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Augusto Pinochet
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Augusto Pinochet

General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (pronounced, SAMPA: [awgusto pinotSEt]; IPA: awgusto pinoʧεt) born November 25, 1915, was head of the military government that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He came to power in a coup d'état that deposed Salvador Allende, the first Socialist to be elected president of Chile. The coup in which Pinochet seized power ended a period of strained relations between the United States—which had actively sought Allende's removal—and the South American country.

Once in power, Pinochet and his government quickly moved to suppress leftist opposition. Constitutional civil liberties and human rights were curtailed, resulting in the deaths of approximately 3,000 Chileans and thousands of political refugees being received in the United States and Western Europe. His supporters credit him with staving off communism and rescuing the faltering economy in what they call the "Miracle of Chile", a long period of economic growth brought about by neoliberal market policies. Opponents charge that these policies tended to favor the wealthy and made things worse for the poor in Chile.

In 1980 a new constitution which planned a single-candidate presidential plebiscite in 1988 and a return to civilian rule in 1990, came into effect. Pinochet lost the plebiscite, which triggered multi-candidate presidential elections in 1989. Pinochet transferred power to his successor in 1990 but retained his post as commander-in-chief of the army until 1998, when he assumed a lifelong seat in the Chilean Senate, a position which he abandoned four years later due to health concerns.

Table of contents
1 Early career
2 Military coup of 1973
3 Pinochet's economic policy
4 Suppression of opposition
5 End of the Pinochet regime
6 Arrest
7 Justice at home
8 Legacy
9 See further
10 External links

Early career

Pinochet was born in Valparaíso. 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, he graduated from the latter with the rank of alférez (Second Lieutenant) in the infantry.

In September 1937, he joined the "Chacabuco" Regiment, in Concepción. Two years later, in 1939, then with the rank of sub-lieutenant, he moved to the "Maipo" Regiment, of the Valparaíso garrison. He returned to the 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 joined the "Carampangue" Regiment, in 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 mission of service 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"), an organ for the views of the officers.

During 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 a 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 Quarters of the I Division of the Army, in Antofagasta. The following year, he was appointed Commander of the Esmeralda Regiment, 7th of the Line. 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 Division of the Army, in Santiago, and at the end of the year he was appointed Brigade General and Commander in Chief of the VI Division of the Iquique Garrison. In his new function, he was also appointed Intendant Representative of the Tarapacá Province.

In January 1971, he rose to Division General and was named Commander General 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 of the Army on 23 August 1973 by the elected socialist president, Dr. Salvador Allende.

Military coup of 1973

General Pinochet came to power in a military coup d'état on September 11, 1973, in which rebels bombed the Presidential Palace with British-made Hawker Hunter fighter jets. Rebels also had eight Sherman tanks, two 75 mm cannons and some 200 infantry. Allende's diary claims that he committed suicide instead of surrendering, but others believe Allende was killed by military forces.

Since Pinochet was the chief of the oldest branch of the military forces (the Army), he was made head of the victorious junta's governing council; he immediately moved to crush Chile's left-wing opposition, arresting approximately 130,000 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 that was coordinated with the other branches of the military. 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.

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 was proclaimed President of the Republic on June 27, 1974. Also he became Capitán General (Captain General), evoking independence hero Bernardo O'Higgins.

Pinochet's economic policy

Once in power, Pinochet immediately set about making economic reforms. 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.

Under the early years of Pinochet government, Chile's economy saw a massive recovery. Some global economists dubbed this recovery "the Miracle of Chile", while others dispute this claim.

Privatization, cuts in public spending and anti-union policies angered some in Chile's working classes, though more prosperous strata benefited from real growth.

Allende's economic policy involved state ownership of many key companies, notably U.S.-owned copper mines. A large portion of the population welcomed the military's intervention to end the chaos caused by the combination of Allende's economic policies and foreign-backed domestic political opposition to them, culminating in a national transport owners' strike. Much of the opposition to Allende's policies was from business sectors, and it has been alleged that the U.S. funded the lorry driver's strike ([1]), which was to a significant degree responsible for the chaotic situation. Pinochet promised to promote the development of a more open market, in his own words "to make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs".

Suppression of opposition

Critics have charged Pinochet with brutal and bloody political repression. The violence and bloodshed of the coup itself was continued during Pinochet's administration. 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.

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 only minor injuries.

According to the transitional provisions of the 1980 constitution, 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, and colorful, upbeat advertisements were produced, telling the Chilean people to vote "No". Lagos, in an interview, boldly called out Pinochet on all the "disappeared" persons. The , spots, on the other hand, were dark and tried to instigate fear to the chaos of the UP government, telling that voting no was voting for a return to those days.

In the plebiscite the advocates of a "No" vote won, 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 the constitution Pinochet had drafted 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.


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 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.

visits Pinochet during house arrest in London, in 1998]]

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 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. The appropriate courts stripped him of his parliamentary immunity, and he was prosecuted. The cases were dismissed by the Supreme Court of Chile 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.

Justice at home

On May 28, 2004 the Chilean 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 with Pinochet. The judges found the interview to be proof that the former President was both lucid and mentally competent.

On July 15, 2004, a year-long U.S. Senate investigatory committee released a report about Riggs Bank, 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."[1] Riggs Bank may be forced to pay a $25 million fine.

On July 20, 2004, a Chilean court formally opened an investigation into Pinochet's finances for the first time. The Santiago Appeals Court assigned a special judge to look into the origin of the funds after Carmen Hertz, a human rights lawyer whose husband was executed by Pinochet's military after his 1973 coup, presented allegations of fraud, misappropriation of funds and bribery. A few hours later, the state prosecutor, or State Defense Council, presented a second request for the same judge to investigate Pinochet's assets but without directly accusing him of crimes.


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 one. Even though there is widespread acknowledgment of the brutality of his regime, his followers try to explain that in the context of the increasing violence in Chilean society on the part of armed and political revolutionary groups in the decade before the coup.

See further

External links