Time and again historians and sociologists have been recalling Stalin’s in an attempt to find an answer to the question: What is more important to the state? A strongman at the wheel, the one who can implement unpopular reforms and make a country flourish – or a group of “mild” democrats who just hate hurting anybody.
The Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is often cited as an example of a positive strongman. The Russian reformists even paid a visit to Chile to gain experience in the Chilean “shock therapy.” An AiF correspondent in Chile tried to gauge today’s attitudes toward the man who “strong-armed the Chileans to happiness.”
Eva Morales, a grey-haired teacher from Santiago, throws a bouquet of carnations to the sea every year on September 11. After throwing the flowers into the water, the woman sits down on the sand and sings a quite lullaby. And then she cries for a long time. Thirty three years ago on that day she was away in Cuba, on a visit with a delegation of Chilean communists. Her neighbors told her later that several drunken solders and an officer broke into her apartment. The neighbors heard the officer punch Eva’s husband in the face. Then her five-year-old daughter Valeria began to cry. Eva never saw her family again. Her husband and daughter just disappeared. A recent investigation launched by Parliament found out that the military had used helicopters for dropping the bodies of those died in prison into the ocean.
Some thirty years ago in the Soviet Union there was hardly a single person who did not know who General Pinochet was. The image of a dictator wearing dark glasses and quasi-Nazi uniforms was hyped by the Soviet media. A top bully of the neighborhood would be nicknamed “Pinochet.”
Things changed in 1991. Prominent Russian politicians publicly expressed admiration for the general’s deeds and visited him frequently. Russian TV commentators would sigh: the general is a real genius, he strangled all the communists and the Chileans got rich overnight.
You can see dozens of posh restaurants in the streets of today’s Santiago. There are trendy Versace, Dior and Burberry boutiques in the leafy downtown area, luxurious skyscrapers made of mirror glass stand tall, and brand-new convertibles and limos speed across the city. Thirty years ago, hungry people were storming grocery stores. Mothers could not buy milk for their children, bus companies did not operate due to strikes, windows were dark in most buildings because there was no electricity, and workers were not paid their miserable wages for six months.
“So where the heck is justice? Why can people be so ungrateful for everything that my dad did for them?” says Marco Antonio, Pinochet’s son, and his voice is trembling from indignation. “My poor old man was working 24 hours a day, he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life!” What would have happened had the Communists stayed in power? You country is a flagrant example of the communistic management. Everybody was afraid of my dad before, nowadays only a lazybones is not trying to kick him in the groin,” says Pinochet’s son.
I had a chance of taking a closer look at the “poor old man” as he was visiting his wife held in custody in a Santiago police hospital. The 90-year-old looked like a really old man. He was sitting in a wheelchair, his head was shaking. He apparently spotted a few TV cameras closing in. He got up slowly, a malicious twinkle in his eyes.
“I will be held responsible for everything. Leave my family alone!” spelled out the general angrily. The next thing I saw was the crowd backing off as though the peole were afraid to get hit by some menacing force.
“Some records from the secret service archives were declassified a few years ago. As it turned out, the famous economic miracles by the Pinochet regime are just a cheap fiction story,” says Isabel Allende with a smile. She is a daughter of the Chilean president Salvador Allende who was ousted in 1973. “Pinochet ordered his cronies to tamper with the official data on income growth so that “the image of Chile” might look right overseas. Ten million people fled the country. At the time when the dictator was forced to step down, half the population were reported to be living beneath the poverty line, only a fool would call the situation an economic success,” says Allende’s daughter.
“Lots of people over here say that the national economy picked up despite the efforts by Pinochet. Well, others strongly object to this point of view,” says the former member of the presidential staff Victor Lagaro. “By and large, everybody’s got a point,” says Lagaro and a smile slides off his face.
“Pinochet hired the ‘Chicago boys’ – 30 graduates from the University of Chicago – to pull off an economic reforms program. So the ‘boys’ went straight for a ‘shock therapy’, just like Yegor Gaidar did in your country. They privatized every company they could lay their hands on, lots of factories were sold to foreign owners. Millions of people lost their jobs. The national currency was being devalued at a crazy pace. The economy went thriving in 1976 but it crumbled again five years later. The banking system collapsed, half a million people were living in the slums. The government urgently borrowed billions from the IMF. Every Chilean still owes $2,000 to the IMF – it’s twice as much as a resident of Russia does! Things went back to normal by 1985 yet the people were tired of the economic crises. Soon they voted against Augusto. What is his relative success all about? It is all about submachine guns. Any other government would have been swept clean a long time ago. But Pinochet police dispersed the protesters by firing submachine guns .The ‘Chicago boys’ did not give a damn about the public opinion. They experimented with the economy the way they thought fit,” says Lagaro.