On 9/11/73, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup that overthrew Chile’s elected government. The military bombed the Presidential Palace, assassinated 3,197 and tortured of tens of thousands more in order to “save” Chile from “subversion.” Three decades later, Chilean courts stripped Pinochet of his self-anointed immunity from prosecution. The 90 year old ex-dictator, under house arrest, faces charges of murder, torture, drug dealing, tax evasion and money laundering.
Political circles in Santiago and Washington DC (which once encouraged him) sneer at the mention of his name. Few people even try to justify his orders to torch thousands of books and assassinate and exile Chile’s greatest singers-composers, Victor Jara and Angel Parra.
In 1933, to create Germanic culture,” Adolph Hitler vowed to destroy “degenerate art” and replace it with spiritually purifying Aryan creativity. While Hitler “saved” Germans from immoral artistic contact, Nazi officials acquired some of these kinky but highly marketable pieces.
To justify repression and crime, Nazi leaders fashioned a pseudo ideology, turning illogical “truisms” into official credo. Fascism in its various 1930s-60s forms (Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal) maintained heavy repressive forces, no procedural freedoms and trappings of religious overlay.
Slogans substituted for theory to explain the nature of people living in society. “Loyal” Party officials often killed and stole, then threatened name calling (Communist, Jew, socialist, gypsy) to intimidate those who might expose them. The fuhrer headed a criminal-military gang in Germany. Drunk on rhetoric, Hitler tried to conquer the world. Some of his Nazi pals thought of the loot they would get. Most lost everything. “Schindler’s List” illustrated the corrupt and criminal nature of Nazi officers. The armed forces’ budget provides for criminals an infinite numbers of profitable scams.
In the 1960s and 70, with strong US-backing, third world military juntas created mini copies of European fascism. In Latin America, the militaries in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Central America overthrew elected governments. Secret police and the military replaced legislatures and courts.
In September 1973, Pinochet led the most dramatic of these fascist copies. He and fellow generals and admirals blasted away democracy and “saved” Chile. Pinochet “rescued” Chile from “a Soviet takeover.” As if!
He eliminated the Constitution, legislature and labor unions. Soldiers burned “subversive” books and assassinated opponents, after torturing them.
Washington quickly recognized his government and offered financial support, which it had withdrawn from President Allende’s elected socialist government. Cynical critics viewed Pinochet as little more than Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s choice to wage Cold War. Kissinger preferred obedient dictators to independent, elected presidents.
In March 1976, responding to human rights complaints, three Members of Congress on a fact finding visit to Chile met with Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, one of four junta members that overthrow Allende’s government. Leigh pointed to photos on his office wall of World War II Nazi air aces, of whom he spoke admiringly. He told Congressmen George Miller (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Toby Moffett (D-CT) that Chilean pilots should model themselves after such heroes.
The Members and their staff returned horrified by Pinochet’s brutality, and by comments from US Ambassador to Santiago, David Popper. The military junta was “our kind of people,” Popper said. Harkin, on his return, authored an amendment designed to cut all but humanitarian aid to Chile. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a similar bill, cutting off military aid.
In June 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Pinochet in Santiago to “clean up” his image. After all, “in the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here.”
Kissinger referred to Pinochet’s persecution of leftists and his neo-liberal economic policies. As Pinochet eschewed law, he displayed obeisance to Washington’s policies. For seventeen years, Pinochet used military fascism to transform Chile from a third world democracy into a globalized free market economy with a traumatized population. No wonder, US officials did not talk about “Pinochet-the-fence and money-launderer.”
Until recently, Pinochet critics focused almost exclusively human rights violations. Official Washington had shrugged off such wimpy complaints as “birth pangs” of a new regime. By the 1980s, however, Reagan converted human rights into an anti-Soviet instrument, and Pinochet became an embarrassment.
In September 1976, he had made enemies by ordering his secret police to car bomb Orlando Letelier, former Allende Chancellor, in Washington DC. The explosion also killed Ronni Moffitt, an American colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies where both worked.
By 1988, Pinochet had become an embarrassment to Washington. US officials pressured him to hold a referendum. In 1990, Chileans voted his military government out of power. Still, the debate focused on rights, not crime. Pinochet critics remained obsessed with his excesses — which assumed that his brutality derived from political motives.
Few thought the generalissimo, his wife and children, had taken substantial pieces of state contracts and engaged in narcotrafficking. These activities in turn led them into tax-evasion schemes. They hid the lucre in Washington DC’s Riggs Bank, known for its willingness to help right wing dictators launder ill gotten gains.
Ironically, the events of 9/11/01 helped expose the criminals of 9/11/73. In 2004, a Congressional staffer, following Patriot Act guidelines, searched foreign bank accounts and discovered that Riggs Bank officials had permitted false names to appear on accounts that belonged to Pinochet family members. “El jefe’s” hanky panky began to emerge.
More than a decade after civilian government regained formal legitimacy elected leaders mustered courage to examine Pinochet’s practices. They had not even challenged his amnesty laws, passed before he left power in 1990. The civilian alliance had acceded to Pinochet’s demands for life time Senate seats for himself and his military cronies and an “independent” military budget.
Since Chileans lacked the will to proceed in the courts, in 1996, former Allende adviser Juan Garces filed with Spanish progressive prosecutors briefs calling for Pinochet’s indictment for international terrorism, genocide and torture. In 1998, Pinochet traveled to England. Judge Baltazar Garzon filed an extradition request. A British police officer arrested him. Finally, in March 2000, the Law Lords affirmed the arrest, but British and Chilean government officials used a “medical” pretext to spring Pinochet. A decade after Pinochet left Chile’s Presidency, the civilian regime still lacked the nerve to examine his horrific crimes.
Some lawyers and legislators tried to erode Pinochet’s immunity, but not until the 21st Century did conservative Judge Juan Guzman open the investigative doors on Pinochet’s assassinations. In August 2004, following in Guzman’s footsteps, Judge Sergio Muñoz probed the “Pinoaccounts.” He demanded the records of Pinochet and 38 family members, including his wife and five children. Where had they obtained more than $28 million dollars, the amount stashed in the US banks?
Muñoz also received a copy of the US congressional report about a weapons development project that failed. Pinochet managed the enterprise and profited from its collapse. Simultaneously, Chile’s lower house authorized a commission to investigate the sale of 51 government owned companies that got privatized during Pinochet’s reign and cost Chile millions of dollars. But who got the money? (Pinochet Report IPS)
At Pinochet’s Santiago home, Muñoz also questioned Mrs. Pinochet, 82, and their son, Marco Antonio Pinochet. He then charged them with tax evasion. “If the judge wants to jail someone, to pass judgment on a part of Chile’s history,” Pinochet said defending his family, “it should be me, not innocent people.” (People’s Daily August 11, 2005)
As cases against Pinochet cascaded from killing and torturing Chileans to tax evasion and theft, other Chilean investigators probed “Operation Condor” the network of Latin American intelligence agencies that assassinated hundreds of its “subversive” enemies in the 1970s.
Two cases involved drug trafficking and the possible murder of former Chilean President, Eduardo Frei. Frei’s family charged that Pinochet used Eugenio Berrios, a chemist who worked for DINA, to manufacture poisons for Pinochet’s enemies. Berrios also made Sarin nerve gas, in case the dictator needed it for larger numbers of people. In addition, Berrios apparently developed a designer like cocaine (black coke).
Retired General Manuel Contreras, former head of Chile’s secret police and intelligence, revealed this “fact” to Chilean government Minister Claudio Pavez. Contreras stated that Pinochet ran an illicit narcotics business that included manufacture of illegal drugs, their distribution and money laundering with the profits from drug sales. Contreras alleges Pinochet was no comandante but rather “criminal en jefe.”
Hitler’s rhetoric ran away with reality. Organized crime failed alongside of world conquest. Pinochet “saved Chile” from “subversion,” and saved a pile of Chile’s money for himself. He thought he had gotten away with it. He had distracted his enemies who focused attention on assassinations and torture.
In so doing, they forged new international law paths, helping to differentiate acts of state from criminal behavior. Now, judges focus on Pinochet’s non-political criminality as well. In less than a decade, even his former supporters have had to shift their views of him from “savior of Chile” to the Al Capone of the Southern Cone.
SAUL LANDAU’s new book, A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, will be published by Counterpunch Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org