Why Pinochet is the dictator who never dies

Why is there still support in Chile for a man considered a ruthless dictator by most of the democratic world? Pinochet’s sympathisers say his poor reputation is the result of a manipulation of history.

Thousands were tortured, killed or “disappeared” during the rule of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990 and yet even today many believe the late general was the best president Chile has ever had. They are hoping that the presidential and parliamentary elections on 17 November will lead to a revival of his ideals.

There’s plenty of evidence online of nostalgia for Pinochet. Facebook pages such as the Fundación Pdte Pinochet (Foundation President Pinochet) have achieved tens of thousands of likes and some Twitter users call him “tata” (daddy) or “mi general”.

The pro-Pinochet movement isn’t limited to the internet. There have also been moves to bring back Pinochet’s political party, Avanzada Nacional. The party’s aim is to represent the 44 per cent of Chileans who backed the military regime in the 1988 referendum. The leadership has postponed registering Avanzada Nacional until 2014, probably because they weren’t able to collect the signatures needed (according to their most recent statement they collected 20,000 but they need 30,000 to register). Its leader, Roberto Francesconi, is running as an independent candidate instead.

Similarly, hardcore Pinochetistas tried to put forward their own candidate for the presidential election but the man they had in mind, the retired colonel Cristián Labbé, declined to run.

Why is there still support for a man considered a ruthless dictator by most of the democratic world? Pinochet’s sympathisers say his poor reputation is the result of a manipulation of history. To show “who he really was”, a group of retired military officials – who are among his most ardent supporters – made a documentary, entitled Pinochet, last year.

They argue two points. First, that Pinochet saved Chile from Cuban-style communism, a handy argument against those who highlight the human-rights abuses during his rule. Second, they maintain he transformed a bankrupt economy into the most prosperous in Latin America. As for political killings, they reason that the 1973 coup prevented many more deaths by averting a civil war and that, in any case, those killed were “Marxist terrorists”.

Many Pinochet supporters have accused the current rightwing administration of betrayal. When Sebastián Piñera won the top office in 2010, after 20 years of left-wing government, they deemed it the resurgence of Pinochetism. But the president has disappointed their hopes of ending investigations into human-rights abuses and moved towards the left.

“This government, and the political right in general, want to get rid of the figure of my father. Many were his close allies but now they want to get rid of him,” the dictator’s daughter Lucia Pinochet told the Chilean newspaper La Segunda last year.

Avanzada Nacional are pinning their hopes on the rightwing presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei. As much as Matthei might like to please Pinochetistas, she also needs support from those who reject the Pinochet years as a dark period in the country’s history. She seems uncomfortable every time a journalist asks about her links with Pinochet: her father was part of his military junta.

It looks unlikely, however, that Matthei will win. According to opinion polls, she is currently achieving around 22 per cent of the vote, while the left-wing candidate Michelle Bachelet is polling at between 36 and 47 per cent. It seems Pinochetistas will have to wait to advance their beliefs beyond internet forums.

Some Chileans don't want to forget Augusto Pinochet. Image: Getty

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.