“Forty years after Chile’s dreadful 9/11, when Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende, Americans still ask me: Wasn’t he responsible for the economic miracle that made Chile a success story?” says Heraldo Muñoz (right), an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and the author of The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet:
As an established Pinochet opponent, I can affirm that he personified a disturbing contradiction. He won praise for transforming the economy, operated by the “Chicago Boys”….into the most prosperous in Latin America. …. Chile became the Washington Consensus model for countries seeking to put their house in order.
The main problem for Pinochet’s apologists was his brutality and corruption. This is why, although the U.S. government intervened to destabilize Allende before and after he came to power and initially backed Pinochet, the dictator never found lasting friendship in Washington. If only he had modernized Chile’s economy without assassinating, torturing and exiling tens of thousands of dissidents and getting caughthiding offshore bank accounts. What seems to matter for some Pinochet defenders is that, much like Mussolini, he made the trains run on time.
“It should be noted, however, that the groundwork for Pinochet’s economic modernization of Chile was laid by his predecessors under democratic rule,” notes Muñoz, the United Nations Development Program director for Latin America and the Caribbean:
Land reform in the 1960s and early ’70s broke up inefficient semi-feudal estates, allowing the military regime to stimulate an export-oriented economy driven by large-scale agricultural production. Some aspects of Chile’s modernization began around 1920. By the 1973 coup, most Chileans enjoyed a high level of education (the illiteracy rate was less than 10 percent in 1970), and malnutrition and infant mortality had been declining for decades. Chilean universities were among the best in the Americas; the country’s central bank, Internal Revenue Service and General Comptroller’s Office were all solid state institutions.
“A Pinochet-type regime is not a necessary evil,” he writes for The Washington Post:
No nation needs a tyrant to modernize and attain well-being. As Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa has written, reforms imposed by dictatorships always result in “atrocities that leave civic and ethical sequels infinitely costlier than the status quo.” In the end, economic liberty seldom thrives in the absence of political freedom.