The Case of Pinochet


Background on the Pinochet Regime


On September 11, 1973, the Armed Forces, led by Army Commander-in-Chief General Augusto Pinochet, violently overthrew the constitutionally elected government of President Salvador Allende, marking the beginning of 17 years of military rule in Chile.

The coup and its unexpectedly bloody aftermath, put an abrupt end to a relatively long period of constitutional rule in Chile and set the stage for a de facto authoritarian regime that would be sustained through force until 1990.
From 1973 until 1990, and particularly in the earliest years of the military regime, human rights violations were widespread and systematic. These included arbitrary arrests, raids on private households, imprisonment, extra-judicial executions, torture, relegation and exile.

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Within a few hours of the coup, the social conflict which had permeated Chilean society immediately before the coup was defined as a "war" and the concept of the "enemy within" as well as the National Security Doctrine were imposed throughout the nation. The enemy within was the Communist, the Marxist, the Socialist, the revolutionary, the subversive, indeed, anyone perceived by the military to constitute a challenge to the new established order.

The repression was not limited to one part of Chile, nor was it limited by social class, gender, profession, civil status or age. With the stated mission of "redirecting the country along the path of liberty and law" the military regime immediately embarked on a "witch hunt," arresting and imprisoning hundreds of supporters of Allende's Popular Unity government and members of other leftist political parties, as well as individuals perceived to be affiliated with these.

Thousands of people were detained throughout Chile on the day of the coup and the days which followed. According to Amnesty International and the United Nationsí Human Rights Committee, 250,000 Chileans had been detained for political reasons by the end of 1973. Summary executions, disappearances and killings in false armed confrontations became the norm. Official figures indicate that nearly 3,000 people were executed, disappeared or lost their lives as a result of torture and political violence.

Immediately after the military coup of September 11, 1973, concentration camps were set up throughout Chile to hold the thousands of political prisoners arrested during the state of siege. "At the end of November 1976, the men and women concentration camp prisoners were transferred to the Tres Alamos camp in Santiago. Then the iron gates opened and they were free to go. Nobody ever provided any explanation as to why they had spent one, two or three years of their lives behind those wire fences." (Analisis #289, 1989)

This map details the location of Chilean concentration camps during the Pinochet regime.  To read more about the individual concentration camp sights, click on:


During this period, despite the heavy repression, there always existed an opposition movement to the regime. This opposition adapted its struggle to the conditions that the dictatorship established. In the 1980´s, it began to openly protest against the regime in large nationwide demonstrations. The government responded with massive, indiscriminate repression, particularly in poblaciones where many victims without any political affiliation died.
In 1988, after a period of negotiations with some sectors of the opposition to the dictatorship, the regime called a plebiscite as planned in the 1980 Constitution. In the plebiscite, the head of the regime and of the Army, General Augusto Pinochet, proposed the continuation of his government and of his leadership. Pinochet lost the plebiscite, which meant he was obliged to call presidential elections.

Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, won these elections and on March 11, 1990, was sworn in as president, thus initiating a new period of transition to democracy in Chile. The after-effects of the prolonged violation of human rights became one of the greatest conflicts which the new democratic governments have had to confront.

The creation of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission on April 25, 1990, one of Patricio Aylwin's first acts as President, marked an uneasy political boundary between the first democratic transitional government and the authoritarian regime that had ruled Chile for the previous 17 years.

Chile approaches the year 2000 with the unforgettable legacy of a recent past marking its footsteps. In 1989, the Chilean people participated in free, democratic elections for the first time since the installation, 17 years earlier, of a military regime. The man who led that authoritarian government, General Augusto Pinochet, is the same man who, since his retirement in March 1998, occupies the nationís first ever lifetime seat in the Senate.

At present, Chile is going through a period considered by many to be one of economic boom and sophisticated "modernization." Yet the democracy that has existed in Chile since 1990, known as "the transition," is built upon concealment of the truth and upon the impunity which protects those who committed human rights abuses that have scarred the lives of thousands of Chileans.

Switzerland, France and other European countries are now lining up behind Spain to seek Pinochet's extradition for crimes committed against their nationals. But the United States -- which backed Pinochet's 1973 coup against the elected government of Salvador Allende and then helped build up his secret police -- has been silent. Two Americans were murdered in Chile, including Frank Horman, about whom the movie "Missing" was made. A 1976 terrorist car- bombing by Pinochet's secret police killed former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt in Washington D.C. Yet the U.S. government has stubbornly refused to express its support for the Spanish prosecution, much less seek the dictator's extradition, and has rebuffed the request of Spanish law enforcement authorities to see classified documents on Pinochet's role in the 1976 bombing.

For a detailed history of the Pinochet Regime, see Edward C. Snyder's The Dirty Legal War:  Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Chile 1973-1995, 2 Tulsa J. Comp. & Int'l L. 253.

For a comprehensive look at the human rights situation in Chile during the 17-year military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, from 1973 to 1990, click here:

For a view of present day Chile, click here:


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