Augusto Pinochet biography data. Chilean coup d'etat. Pinochet human rights violations.

General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte[1] (born November 25, 1915) was head of the military dictatorship that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He came to power in a violent coup that deposed Salvador Allende, a Marxist physician who had become the first Socialist to be elected President of Chile. The coup ended a period of strained relations between the United States (which had actively sought Allende's removal) and the South American country, and allowed Pinochet to implement profound neoliberal economic reforms and, at the same time, to commit extensive human rights violations, both at home and abroad.

Chilean coup of 1973

Salvador Allende

Chile under Allende

Augusto Pinochet

U.S. intervention in Chile

On September 11, 1973, the military, led by Pinochet, stormed the presidential palace and seized power from President Allende, who was found dead soon after. A junta headed by Pinochet was established, which immediately suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress, imposed strict censorship, proscribed the leftist parties that had constituted Allende's Popular Unity coalition, and halted all political activity. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against opponents and perceived leftists in the country. As a result, approximately 3,000 Chilean residents are known to have been executed, or "disappeared", more than 27,000[2] were incarcerated and in a great many cases tortured, according to the Valech Report. Many were exiled and received abroad, in particular in Argentina, as political refugees; but they were followed in their exile by the DINA secret police, in the frame of Operation Condor which linked South-American dictatorships together against political opponents.

In 1980, a new constitution was approved, which prescribed a single-candidate presidential plebiscite in 1988, and a return to civilian rule in 1990. Pinochet lost the 1988 plebiscite, which triggered multi-candidate presidential elections in 1989 to choose his replacement. Pinochet transferred power to Patricio Aylwin, the new democratically elected president, in 1990; however, he retained his post as commander-in-chief of the army until 1998, when he assumed a seat in the Chilean Senate, which was intended to be his for the duration of his life, according to the constitutional amendments of 1980. In 1998 Pinochet, who still had much influence in Chile, travelled to the United Kingdom for medical treatment. While there, he was arrested on a warrant from Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón and kept under house arrest for over a year, before eventually being released on medical grounds. He returned to Chile and resigned his senatorial seat in 2002, after a Supreme Court ruling that he suffered from "vascular dementia" and therefore could not stand trial for human rights abuses—allegations of abuses had been made numerous times before his arrest, but never acted upon. In May 2004, Chile's supreme court ruled that he was capable of standing trial, and he was charged with several crimes in December of that year.

Supporters of Pinochet credit him with staving off the beginning of Communism, fighting terrorism from radical groups such as MIR, and implementing free market policies that laid the groundwork for rapid economic growth that continued into the 1990s. His opponents charge him with destroying Chile's democracy, pursuing a policy of state terrorism, catering exclusively for private interests, and adopting economic policies that favored the wealthy and hurt the country's middle- and low-income sectors. While it was originally denied by his supporters, it is now generally accepted that Pinochet's government was responsible for torturing and killing thousands of people perceived to be opponents.

Early career

Pinochet was born in Valparaíso on November 25, 1915, the son of Augusto Pinochet Vera and Avelina Ugarte Martínez. He went to primary and secondary school at the San Rafael Seminary of Valparaíso, the Quillota Institute (Marist Brothers), the French Fathers' School of Valparaíso, and in the Military School, which he entered in 1933. After four years of study, in 1937 he graduated with the rank of alférez (Second Lieutenant) in the infantry.

In September 1937, he was assigned to the "Chacabuco" Regiment, in Concepción. Two years later, in 1939, then with the rank of sub-lieutenant, he moved to the "Maipo" Regiment, garrisoned in Valparaíso. He returned to Infantry School in 1940. On January 30, 1943, he married Lucía Hiriart Rodríguez, with whom he had five children: three daughters (Inés Lucía, María Verónica, Jacqueline Marie) and two sons (Augusto Osvaldo and Marco Antonio).

At the end of 1945, he was assigned to the "Carampangue" Regiment in the northern city of Iquique. In 1948, he entered the War Academy, but he had to postpone his studies, because, being the youngest officer, he had to carry out a service mission in the coal zone of Lota. The following year, he returned to his studies in the Academy.

After obtaining the title of Officer Chief of Staff, in 1951, he returned to teach at the Military School. At the same time, he worked as a teachers' aide at the War Academy, giving military geography and geopolitics classes. In addition to this, he was active as editor of the institutional magazine Cien Águilas ("One Hundred Eagles").

At the beginning of 1953, with the rank of major, he was sent for two years to the "Rancagua" Regiment in Arica. While there, he was appointed professor of the War Academy, and he returned to Santiago to take up his new position. He also obtained a baccalaureate, and with this degree, he entered the University of Chile's Law School.

In 1956, Pinochet was chosen, together with a group of other young officers, to form a military mission that would collaborate in the organization of the War Academy of Ecuador in Quito, which forced him to suspend his law studies. He remained with the Quito mission for three-and-a-half years, during which time he dedicated himself to the study of geopolitics, military geography and intelligence.

At the end of 1959, he returned to Chile and was sent to General Headquarters of the I Army Division, based in Antofagasta. The following year, he was appointed Commander of the "Esmeralda" Regiment. Due to his success in this position, he was appointed Sub-director of the War Academy in 1963.

In 1968, he was named Chief of Staff of the II Army Division, based in Santiago, and at the end of that year, he was promoted to Brigadier General and Commander in Chief of the VI Division, garrisoned in Iquique. In his new function, he was also appointed Intendant of the Tarapacá Province.

In January 1971, he rose to Division General, and was named General Commander of the Santiago Army Garrison. At the beginning of 1972, he was appointed General Chief of Staff of the Army. With rising domestic strife in Chile, Pinochet was appointed Army Commander in Chief on August 23, 1973 by President Salvador Allende.

Military coup of 1973

Pinochet came to power in a coup d'état on September 11, 1973, in which the rebelling Chilean Air Force bombed the Presidential Palace while it was being stormed by Army troops. President Allende died during the capture of the palace. The exact circumstances of his death are disputed. According to the junta's official version, he committed suicide with a machine gun[3] which bore a golden plate engraved "To my good friend Salvador Allende from Fidel Castro." At the time and for many years after, his supporters nearly uniformly presumed that he was killed by the forces staging the coup. Another version says that Allende was killed in combat on the steps outside the Presidential Palace. An autopsy in 1990 found that Allende's wounds were consistent with the suicide account.

The new junta was made up of Pinochet representing the Army, Admiral José Toribio Merino representing the Navy, General Gustavo Leigh representing the Air Force, and César Mendoza representing the carabineros (the uniformed police). Since Pinochet was the chief of the oldest branch of the military forces (the Army), he was made the head of the victorious junta — this position was originally to be rotated among the four branches, but was later made permanent. The junta immediately moved to crush their left-wing opposition, arresting hundreds of people and killing many of them. Thousands more were arrested and tortured over the next three years, and a total of more than 3,000 were killed. Internationally, the Pinochet government became known for severe human rights abuses, including many "disappearances".

In his memoirs, Pinochet affirms that he was the leading plotter of the coup, and used his position as Commander of the Army to coordinate a far-reaching scheme with the other two branches of the military and the national police. In recent years, however, high military officials from the time have said that Pinochet reluctantly got involved in the coup only a few days before it was scheduled to occur and followed the lead of other branches (especially the Navy) as they triggered the coup.

Once the Junta was in power, Pinochet soon consolidated his control, first retaining sole chairmanship of the junta, and then being proclaimed President on June 27, 1974. He also promoted himself to the supreme army rank of Capitán General (literally Captain General), previously borne by colonial governors and by Bernardo O'Higgins, a hero of Chile's war of independence, and first head of state.

General Leigh of the Air Force became increasingly opposed to Pinochet's policies, and he was kicked out of the junta on July 24, 1978. He was replaced by General Fernando Matthei.

During 1977 and 1978, Chile was on the brink of war with Argentina (also ruled by a military government) over a disagreement regarding the ownership of the strategic Picton, Lennox and Nueva islands at the southern tip of South America. Antonio Samoré, a representative of Pope John Paul II, successfully prevented full-scale war. The conflict was finally resolved on 1984, with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship (Tratado de Paz y Amistad). Chilean sovereignty over the islands and Argentinian over the around Sea is now undisputed.

Pinochet's economic policy

By mid 1975, Pinochet set about making free-market oriented economic reforms. He declared that he wanted "to make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of proprietors". This was a play on words using the Spanish, "propietarios", i.e. owners or business proprietors which rhymes with "proletarios", i.e. proletarians. To formulate his economic policy, Pinochet relied on the so-called Chicago Boys, who were economists trained at the University of Chicago and heavily influenced by the monetarist policies of Milton Friedman. Pinochet also flew to Spain to pay his respects to the former Spanish dictator General Franco at his funeral in Mardid in November 1975. Pinochet was the only world leader to attend Franco's funeral other than Spain's current king Juan Carlos de Borbon.

Pinochet launched an era of economic deregulation and privatization. To accomplish his objectives, he abolished the minimum wage, rescinded trade union rights, privatized the pension system, state industries, and banks, and lowered taxes on wealth and profits. Supporters of these policies (most notably Milton Friedman himself) have dubbed them "The Miracle of Chile", due to the country's sustained economic growth since the late 1980s.

President Allende's economic policy had involved nationalizations of many key companies, notably U.S.-owned copper mines. This had been a significant reason behind the United States opposition to Allende's reformist socialist government, in addition to his establishing diplomatic relations and cooperation agreements with Cuba and the Soviet Union. Much of the internal opposition to Allende's policies came from business sector, and recently-released U.S. government documents confirm that the U.S. funded the lorry drivers' strike, [1] that had exacerbated the already chaotic economic situation prior to the coup.

Suppression of opposition

After the military's seizure of power, Pinochet engaged in brutal political repression, aiming to destroy all remaining support for the defeated Popular Unity (PU) government. In October 1973, at least 70 people were killed by the Caravan of Death. Almost immediately, the junta banned all the leftist parties that had constituted Allende's UP coalition. Much of the regime's violence was directed toward those it viewed as socialist or Marxist sympathizers, though dissidents who spoke out against the government were also persecuted. Those murdered during Pinochet's 17 years in power are said to have "been disappeared." It is not known exactly how many people were killed by government and military forces during the 17 years that he was in power, but the Rettig Commission listed 2,095 deaths and 1,102 "disappearances.", with the vast majority of victims coming from the opposition to Pinochet at the hands of the state security apparatus. Torture was also commonly used against dissidents. Thousands of Chileans were expelled from and fled the country to escape the regime. In 2004, the National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture produced the Valech Report after interviewing an estimated 35,000 people who claimed to have been abused by the regime. About 28,000 of those testimonies were regarded as legitimate. According to the Commission, more than half of the arrests occurred in the months immediately following the coup (approximately 18,000 of those testifying claimed they were detained between September and December of 1973).

Pinochet's rule was frequently made unstable by protests and isolated violent attacks. Isolated attacks by armed groups opposed to the regime increased government paranoia allowed the dictatorship to justify what they termed the "cycle" of oppression.

In contrast to most other nations in Latin America, prior to the coup Chile had a long tradition of democratic civilian rule; military intervention in politics had been rare. Some political scientists have ascribed the bloodiness of the coup to the stability of the existing democratic system, which required extreme action to overturn.

The situation in Chile came to international attention in September 1976, when Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States and minister in Allende's cabinet, was assassinated by a car bomb in Washington, D.C.. General Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor and army commander under Allende, who had resigned rather than support the moves against the democratic system, was assassinated under similar circumstances in Buenos Aires, Argentina, two years earlier.

Chilean foreign relations under Pinochet

The new junta quickly broke off the diplomatic relations with Cuba that had been established under the Allende government. Having come to power with the self-proclaimed mission of fighting communism, Pinochet found common cause with the military dictatorships of Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and later, Argentina. The six countries eventually formulated a plan that became known as Operation Condor, in which one country's security forces would target suspected "Marxist subversives", guerrillas, and their sympathizers in the allied countries. After Orlando Letelier's assassination in Washington, D.C. (September 1976) the United States started opposing themselves to Condor operations abroad (phase 3), asking for the extradition of DINA agent Michael Townley. However, it wasn't until details of the plot leaked out after each of the regimes collapsed and the discovery of the "terror archives" in Paraguay that Condor came to be widely condemned as coordinated state terrorism. The military governments justified, however, the "Dirty War" by the imperative of stability during a time when many urban and rural Marxist guerrillas were actively seeking to violently overthrow each country's respective government. In Argentina, for example, the "doctrine of the two demons" was created to justify this violent form of anti-communism that took place in the more general historic frame of the Cold War.

Under Pinochet, Chile was the only country in Latin America not to support Argentina in its war with the U.K. over the Falkland Islands in 1982, after having almost started a war over a confrontation on some strategic islands.

Pinochet's government received tacit approval and material support from the United States of America. The exact nature and extent of this support is disputed. (See U.S. role in 1973 Coup, U.S. intervention in Chile and Operation Condor for more details.)

End of the Pinochet regime

In May 1983, the opposition and labor movements began to organize demonstrations and strikes against the regime, provoking violent responses from government officials. In 1986, security forces discovered 80 tons of weapons smuggled into the country by the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), the armed branch of the outlawed Communist Party. The shipment of Carrizal Bajo included C-4 plastic explosives, RPG-7 and M72 LAW rocket launchers as well as more than three thousand M-16 rifles. The operation was overseen by Cuban intelligence, and also involved East Germany and the Soviet Union.

In September, weapons from the same source were used in an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Pinochet by the FPMR. Pinochet suffered only minor injuries, but five of his military bodyguards were killed.

The beheading of leftist professor José Manuel Parada, and journalist Manuel Guerrero, and Santiago Nattino by the uniformed police (carabineros) led to the resignation of junta member General Mendoza in 1985.

According to the transitional provisions of the 1980 Constitution, approved by 75% of voters in what has been said to be "a highly irregular and undemocratic plebiscite.",[4] a plebiscite was scheduled for October 5, 1988, to vote on a new eight-year presidential term for Pinochet. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the plebiscite should be carried out as stipulated by the Law of Elections. That included an "Electoral Space" during which all positions, in this case two, Sí (yes), and No, would have two free slots of equal and uninterrupted TV time, simultaneously broadcast by all TV channels, with no political advertising outside those spots. The allotment was scheduled in two off-prime time slots: one before the afternoon news and the other before the late-night news, from 22:45 to 23:15 each night (the evening news was from 20:30 to 21:30, and prime time from 21:30 to 22:30). The opposition No campaign, headed by Ricardo Lagos, produced colorful, upbeat programs, telling the Chilean people to vote against the extension of the presidential term. Lagos, in an interview, called on Pinochet to account for all the "disappeared" persons. The Sí campaign did not argue for the advantages of extension, but was instead negative, claiming that voting "no" was equivalent to voting for a return to the chaos of the UP government.

In the plebiscite, 55% of the votes rejected the extension of the presidential term, against 42% for "Sí", and again according to the provisions of the constitution, open presidential elections were held the next year, at the same time as congressional elections that would have taken place in either case. Pinochet left the presidency on March 11, 1990.

Due to the transitional provisions of the constitution, Pinochet remained as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, until March 1998. He was then sworn in as a senator-for-life, a privilege first granted to former presidents with at least six years in office by the 1980 constitution. His senatorship and consequent immunity from prosecution protected him, and legal challenges began only after Pinochet had been arrested in the United Kingdom.

Arrest in London

Pinochet is visited by Margaret Thatcher during his house arrest in London, in 1998While traveling abroad, Pinochet was arrested in October 1998 in London, England, the United Kingdom, under an international arrest warrant issued by judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain, and he was placed under house arrest: initially in the clinic where he had just undergone back surgery, and later in a luxurious rented house. The charges included 94 counts of torture of Spanish citizens, and one count of conspiracy to commit torture. The government of Chile opposed his arrest, extradition to Spain, and trial.

There was a hard-fought 16-month legal battle in the House of Lords, the highest court of England, Pinochet claimed immunity from prosecution as a former head of state. This was rejected, but the Lords decided that only crimes alleged to have been committed after the incorporation of the International Convention against Torture into English law in 1988 could be considered. This invalidated most, but not all, of the charges against him; but the outcome was that extradition could proceed.

There were then questions about Pinochet's allegedly fragile health. After medical tests, the Home Secretary Jack Straw ruled, despite the protests of legal and medical experts from several countries, that he should not be extradited, and on 2 March 2000, he returned to Chile.

Significance of the arrest

Despite his release on grounds of ill-health, the unprecedented detention of Pinochet in a foreign country for crimes against humanity committed in his own country, without a warrant or request for extradition from his own country, marks a watershed in international law. It is considered one of the most important events since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón's case was largely founded on the principle of universal jurisdiction—that certain crimes are so egregious that they constitute crimes against humanity and can therefore be prosecuted in any court in the world. The British House of Lords ruled that Pinochet had no right to immunity from prosecution as a former head of state, and could be put on trial. (See The Ripple Effect of the Pinochet Case.)

Prosecution in Chile

On August 8, 2000, the Supreme Court of Justice voted 14 to 6 to strip Pinochet of his parliamentary immunity, and he was prosecuted. However, the cases were dismissed by the same Court, for medical reasons (vascular dementia), in July 2002. Shortly after the verdict, Pinochet resigned from the Senate and lived quietly. He rarely made public appearances and was notably absent from the events marking the 30th anniversary of the coup on September 11, 2003. Almost two years after his resignation, on May 28, 2004, the Court of Appeals voted 14 to 9 to revoke Pinochet's dementia status and, consequently, his immunity from prosecution. In arguing their case, the prosecution presented a recent television interview Pinochet had made to a Miami-based television network. The judges found that the interview raised doubts about the mental incapacity of Pinochet.

On August 26, 2004, in a 9 to 8 vote, the Supreme Court confirmed the decision that Pinochet should lose his senatorial immunity from prosecution. On December 2, 2004, the Santiago Appeals Court stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution over the 1974 assassination of General Carlos Prats, his predecessor as Army Commander-in-Chief, who was killed by a car bomb during exile in Argentina. On December 13, 2004, Judge Juan Guzmán placed Pinochet under house arrest and indicted him over the disappearance of nine opposition activists and the killing of one of them during his regime. On March 24, 2005, the Supreme Court reversed the Santiago Appeals Court ruling in the Carlos Prats case, and affirmed Pinochet's immunity in that particular case. In another case involving the killing of 119 dissidents, the Supreme Court decided to strip Pinochet of his immunity in a ruling issued on September 14, 2005.[2] The following day he was acquitted of the human rights case due to his ill health. Late in November of 2005, he was deemed fit to stand trial by the Chilean Supreme Court and was indicted on human rights, for the disappearance of six dissidents arrested by Chile's security services in late 1974, and again placed under house arrest, on the eve of his 90th birthday. (See Operation Colombo.)

Tax fraud and foreign bank accounts

A year long U.S. Senate investigatory committee released a report about Riggs Bank on July 15, 2004, which had solicited Pinochet and controlled between USD $4 million and $8 million of his assets. According to the report, Riggs participated in money laundering for Pinochet, setting up offshore shell corporations (referring to Pinochet as only "a former public official"), and hiding his accounts from regulatory agencies. The report said the violations were "symptomatic of uneven and, at times, ineffective enforcement by all federal bank regulators, of bank compliance with their anti-money-laundering obligations." Five days later, a Chilean court formally opened an investigation into Pinochet's finances for the first time, on allegations of fraud, misappropriation of funds, and bribery. Then, a few hours later, the state prosecutor, Chile's State Defense Council (Consejo de Defensa del Estado), presented a second request for the same judge to investigate Pinochet's assets, but without directly accusing him of crimes. On October 1, 2004, Chile's Internal Revenue Service ("Servicio de Impuestos Internos") filed a lawsuit against Pinochet, accusing him of fraud and tax evasion, for the amount of USD $3.6 million in investment accounts at Riggs between 1996 and 2002. Pinochet could face fines totaling 300 percent of the amount owed, and prison time, if convicted. Aside from the legal ramifications, this evidence of financial impropiety has severely embarrassed Pinochet. According to the State Defense Council, his hidden assets could never have been acquired solely on the basis of his salary as President, Chief of the Armed Forces, and Life Senator. Late in November of 2005, he was deemed fit to stand trial by the Chilean Supreme Court and was indicted and put under house arrest on tax fraud and passport forgery, but was released on bail; however he remained under house arrest, due to unrelated human rights charges.

This tax fraud filing, related to Pinochet's and his family secret bank accounts in United States and in Caraïbs islands, for an amount of 27 millions dollars, shocked the Chilean public opinion more than the accusations of criminal activities. Ninety percent of these funds would have been raised between 1990 and 1998, when Pinochet was chief of the Chilean armies, and would essentially have come from weapons traffic (when purchasing Belgian 'Mirage' air-fighters in 1994, Dutch 'Léopard' tanks, Swiss 'Mowag' tanks or by illegal sales of weapons to Croatia, in the middle of the Balkans war.) General Pinochet would owe to the Chilean tax administration a total of $16.5 million. In that case Pinochet's immunity was set off by the Appeal Court of Santiago, and this was confirmed by the Supreme court on October 19th, 2005. The judiciary procedure may go on, and eventually lead to a trial for Pinochet, his wife Lucia Hiriart and one of his sons, Marco Antonio Pinochet, sued for complicity. Judge Juan Guzman Tapia -- sometimes called "Pinochet's hunter" -- remains skeptic on the probability of a trial, either for human rights violations or for fiscal fraud. However, some medical examinations reported that the physical and mental health condition of the former Chilean dictator would allow him to be judged. On November 23rd, 2005, judge Carlos Cerda charged Pinochet for fiscal fraud and ordered his arrest. Pinochet was freed under caution, as following the judgment minutes, "his freedom did not represent a danger for the security of the society"), but it is the fourth time in seven years that Augusto Pinochet is indicted and charged for illegal behavior.

On 23 February 2006 Augusto Pinochet's children Lucía, Jacqueline, Marco Antonio, Jacqueline and Verónica Pinochet; Augusto Pinochet's wife, Lucia Hiriart; a daughter-in-law; and Pinochet's personal secretary were indicted on charges of tax fraud, including failing to declare bank accounts overseas, and using false passports. Lucía flew to the US, but was detained and returned to Argentina, her country of departure, after attempting unsuccessfully to claim political asylum[3]. Further developments are to be expected (Feb 2006).


Chileans remain deeply divided on his legacy. Many see him as a brutal dictator who ended democracy and led a regime characterized by torture and favoritism towards the rich, while others believe that he saved the country from communism, safeguarded Chilean democracy and led the transformation of the Chilean economy into Latin America's most stable and fastest growing economy.

This debate was revisited after Pinochet's arrest in 1998. At that time, the General said of the 1973 coup, “We only set ourselves the task of transforming Chile into a democratic society of free men and women." [4]. His supporters made similar claims. Former Prime Minister Thatcher, for example, thanked the General for "bringing democracy to Chile". [5]. When in power, however, Pinochet gave a series of speeches that rather clearly indicated that the 1973 coup targeted not only Allende's Popular Unity government, but Chilean democracy itself, which the General saw as hopelessly flawed. In wording that Pinochet repeated several times in various speeches, he claimed that Chile had been “slave and victim of the Congress since 1925, and slave and victim of the political parties.” Arguing for an "organic" type of democracy, Pinochet argued “Merely formal democracy dissolves itself, victim of a demagogy that substitutes simple, unattainable promises for social justice and economic prosperity.” Democracy would inevitably result in a marxist dictatorship, according to his analysis. Chilean democracy, therefore, was “progressively socializing in its economic experiments.... Those who thought they could detain or control this evolution... were given proof under the marxist regime of their impotence and incomprehensible lack of vision.” (Pinochet, “Patria y Democracia”, 1983, Santiago, Andres Bello)

Any doubts about the human rights abuses carried out by the Pinochet regime have been stilled by several detailed reports and the emergence of evidence. In January 2005, the Chilean Army accepted institutional responsibility for past abuses. Other institutions also accept that abuses took place, but blame them on individuals, rather than official policy. Lucía Pinochet Hiriart, Augusto Pinochet's eldest daughter, said the use of torture during his 1973–90 regime was "barbaric and without justification", after seeing the Valech Report.