Monday, May 29, 2006

Profile & Brief Bio: Gen. Augusto Pinochet de Chile

Death to the Fascist Pigs!
Biography of Augusto Pinochet

Late on the night of October 16, 1998, history came full circle for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Awakened by two London plainclothes police officers, a dazed and drugged Pinochet found himself in a situation hauntingly familiar to the thousands of people his regime "disappeared" -- the practice of midnight arrest. During his 17 years in office, Pinochet ruled by murdering, torturing, and intimidating suspected leftists, though his presidency also aborted civil war in 1973 and founded one of Latin America's most prosperous economies. Pinochet still oversees much of Chilean politics as a watchful lifetime Senator, but he has traded his dark sunglasses and swarthy mustache for conservative business suits and a grandfatherly demeanor. At the ripe old age of 85, this controversial figure, who hoped to spend his remaining years clarifying his place in Chile's nationalist pantheon, stands to be judged by history.

Pinochet was born in Valparaiso on November 25, 1915, the first of three sons and three daughters of a pious middle-class trading family. He grew up largely apolitically despite the hasty exchanges of power that frequently shook his narrow nation, and his family and friends described him as a sensitive child who cried during scary movies and invoked the Catholic Church for help and advice. Uninterested in academics, Pinochet earned mediocre grades and was expelled from the San Rafael Seminary for naughtiness. He finished his schooling at the College of the Sacred Hearts in Valparaiso, where children of richer families attended school and where he likely felt ostracized.

Despite academic underachievement, Pinochet did not lack passion. From an early age, he aspired to join the military, an ambition that even his influential mother could not quell. The Chilean army derived its roots from Prussian training in the nineteenth century, and Pinochet, who always admired England because of its respect for rules, was doubtless attracted to the military because of its gray-clad, goose-stepping traditions. After awkward school years, Pinochet finally joined a group that drew its constituency from his middle-class background and shared his priority for rules over questions. In 1933 at 17, Pinochet finally joined the military as an officer cadet, in uniform at long last.

Pinochet spent the next 40 years climbing the army's hierarchy. In 1937 he graduated as an ensign assigned to the Chacabuco Regiment in Concepcion. Too busy enjoying the life of a young officer and acquiring military knowledge, Pinochet remained aloof to politics when the coalition leftist Popular Front under President Pedro Aguirre Cerda won the election in 1938. In 1943, Pinochet married Lucia Hiriart, a woman almost as strong as his mother, and welcomed the birth of Lucia, the first of five children -- three daughters and two sons. He quietly continued ascending the ranks of the military, building a career with several key accomplishments: becoming Second Lieutenant of the Maipo Regiment in 1939; entering the Academy of War in 1949; moving to the Rancagua Regiment in Arica as Major in 1953; and becoming Chief of Staff of the Second Division and Deputy Governor of Tarapaca Province in 1968.

In the early 1970s, Pinochet's career moved past local postings into the national arena, skyrocketing from commander of the Santiago garrison in 1971 to Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1973.

In fact, Pinochet's rise was so studied and slow, and he remained so apolitical, that socialist President Salvador Allende himself promoted the future conservative to head the army, believing in Pinochet's trustworthiness. In fact, everyone believed that Pinochet backed Allende's government, perhaps even Pinochet himself.

Since Allende's election in 1970, Chile had teetered precariously on the edge of full-blown civil war. Allende's leftist platform, though certainly not Marxist, advocated nationalizing foreign-owned industry and rectifying Chile's gross economic disparity. Allende's rhetoric and the actions taken by his radical followers pushed the middle class into the hands of the wealthy. On the brink of class warfare, the truckers went on strike and radical rightists bombed power lines. Further polarizing the situation, the American government under Richard Nixon smuggled funds to the military for arms and anti-Allende propaganda. Yet the upstart Pinochet remained loyal. He had experienced just the break he had been hoping for under the new government, and he allegedly told Allende right before the coup, "President, be aware I am ready to lay down my life in defense of the constitutional government that you represent."

Allende appointed Pinochet Commander-in-Chief of the Army on August 23, 1973, but by September 8, Pinochet turned on Allende. Pinochet joined a four-man junta to overthrow the government, and by September 11 he assumed complete control of the group because he decided that such a volatile situation could be controlled only by one leader.

Although Pinochet had not been particularly well known outside army ranks, no one within the military hierarchy questioned his control because he commanded the army, the largest, most powerful wing of the military and component of the junta.

Early on the morning of September 11, the junta informed Allende that he must surrender to the police and army, who professed their intention to end Chile's chaos. Allende refused, and British-made warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Pinochet's treachery perhaps shocked Allende most, and in the first hours of the coup he believed that the junta had taken his general hostage.

Once Pinochet's treason and the forces against the ousted leader became clear, Allende committed suicide, defending his socialist experiment. The motives for Pinochet's volte face remain mysterious. Some argue that he greedily recognized a chance for supreme power; others speculate that his rare blend of mental smallness and spiritual perversity convinced him that God ordained his take-over.

Most Chileans welcomed the junta and its goal of returning Chile to guarded democracy. In the end, the majority regretted their jubilation. Pinochet inaugurated a state of siege to be lifted infrequently over the next 17 years.

Declaring himself President in 1974, he eliminated Congress, political parties, freedom of speech, habeas corpus, and trade unions. Pinochet founded the DINA (the National Intelligence Directorate) as his secret police, charged with ferreting out opposition and silencing the nation with intimidation. The reign of terror began immediately after the coup, interning and torturing thousands of dissidents in Santiago's soccer stadium. Although the 1970s witnessed the worst human rights abuses, Pinochet's government is charged with "disappearing" over three thousand citizens and causing thousands more to flee during his rule. While the United States initially backed Pinochet's takeover, after a series of prominent atrocities including the murder of former Allende ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier and U.S. citizen Ronni Moffitt in Washington D.C., the international community cautiously removed support. Like the haze overhanging Pinochet's quick about-face, questions remain about the dictator's motives for ruling through terror. Some note a driving lust for power that Pinochet concealed well in the army, while apologists believe that Pinochet is at heart a nationalist, condoning one-man rule to return order.

Indeed, terror in Chile was complemented not just by order but also by an economic miracle that has lasted despite a few bouts of inflation. At the beginning of his tenure, Pinochet gave free reign to a group of economists called the Chicago boys, nicknamed because of their devotion to University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman's free-market theories. Although their practices increased the income disparity ratio in Chile, the Chicago boys achieved an annual economic growth rate of seven percent, a figure three times the overall Latin American average. By offering generous incentives to foreign investors and privatizing business, Pinochet's government transformed Chile into a modern land of plenty and boosted life expectancy, salaries, access to health services, and educational standards above those of any other Latin American country. Even today, conservatives around the world herald Pinochet's economic ends and ignore his means.

Pinochet is so controversial, and weighing his achievements against his atrocities proves so difficult, that nearly a third of his countrymen still revere him as a nationalist icon. So sure of their support, Pinochet called a plebiscite for the 1988 presidential election -- and lost. And even stranger, the dictator respected the vote and stepped down from the presidency in 1990. Yet politics in Chile remains under the watchful eye of the General. Although he relinquished his command of the army in 1998, he enjoys a lifetime Senate seat and frequently reminds the elected authorities of his lingering control. When his son Augusto's financial dealings were questioned in 1990, Pinochet expressed displeasure by sending troops into Santiago's streets. Maintaining democratic Senate proceedings in the presence of a former dictator seems like a sham, but Pinochet's efforts to participate in statecraft seem to show his desire to reinvent his image as a patriot in any capacity.

But just as Pinochet jettisoned dictatorship for democracy, international law reminded him and other nervous dictators that they will be held accountable for human rights violations. As he recovered from an operation on a herniated disc in a London clinic, Spanish authorities acting through Interpol issued a warrant for Pinochet's arrest on the charges of torturing and murdering Spanish citizens. Spain's case against Pinochet trudged slowly through the British court system until recently, first addressing the question of international legality and then moving on to charges of genocide, terrorism, murder, illegal detention, kidnapping, and torture. In April 2000, the courts ruled to send Pinochet back to Santiago on grounds of ill-health, but since his return his countrymen have debated trying him for crimes in his native country and have revoked his senatorial immunity. International law has yet to judge Pinochet, but the verdict he really worries about is history's -- will he be remembered as a nationalist savior or a selfish murderer? Either way, he has managed a rare feat, and he awaits his judgment as a true anomaly, the first successful former dictator.




Recent News:

Chilean Court Strips Pinochet of Immunity =12-07-05
By EDUARDO GALLARDO, Associated Press Writer

SANTIAGO, Chile - An appeals court stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet of his legal immunity Wednesday, allowing him to face charges in the disappearances of dozens more dissidents during his rule. The 90-year-old former dictator already has lost his immunity against indictment in the cases of nine vanished dissidents. He was indicted on those cases and put under house arrest two weeks ago.

The Santiago Court of Appeals did not offer an immediate explanation for its 16-6 vote Wednesday to remove Pinochet's legal protection in the cases of 29 additional dissidents, who disappeared during his 1973-90 dictatorship. Pinochet's lawyer, Gustavo Collados, said he will appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court. Six of the nine previous indictments are on appeal.

The missing dissidents are among 119 killed in the early years of Pinochet's rule in what has come to be known as Operation Colombo. According to a government report, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during the dictatorship. Chilean law requires that Pinochet be stripped of his legal immunity in each case filed against him. It allows immunity to be removed if the evidence against a defendant is strong enough.

Pinochet also is under indictment on tax evasion and corruption charges related to foreign bank accounts that an investigating judge has estimated at $28 million.

Pinochet's chief defense lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, has said he will insist that the retired general cannot be tried because of failing health. The argument has been accepted by courts four times in the past, blocking attempts to try Pinochet on human rights charges. This time, however, a team of court-appointed doctors indicated that, while Pinochet has mild dementia, diabetes, arthritis and a pacemaker, he is still fit to stand trial. The doctors said Pinochet tried to make his conditions appear worse than they really are.


Family sues in Chile for truth behind '73 slaying =December 5, 2005

TV journalist's final footage as soldiers shot him is evidence as wife, kids seek justice

By Colin McMahon / Tribune foreign correspondent

BUENOS AIRES -- Heather Macfarlane understands the irony of her husband's death, that something so memorable ended up all but forgotten.

The killing came 32 years ago, on the streets of Santiago, Chile, during the rise to power of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Leonardo Henrichsen was an Argentine television news cameraman, caught up in a military insurrection, concentrating on his work, ignoring the danger surrounding him.

And then it happened, in the eye of Henrichsen's camera. Chilean soldiers trained their weapons on him. Henrichsen held his focus. And the Chileans fired, the first two missing, but not the third: a kill shot to the chest.

The image, with the soldiers shooting and the focus going scattershot as Henrichsen fell dying, became one of the most searing images of South America's era of civil strife and military repression. But it happened during a largely overlooked chapter of that tumultuous period.

Now after years of trying to move on, Henrichsen's widow and children are confronting the killing and those they believe were behind it. They have sued in a Chilean court, identifying the man they contend commanded the patrol that fired the fatal shot. They hope for a full investigation that will detail the roles others played in the fatal events.

And for the first time, Heather Macfarlane is talking publicly about what happened to her husband on June 29, 1973.

"I don't like to be in public," Macfarlane said last month over coffee in a classic Buenos Aires cafe. "I am very private, very shy. And I am concerned about this story coming out. But I felt it was time to break the silence."

Josephine Henrichsen, who was 8 years old when her father was killed, leads the family's mission. She and her younger brother, Andres, traveled from Argentina to Santiago to file the lawsuit in late October. They are supported by a team of human-rights lawyers and other interested Chileans, including investigative journalist Ernesto Carmona, who investigated the killings of Henrichsen and other journalists in the Pinochet era.

The judge in the case recently asked the military to turn over its files about the failed insurrection. She is expected to decide shortly whether the suit can proceed as a criminal case. If not, the family intends to pursue it in civil court.

"I don't hold grudges," Macfarlane said, speaking in the crisp English that served her well as an executive secretary for a multinational company in Buenos Aires. "I don't seek vengeance. I like legal things.

"We just want to identify these guys. We want justice. Who fired the shot is the least guilty of them all. Who gave the orders at the top?"

The case faces formidable legal obstacles, Chile's statutes of limitations among them. But it is compelling. The footage, for starters, offers a gripping piece of history.

Henrichsen had raced to catch up with army tanks and vehicles belonging to a right-wing nationalist movement called Fatherland and Liberty. The soldiers and militiamen were part of an uprising launched against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.

Henrichsen's six minutes of footage captures the sounds of rebellious troops fighting against soldiers loyal to the Allende government. Henrichsen can be heard on an accompanying audiotape shouting at the soldiers, angry and bewildered that they are shooting at a journalist. The footage captures the patrol commander firing a pistol at Henrichsen. The lawsuit alleges that the commander then ordered his soldiers to shoot the journalist.

"Some say he was risking his life, but he was just documenting the story," Macfarlane said of her husband. "You get carried away with what you are doing and you don't realize how dangerous it is."

Loyal troops foiled the attempted coup, which came to be known as the "Tanquetazo," or attack of the tanks. But it claimed the lives of 22 people, including Henrichsen and 14 other civilians.

Leaders of the failed putsch found immediate asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and later the military impeded any prosecution of the incident. When Allende was overthrown and killed less than three months later, Pinochet and his fellow generals took power. The investigation was dropped. The Tanquetazo faded from memory.

The Henrichsens and their supporters in Chile view the killings as a precursor to the crimes committed by the Pinochet regime. That is why the lawsuit goes beyond the patrol commander and seeks to identify those who ordered the Tanquetazo.

Among those named is Pablo Rodriguez Grez, a leader of Fatherland and Liberty who is now Pinochet's chief defense lawyer. Pinochet is under house arrest in Santiago, facing charges of tax evasion, corruption and human-rights abuses.

"They are all guilty, from Pinochet on down," said Andres Henrichsen, who was 2 years old when his father was killed. He visited the scene of the killing in Santiago but said it left him oddly unmoved.

"I'm still working through this," he said.

So is the rest of the Henrichsen family.

Widowed at 33 and left with three children ages 10, 8 and 2, Macfarlane focused for years on protecting and providing for them. She chose a low profile in Buenos Aires rather than challenge a Chilean government led by Pinochet from a country, Argentina, that would endure its own military dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s.

"They might kill me or take one of my kids, you never know," Macfarlane said. "You had the military there. You had the military here. We were scared stiff."

The family retreated. They grew extremely close. They did not talk much about the killing, and Macfarlane sought to keep the children from ever seeing the footage. She has watched it only twice in more than 30 years, and to her that was two times too many.

"I'm reliving my husband's death," she said, something she described in her understated way as "not at all pleasant."

"But when my daughter told me she wanted to do this, I told her, `I will support you in any way I can,'" Macfarlane said. "I'm not optimistic. ... But I never thought we'd get this far."
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

Chilean Court Refuses to Release Pinochet By EDUARDO GALLARDO, Associated Press Writer = Fri Dec 2, 2005

SANTIAGO, Chile - A Chilean appeals court Friday turned down a request by lawyers for Gen. Augusto Pinochet to release him from house arrest or drop human rights charges against him, the latest in a string of defeats for the aging former dictator. A panel of the Santiago Court of Appeals voted 3-0 to reject the requests on behalf of the 90-year-old former ruler, Court President Juan Escobar said.

Pinochet's chief lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, had refused to argue his case before the panel, saying a last-minute replacement of one of its members was "a manipulation" intended to harm Pinochet. Rodriguez said he will now take the case before the Supreme Court.

Pinochet was indicted last month and ordered to remain under house arrest in connection with the disappearance of six dissidents in the early years of his 1974-90 dictatorship. The six were among 119 people who disappeared in a case known as Operation Colombo.

The Pinochet government claimed at the time that the dissidents were killed in clashes involving rival armed groups opposed to him. The rights charges came on the heels of Pinochet's indictment for tax evasion and corruption stemming from multimillion-dollar accounts he owns in banks overseas.

The overseas accounts were first reported in a U.S. Senate investigation of Riggs Bank in Washington, where Pinochet kept $8 million. Other accounts have since been discovered in Britain and other countries. Pinochet's lawyers say the money consists of legitimate donations, savings and investments proceeds.

The corruption charges have eroded much of the support Pinochet once enjoyed among many Chileans who admired economic advances during his 1973-90 dictatorship, despite allegations of widespread human rights atrocities.

Whether Pinochet will stand trial on the charges is uncertain. Courts have blocked trials against him four times on health grounds. He suffers from mild dementia, diabetes, arthritis and has a pacemaker, but court-appointed doctors who recently examined him said he is fit to stand trial.

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