November 18, 2007


After the Caudillo (DAVID RIEFF, 11/18/07, NY Times Magazine)

As many pointed out to me during a recent visit, Chile is not South Africa, and Bachelet’s ruling Concertación alliance — bringing together a number of center and center-left parties — is not the African National Congress. The transition to democratic rule in Chile was not, as in the case of South Africa, a case of a losing side and a winning side. After the democratic government of President Patricio Aylwin assumed power, Pinochet remained commander of the armed forces and senator for life. (He was stripped of senatorial immunity after his indictment for crimes against humanity by the Spanish magistrate, Baltasar Garzón.) A result is that to this day, 17 years after the return of democracy, Chileans of all political persuasions still live in something of a state of contradiction. [...]

Today, however, no Chilean speaks or writes as if the military poses any threat to the country’s democracy. Instead, the army is transforming itself. Gen. Eduardo Aldunate, who oversees Chile’s military schools, started his career as an infantry officer but also studied international humanitarian law at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, where the dean is Claudio Grossman — a longstanding opponent of Pinochet’s who fled Chile for the Netherlands after Allende’s fall. They speak warmly of each other. Aldunate was acting force commander of Minustah, the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Haiti, in 2005-6; in his office, he displays prominently his U.N. blue helmet and other memorabilia of international service. And he is adamant that the Chilean Army is now emphasizing international and humanitarian missions. When I met him, he spoke in great detail about the emphasis put on the laws of war — above all, the four Geneva conventions — in the teaching of new officer cadets, and the course syllabuses of the military academy very much reflect these concerns.

Obviously, there are limits, which may be what disappoints some left-wing critics of the Concertación and of Michelle Bachelet’s tenure as president. When I asked Aldunate whether there were discussions in seminars about what happened during the Pinochet years — which he, like other officers I spoke with, referred to as a “unique” or “anomalous” period — he replied: “Not really. What we emphasize is understanding of the law and the need to adhere to both its letter and its spirit.” He echoed Bachelet’s insistence that human rights were sacrosanct and that flouting them was incompatible with the duty of a Chilean officer.

Understandably, the families of the disappeared continue to hope for more. They remain largely unreconciled to the reigning spirit of compromise. A measure of their bitterness was evident during last year’s funeral ceremonies for Pinochet, when Francisco Cuadrado Prats, the grandson of Allende’s army chief, Carlos Prats, who was assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1974 on orders from Pinochet, waited in line among the dictator’s mourners for hours and then, when he approached the coffin, spat on it.

One has fundamentally misapprehended the Cold War if he doesn't grasp that it is because Pinochet won the Chilean Civil War that the Allendes can spit on a leader's grave. No such freedom would be permitted a Pinochet under the sort of regime Allende and company sought to impose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2007 4:01 PM

It is quite clear - you can be Cuba (or Venezuela), you can be Argentina (or Bolivia), or you can be Chile (or Brazil).

All the agit-prop in the world doesn't cover the difference. Ask any Zimbabwean.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 18, 2007 11:33 PM