Former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet once said, “I am not a dictator, it’s just that I have a grumpy face.” The question concerning the resting state of Pinochet’s face will remain unanswered. What will be evaluated, however, is the condition of rule in Chile between the years of 1973 and 1990. During this time, President Augusto Pinochet ran a “democratic” state, despite never being democratically elected.
The beginning of Augusto Pinochet’s political life began not in policy, but rather within Chile’s military. In 1935, Augusto Pinochet took a position within the national army. After commanding small divisions during World War II, Pinochet took advantage of Chilean peace to rapidly rise through various ranks in the army. In the year 1973, he was appointed Commander in Chief by then-president Salvador Allende. Just eighteen days after Pinochet’s appointment, the Commander in Chief planned and led a military coup that removed Allende from office. The United States heavily supported and funded the overthrow, under the justification that Cuba’s involvements in Chile might have led to a communist state.
After successfully removing the existing government, a new government appointed Augusto Pinochet head of the governing council. After a year as head of the governing council, Pinochet declared himself the sole president. Then, in 1981, Pinochet promulgated a constitution that stated he would rule the country unassisted for the next eight years.
Economically, Pinochet’s policies struggled in the beginning of his reign. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell to new levels, and unemployment tripled from six to eighteen percent in 1975. However, with a complete reversal of Allendian policies, Pinochet capped inflation rates, and increased exportation by nearly five percent. By the end of his terms, the GDP had recovered, was once again steadily developing, and unemployment dropped to roughly twelve percent.
In a fervent attempt to stomp out leftism, Pinochet restricted trade and condemned socio-economic equality. Although successful in eliminating a communist state, Pinochet also thwarted basic human rights, arresting over 125,000 people, and killing thousands of figures, including, some believe, a Chilean diplomat in Washington . Freedom of Speech was not granted to those with dissenting opinions, and hundreds had their families torn apart when they spoke out against the regime.
This style of governance continued until Pinochet was removed from office, when Chile implemented a democratic election system. Originally cast into these shadows by foreign intervention and mistrust, Chile continues to rebuild its relationships with countries like the U.S.