The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet

Term of Office: September 11, 1973
March 11, 1990
Predecessor: Salvador Allende
Successor: Patricio Aylwin
Date of Birth: November 25, 1915
Place of Birth: Valparaíso, Chile

General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte1 (born November 25, 1915) was head of the military government that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He came to power in a violent coup that deposed Salvador Allende, 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. (See also 1970 Chilean presidential election; Chilean coup of 1973; List of Presidents of 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, and banned all political parties. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against leftist elements in the country. As a result, approximately 3,000 Chileans were executed or disappeared, more than 27,0002 were imprisoned or tortured, and many were exiled and received abroad as political refugees.

In 1980 a new constitution was approved via a dubious referendum 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 for his replacement. Pinochet transferred power to Patricio Aylwin, the new democratically elected president, in 1990 but retained his post as commander-in-chief of the army until 1998, when he assumed what could have been a lifelong seat in the Chilean Senate. He was forced to abandon his senate seat in 2002 due to a supreme court ruling that he suffered from "vascular dementia" and therefore could not stand trial for human rights abuses, claims that had been formally filed against him by the hundreds, for more than a decade, but never acted upon. In May 2004 Chile's supreme court stripped him of his dementia status, and he was charged with several crimes in December of that year.

Supporters of Pinochet credit him with staving off what they saw as a beginning of communism, and for implementing neoliberal market policies that laid the groundwork for rapid economic growth that continued into the '90s. His opponents charge him with destroying Chile's democracy, killing and torturing thousands of opponents, catering exclusively to private interests, and adopting economic policies that favored the wealthy and hurt the middle- and low-income sectors in Chile.


Early career

Augusto 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 destined 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 and two sons.

At the end of 1945, he was destined 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 teacher's 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.

Pinochet (left) and Allende in 1973
Pinochet (left) and Allende in 1973

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

Main article chilean coup of 1973.

Pinochet (sitting) as head of the military junta.
Pinochet (sitting) as head of the military junta.

General Pinochet came to power in a coup d'état on September 11, 1973, in which rebels bombed the Presidential Palace. During the capture of the palace, President Allende committed suicide with a AK-47 machine gun [1]
. The stock of the gun bore a golden plate with the words "To my good friend Salvador Allende from Fidel Castro" engraved on it. However, some supporters still insist that he was killed by military forces while defending the palace.

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 Chile's left-wing opposition, arresting thousands of individuals in a three-year period. Internationally, Pinochet became the symbol of severe human rights abuse, 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 only reluctantly got involved in the coup 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 (originally agreed to be rotated among all members), and then by being proclaimed President on June 27, 1974. He also became Capitán General (Captain General), evoking colonial governors, who carried the title for being at the same time titular heads of the government and the army.

Pinochet's economic policy

Once in power, Pinochet immediately set about making market-oriented economic reforms. He declared that he wanted "to make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs". 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 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 35% increase in real per capita GDP from 1960 to 1980 (later, from 1980 to 2000, it increased by 94%, but Pinochet was no longer in power after 1990). Opponents dispute this "miracle" label, pointing out that the unemployment rate increased from 4.3% in 1973 to 22% in 1983, while real wages declined by 40%. However, Pinochet did manage to address at least part of these problems during his final years as President, since unemployment was down to 7.8% in 1990. The shortage problems during the final years of Allende's administration were also remedied.

The privatizations, cuts in public spending and anti-union policies generally had a negative impact on Chile's working class and a positive one on the country's more wealthy strata.

The former President Allende's economic policy had involved nationalizations of many key companies, notably U.S.-owned copper mines. This had been the primary reason for the external (mostly American) opposition to Allende's government. Much of the internal opposition to Allende's policies was from business sectors, and it has been alleged that the U.S. funded the lorry driver's strike ([2],3604,260382,00.html ), which was to a significant degree responsible for the chaotic situation just before the coup.

Suppression of opposition

Pinochet engaged in brutal and bloody political repression. Once in power, Pinochet ruled with an iron hand. Dissidents who were murdered for speaking out against Pinochet's policies are said to have "been disappeared." It is unknown 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." Torture was also commonly used against dissidents. Thousands of Chileans 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.

Pinochet's presidency was frequently made unstable by riots and isolated violent attacks. Assassination attempts were common, which increased government paranoia and in the eyes of some contributed to the cycle of oppression.

In contrast to most other nations in Latin America, Chile had, prior to the coup, a long tradition of civilian democratic 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 murdered by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. General Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor as army commander, who had resigned rather than support the moves against Allende, had died in similar circumstances in Buenos Aires, Argentina, two years earlier.

End of the Pinochet regime

From May 1983 the opposition and labour movements organized demonstrations and strikes against the regime, provoking violent responses by the security forces. In September 1986, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on Pinochet's life by the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), thought to be connected to the outlawed Communist Party. Pinochet suffered minor injuries.

According to the transitional provisions of the 1980 constitution approved in a tightly controlled plebiscite by 75% of voters, 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 organized according to all the disposition of the Law of Elections. That included an "Electoral Space" during which all positions, in this case two, the , and the No, would have two free slots of equal and uninterrupted TV time, simultaneously broadcasted by all TV channels, no political propaganda could be made outside those spots. The allotment was scheduled in two off-prime time slot: one before the afternoon news and the other before the late-night news, from 22:45 to 23:15 each night (evening news were from 20:30 to 21:30, and prime time from 21:30 to 22:30). The opposition, headed by Ricardo Lagos, took full advantage, producing colorful, upbeat advertisements, telling the Chilean people to vote "No". Lagos, in an interview, boldly called out Pinochet for all the "disappeared" persons. The , spots, instead, were dark and tried to instill fear of a return to the chaos of the UP government, telling citizens that voting "no" was equivalent to voting for a return to those days.

In the plebiscite the advocates of a "No" vote won with a 55% versus 42% from the "" option, and, again according to the provisions of the constitution, open presidential elections were held the next year, at the same time as the election of the congress that would have happened in either case. Pinochet left the presidency on March 11, 1990.

Due to the transitional provisions of the constitution, Pinochet remained the Commander-in-Chief of the Army until March 1998. Upon leaving that post, he took a senatorial position for life, granted by 1980 constitution to all former presidents with at least six years in office. His senatorship made his prosecution in Chile more difficult and the process only began after Pinochet had been arrested in Britain.


Pinochet is visited by Margaret Thatcher during his house arrest in London, in 1998
Pinochet is visited by Margaret Thatcher during his house arrest in London, in 1998

While traveling abroad, Pinochet was arrested in October 1998 in London. The arrest warrant was issued by judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain, and he was placed under house arrest in the clinic where he had just undergone back surgery. The charges include 94 counts of torture of Spanish citizens and one count of conspiracy to commit torture. Britain had only signed the International Convention against Torture recently, so all of the counts were from the last 14 months of his regime.

There was some controversy over whether he should be brought to trial due to his fragile health. He was 82 years old at the time of his arrest. There was also some legal maneuvering in an attempt to prevent his extradition to Spain. The government of Chile opposed his arrest, extradition, and trial. The British Home Secretary Jack Straw decided in the end not to grant his extradition on humanitarian grounds. On his return to Chile, however, a judge had been named to investigate a large number of criminal suits against him.

Legal action after return to Chile

In 2000 the Santiago Court of Appeals voted 13 to 9 to strip Pinochet of his parliamentary immunity, and he was prosecuted. However, the cases were dismissed by the Supreme Court for medical reasons (vascular dementia) in July 2002. Shortly after the verdict, he resigned from Congress, and lived quietly as a former senator designate. He rarely made public appearances, and was notably absent from the events marking the 30th anniversary of the coup, on September 11, 2003. Two years later, on May 28, 2004 the Court of Appeals voted 14 to 9 to revoke Pinochet's dementia status, and thus his immunity from prosecution. In arguing their case, the prosecution presented a recent television interview Pinochet made to a Miami-based television network. The judges found that the interview raised doubts about the true mental capacity 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 his predecessor, Gen. Carlos Prats, 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.

Riggs Bank

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 $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 only as "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 3.6 million dollars 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.


Chileans remain divided on his legacy. Some 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 and led the transformation of the Chilean economy into a modern and very successful one.

On the economy, Pinochet's reforms had mixed success. After a downturn at the end of the 1960s, Chile's economy entered a period of growth when Allende was elected. However, by the time the coup took place in 1973, the economy was in disarray. Things initially grew worse during Pinochet's rule. Unemployment spiralled from 4.4% in 1973 to 19.9% in 1976, peaking at 30.4% in 1983.[3] Although Pinochet's reforms attracted massive foreign investment, very little of that money was invested in production. The price of Chile's exports fell and wages were reduced. Income distribution became more regressive, and both relative and actual poverty increased. Homelessness and malnutrition, which had been reduced under Allende, became more widespread, and there was a sharp increase in the infant mortality rate. Many small businesses went bankrupt whilst the economy, including newly privatised industries, came to be dominated by monopolies with connections to the junta and by foreign corporations. Inflation peaked in 1976, but was then slashed and the economy started to grow again towards the end of the 1970s. Although unemployment remained high, poverty started to fall. However, a second recession hit Chile in 1982, and the economy did not start to grow again until 1986. Unemployment also started to decline, and had fallen to 7.8% in 1990, when Pinochet left the Presidency. Some years later, during the 1990s, the newly democratic Chile enjoyed an economic boom. Growth during this period far exceeded anything in the rest of Latin America. As of 2004, Chile is now considered an example of success, having sustained export and GDP growth through many years. The relationship between Pinochet's policies and this post-Pinochet boom remains an issue of controversy.


1 Pronunciation: SAMPA: /aw"gusto pino"tSEt/; IPA: /aw'gusto/ or /a'gusto/, /pino'ʧεt/ or /pino'ʧε/.
2 Many human rights organizations say more than 200,000 were arrested and tortured. The recently released Valech Report tells of some 28,000 arrests in which the majority of those were tortured.

See also

External links

  • Augusto Pinochet Ugarte Foundation (In Spanish)
  • BBC coverage
    (special report)
  • Article: "Doubts Remain over Pinochet's Fate: Chile's 'antiquated penal code' could be his undoing"
  • "The crimes of Augusto Pinochet" (several case studies)
  • Article: "Persistent Persecution of Pinochet" (The New American)

Last updated: 02-03-2005 20:30:11
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17