‘Wash Post’ and ‘NY Times’ Offer Very Different Takes on Pinochet’s Legacy

By: E&P Staff

A Washington Post editorial today is titled, “A Dictator’s Double Standard,” but you might think it could just as easily be called “A Newspaper’s Double Standard” — if you favor instead an Op Ed in The New York Times today by famed Chilean author Ariel Dorfman and an editorial in that paper yesterday.

The subject, of course, is the recent death of Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet.

Dorfman, who wrote a book about Pinochet called “Exorcising Terror,” declares that the dictator “misruled from 1973 to 1990 and then continued to terrorize as commander in chief of the army for eight more years.” He then refers to charges of “murder and torture, kidnapping and grand larceny” brought against him and recalls the thousands of “disappeared” and “massacred.” He notes that Pinochet’s “bleak and unrepentant heart” had died but wonders: “Will he ever stop contaminating every schizophrenic mirror of our life?”

Now consider the Post editorial. “For some,” it admits, “he was the epitome of an evil dictator. That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with U.S. support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left: socialist Salvador Allende, whose responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked. Mr. Pinochet was brutal: More than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured, mostly in his first three years. Thousands of others spent years in exile.

“One prominent opponent, Orlando Letelier, was assassinated by a car bomb on Washington’s Sheridan Circle in 1976 — one of the most notable acts of terrorism in this city’s history. Mr. Pinochet, meanwhile, enriched himself, stashing millions in foreign bank accounts — including Riggs Bank, a Washington institution that was brought down, in part, by the revelation of that business. His death forestalled a belated but richly deserved trial in Chile.”

But the Post then adds: “It’s hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile’s economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It’s leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired….Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle — and that not even Allende’s socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.

“By way of contrast, Fidel Castro — Mr. Pinochet’s nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond — will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. …

“The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet’s coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick….Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”

But The New York Times’ editorial on Monday concluded: “Out of office, General Pinochet?s reputation slowly disintegrated. Although his second wave of economic policy worked, the center-left governments that followed deepened reforms and brought their benefits to average people, refuting the argument that a Pinochet was necessary for economic discipline. Chileans who argued that the human rights abuses were exaggerated were shown irrefutable proof.

“Investigators also discovered at least $28 million that General Pinochet held in more than 100 secret bank accounts, most of them in the United States. At the time of his death, he was under indictment for kidnapping, torture and murder, as well as corruption-related charges of tax evasion and possession of false passports. Time has revealed that the once-admired General Pinochet was accomplished only at holding power.”

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