December 11, 2006
The dictator is dead. May he rest in agony.
General Augusto Pinochet crushed the dreams of democratic socialists throughout Latin America, and indeed throughout the world, when he overthrew Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973.
Even with Pinochet pulseless and Saddam about to be fitted for a noose, Washington clings to yesterday’s model. The Baker Report, in discussing the range of unattractive options available, seemed less than hostile to the strongman option.
Pinochet, the brute, proceeded to have his forces kill at least 3,000 Chileans and torture many thousands more. (Shamefully, The New York Times headlined its editorial on Pinochet’s death “The Dextrous Dictator.” That was in keeping with the Times’s headline on its obituary for Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, who died earlier this year. The Times called him “Colorful Dictator.”)
The U.S. government was behind Pinochet, every bloody step of the way.
When Allende came to power, Henry Kissinger infamously said: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
So the CIA helped finance the destabilzation efforts that rocked Allende’s rule.
And the U.S. backed Pinochet’s coup.
As soon as he seized power, the U.S. opened its purse strings, with Kissinger running interference for Pinochet in Congress.
Long before Pinochet died, the Chilean people began wrestling with his legacy. Human rights activists penned him in with one lawsuit after another, as the country tried to come to terms with his crimes, and with the impunity he bestowed on himself and his henchmen in the military.
But there has been no coming to terms, here in the United States, with our own complicity in Pinochet’s crimes.
Milton Friedman, whose disciples served Pinochet, was just lionized in the U.S. press when he died.
And Kissinger still gets respect as a wise man, rather than an accomplice to mass murder.
Memory is short, here in the U.S.
And without memory, there is no morality.
In fact, right now, a certain fascination persists in some quarters about the virtues of dictators. The Bush Administration has been contemplating alternatives to democracy in Iraq. And the Baker Report, in discussing the range of unattractive options available, seemed less than hostile to this option.
“The Iraqi people could be subjected to another strongman who flexes the political and military muscle required to impose order amid anarchy,” noted the report, which stressed on almost every page the risks of growing anarchy. The downside of the strongman option: “Freedoms could be lost,” it said. But that negative, compared with the report’s description of a looming, apocalyptic regional conflict, did not ring with horror.
Little wonder: Washington has traditionally favored the strongman, from Pinochet and Stroessner to Saddam himself.
Even with Pinochet pulseless and Saddam about to be fitted for a noose, Washington clings to yesterday’s model.