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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 18:35 GMT
Pinochet legacy still in dispute
By Nick Caistor
Regional analyst

Pinochet supporters hold photographs and candles
Gen Pinochet will not receive a state burial

The clashes on the streets in the Chilean capital, Santiago, between supporters and opponents of the late General Pinochet show how the figure of the former military dictator continues to divide Chile more than 30 years after he seized power.

His supporters argue, as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, that Pinochet "saved Chile for democracy".

They contend that he stepped in when the country was on the verge of chaos that could have led to a Communist take-over and alignment with the Soviet Union.

His 17 years in power, they say, allowed political passions to cool and for the Chilean economy to be put on the right track based on free market principles instead of the social experiment led by President Salvador Allende's Popular Unity government.

The healing of the wounds of the past has been helped by the continued dynamic growth of the Chilean economy

His opponents say that he used brutal force to impose order on the country, in a reign of terror that saw more than 3,000 Chileans killed and many thousands tortured or forced to live in exile abroad.

Worse still, say his opponents, he broke Chile's long democratic tradition by leading a military coup and then having himself installed as president.

His claims to represent the wishes of a majority of Chileans were shown to be false when his candidacy to stand in elections for eight more years in office was rejected decisively in 1988.

Exorcising Pinochet era

Since 1990, Chile has been governed by the "Concertacion", a broad alliance of centre and left-wing parties.

The three Concertacion presidents have avoided extreme political or economic measures, preferring to steer a middle course and take the majority of Chileans with them.

Chilean soldiers look at a newsstand with papers reporting Pinochet's death
Pinochet's legacy will be long debated by Chileans
In September 1973, General Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende from the Socialist Party.

When Ricardo Lagos, also of the Socialist Party, stood as candidate in the 1999-2000 presidential elections, there was no sense of fear or shock, and he won by a comfortable margin.

President Lagos continued the same gradual progressive policies of his predecessors, but also began moves to put figures from the Pinochet era on trial for human rights abuses, and gave official compensation to victims of state repression.

By the time he handed over power to Chile's first woman president Michelle Bachelet at the start of 2006, President Lagos had removed most of the remaining traces of General Pinochet's regime in Chile's institutions, and he enjoyed a 70% approval rating.

Row over economy

In recent years, the right-wing in Chile also distanced itself from the general, especially after accusations of financial mis-dealings began to emerge.

Political leaders such as Joaquin Lavin and Sebastian Pinera stressed they believed in parliamentary democracy as the way forward for their country, and were careful not to hark back to the Pinochet era.

The healing of the wounds of the past has been helped by the continued dynamic growth of the Chilean economy, which has allowed levels of poverty to be substantially decreased in the past 15 years.

Although General Pinochet's supporters claim this success is based on the efforts he made while president, members of the Concertacion and other analysts put it down to continued good management throughout the 1990s.

The healthy economic situation has often depended on the export of copper and the revenues this produces - and as President Bachelet recently pointed out, this is due to the fact that President Allende nationalised the industry early in the 1970s, before he was overthrown by Pinochet.

So confident is the president that a vast majority of Chileans back the current system, that she has even denied the general (whose forces detained and tortured her father, an air-force brigadier, and was herself tortured) a state funeral.

Instead, he is to be buried with full military honours as a former head of the army. His remains will be taken to a family property south of the capital.

"We're among so many people who have no love for us, we don't expect anything. We never expected a thing from this government," was his son Augusto Pinochet Hiriarte's bitter final comment.






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