December 12, 2006


THE 'BEST' DICTATOR (JOHN O'SULLIVAN, December 12, 2006, NY Post)

His victims are estimated at some 3,200. One innocent murdered is one too many. But if we are talking comparisons, Pinochet's total of innocents murdered is (as estimated by the Cuba Archive Project) about a twentieth of Castro's - partly because Pinochet exiled many of his dissidents, while Castro sinks his "boat people" so that the sharks get them.

And Pinochet's economic legacy outstrips that of most advanced democracies, let alone the economic rubble of all the communist dictators. Within a decade of the 1973 coup, Chile was a stable growing economy - transformed by monetary, supply-side, trade and labor market reforms introduced by Pinochet.

When Chile returned to democracy in the late '80s, it continued his free-market approach. The whole world noticed this. As communism was collapsing in 1989-91, one encountered self-described "Pinochet Marxists" in the Soviet bloc who sought an extension of one-party rule to impose the free-market reforms now needed to repair the ravages of socialism.

Thus, if successful economic transformation could justify political mass murder - the Marxist test - then Pinochet should be celebrated without reserve as the savior of his country (with Franco as a strong runner-up).

Contra the Marxists, however, murder is not an economic policy, and the soundest economic policy can't justify murder. If Pinochet authorized murders, he should have been tried for them - though the same rule should apply to Castro, other surviving dictators and those supporters of Allende who killed opponents in the Chilean civil war.

For Pinochet's coup was in reality a short civil war. In 1973, Chile's Parliament and Supreme Court, backed by public opinion, called for military intervention to overthrow President Salvador Allende for his flagrant abuse of the Constitution. (They also feared an imminent Marxist coup led by him.)

One of three military leaders who responded to that call, Pinochet gradually accumulated power afterward - probably corrupted by the delusion that he was essential to national salvation. But the original coup was never a personal power-grab: It was an attempt to save Chile from a Marxist dictatorship that, on the evidence of history, would have proved more enduring and more blood-stained than his own rule.

Pinochet, in short, first defeated Marxism and then disproved it - which explains better than anything his status as the world's worst dictator even though it is at variance with so many other facts.

Among them is the fact that Pinochet also surrendered power voluntarily after defeat in a referendum. In a historic deal, he bargained a dignified retirement in return for restoring democracy and an amnesty. That amnesty satisfied most Chileans and founded Chilean democracy in a secure national consensus - but spurred Pinochet's foreign enemies on to greater efforts.

The Left can never forgive him for being benign and successful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 12, 2006 12:02 AM

I agree that Pinochet had been benign and successful, although, unlike the author of the article, I would rate Franco as the greater.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 12, 2006 11:29 AM

Franco certainly faced the tougher task, but his failure to personally turn back power having laid the groundwork makes him the lesser.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2006 11:40 AM
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