The Pinochet Legacy

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.

5 thoughts on “The Pinochet Legacy

  1. 1.) Saying: “Gosh he was brutal but damn he did good things for the economy” is an excuse, and then saying he did some good things while Castro is just all bad is a double standard. The article is the most hypocritical thing I’ve seen in a while.

    2.) Where are these ghosts praising Castro and Chavez? Because I can show you actual Republicans who were praising Saddam Husssein a few years ago. Your double standard is a boogeyman, so often created by the right. Hey, making stuff up is easier than the truth if people will believe it.

    3.) You’re drinking the Kool-Aid with Cuba. Iliteracy is less than 5%. The highest life expectancy in Latin America. Infant mortality rates that are the lowest in the Americas (including the United States). Far and away the lowest AIDS rate in the Caribbean. And all of this with nothing from the United States, which had a decidedly different philosophy in aid to Chile under that dictator.

    Meanwhile, Chile has more inequality than almost every country in Latin America. And of course, as you are fond of saying, causation is not coorelation. Perhaps Chile’s economy has much more to do with the development of its resources than some nutjob who left power 16 years ago.

    I agree with you that no amount of economic progress makes it acceptable to take away the rights of people. But the implication with this article is that right-wing dictators leave positive lasting effects, while left wing dictators are more evil and leave only bad. If the Post wanted to truly stop a double standard, it would have renounced all dictators regardless of economies. Instead, it’s become the boogeyman that doesn’t exist on the left.

  2. Good points, Seth. Jay’s thesis definitely seems to be that murderous tyrants needn’t fear finding their name of the axis of evil so long as they proudly flap their free market feathers and thus make favorable trading partners with America.

  3. Good points, Seth. Jay’s thesis definitely seems to be that murderous tyrants needn’t fear finding their name of the axis of evil so long as they proudly flap their free market feathers and thus make favorable trading partners with America.

    Except I said the exact opposite. What part about “Nothing, however, can excuse the brutality of the Pinochet regime” is unclear?

    If you want to see hypocrisy, compare Seth’s first argument with his third. Apparently it’s incredibly hypocritical to praise a dictator for some good works he does, unless that dictator is Fidel Castro. Given that Castro murdered more Cubans in his first three years of power than Pinochet did in his 17 year rule any defense of Cuba as some kind of socialist paradise is abhorrent. Cuba is one of the world’s most repressive police states, yet 22 Democrats refused to support a resolution in support of pro-democracy activists jailed by the Castro regime last year. Rep. Charlie Rangel went so far as to warmly great the butcher when he traveled to Harlem in 1995.

    Brave Cuban dissidents – true freedom fighters like Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia, Ángel Enrique Fernández Martínez, Guillermo Fariñas and others continue to suffer under the brutality of the Castro regime – a regime that is still being defended to this day by many on the left.

  4. Castro sucks: I wish I could get that point across to my roommate. She just claims that anything negative I say about Castro is false American propaganda… how do you argue with someone who believes that?

    Let’s just agree to this; 99% of the time, dictators are a bad thing, right-wing or left-wing. The other 1% of the time, the dictator is Lee Kwan Yew.

  5. Setting up concentration camps in the desert is enlightened? I am just giving you a hard time Jay, you have spoken well in condemning Augusto. I think too many rightists apologize for him because Allende is so much of a martyr. Allende, while democratically elected, was heading towards a different kind of dictatorship. That does not mean our role in the coup was a good thing, but the coup was coming no matter what. The US has matured a lot since then, we no longer look at things in the black and white communist/non communist. A lot of the people we empowered to fight communists only created more by their repressive measures. I am of course speaking of Jonas Savimbi, Efrain Rios Montt, the Somoza family of Nicaragua, and of course the first man to pay President Bush I a state visit, Mobutu Sesoko. Bill O’Reilly claims we liberated billions (an inflated figure), well we have tacitly or formally assisted in the repression of many others. Oh the mistakes noble nations make.

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