Forty Years Ago Today: Pinochet’s Coup in Chile
I have been in Santiago, Chile for the past few days keynoting an international law conference at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. It’s an impressive law school in one of the most beautiful cities in South America.
I was fortunate to arrive on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the defining moment in Chilean history: Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état on September 11, 1973. Protests are planned throughout the country to memorialize the detained and disappeared. I’m not sure what the norm is in Santiago, but this week Pinochet was very much on the minds of Chileans, with television and newspapers filled with stories on the Pinochet era. An estimated 3,200 were murdered and 38,000 tortured during his reign. I spoke at length with students and professors about their reflections on Augusto Pinochet.
Pinochet’s reputation has plummeted in the past two decades. Almost everyone I spoke with said that the Pinochet extradition trial in the United Kingdom was the turning point. At the time he was arrested in London in October 1998, the country was divided, with as many defending as condemning him. But the international condemnation that ensued in 1999 altered pubic opinion in Chile. Now the vast majority of Chileans view Pinochet as a dictator, and he has precious little support among the the younger generation. Only with the older generation is there a significant minority that defends the Pinochet era.
I raise this because I think many outsiders view the Pinochet trial as an inconclusive failure. He was never extradited to Spain. Despite numerous attempts, he was never convicted at home or abroad for his human rights violations. But the legacy of the extradition trials in Britain and criminal investigations in Chile have left a lasting impact on Pinochet’s reputation. The law students I had the privilege to interview uniformly condemned the man. The names of his victims are memorialized around the country. He was never convicted, but he stands condemned by the Chilean public.