"Pressing Disengagement:" Chile's Transition to Democracy After Augusto Pinochet's 1973 Military Coup

By Alexander E. Hopkins
2012, Vol. 4 No. 09 | pg. 1/3 |

Abstract

Although he left office in March 1990, dictator Augusto Pinochet effectively held absolute in Chile from 1973-1988. His September 1973 military coup proved that a charismatic individual could set the goals of the state by using hard power to affect national politics. While Chilean citizens did not want to support Pinochet, the military regime proved that open dissent was a fatal option. In 1987, due to international humanitarian pressure, Pinochet legalized outside non-Marxist political parties to add legitimacy to his regime. While Pinochet controlled the media, propagandizing capitalist development, Chileans formed the “No” media campaign against his re-election campaign in an October 1988 plebiscite.

This examines the events leading up to Pinochet’s 1987 legalization of non-Marxist outside parties, as well as the Chilean formation of the “No” campaign to stop Pinochet’s “Yes” re-election campaign during the constitutionally-mandated 1988 plebiscite. Unlike Pinochet’s “Yes” re-election campaign, the “No” campaign’s testimonial evidence of violent repression stood-out against the threat-laced status-quo of the “Yes” campaign. As history has shown, the “No” campaign proved effective, as Chile democratically-elected its first President in 1989.

This chilling testimony was not uncommon of the horrors that Chileans endured during and after Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial regime assumed power during a military coup on September 11, 1973. Pinochet, who by then was a military leader appointed by President Salvador Allende, viewed Allende’s administration as a left-leaning government that resembled (Wyndham & Read, 32). Allende, who did not win the 1970 Presidential election with a majority, was viewed by many wealthy classes as an illegitimate government (University of Wisconsin, 2012). This coup became chilling evidence that the democratic government under Allende was not working (Navia, 302).

Although he left office in March 1990, Pinochet effectively held power from 1973-1988, The coup showed that a charismatic individual such as Pinochet could set the goals of the state by using hard power to affect the internal and external policies of the state (Byman & Pollack, 134; Nye, 257. Pinochet effectively controlled the media, which spread messages of “transnationally-dependent capitalist development” to bolster his regime (Crofts-Wiley, 671). While the people did not want to support Pinochet, the military regime proved that open dissent was a fatal option (Crofts-Wiley, 671). However, after Chile’s 1982-1983 economic crisis, the “Miracle of Chile” helped to justify Pinochet’s incumbency because the economy skyrocketed beginning in 1984 (Davis, 1360; University of Wisconsin, 2012; Navia, 304). However, this came at the cost of an even greater socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor (Navia, 298). Still, however, many of the socio-economic elites believed that he was a hero “..for having overthrown international Marxism on the 11 September 1973 and today on his sickbed and for having given us a protected Democracy” (Tanner, 395).

The events leading up to the 1988 constitutionally-mandated plebiscite were gambles both for Pinochet and the citizenry. In 1987, due to international pressure, Pinochet legalized outside non-Marxist political parties to add legitimacy to his regime (Ma, 60). As long as the citizenry could obtain 33,500 signatures, a party would be recognized by Pinochet’s government. The citizenry had to strike a balance between not raising Pinochet’s suspicion and remaining cohesively-transparent with one another (Weeks, 728). The formation of the “No” campaign against Pinochet’s “Yes” campaign helped to defeat Pinochet in the October 1988 plebiscite, which effectively called Pinochet to hold . In 1989, Patricio Aylwin was elected as Pinochet’s presidential successor and ultimately became the first-democratically-elected Chilean President in over 20 years.

However, given that any outside humanitarian intervention against Pinochet’s dictatorship was ineffective, the democratic regime shift had to occur from within Chile by citizenry who were repressed by Pinochet’s policies. When Pinochet legalized outside parties in 1987, Chileans formed the “No” campaign to stop Pinochet’s “Yes” campaign in the constitutionally-mandated 1988 plebiscite. Unlike Pinochet’s “Yes” re-election campaign, the “No” campaign’s testimonial evidence of violent repression stood-out against the threat-laced status-quo of the “Yes” campaign.

Imagine that you have a wound, a deep wound, pain in your body, in your soul, everywhere. Imagine that the only thing you want to do is cry, shout, protest, because you feel that what happened was infinitely unjust. Imagine that you can’t do it and while others laugh, celebrate, laugh and celebrate over and over, you have to be quiet, not cry or cry quietly, not talk, not talk. And suddenly a loved one disappears; you suspect what has happened to him, but it is dangerous to even ask, they say that, they talk in half whispers, fear, rumors, danger, death, everything is dangerous. And if they had let me cry out loud, protest, debate, dissent, criticize, think differently? How much hatred would have been avoided! (Tanner, 394).
-An anonymous survivor of Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet’s first year in office

By the evening of September 11, 1973, Allende laid dead, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Pinochet immediately began on salvaging the government from the mass civilian chaos that followed. The majority of citizens in the days that followed initially-viewed Pinochet’s coup as a rescue operation from an undermined government under Allende (Davis, 1375). As such, they believed that Pinochet’s strict rule was only a transitory government until Chile could once again return to a stronger (Davis, 1375). Of course, this never happened, which created a split among the citizenry between supporters of the Pinochet regime and those who opposed it. The former group, mainly consisting of the wealthy classes who viewed Allende’s regime as illegitimate, still insisted that Pinochet was restoring democracy (Novak, 296).

Pinochet used coercion to undermine the balanced-power system to work in his favor by controlling the economy, diplomacy and military of Chile—even if this came at the expense of rising suspicion from outside countries such as the United States (Schelling, 2; Jervis, 50; Mearsheimer, 34). Since any citizen group going against the entire Chilean military would be suicide, Pinochet’s regime grew at an alarmingly-quick rate because the cost-benefit ratio benefitted Pinochet (Gilpin, 94). As such, he deterred any citizenry from “undermining” his government by enforcing sun-up to sun-down curfews, declaring group gatherings of more than three people illegal and suppressing the media (Wyndham & Read, 32; Truman State University).

Of course, even if no one clashed with Pinochet’s military, many citizens and politicians were public about condemning their beliefs in the ideological-basis for Pinochet’s power. To these groups, Pinochet engaged in military operations such as the “Caravan of Death” to torture an estimated 27,000 people during his seventeen year regime (University of Wisconsin, 2012). Of this number, anywhere between 3,000-5,000 people “disappeared” or were publicly-executed in makeshift stadiums-turned-concentration camps (Davis, 1360; Wyndham & Read, 32; University of Wisconsin, 2012). Roughly half of the deaths occurred between September-December 1973 alone (Wyndham & Read, 32).

On the night after the coup, Pinochet appeared on and addressed the Chilean citizenry: “The armed forces have acted today solely from the patriotic inspiration of saving the country from tremendous chaos into which it was being plunged by the Marxist government of [President] Salvador Allende” (Davis, 1375). Pinochet began his reign by ingratiating himself with the citizenry, a key rhetorical tactic that would characterize his seventeen year reign. He often used “We” to refer to his government and “them” to refer to the enemy (Nunn, 204). He collectively invoked nationalism—as opposed to loyalty—from the upper-echelons of society (Mansfield & Snyder, 10). As Pinochet delivered his address, wealthy citizens throughout Chile celebrated. They began to believe that they were liberated from a democratic government that sacrificed their power to lower classes.

Shortly after Pinochet assumed power, he instituted an “electoral” system that favored his regime. Political Scientist Jay Dow (1998) details this when he writes: “…the second seat goes to the candidate with the most votes on the list with the second largest combined plurality. The Pinochet regime instituted this electoral system to induce parties to form broad coalitions and to give disproportionate representation to minority parties—understood to be those of the right—in each district. The Chilean electoral system promotes Duverger behavior because the allocation of seats depends on the combined pluralities of a list. Further, parties increase the likelihood of securing a legislature more to their liking by forming a coalition with like-minded parties. Disproportionate representation for the minority list is secured because to win both seats a coalition’s plurality must be at least two-thirds. Not only is this unlikely, it is quite possible the candidate with the largest plurality on the minority list will be elected with a smaller vote share than the second candidate on the majority list. This occurred in several legislative elections” (Dow, 63).

For Pinochet, holding power was easy enough. However, the real challenge was creating the illusion of a legitimate government to disarm any outside forces that posed a threat to his regime. If he could not deceive the people, international humanitarian organizations, such as the , could use global media outlets to openly-condemn the regime. On a more national level, well-organized minority parties in Chile could form a coalition to destroy Pinochet’s regime if blatant dictatorial repression took place.

Furthermore, Pinochet’s regime would not benefit him unless he could suppress any Chilean criticisms. If anyone brought-up any grievances against the regime, Pinochet not only ensured that the law was structured in his own benefit, but likewise, interpreted in his favor as well (Collins, 68). This is where Chile’s judicial system came into play. When structuring laws, Pinochet received advice from high-ranking Chilean judges, thereby allowing him to pass laws that left little to outside interpretation because he coerced the courts to rule in his favor. Perhaps the most noteworthy example was the 1979 Anti law, which criminalized plans to attack the “social order” of Chile under Pinochet’s regime (Tolbert, 2001).

Given that Pinochet all but destroyed democracy, concerned citizenry had to start-over, create their own organizations and rally less-informed citizens towards their cause. One of the first organizations to advocate in Chile—and arguably the most important during the regime’s early years—was the Santiago Branch of the Group of Families of Detained-Disappeared (GFDD). This group, composed predominantly of women, became the most prominent human rights organization through it's public acts of civil disobedience (Wyndham & Read, 33). While most political groups maintained hushed-resentment towards the atrocities committed under Pinochet’s regime, the GFDD staged several hunger strikes and demonstrations in packed local centers. The demonstrations in particular—with protestors wielding placards of missing friends and relatives—captured the hearts of a public who longed for the civilian-based democratic regime that characterized Chile for many decades.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

It is important to note that information about human rights abuses in Chile, as well as the exact details and full connections of its recent political history, are still in the process of being sifted through, made public, gathered, and organized. According to the Guardian, “A large quantity of CIA and Pentagon documents... MORE»
Advertisement
On October 16, twenty five years after he took power in the September 1973 coup, Augusto Pinochet was detained in London. This episode had produced a series of conjectures and strange turns amongst political circles. What we have to do with him? Should he have to be punish or should he have to return to Chile? What precedents have to be make regarding other dictators and democratic transitions? Is there any prospect for a global democratic... MORE»
Of the three states in the South Caucasus, Georgia has experienced the most political instability since the collapse of the USSR. Some scholars even described the country in the immediate aftermath of independence as a failed state. Despite the political elites’ denunciation of the Soviet authoritarian regime, it seems that the nature of political power in the Republic of Georgia still closely resembles that of its predecessor. In its twenty... MORE»
It is a generally accepted fact that there are both public and private spheres of action, and that as set out in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy.”1 One may then conclude that actions conducted in the private sphere, such as... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Political Science

2019, Vol. 11 No. 02
In recent years, climate change has been increasingly framed as a security issue, with some theorists going so far as to call it the most important security issue of the 21st century. This paper will examine the relationship between climate change... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 02
The Haitian Revolution of 1791 – 1804 was a successful slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue that began in the wake of the French Revolution and went on to influence subsequent liberation movements for decades to come. The... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 02
American politics today operates in an arena where truth and objective reality are bent to the designs of particular interests, powerful people and commercial profiteers. All facts are questioned; the truth has purposes. Populist and nationalist... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 01
Globalization is generally studied as a process that extensively impacts nations and peoples across every aspect of society. Empirical and theoretical research largely focuses on this effect, seeking to discover the impact of an increasingly globalized... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
The following paper seeks to elucidate the complex processes involved in the Mexican State’s loss of authority and the subsequent acquisition of this authority by armed criminal groups operating in that country. In theoretical terms, this... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 07
The Polish populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) overturned the mainstream consensus in Polish politics by returning to power in 2015 with a populist platform, decrying a selfish elite and advancing policies that critics saw as illiberal and authoritarian... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 05
Texas introduced Senate Bill 277 as its first wind energy siting law during the 2017 Legislature. The bill combats radar interference between wind and military equipment by exempting any wind farm within thirty nautical miles of a military base... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

How to Read for Grad School
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School
Finding Balance in Graduate School