Pinochet Ugarte, Augusto

Pinochet Ugarte, Augusto
   General, army commander, and head of state in Chile. He led the coup that toppled the elected government of the socialist president Salvador Allende Gossens on 11 September 1973, establishing a military dictatorship that lasted 17 years. His regime deprived thousands of Chileans of their constitutional rights. Although credited with introducing economic reforms, he authorized human-rights abuses that drew international condemnation.
   Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was born on 25 November 1915 into an upper-middle-class family in Valparaíso, Chile. He graduated from the Escuela Militar (military academy) in 1936 with the rank of second lieutenant and from the Academia de Guerra (War College) in 1952. In 1954, then a major, he joined the faculty of the Academia, teaching courses on geography and artillery. He left two years later to serve in the United States and in Ecuador. After commanding an infantry regiment in Chile in the early 1960s, he returned to the Academia in 1964, teaching geopolitics and geography and serving as assistant director. He made visits (in 1965, 1968, and 1972) to the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone, where military personnel from Chile and other Latin American countries received tactical training, especially in counterinsurgency. During the administration of President Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964–1970), Pinochet Ugarte became a colonel (1966) and then a brigadier general (1968).
   During the administration of President Allende Gossens (1970– 1973), Pinochet Ugarte earned a reputation for loyalty. In December 1971 he was in charge of the army garrison in Santiago when rioting broke out between supporters of the Unidad Popular (UP) government and opposition groups. Allende Gossens declared a state of emergency. General Pinochet Ugarte ordered a curfew and arrested more than a hundred people. He threatened to use violence if necessary, declaring that “coups do not occur in Chile.” In November 1972, following a strike by independent truck owners, Allende Gossens attempted to stabilize his government by appointing several military officers to his cabinet. General Carlos Prats González, commander in chief of the army, was named minister of the interior, and Pinochet Ugarte was named Prats González’s temporary replacement. On 24 August 1973 the president made Pinochet Ugarte’s appointment permanent. Prats González, a longtime friend of Pinochet Ugarte’s, assured the president that Pinochet Ugarte was loyal to the constitution. A strict constitutionalist, Prats González had defeated Colonel Roberto Souper’s tank rebellion (tancazo) of 29 June. Neither Prats González nor Pinochet Ugarte was aware of the plot for a military coup being planned by the remaining commanders of the armed forces: General Gustavo Leigh Guzmán of the air force, General César Mendoza Durán of the Carabineros (national police), and Admiral José Toribio Merino Castro of the navy. Pinochet Ugarte was informed of the plans less than a week before the proposed coup of 11 September 1973.
   Although Pinochet Ugarte was the last man to sign on to the coup, on 11 September he directed the ground and air assault on the presidential palace, La Moneda. Within a few hours La Moneda was destroyed, Allende Gossens committed suicide, and UP officials were captured as they left the burning building. In a radio broadcast, Pinochet Ugarte claimed victory, declaring that order had been restored. Two days later, the four generals established a ruling junta. Pinochet Ugarte was named president, an office that—according to plan, at least—each of the four was to occupy in turn. Pinochet Ugarte and the junta believed they had rescued Chile from social and economic chaos. Pinochet Ugarte declared a stage of siege, dispensed with the rule of law, issued decrees, suspended all political parties, and declared war on communists. The extirpation of Marxism from Chile had been the main objective of the coup. The government systematized a plan to identify, arrest, and execute or force into exile all opponents of the ruling junta, especially members of the UP government and leftist sympathizers. Pinochet Ugarte then applied himself to restoring the country’s economy. He put together a team of consultants who advocated the free-market policies espoused by the University of Chicago economics professor Milton Friedman. The group, known as the Chicago Boys, developed a program that included cutting many of the social-service programs instituted by the Allende Gossens government, returning expropriated businesses to their previous owners, removing price controls, and—all union activity having been disbanded by the junta—holding down wage levels. These policies revived the economy and benefited the upper and middle classes, who, in turn, gave the junta their support.
   Although Pinochet Ugarte’s military regime had achieved local success, foreign governments and human-rights organizations condemned it. These “interventionists”—as Pinochet Ugarte described them—were concerned about the abuse of political prisoners, many of whom were in clandestine detention centers and whose numbers had reached as high as 10,000 at the end of 1973. In June 1974 Pinochet Ugarte organized a covert intelligence agency to eliminate his opponents at home and abroad. He trusted the command of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA, Directorate of National Intelligence) to one of his former students from military school, Colonel Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda. Contreras Sepúlveda reported directly to Pinochet Ugarte, bypassing the other junta commanders. Although based in Chile, DINA operated abroad through the terrorist network known as Operation Condor.
   Within a year following the coup, Pinochet Ugarte floated the idea of taking full control of the nation, arguing that he commanded the largest branch of the armed forces, the army. The idea met resistance from Leigh Guzmán, the senior member of the junta. Yet on 20 June 1974 Pinochet Ugarte signed Decree 527, granting himself supreme authority. The decree, which did not require the approval of the other junta commanders, relegated them to subordinate roles. He would now rule as jefe supremo de la nación (supreme chief of the nation), while remaining head of the junta.
   With the assistance of DINA, Pinochet Ugarte continued his plans to eliminate Marxist influences from Chile. After decimating the Partido Socialista (PS, Socialist Party) and the Partido Comunista de Chile (PC, Communist Party of Chile), he turned his attention to other political opponents, including the members of local humanrights groups such as the Vícaría de la Solidaridad (Vicariate of Solidarity). Civilians who were merely suspected of political activity were detained, tortured, and released as examples to would-be dissidents. Pinochet Ugarte also enlisted the help of DINA in eliminating his three greatest political opponents living in exile: Bernardo Leighton, one of the founders of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (PDC, Christian Democratic Party) and former official in the Frei Montalva government; Orlando Letelier del Solar, a lawyer who had served as defense minister in the Allende Gossens government and who was now working in the United States; and his old friend and colleague Prats González. Pinochet Ugarte assigned the task to Contreras Sepúlveda, who coordinated the assassinations: Letelier del Solar and Prats González were killed; Leighton was severely incapacitated.
   In December 1977 the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the military government for human-rights abuses. Pinochet Ugarte responded by calling a referendum in January 1978 to seek support for his policies. He received the endorsement of more than 75 percent of the voters, though opponents claimed the results were fraudulent. He then pressured the junta into signing an amnesty law absolving the military and the police of human-rights abuses committed from 11 September 1973, the day of the coup, to 10 March 1978. In addition, he charged a committee with drafting a new constitution, which would contain provisions guaranteeing his future leadership. Approved in a 1980 referendum (also considered fraudulent) and taking effect the following year, the constitution of 1981 designated Pinochet Ugarte president for eight years following his swearing in on March 1981. The constitution also called for a plebiscite to be held at the end of the eight-year term. A yes vote would award a juntaappointed presidential candidate (most likely Pinochet Ugarte) another eight years in office; a no vote would give rise to a general election with a slate of candidates.
   The plebiscite of 1988 would be Pinochet Ugarte’s downfall. In the 1980s, economic decline contributed to a growing demand for a return to democracy, and state repression, which had subsided after the 1978 referendum, increased in response to protest movements. Although DINA had been replaced in 1977 with the low-key Centro Nacional de Información (CNI, National Information Center), human-rights abuses continued. In 1986, for example, CNI agents seized and tortured hundreds of leftists following the attempted assassination of Pinochet Ugarte by the urban guerrilla group Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (FPMR, Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front). In 1988 a group of some 16 political parties formed a coalition, the Comando por el No (Command for the No), to lead the opposition against Pinochet Ugarte, who had been named the sole presidential candidate.
   Pinochet Ugarte was defeated in the plebiscite of 5 October 1988 and was not allowed to run as a presidential candidate in elections the following year. In March 1990 he handed the presidency over to Patricio Alywin Azócar, a Christian Democrat. Despite losing his seat of authority, he was in position to wield considerable power, which would protect both him and the military from prosecution. The constitution of 1981 allowed him to remain commander in chief of the army for eight more years and then, upon his retirement from active duty, to assume the position of senator-for-life. His lifetime appointment began in March 1998, but he would soon discover that his legal defenses did not protect him abroad. In October 1998 he traveled to London for back surgery. The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón asked British authorities to arrest Pinochet Ugarte and extradite him to Spain for crimes against humanity. Pinochet Ugarte was under house arrest while British courts debated whether he was immune from prosecution as a former head of state. Although the extradition order was finally upheld, Pinochet Ugarte was allowed to return to Chile in March 2000 after independent doctors reported that his health was too poor for him to stand trial.
   Supporters of Pinochet Ugarte were elated—the likelihood of his facing prosecution in Chile seemed remote. Yet a new generation of judges began removing obstacles to putting him on trial. In June 2000 he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, a decision later confirmed by the Supreme Court. Judges also began arguing, like judges in Argentina, that amnesty laws did not cover cases in which the missing (desaparecidos) were still missing: if the remains have not been discovered, the crime was still being committed. On 1 December 2000 Juan Guzmán Tapia indicted Pinochet Ugarte on charges of kidnapping and murder in connection with the caravan of death, a 1973 helicopter tour that resulted in the deaths of 75 political prisoners. The charges were reduced the following March—from responsibility for the episode to conspiracy to conceal it. The case never went to trial. A medical report suggested he had mild dementia from a series of strokes, and an appeals court ruled on 9 July 2001 that Pinochet Ugarte was mentally unfit to face prosecution.
   In December 2003 the courts reevaluated his fitness to stand trial, noting his lucidity, especially during a recent interview he had granted to a Miami television station. In 2004 the courts divested him of his immunity from prosecution in two criminal cases—Operation Condor and the murder of Prats González. The following year, he was put under house arrest and indicted on tax and corruption charges, challenging his supporters’ contention that he was an honest dictator. But he was never convicted or cleared on any of the charges. His lawyers managed to block any trials on the grounds of ill health, though many, including court-appointed doctors, alleged that he made his health problems appear worse than they were. He died on 10 December 2006. He opted for cremation instead of burial for fear that his enemies would desecrate his tomb.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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