(This editorial appeared in The
Globe Tuesday, December 12, 2006.)
would be a mistake to regard the death Sunday of Chile's onetime military
dictator, Augusto Pinochet, as simply the final fading note of a vanished era.
The crimes of that time -- the overthrow of Socialist Salvador Allende's elected
government and the human rights abuses that followed -- left vestiges that
linger, not only for Chileans but also for Americans.
day of his death, Pinochet's backers and opponents demonstrated vehemently and
sometimes violently. Although Chile has revived the proud democratic traditions
Pinochet sought to crush, there was no mistaking the clash between those
celebrating the dictator's death and those mourning it.
America, the danger is not that too much is remembered of the Pinochet era but
that too much of the American role in helping to foment those old horrors may be
is a deceptively comforting story line that sequesters the present from the
past, disguising any continuity between the regime change produced in Chile on
Sept. 11, 1973, and other American experiments of that nature. In that
reassuring historical narrative, Pinochet was perhaps guilty of trampling on
democratic niceties and of kidnapping, torturing, and killing socialists and
Marxists , but he represented, after all, the lesser of two evils. The
alternative evil was commonly depicted as Soviet influence, left-wing
radicalism, the expropriation of private property, and falling pro-American
dominoes across Latin America.
ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, who passed away three days
before Pinochet, once propounded a theory to justify American backing for
military dictatorships in
Latin America. Her
rationale rested upon a distinction between totalitarian states like those in
the communist world and mere authoritarian regimes. The latter were supposed to
be more tolerable because, in contrast to the communist states, they left open
the possibility of eventually permitting a return to democracy. It was a theory
that failed the test of time, as demonstrated by the nearly bloodless implosion
of communism and the flowering of democracy in Poland, Hungary, and the former
Reflecting the spirit of such Cold War notions, a CIA document from the month
after Allende was elected president on Sept. 11, 1970, says, "It is firm and
continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup" and "it is imperative
that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG" --
US government -- "and American hand be well hidden." Whatever the details of US
complicity in Pinochet's eventual seizure of power, Americans must not forget
that their own democratic leaders share complicity in the disappearances,
torture, and killings perpetrated after 1973 by their man in Chile.