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First Person: The Master of Political Disappearances Is Dead

By Fernando A. Torres, Special to the Planet
Tuesday December 12, 2006

You should always say something good about the dead. He’s dead. Good. —Moms Mabley 


Former Chilean political prisoners, torture victims, exiles and refugees—all victims of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, gathered Sunday night at Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center. 

Among TV cameras and lively songs the mood was celebratory. Some said the day should be a day to remember the thousands of missing prisoners, many whose whereabouts now may never be known, as it is one of the many secrets the dictator took to his grave. 

More than just a celebration, for some of the victims of his brutal reign, Pinochet’s departure also marks a new stage of relief. For me, for many years the dictator’s face has been a symbol of death and fear. 

To see him in the newspaper or on TV was always hard. He held power by crushing and eliminating any dissent through assassination. Many of us will carry the scars for the rest of our lives. 

By eliminating the trade union organizations, his “Chicago Boys” economic politics were imposed on the Chilean people by the force of the guns. 

When I was reading the newspapers and listening to the news Monday morning, I was amazed to learn about the credit given to him by mainstream media for “improving” the economy, a “miracle” unique in Latin America. But, as writer Greg Palast recently wrote, this is just another “fairy tale.” The claim that General Pinochet begat an economic powerhouse was “one of those utterances whose truth rested entirely on its repetition.” 

Under the Allende government (1970-73) unemployment was 4.3 percent. 

In 1983, after 10 years of dictatorship and in the midst of the free-market modernization, the unemployment rate was 22 percent. 

Under the military dictatorship wages declined by 40 percent. 

By 1970, Chile had 20 percent of its population living in poverty. By 1990, the number had doubled to 40 percent. 

In fact, life was far better under Allende. There was a highly just pension system, education and health care was free and there were national programs building houses for the poor and middle class. 

Pinochet jailed or killed hundred of union leaders, eradicated the minimum wage and eliminated taxes on wealth and business profits. He privatized the pension system, schools and hundreds of state-owned industries and banks. Some of the monies from these transactions are now known to be part of Pinochetbooty found in different banks abroad. 

Because the Prussian, proud, disciplined military man was not just a butcher-- he also ended up to be one of the biggest Chilean crooks who stole millions of dollars from the Chilean state.