In case you didn't know, General Augusto Pinochet has died, at the age of 91. The old dictator passed away a couple of days ago, and for most, this ought to be good news. It seems that there's an uncomfortable heap of controversy over his legacy. I must confess to not being anything approaching an expert, but it seems to me, after reading the history, that Pinochet's legacy as a brutal dictator, who seized power from the democratically-elected (albeit Marxist) Sal Allende, and then murdered over 3,000 over his people, tortured and brutalized thousands more, committed acts of state terrorism, including acts on U.S soil, and subjected his people to a nearly two-decade reign of terror is valid and undisputed. Even many of his apologists (and they're out and about), admit he was a dictator.
There are numerous sources to check out on Pinochet's legacy. Christopher Hitchens has written a good piece on Pinochet's bloody legacy. Marc Cooper, who was actually Allende's translator back in the day, has a perspective on this you'll not get anywhere else.
As I said before, not everybody's happy that the Captain General is gone. Many of his supporters have taken to the streets, and pledged their support for him at his funeral. Apparently, much like their beloved master, they really do have a soft spot for fascism.
The rightist apologists for Pinochet, at home and abroad, are all over the place. The general pro-Pinochet argument basically goes like this: His free-market economic policies brought prosperity to Chile, and he left Chile better off. His dictatorial regime is excused as a necessary reaction to communism. "Sure he was a dictator, but those damned commies had to be stopped." His despotism, murder, and terrorism are somehow mitigated by his Milton Friedman style economic policies. Maybe I missed something, but I didn't think that markets were usually implemented through bloody dictatorships. Shows what I know. This view is far more prevalent than many realize. Maggie Thatcher saw him as "restoring democracy to Chile." In fact, he was having tea with the Iron Lady right before his 1998 arrest.
Examples of right-wing apology are here, here, here, and a mind boggling one here. These sorts of things get ugly real quick, it seems.
Heck, even the Washington Post gets in on the action.
Look, recognizing the very real and ugly tyrannical legacy of Fidel and other communist regimes is one thing, but to excuse one of the most brutal and criminal dictatorships in Latin America, all under the banner of economic renewal, and a policy of anything goes against communism is wholly misguided.
Glenn Greenwald and others point to the linkage between this and the controversial policy of the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, who passed away just a few days ago also. Her policy, expressed in her landmark 1979 piece "Dictatorships and Double Standards, " essentially argues that right-wing regimes were less repressive than left-wing ones, and that it was good U.S. policy to back any regimes that were anticommunist. This approach was flawed for obvious reasons. I won't go too much into Kirkpatrick's role on this, although Greenwald does capture the prevailed right-wing sentiment on Pinochet clearly: It was all justified to save the country from communism. Many point out how he laid down his power after the plebiscite, which to me is like saying "he raped us for twenty years, and then he stopped. What a guy!" Well, it was the least he could do, after all.
Now, as I said, I'm not an expert, but this whole Pinochet apology and revisionism borders on revolting. I'll just leave it at that.