Pinochet's legacy still flourishes

Observations on Chile

Augusto Pinochet, charged with murder and kidnapping, is dem-onstrably not mad enough to get off the hook this time. After all, as a US Senate subcommittee discovered last year, he was sufficiently compos mentis to manage $16m in offshore slush funds.

But while the Chilean courts agreed that he is fit to stand trial - after a week's house arrest, he was granted bail on 10 January - what of Chile itself? The execration of faded generals and convicted thugs is all very well, but the mechanisms of the Pinochet dictatorship continue to eat away at Chilean society.

The military government's apologists always said the omelette of an "economic miracle" is not made without breaking a few eggs. If we are to believe Jessica Leight, a research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, they may have been right. Chile's 6 per cent growth rate and booming exports, she says, are founded on "the continued implementation of the policies of the military regime".

"The basic ideas of the system today," says Victor Hugo de la Fuente, founder of the Chilean Social Forum, "are the same as those founded by Pinochet and the Chicago Boys [acolytes of Milton Friedman, father of neoliberalism]: disarming the social apparatus, privatising to the maximum, free-market competition."

Chile is the gold tooth in the IMF's grin. President Ricardo Lagos is nominally socialist, but devoted like no other leader in South America to the Third Way and the free market. Chile has signed six free-trade agreements, including one with the US; a score more are under discussion. Two-thirds of mining resources are owned by foreign corporations, as are swathes of salmon stocks. Workers' rights are minimal; the social security system stays privatised (George W Bush is modelling the new US private pension scheme on Chile's); copper and cellulose giants ignore what environmental regulations there are. Away from the manicured lawns and Starbucks of Santiago's barrio alto, 20 per cent live on less than a dollar a day.

As Volodia Teitelboim, a former leader of the Communist Party, says: "Pinochet may very soon be zero, but Pinochetism is everywhere." The immediate past mayor of Santiago - a member of the far-right Union Democrata Independiente who was pipped for the presidency in 2000 - was JoaquIn LavIn, the most illustrious Chicago Boy. He was an editor at the Mercurio news group during the dictatorship. The paper dutifully regurgitated the fictions it was fed by the junta and failed to investigate a single disappearance.

Pinochet's anti-terrorist law, drawn up in 1978 when the dictator was threatened by insurgents, is still in use. Under its provisions, ten members of Chile's largest indigenous group, the Mapuche - whose ancestral homelands have been sold more or less en bloc to logging companies - were sentenced last August to ten years in prison for torching a farm belonging to the multinational company Mininco. Human Rights Watch says the judiciary uses the junta's laws to further the "constant criminalisation" of the Mapuches' demands.

In November, Santiago hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit. Lagos stood beside Bush and Vladimir Putin and was hailed as a "champion of free trade". Outside, 50,000 people protested. Pinochet's conviction may comfort his victims from the 1970s and 1980s but it won't stem the rage of the teenagers who hurled Molotov cocktails during the summit. Chile is in danger of entering another, invisible dictatorship: a dictatorship of the rich.

Tom Burgis is deputy editor of the Santiago Times