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Augusto PinochetAugusto Pinochet

dictator of Chile, 1973-1990

Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte was born in Valparaiso, Chile, on November 25, 1915. He received his primary and secondary education at the San Rafael Seminary of Valparaiso, the Rafael Ariztia Institute of Quillota, and the French Father's School of Valparaiso, after which he entered the military college in Santiago, from which he graduated as a Sub-Lieutenant in 1935.

Despite never seeing combat, Pinochet rose quickly through the ranks, and by 1948 was a commander of a prison camp for members of the Communist Party. He was made Officer Chief of Staff in 1951, had risen to the rank of Major by 1953, and became a professor at the War Academy in 1954. In 1956 he and a group of other young officers were chosen to assist in the organization of a War Academy in Ecuador, and he remained there until late-1959. By the end of 1968 Pinochet had risen to the rank of Brigadier General.

Pinochet first met Salvador Allende in 1948, when the young Chilean Senator came to visit the prison camp Pinochet commanded. Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970, and promoted Pinochet to Commander of the Santiago Garrison soon after taking office. Over the next three years, Pinochet proved invaluable to Allende, helping put down opposition to Allende's economic policies. Allende rewarded Pinochet's service with a promotion to Commander-in-Chief of all Chilean armed forces on August 23, 1973.

On September 11, 1973, less than 20 days after he was made Commander-in-Chief of the army, Pinochet ordered his troops to take Santiago and ordered an air strike on the presidential palace. Allende died defending the palace, and Pinochet became part of a four-man ruling junta led by the commanders of the army, air force, police and navy. This military junta held the executive role until December 17, 1974, after which it remained strictly as a legislative body, the executive powers being transferred to Pinochet with the title of President.

The early years of Pinochet's rule were marked by Chile's heavy involvement in "Operation Condor," a collaborative effort among the governments of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay to control leftist dissidents. It consisted of a series of kidnappings, disappearances, and assassinations of prominent opponents of the right-wing regimes in the listed countries. Those same years were also notable for Pinochet's extensive economic reforms, which included the lowering of taxes, the selling off of state-run businesses, and an increase in foreign investment. These reforms led to a sustained growth, prompting the phrase "The Miracle of Chile," but also led to a decline in wages and a spike in unemployment. In 1980 Pinochet enacted a constitution giving himself an eight-year presidential term, and promising Chileans the right to vote "yes or no" on allowing another term.

The promised nationwide referendum was held in 1988, and resulted in 55 percent of Chileans voting to deny Pinochet another term as President. Elections were held the following year, and Pinochet officially stepped down as President upon the inauguration of Patricio Aylwin on March 11, 1990. He kept his position as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, however, and, per his 1980 constitution, was made a Senator-for-Life, positions he held until 1998.

In October of 1998, Pinochet was visiting the United Kingdom for medical reasons. Seizing upon his presence in a country with extradition, his opponents brought charges against him in a Spanish court, which subsequently charged him with several counts of murder, torture, and unlawful kidnapping. The arrest caused tension between the United Kingdom and Chile, and civil unrest in Chile between Pinochet supporters and opponents. British officials kept Pinochet under house arrest until 2000, when he was returned to Chile on the grounds of ill health. In 2001, a Santiago appeals court voted in favor of suspending proceedings against him on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to stand trial, and in 2002 the Chilean Supreme Court ruled that proceedings against him be suspended for good. However, in 2004 the Court of Appeal stripped him of immunity from prosecution, thus paving the way for a trial on charges of human rights abuses during his rule. Further charges were brought in 2006, but Pinochet died in Santiago on December 10, 2006, before court proceedings ever began.

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This page was last updated on April 20, 2015.

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