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Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Dies

  • Barry Unger

Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet has died at the age of 91. He had been in poor health for many years and suffered a heart attack last week. Pinochet was head of a military dictatorship in Chile from 1973 to 1990, during which time more than three-thousand people disappeared or were killed. Pinochet was accused of being responsbile for these human rights violations.

Augusto Pinochet was born on November 25, 1915, in Valparaiso, Chile. He rose through the ranks of the Chilean military and was appointed Army Commander in Chief in August of 1973 by Socialist President Salvador Allende. General Pinochet became the leader of Chile several weeks later when he led a successful and bloody coup against Allende.

Pinochet consolidated power around his military government and banned political parties and labor unions. He also instituted numerous free-market reforms to reduce the government's role in the economy.

General Pinochet ruled Chile with an iron-hand from 1973 to 1990. During that time, more than three-thousand people, mostly leftists, either disappeared or were killed for political reasons. Thousands more were tortured or forced to flee the country.

General Pinochet stepped down as President in 1990, but remainded Army Commander in Chief for several more years. In 1998, after he retired, he was arrested in London on a warrant from Spanish judges who sought his extradition for human rights crimes. However, Britain let him return to Chile for health reasons in 2000. Since then, he was detained several times for various crimes allegedly commited during his rule and was placed under house arrest.

But General Pinochet never stood trial for any of his alleged crimes, after a Chilean court ruled he was physically and mentally unfit to undergo a trial.

For years after he stepped down, General Pinochet refused to admit any guilt for the alleged atrocities committed during his rule. He denied any culpability in this interview from 2003.

"I am not remorseful about anything. I have not assassinated anyone. I have not ordered the killing of anyone. I feel that would be an aberration. I am a Christian first, then the rest."

But in November of 2006, General Pinochet released a statement on his 91st birthday in which he accepted, "political responsibility," for everything that happened during his era.

General Pinochet continued to be a polarizing figure in Chile, where some saw him as a savior from Marxist rule, whose free market reforms turned Chile into a modern economy. However, others consider him a brutal dictator responsible for the deaths of thousands.

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