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The Strange Love for Pinochet


As part of its coverage on President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria, yesterday’s New York Times reported the results of a survey it recently conducted. The article stated in part:

When asked whether the United States should intervene to turn dictatorships into democracies, 72 percent said no while only 15 percent said yes. That is the highest level of opposition in a decade of polling on the question….”

The inference is that Americans are turning against foreign interventionism. That’s probably a logical conclusion.

However, given how the question is phrased, it’s not necessarily the only inference that can be drawn. It could be that people who were responding to the survey were saying that they favored dictatorships and didn’t want them turned into democracies.

Now, one might knee-jerkedly respond, “That’s ridiculous, Jacob. Who in the world would favor dictatorships over democracies?”

Answer: Well, the U.S. government, especially people in the national-security establishment part of the government, i.e., the Pentagon and the CIA, along with American conservatives.

Referring to the recent coup in Egypt, where the military ousted the democratically elected president of the country and assumed direct control of the government, the Wall Street Journal actually stated in an unsigned editorial:

Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took over power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.

Officials in both the Pentagon and the CIA would undoubtedly agree with the Journal, especially given that the U.S. national-security state helped foment the Chilean coup and participated in it, even to the point of playing a role in the murders of two American men, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.

Since today, 9/11, is the 40th anniversary of the military coup in Chile, there are many articles appearing on the Internet and in the media about what life was like during the coup and later during Pinochet’s regime. Here are just a few:

Life Under Pinochet: “They Were Taking Turns to Electrocute Us One After the Other” by Lelia Perez

40 Years Later, Chile Struggles with Legacy of Pinochet Coup” by Steven Bodzin

Carmen Quintana: Set on Fire by Pinochet’s Soldiers” by Mike Lanchin

Life Under Pinochet: ‘We Still Don’t Know What Happened to My Brother” by Amnesty International

40 Years After Chile Coup, Widow of Victor Jara Hopes to Bring Alleged Killer to Justice” by Philip Sherwell

A natural question arises: How could anyone support a regime that engages in things like arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention, torture, rape, denial of due process, and extrajudicial execution?

The answer is very simple: In the minds of the Pentagon, the CIA, and American conservatives, the Pinochet regime brought “order and stability” to Chile. Under the democratically elected president Salvador Allende, things were chaotic. There was economic instability, owing largely to Allende’s socialist economic policies and the CIA’s economic interventions to fulfill President Nixon’s demand to make the Chilean economy under Allende “scream,” thereby setting the basis for a military coup. There were protests, marches, and demonstrations. There was widespread debate and discussion. There were political deadlocks.

In the mind of the military and the conservative, all this constitutes chaos and crisis. It’s messy. It’s not orderly. It’s not like life on a military base.

Who were the thousands of people who were rounded up, tortured, and killed by Pinochet’s goons? They were communists or socialists. Don’t forget: This was 1973, when the Cold War was still going on. American soldiers were still being killed in Vietnam fighting the communists. Even worse, the United States was still in dire danger of falling to communism, or at least that’s what the Pentagon, the CIA, and American conservatives fervently believed.

So, here was a patriot — a military general — a loyal public servant — General Augusto Pinochet — who was now selflessly cleansing Chile of all its communists and socialists — and with hardly any military casualties, given that Chile had strict gun control. He was showing the world how to defeat the communists — by simply rounding them up, torturing and raping them, and killing them.

Best of all, Pinochet was free-enterprise, bringing into his administration the famed “Chicago Boys,” who were implementing the free-market policies of Milton Friedman.

What more could the Pentagon, the CIA, and American conservatives ask for? For them, Pinochet was a dream-come-true. And he still is.

Were there trials for the people who were rounded up, tortured, raped, and killed?

Trials? Are you kidding? Why, there weren’t even any kangaroo military tribunals. After all, Chile, like the United States, was at war — war against the communists. You don’t have trials during wartime. The enemy is the enemy. He needs to be tortured, raped, and killed. No pesky lawyers, no judges, no trials, no due process. Just swift justice.

It bears pointing out that virtually none of Pinochet’s thousands of victims had resorted to violence against Pinochet’s military tyranny (which, of course, the Pentagon, the CIA, and American conservatives didn’t view as tyranny). The victims’ only crime was a mental one — they believed in communism or socialism or what we today call liberalism or progressivism. In other words, they believed in such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, welfare, equality of wealth, and governmental confiscation of gold and other private property.

The danger was that that mental “infection” was contagious. Everyone knew that it could spread northward all the way to the United States. In fact, it had already done so. The Communist Party and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, along with Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, were proof positive of that. And before them was the infamous Franklin Roosevelt administration, which, with its New Deal program, had set the United States on the fateful road to socialism.

So, Pinochet was the model for Cold Warriors. He was the original “law and order” man, the model Cold Warrior, a patriot, and a free-enterprise devotee to boot.

In fact, it’s quite likely that the U.S. “war on terrorism” was modeled after Pinochet’s war on communism, especially Pinochet’s international assassination program, which succeeded in murdering a former member of Allende’s cabinet, a man named Orlando Letelier, who, of course, had a socialist mindset. Never mind that Letelier was assassinated on the streets of Washington, D.C. The war on communism, like the war on terrorism, was global in nature. And never mind that a young American woman named Ronni Moffitt was also killed when the bomb under Letelier’s car was ignited by former CIA operative Michael Townsend. In war, bad things happen, including collateral damage. Anyway, Moffitt was a person with a liberal or progressive mindset too.

So, it’s really quite possible that when people answered that New York Times survey, they were saying that they don’t want the U.S. government to be turning dictatorships into democracies because they love dictatorships. That would especially be true if the people responding to the survey were officials of the national-security state or American conservatives.


This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.