The Difference A Dictator Makes

With the recent death of Pinochet, Chile’s former dictator, it is a good time to stop and compare two ideologically opposed dictators – Chile’s Pinochet vs Cuba’s Castro/Che.

The Washington Post writes:

A Dictator’s Double Standard

Augusto Pinochet tortured and murdered. His legacy is Latin America’s most successful country.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006; Page A26

AUGUSTO PINOCHET, who died Sunday at the age of 91, has been vilified for three decades in and outside of Chile, the South American country he ruled for 17 years. For some he was the epitome of an evil dictator. That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with U.S. support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left: socialist Salvador Allende, whose responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked. Mr. Pinochet was brutal: More than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured, mostly in his first three years. Thousands of others spent years in exile.

One prominent opponent, Orlando Letelier, was assassinated by a car bomb on Washington’s Sheridan Circle in 1976 — one of the most notable acts of terrorism in this city’s history. Mr. Pinochet, meanwhile, enriched himself, stashing millions in foreign bank accounts — including Riggs Bank, a Washington institution that was brought down, in part, by the revelation of that business. His death forestalled a belated but richly deserved trial in Chile.

It’s hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile’s economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It’s leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired. It also has a vibrant democracy. Earlier this year it elected another socialist president, Michelle Bachelet, who suffered persecution during the Pinochet years.

Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle — and that not even Allende’s socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.

By way of contrast, Fidel Castro — Mr. Pinochet’s nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond — will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.

The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet’s coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.

I have no problem with those who remain consistent and despise all dictators regardless of political leanings, but I find it hard to stomach those who praise Che on the one hand and condemn Pinochet on the other. Yeah, they were both evil scandalous killing machines and will both probably end up in hell, but if you’re going to value one aside from his evil killings, then Pinochet should definitely be your pick.

Update: John O Sullivan, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, gives the context behind Pinochets dictatorship in Chile.

15 Responses to “The Difference A Dictator Makes”


  • Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare Pinochet to Allende and Castro to Bautista? I mean, that was the real choice, right?

    In that comparison, Pinochet was a huge downgrade, while Castro was only a small one. Right?

    And one more thing – There is no way to know that Chile would not have done equally as well economically under Allende.

    Just saying.

  • Kjerringa mot Strommen

    You failed to factor in the power of being a U.S. sponsored dictator and mass murderer. To borrow a phrase from FDR, “he may have been a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch”

  • After re-reading my previous comment, I think I was not as clear as I could have been.

    What I meant by “big downgrade” and “small [downgrade]” is that Pinochet replaced a Democratically elected government with a brutal dictatorship, while Castro simply replaced one corrupt dictatorship with another one that was a bit more brutal.

    Also, can’t we somehow revive the thread on an “Introduction to Gangs in L.A.”? That was a terrific discussion! ;)

  • Castro and Che were clear downgrades, and significant ones at that, just compare Cuba’s economy before Castro and after, see here.
    As far as Pinochet and Allende goes, don’t believe all the hype about Allende, he was about as ‘democratically elected’ as Hitler was, and one can make a (strong) argument that Pinochet was, atleast at the beginning, more supported by the citizens of Chile than Allende. See this old Wall Street Journal article here.

    In addition, after seeing the policies Allende had already started, and looking at history as a reference point, one could be almost certain that the number of innocent deaths would have been significantly more had Allende remained in power. That is not to say that the CIA should interfere in other countries affairs, but pointing to Chile is not a good example of why it shouldn’t.

    You liked the Introduction to Racial Tensions In LA post? I’m surprised, I didn’t think anybody else read that anymore, the comments went downhill fast. Well, starting in 2007 I plan to write alot more, less political and more personal stuff too.

  • The last paragraph of the Post quote is most telling. At least Milton Friedman had Pinochet’s ear, showing the Chileans the power of a free market.

    How ironic – Friedman, Pinochet, & Kirkpatrick all died within a few weeks of each other.

  • How ironic – Friedman, Pinochet, & Kirkpatrick all died within a few weeks of each other.

    I was thinking the same thing True_Liberal. Also noteworthy is that John Kenneth Galbraith, Friedmans long time foe, died a few months ago as well. Go back even further and you have the deaths of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II.

    The end of a dangerous era, I guess. We should be thankful to them that even lefties now generally all agree that communism is a bunch of bullshit.

    Though with the recent rise of Islamic radicalism, we seem to be entering a whole new era. I consider GWB to be the Nixon of this new era, and am desperately waiting for the Reagan of it to come along.

  • I disagree strongly with your statement that “the number of innocent deaths would have been significantly more had Allende remained in power”. Allende did not have a history of oppression or human-rights abuses, and he was murdered in a coup. How you could presume to know that he would have been worse than the man who instigated his murder is beyond me.

    Your assertion that Chileans may have preferred Pinochet to Allende is irrelevant if true, and unlikely to be true since they voted for Allende.

    In any case, it seems indisputable that when any democratic government is replaced by a military coup, that constitutes a very significant “downgrade” – which was my original point. I’m surprised you would argue otherwise.

  • How you could presume to know that he would have been worse than the man who instigated his murder is beyond me.

    Allende, in less than three years of assuming power, attacked the press, nationalized a large amount of businesses, and started a shadow army which, btw, produced a lot of violence throughout the period. By 1973, the time of the coup, the countries economic system was in shambles, with desperate women and children banging empty pots as a protest to Allende’s economics. It was Allende’s call for rationing and the nationalization of education that was the tipping point which lead the Supreme Court, the Lower House, the Medical Association, and the Bar Association to all come out strongly against Allende – calling for military intervention.

    So does history give us any indication of where a country that attacks the press, nationalizes businesses, starts a shadow army and starts food rationing is headed? Sure it does, and you can look at every other communist regime – including Cuba under Castro – to see exactly what that would have leaded to. Record numbers of death, especially innocent women, children, and farmers, and this only those that die because of the gross inefficiencies of communist central planning – to say nothing of the historically unprecedented numbers that also die in concentration camps, gulags, or under bloody suppression.

    In other words, the 3,000 or so innocent people that died under Pinochet is tragic, but history clearly shows that had Allende remained in power, 3,000 innocent deaths would have been but a drop in the bucket to the number of innocent deaths that would have resulted.

    In any case, it seems indisputable that when any democratic government is replaced by a military coup, that constitutes a very significant “downgrade” – which was my original point.

    Lets not confuse the issue, Allende was about as ‘democratically elected’ as Hitler was, receiving at most 36% of the vote (which means that congress held power over him and made him agree to certain terms of his presidency, of which many he disobeyed). In addition, the military coup was encouraged by the civil society, for it was Chile’s Chamber of Deputies that, less than a month before the coup, passed a resolution calling for military intervention. By the time the coup took place, Chile was already – in no small part due to Allende and his communist policies – in economic and political turmoil, on the brink of a bloody civil war. So for one (not necessarily you, but others) to act as if Allende was as ‘democratically elected’ as Bush was, or that Chile was as peaceful and economically prosperous as the United States is to mislead in a grave way.

    The people of Chile certainly didn’t ask for Pinochet as a dictator, but they were loud and clear in wanting Allende removed via the military and replaced by, hopefully, something better.

    With that said, I want to make it clear that I don’t believe that the CIA should be, as a general rule, interferring in other countries political affairs, but Chile is not a good example of why the CIA should not be doing so.

  • In other words, the 3,000 or so innocent people that died under Pinochet is tragic, but history clearly shows that had Allende remained in power, 3,000 innocent deaths would have been but a drop in the bucket to the number of innocent deaths that would have resulted.

    I have no rebuttal to this argument. I really just can’t think of anything to say. I’m floored.

    You are arguing that the military coup that overthrew the democratic government of Chile was a good thing because Allende (who was murdered by Pinochet) would have been an even worse murderer than Pinochet had he been allowed to live. That is your argument. Did I get that right?

    I don’t know what to say.

  • I wouldn’t say ‘a good thing’, no. I am just adding nuances that are often left out.

    What would have been ‘a good thing’ was for Allende’s regime to have taken its course unaltered by US involvement, of which would have probably lead to either the eventual self destruction of Allende’s government anyway, or, tragically, mass murder of innocent lives on a much larger scale…but we will never know which way history would have took Chile.

  • What Pinochet did that NO OTHER Latin American Leader has done “which I will remember him fondly for” was to root out corruption with in the government.

    No other Latin American Leader can say “that they have done for their country what Pinochet did for his”.

  • If you are looking for a “what if Allende remained in power” model, may I submit Zimbabwe?

  • Allende could certainly have become Mugabe. Or Hitler. Or maybe Stalin. But I don’t think so. I personally think “history clearly shows” that Allende would have been worse than Hitler and Stalin combined!

    He would have killed tens of millions. History clearly shows this.

    It’s a good thing Pinochet killed him in time. A Great Man that Pinochet! While Pinochet only killed thousands and thousands of Chileans, Allende would have killed millions (had Pinochet not killed him first).

  • …both Pinochet and Castro are(were) assholes. HP, you gotta admit that once the military gets involved in the politics of a country that country is in the toilet…

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