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Monday, March 9, 1998 Published at 18:04 GMT

Pinochet's legacy: reform and apathy

A memorial naming 2,500 people who died under Pinochet's rule

By Nick Caistor of the BBC Latin American Service

A quarter of a century ago, the controversial popular unity government led by the Socialist Salvador Allende was in power in Chile. President Allende had promised to find "a parliamentary path to Socialism", but this effort had split Chilean society.

[ image: Patricio Aylwin who succeded Pinochet]
Patricio Aylwin who succeded Pinochet
General Pinochet was brought into the cabinet in an effort to guarantee the armed forces' loyalty: a month later, he repaid the favour by bombing the presidential palace, causing Allende's death, and imposing a tough totalitarian regime.

Popular Unity leaders were killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile. Political and labour organizations were banned, and Chilean society was forced back into a straitjacket.

General Pinochet and his economic advisers used the control they had over Chile to bring about an economic transformation. They reduced state participation in the economy, kept wages low, and cut welfare and other benefits.

They opened up the economy, including the financial sector, to competition, and sought to boost exports. This strategy worked, and brought continuing growth, particularly in the second half of the 1980s.

[ image: The 1973 coup was a violent and bloody shift of power]
The 1973 coup was a violent and bloody shift of power
At the same time, the political opposition to Pinochet's rule was growing.

In 1989, the parties opposed to Pinochet standing as presidential candidate ran a highly successful campaign, which eventually led to one of their leaders, the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, being elected president in 1990.

Since then, party political rule has been re-established almost entirely. As a consequence of the turmoil of the 1970s, there is a new emphasis on consensus and moderation: when a Christian Democrat was again elected president in 1994, everyone agreed it had been the least eventful, not to say boring, election in living memory.

[ image: General Pinochet]
General Pinochet
Few people it seems want to make an issue out of the fact that up to 3,000 Chileans were killed for their political beliefs less than a generation ago.

It is this political apathy which is perhaps General Pinochet's most dangerous legacy. Chile in many ways is even more divided than in the years of Popular Unity rule, but there is little confidence that politicians can debate and resolve the most important political and social issues.

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Pinochet's rule: Repression and economic success

Pinochet's legacy: reform and apathy