HISTORY: Dictatorships vs. Democracy; Look to Chile for Answers, Author Says

Review: The dictator’s shadow: life under Augosto Pinochet

Recently, I’ve been doing personal research on a concentration camp that was hidden in the deep Andes of Chile, Colonia Dignidad. It is a place I’ve written about in the past (The Plan) and the theme continues through GringoLandia (to be released this summer), and a third book in my Civil Rights Mystery Sleuth series (yet unnamed).
One of the books that has drawn my attention is by author Heraldo Muñoz, who draws a damning portrait of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as an officer of “limited intellect” in his book, The dictator’s shadow: life under Augusto Pinochet.

Interestingly, Muñoz describes Pinochet as “above all else, a survivor.” While this dictator, who was put into place with the help of the U.K., and then supported by the United States, was raised in an upper middle-class family, Pinochet “reluctantly joined the coup against Allende,” then systematically pushed aside his fellow conspirators (and executed his political rivals) to seize sole control of the country.
What were the qualities that put Pinochet in this position? Munoz writes, his assets actually were uninspiring: “Insensitive and sardonic to those below him, he was crafty, submissive, and obsequious with his betters. Though Pinochet was anti-Communist, his ideology was self-interest.” Once Pinochet seized power, as jets bombed the presidential palace and Allende committed suicide, the situation quickly turned grim. Several of the worst human rights brutalities recounted in this book — corralling opponents into the national soccer stadium in Santiago and executing more than 100 of them, the international plot known as Operation Condor to track down and kill dissidents — have been documented at length elsewhere. 
But Muñoz still tells these stories in chilling detail. For instance, to advance his career before the coup, Pinochet used to visit regularly with Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his family, bringing presents to the children. Yet a few years later, the author alleges, Pinochet ordered the assassination of Letelier, who was killed by a car bomb in Washington’s Sheridan Circle in 1976, the crime overseen by Michael V. Townley, now protected by the United States, in exchange for his ratting out of his criminal partners.
Even though democracy has returned to Chile for nearly 20 years, the wounds of Pinochet’s 17-year reign are still being treated; and don’t be surprised that the dead dictator still has many citizen and government supporters. Recently, dozens of Chilean legislators spent hours honoring the former dictator on the anniversary of his death. 
Why does the United States back a “Pinochet” over an “Allende?” It is a question we must continue to discuss. For some of our own leaders, simply put, it is easier to control a dictator than a democratic, liberal leader. But in the end, who wins? Joshua Parlow, in his review of this book, notes the impact on the Chilean economy looked good at first, but in the end democracy worked better.
Click here to read a complete review of the Muñoz book, by Joshua Partlow

From The Washington Post’s Book World /