The Washington Post has a provocative op-ed on the legacy left behind by the now-deceased Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet:
It’s hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile’s economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It’s leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired. It also has a vibrant democracy. Earlier this year it elected another socialist president, Michelle Bachelet, who suffered persecution during the Pinochet years.
Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle — and that not even Allende’s socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.
By way of contrast, Fidel Castro — Mr. Pinochet’s nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond — will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.
Neither Pinochet nor Allende were angels — despite the left-wing adoration of Allende, he was a Soviet agent whose mismanagement of the Chilean economy did more to destroy his regime than anything the CIA did. Allende died by shooting himself with a submachine gun given to him by none other than Fidel Castro, which says something about the nature of his intended rule.
Nothing, however, can excuse the brutality of the Pinochet regime. The fact that Augusto Pinochet escaped the justice that he deserved in this life won’t excuse him in the next. During his reign, Pinochet not only reformed Chile’s economy, but brutalized his own people, killing over 3,000 in secret executions. Granted, compared to the butcher’s bill in Cuba that’s chump change, but mass murder is still mass murder. Pinochet’s economic reforms and his acts in restoring Chilean democracy don’t excuse the horrors he inflicted upon his own people.
Still, there is a clear double standard at play. Tyrants like Castro and tyrant-aspirants like Hugo Chavez are praised because their form of tyranny is a left-wing one. Some would have preferred the tyrant Saddam Hussein to remain free to brutalize his people, and he killed more Iraqis in one year than Pinochet did in his entire rule. The Post invokes Jeane Kirkpatrick’s seminal essay Dictatorship and Double Standards in arguing that the furor over Pinochet exposes the double standard that some have in fighting tyranny. There are quite right in pointing it out.
Nothing can excuse the brutality of the Pinochet regime, even though Pinochet’s reformist measures were the right policies to lift that nation out of poverty. Being right on policy does not, and should not excuse such egregious violations of human rights. In decrying the double standards of others, it is also a good idea not to establish another. Pinochet should have been brought to justice for his crimes, and his passing is the passing of a tyrant, even if a relatively enlightened one.