Pinochet and Chile's Dirty War

A short commentary on the circumstances that led to the Chilean "Dirty War" against its own population

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  1. The period of time in Chilean history known as "The Dirty War" was a horrifying and extreme example of state terrorism and the possibilities that lay before a people when the rule of a certain class is allowed to go unchecked. Marked by extreme brutality and severe treatment of its own population, this period in Chilean history is one that many would prefer to forget. However, in the effort to prevent such a terrible level of abuse it is of utmost importance that we remember what happened before.
  2. The above photograph is a prime example of the type of treatment that could be expected for a citizen that has been deemed a political dissident under a regime like that set up by the military junta of Augusto Pinochet. The question is what would drive a government to treat its citizenry this way? A major factor in the influence of the Chilean government's thinking was the influence of the policies of the government of the United States. The United States, a major economic and military power supported military regimes such as Pinochet's because they weren't communistic or marxist in nature, and in the long run they were better for the capitalist system the was engendered by democratic rule. To this end, the United States backed the Pinochet regime and developed its own ideas on how and when to deal with insurrection in friendly Latin American countries.

    According to the 1987 document entitled “A School of the Americas ‘Study Manual’” from the United States Department of Defense, “In planning operations it is very important to realize that even when one does not perceive any guerilla activity, an insurrectionary movement might be in gestation.”(DOD). This paradigm of suspicion was a direct result of the United States’ advice on how to deal with a potentially subversive population. A population under this kind of scrutiny and a government that has no regard for the natural rights of privacy and freedom of its citizens are poor ingredients for success. “If one is to achieve permanent victory, internal defense operations must be planned with the goal of attacking the insurgent organization before the guerrillas can initiate their operations.” (DOD). In essence these assertions were instrumental in creating a mind-set among the Chilean military junta that controlled the country that they had the right and even the responsibility to brutally attack their own citizenry, and do their best to assert control and dominance over their own population. This kind of atmosphere was fertile soil for the kind of government sanctioned death-squads and the terrorist policies of Pinochet’s regime. 

  3. The “Dirty War” waged against its own people was in many ways a direct result of the kind of training offered by the United States to Latin American military personnel and police. The main focus of such training was done in an effort to assist newly formed and stable Latin American governments in the most effective way to undermine and destroy left-wing and Marxist popular movements. Despite any claims to the effectiveness of these policies in subduing communist insurgency, the only truly measurable result was the terrible effects that they had on the very people they governed. The policy of terror is perhaps best reflected by looking at those who rose to power during this time. “The dreaded secret police, DINA (Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional)- with guidance from Col. Walter Rauff, a former Nazi who had supervised the extermination of Jews at Auschwitz- spread its network of terror throughout Chile and carried out assassinations abroad.” The population must have been indeed horrified by the situation in which they found themselves.

  4. The link above will take the reader to an excellent article that outlines a similar time in Argentinian history. The parallels between the two can be traced to the same background of communist suppression and reliance on U.S. ideas of foreign policy.
  5. The stories and above photograph is but a small sampling from the thousands of citizens killed by their own government during The Dirty War. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of lives changed by living under the thumb of such severe brutality.
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