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World politics explainer: Pinochet's Chile

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This article is part of our series of explainers on key moments in the past 100 years of world political history. In it, our authors examine how and why an event unfolded, its impact at the time, and its relevance to politics today. You can read parts one, two and three here.


General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, a career military officer, was appointed Commander in Chief of the Chilean army by President Salvador Allende on August 1973. Eighteen days later, with the connivance, if not the assistance, of the US, he authorised a coup against Allende’s Socialist government.

To be clear, Pinochet’s rule was not the first, last or worst dictatorship in the history of Latin America. But it did grip the attention of western countries because of Chile’s comparatively orderly and democratic past, its institutions that made it seem closer to Great Britain than to Spain, its status as the first freely-elected Marxist government in the west, and the questionable role of the CIA in undermining the socialist Allende’s government.

What happened?

Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, 1986.
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional, CC BY

On hearing the news of the coup, Allende dashed to his seat of government in the capital. Then, after his last and remarkable radio address, he shot himself rather than becoming a prisoner. Pinochet proclaimed himself president of the military junta (dictatorship) that followed.

The initial plan held that Pinochet would rule only for a year, to be succeeded by the chiefs of the navy, police and air force. However, Pinochet continued to rule, eventually as President of the Republic by decree (in effect, Chile’s military dictator) up until 1988. At that point, following a constitutional obligation signed eight years earlier, he held a national plebiscite. Unexpectedly to his followers, and no doubt himself, 55% of the country voted against him.

Pinochet retired soon after, in 1990, to what he hoped would be a quieter life as lifetime senator. But in 1998, he was detained in Britain to answer charges of torturing Spanish citizens in Chile during his rule. He was held in Britain for 18 months before being allowed to return to Chile to answer further charges. It was the first time a former head of state had been arrested based on the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (left) with Mario Arnello.
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional, CC BY

He returned to face 59 criminal complaints for kidnapping, murder, and torture. Those charges never eventuated from a variety of legal complexities, principally because the Chilean Supreme Court ruled him mentally and physically unable to answer them.

He died in 2006 without answering those charges.

Nevertheless, by then, his reputation was damaged, even among his supporters. This is because of the findings of two National Commissions detailing the arbitrary arrests, torture, incarceration, disappearances and political executions that had occurred under his dictatorship. He directed his forces first at the more extreme of the left-wing parties, the Armed Revolutionary Movement (El MIR) and the Socialists, but later none of the members of any left wing party could consider themselves safe.

Some Chileans who had supported Pinochet’s attempt to rid the country of what he called the “communist cancer” withdrew support after allegations of serious financial mismanagement for his own benefit were revealed. For all the accusations levelled against him, Pinochet admitted nothing. Instead, he blamed his senior operatives like Manuel Contreras, his hated head of the secret police, for the terrible abuses that he himself had authorised.

The impact on the development of neoliberalism

One of the biggest impacts of Pinochet’s coup is his contribution to the advancement of an economic theory known as neoliberalism, which arguably has shaped the economies of many modern western countries to this day. Neoliberalism in essence means a distant retreat by the state from total economic management: it wants the state to withdraw from much regulation, encourage free enterprise and competition, and let the market determine real value. By contrast, socialist “command” economies seek to be the regulators of supply, demand and wages.

The last chaotic year of Allende’s presidency, marked by massive protectionism, chaotic land expropriations, strikes, food shortages (some artificially induced) and galloping inflation, certainly demanded reform. This provided the basis for the work a group of conservative Chilean economists had discussed and planned for a decade, which was enacted after 1973.

Members of the Government Junta in 1985 and Augusto Pinochet (middle)
Wikicommons

These economists renewed international trade, reduced inflation and divested the state of some of its assets. Some of these actions proved unwise, including selling some national utilities to Spanish companies, which did not necessarily run them in the interests of Chile.

The debates about Pinochet’s economic achievements continue, especially for the period after 1982, when the benefits of neoliberal practice faltered. His successes are still held by some to be a Chilean miracle, but the reality was a situation heavily tilted in his favour at a time when political opposition was eliminated, trade unions weakened and working class wages determined by the military dictatorship. The revelations of massive human rights abuses has further tarnished some of this achievement.

Contemporary relevance

We can now also detect some unforeseen consequences, thanks to Chile’s long and successful tradition of reconciliation after political trauma. The ten years of centre-left rule that followed Pinochet was a remarkable achievement, as was the first four-year term of the moderate centre-right Piñera government from 2010. This was the product of the peacemaking tradition called the via Chilena, the Chilean way.

Those who had achieved political exile in East Germany or the Soviet Union during Pinochet’s government did not take long to discover that life under the communist state was not the people’s utopia they had hoped to achieve in their own country.

Some returned, somewhat disillusioned, after 1990 to become high officials in much more moderate administrations than those they had planned many years before. They had learned not to make political changes too fast. Other exiles taking refuge in western Europe learned alternatives to a program of people’s revolution in every Latin American nation as taught by Che Guevara. They came to appreciate the lessons of Euro-Communism, that political change need not be wrought by violence but negotiation and co-operation with less radical left-wing parties.

Woman holding pictures of victims of Pinochet’s rule, marching in commemoration of the coup, 2015.
Mauricio Gomez/Crowdspark/AAP

Some reverberations from Pinochet’s rule are still also working themselves out. Members of what was once the radical and optimistic left, who gave so much to the radical cause and suffered so grievously, now wonder about the value of their struggle under Pinochet as they contemplate the low wages of today, much unemployment and, especially, wide disillusionment in the processes of government.

Some of their children have come to the same, but more pointed, conclusion. Fifty or 60 Chileans were actually sent to Cuba by their parents so they could re-enter the country at a later stage to continue the armed struggle against Pinochet. The children did not enjoy the experience. The documentary El edificio de los chilenos (The Chilean House) shows the filmmaker subjecting her once-radical mother to an excoriating interrogation as to whether her ideology, and by inference, any political ideology, should supervene her duty to care for her children.

Pinochet is now remembered not so much as someone who saved his country from becoming a second Cuba, or for clearing the ground to test economic theory. Rather, internationally he is recalled for his sensational detention in the UK. That’s an important outcome that, perhaps, makes every retired dictator think twice before venturing from their homelands.

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Climate Politics Hypocrisy At COP24 In Poland – Forbes

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COP 24 in Katowice, Poland word cloudGetty

Rebecca Hersher’s story on NPR this morning about the COP24 meeting in Poland is illuminating about both climate politics and their shortcomings. When the U.S. delegate, Wells Griffith, commented that “The reality is that countries will continue to use fossil fuels,” the hall filled with laughter, some of which the reporter noted appeared contrived. Considering the meeting was being held in Poland’s coal country, the hypocrisy of the laughter seems undeniable.

For all that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump are accused of tribal politics and demonization of opponents, the same approach is often embraced by climate activists. As the figure below shows, the U.S. has reduced its coal consumption much more rapidly than COP24 host Poland and even Green hero Germany. While the Trump Administration’s attitude towards coal consumption is hardly defensible (at least to moderates like me), the overwhelming attention given to whether or not the Administration “acknowledges” climate change or accepts the scientific consensus reflects the tendency of the media (and their consumers) to focus on the political game rather than the actual situation. For their part, activists seem far more concerned in scoring points against their opponents than achieving anything meaningful.

Coal Usage (mtoe)The author from BP data

But also the focus on whizbang tech stories instead of the reality on the ground is somewhat distressing. There has been coverage of the fact that, despite all the promises made over the last two decades, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and coal use is a primary culprit. Yet the media gives overwhelming priority to renewable energy such as solar in their reporting. Using Google search of news stories for Chinese and Indian solar power versus coal consumption finds the ratio for China is 20 to 1, for India 150 to 1. Yet China uses 20 times as much coal as solar power, and India about 100 times, in other words nearly the reverse of the news stories. The figure below shows the numbers, as well as the fact that, yes, in 2017, solar power use increased in China three times more than coal use, which certainly explains some of the added media coverage (in India, solar power increased negligibly compared to coal).

Solar versus Coal, the Reality and the Media in China and IndiaThe author from Google and BP data.

Many researchers and organizations like the International Energy Agency are making serious efforts to identify the best policies for reducing GHG emissions, such as reducing fossil fuel subsidies. But much more attention should be placed on, for example, large scale substitution of natural gas for coal, reducing deforestation (including that resulting from biofuels production), and cutting methane leakage, which is probably far worse in remote places like Siberia than the United States.

Protests like those in Poland attempting to shame the United States make great press, compared to digging a trench for a natural gas pipeline, but to a large degree they reflect the immaturity of the protesters who seem far more concerned with appearances than results.

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The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Staff Infection – The Atlantic

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Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey).


Today in 5 Lines

  • The search continues for a replacement for White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after several leading candidates reportedly have already declined the role.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case brought by two states—Kansas and Louisiana—that were seeking to end Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood.

  • Maria Butina, the accused Russian spy who was close with officials at the National Rifle Association, seems to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, according to a new court filing.

  • Hundreds of activists protested in the offices of three House Democratic leaders, including likely incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The protesters are encouraging Democrats to create a special committee focused on climate change.

  • Over the weekend, House Democrats discussed the prospect of impeachment, and one senator suggested that Trump’s troubles have entered a “new phase.”


Today on The Atlantic


Snapshot

Josie, an English retriever, plays in the snow as her owners, Dawn and Mark Lundblad, walk along Sandy Cove Drive on Sunday in Morganton, North Carolina. More than a foot of snow fell in the area over the weekend. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP)

What We’re Reading

In Case You Missed It: These are five big takeaways from federal prosecutors’ filings on Friday in three cases involving Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. (Aaron Blake, The Washington Post)

Paul Ryan’s Great Betrayal: As the current House Speaker prepares to leave office, it has become clear that he “proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump,” argues Ezra Klein. (Vox)

29 Minutes With Sherrod Brown: Some Democrats think that the Ohio senator, with his Midwest pragmatism and populist reputation, would be a perfect challenger for Donald Trump. Brown, though, is still getting used to the attention. (Gabriel Debenedetti, New York)


We’re always looking for ways to improve The Politics & Policy Daily. Concerns, comments, questions, typos? Let us know anytime here.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Elaine Godfrey is an assistant editor at The Atlantic.

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Vote for the best Raw Moment in politics of 2018 | #RawPolitics – Euronews English

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At the end of each episode of Raw Politics — our daily politics show that launched in September — we bring you a Raw Moment that caught our attention.

Now, to round off the year, we want your say on which one is best.

From Donald Trump to Donald Tusk, here's our roundup of shortlisted moments.

Check out the videos and vote for your favourite below. The winner will be unveiled on 18 December during Raw Politics, which airs at 18:00 CET.

Tusk scooting through Paris

—15 October

On the Sunday before one of this year's crunch summits, you might have expected to find European Council President Donald Tusk in his office under a pile of paperwork. Think again.

Erdoğan at the airport

—30 October
While opening a brand new airport in Istanbul, a ride on an airport buggy proved too much to resist for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Good Fryday: Gerry Adams

—6 November

He was once branded a terrorist but now it seems Gerry Adams spends his time compiling cookbooks and talking to buses in his garden.

Awkward Handshake

—24 September

Have you ever seen two people shaking hands and wanted to get in on the fun? Well, it seems you're not the only one, as seen here with Jean-Claude Juncker.

Bill Gates’ stinky jar

—7 November

Bill Gates, the second-richest man in the world, brought a surprising prop along to a high-profile conference speech. Avoid watching this one if you're eating your dinner.

Testy Trump

—8 November

It's no secret that US President Donald Trump is no fan of the media. However, one encounter with the White House press pack proved particularly confronting.

Shy Moment

—6 December

Ever felt like you want the ground to swallow you up? Well, you're not alone, as one boy's encounter with the Queen proved too much to handle.

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