia, from Israel to Vietnam and Indonesia. “Foreign policy is not missionary work,” he is reported to have said as he delivered up a no longer useful population (in this particular case, Kurds) to be slaughtered…”

    and also…”Kissinger still enjoys the media’s fawning regard as a “foreign policy expert”: he wrote complacently at the outset of his government “service” that an expert was someone who articulated the consensus of the powerful…..”

    and more tellingly…”It is necessary to examine the historical record accurately and recognize the Kissingers and the Pinochets, the Kennedys and the Reagans, as the war criminals they were. It has been rightly said that if the principles of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of 1945-6 had been enforced in the US, every President since then would have been hanged…..”

    …..and this is the guy who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973….now who says the Norwegians don’t have a sense of humour…

  • Non

    The popular election of 1973 you say? You have to check your sources, because there was no election in 1973.
    IMO (speculatively), if there were, Allende would have lost. Remember that in that time there was economic and political chaos. Regardless of who destabilised the country, there was a strong opposition against Allende by that year.