Monday, December 11, 2006

More Thoughts on Pinochet's Death

Having had several hours to further digest Pinochet's death and see the worldwide reaction, I have the following random thoughts.

-First Alfredo Stroessner died in August, and now Pinochet. Nearly all of the oppressive Latin American dictators who rose to power with U.S.-sanctioned support in the 1960s and 1970s (with Stroessner being the sole 1950s example) are gone. Only Jose Videla from Argentina (the most severe of the Junta leaders from 1976-1983) remains.

-While others have also pointed it out, there is no better irony than one of the worst violators fo human rights in the latter half of the twentieth century (outside of the 3000+ deaths, which always get mentioned, let us not forget the tens of thousands of people tortured under his rule) dies on the 58th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. In Rio yesterday, there were live shows commemorating the human rights struggle, culminating in Gilberto Gil performing for free at last, and giving the evening's commemmoration of human rights a special meaning.

-Pinochet still has his defenders, and probably always will, but it will be nice when nobody living can defend him anymore based on memory, either.

-While we condemn him for what he did, let us not forget what role Nixon's, Kissinger's, and the CIA's support and involvement had, and the effects on America domestically and internationally even today.

-In terms of the degree of his power and the extent to which he knew about what went on under his rule, it is strange that a guy who said that “a leaf doesn’t move in Chile unless I move it” could suddenly declare complete ignorance and unawareness of the detailed, complex structure of torture under his command when he began to be held responsible

-I love how the NY Times claims that Pinochet “gave up” power in 1990, as if it were a selfless move. Another example of journalists having no historical perspective (use my blog on class divisions in Brazil). Pinochet only “gave up” power because he held a plebiscite in 1988 to determine whether he would receive another 8 years of administration, and he seriously underestimated the opposition’s ability to mobilize, which led to the people saying “no” in the plebiscite. However, multiple reports from members of his cabinet and staff reported that he was absolutely furious and wanted to annul the results until the cooler heads on his staff prevailed, and he still considered running for president in 1990. Even in 1990, he didn’t lose power – he remained head of the armed forces (with all the threats of coups that still hung over the democratically based government) and a senator for life with impunity. He didn’t “give up” power – he was dragged away from it kicking and screaming. (For more on this, see Brain Loveman's For La Patria and his text on Chile, as well as Patricia Politzer's Fear in Chile: Lives under Pinochet).

-Finally, it is true he never saw trial, but he never was going to – only if he were in his 50s would he have ever seen the day. But that’s not what matters, ultimately, because he saw the disgrace of his deeds reach international levels, and indeed, he fell from grace quickly in Chile, moving from a serious threat in 1990 to an infirm old man stripped of immunity and eligible to be tried in multiple countries (it started in Spain, with the embarrassment of house arrest in London, and picked up in Chile – suffice to say, nothing ever happened in his role in the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C., when the government didn’t seem to care so much about “terrorism” as long as it was for our side), and the increased investigations that revealed his embezzelment of Chilean money, deprived him of all but his staunchest supporters. So yeah, he didn’t receive trial, but the embarrassment and disgrace he suffered must have been as severe as any punishment would have been to him anyways (and, at 91, he was too old to go to jail in Chile, even if he'd been convicted).

(For those interested in a broad, general analysis of the coupt of 1973 firsthand from all points of view within Chile, see Pamela Constable's and Arturo Valenzuela's outstanding study, A Nation of Enemies: Chile under Pinochet.)