Events

The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet

September 12, 2008 // 8:30am10:00am


On September 12, 2008 Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, discussed his new book, The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet, a political memoir that seeks to answer the question, "Was Pinochet necessary?" Both a personal and historical account of the 1973 overthrow of President Salvador Allende and the rule of General Augusto Pinochet, the book examines what these events meant for the citizens of Chile and reflects on the efficacy of Pinochet's policies in light of the atrocities he and his administration committed. The discussion, also featuring Organization of American States Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza, was co-sponsored with the Inter-American Dialogue.

Muñoz, who in 1973 was a junior level official with the Allende government, opened with an account of his own harrowing experience during the coup d'état of September 11, 1973. He recounted how he retrieved four sticks of dynamite in preparation for an armed resistance. Although he did not put the dynamite to use, he emphasized his own and others' willingness to die in defense of democracy and the Constitution.

Addressing the issue of foreign intervention in Chile, Muñoz discussed the role of the United States in impeding Allende's run for president and subsequently undermining Allende's legitimacy through a "two track policy" that included the recently revealed "invisible blockade" of loans and credits ordered by President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. He also pointed to Pinochet's implementation of the economic policies advocated by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman and his so-called "Chicago Boys." Muñoz credited the orthodox economic model with introducing a spirit of private initiative that had not previously existed in Chile. The policies also controlled hyper-inflation (subsequently reduced to single-digits under civilian governments), expanded an export-driven economy as well as non-traditional exports, and prepared Chile to better resist the upheavals of the international economy. These economic reforms notwithstanding, Muñoz said, Pinochet will be remembered as a dictator, not as an economic reformer.

OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza stated that while Pinochet managed to change the structure of the Chilean economy, the cost in human lives was unacceptable. Indiscriminate killing and torture in the months and years after the coup created massive fear and uncertainty, while the economic policies put in place resulted in unemployment rates near 45 percent. Economic stability was only achieved in the mid-1990s following the return to democracy, Insulza argued, and it is a myth that Pinochet presided over 15 years of growth. Pinochet, he said, was prosecuted until the last days of his life, and revelations of secret bank accounts he held outside Chile ensure that he will be remembered not only as brutal but also corrupt. Insulza praised The Dictator's Shadow as having "captured the experience of an entire generation," noting that Muñoz, who rose from the streets of Chile to become one of the most dynamic leaders of the movement that returned democracy to Chile, is uniquely well qualified to tell this story. According to Insulza, Muñoz's book is "the only one written by a person who has the advantage of having known him [Augusto Pinochet], having resisted him, having fought him, having survived him, and having defeated him."

 

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