December 14, 2006


Far from being an evil dictator, Pinochet rescued Chile: Contrary to conventional wisdom, former Chilean autocrat Augusto Pinochet averted civil war and saved millions from the destruction of socialism (James Whalen, December 15, 2006, The Australian)

SIX months before Salvador Allende was overthrown on September 11, 1973, Volodia Teitelboim told an interviewer for the Communist Party daily newspaper in Santiago that if civil war were to come, then 500,000 to one million Chileans would die. [...]

[T]he Communists and the Socialists shared the same goal - ending once and for all the bourgeois democratic state - but differed on methods. Allende, a Socialist, was somewhere in between, wavering between his own bourgeois tastes and the totalitarian temptation.

Allende had come to power in September 1970 with not enough votes to win outright election - only 40,000 more than the conservative runner-up - and so had to be voted in by Congress in exchange for a statute of guarantees drawn up by the Christian Democrat majority. A few months later, Allende told fellow leftist Regis Debray that he never actually intended to abide by those commitments but signed just to finally become president, having failed in three previous runs for the office.

In those first 2 1/2 years, Allende had plunged Chile into hell-on-earth chaos. Former president Eduardo Frei Montalva - the man more responsible than any other for Allende's ascent to the presidency - called it "this carnival of madness". Violence, strikes, shortages and lawlessness stalked the land.

The Supreme Court declared Allende outside the law. So, too, did the Chamber of Deputies in August 1973 in a resolution that all but demanded the armed forces seize power to rescue Chile from the inferno.

So, when the armed forces finally did act on September 3, they did so in response to the clamour of an overwhelming majority of Chileans and not as the jackboot power bandits of typical Latin American revolts. News stories about what happened on that Tuesday in September routinely speak of the bloody coup. It was no such thing. About 200 people died in the shooting on September 13 and a little more than 1000 in the first three months of virtual civil war.

But not the civil war the Communists were perfectly prepared to accept as their price for power: 500,000 to one million. Indeed, in all 17 years of military rule, the total of dead and missing - according to the only serious study - was 2279. The Chilean Revolution thus was, by far, the least bloody of any significant Latin American revolution of the 20th century, though you would never guess that from reading or watching news reports.

The Chilean revolution was different from other Latin American revolutions in another respect: it left the country far better off than the one it found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2006 2:27 PM

Not only did Pinochet beat the Communists, he disproved Communism too. Either would have been sufficient to earn him a libelous title, both in conjunction made them froth at the mouth.

Posted by: Ray Clutts at December 14, 2006 6:55 PM