Santiago, Chile — Gen. Augusto Pinochet took over as commander in chief of the armed forces a month before the 1973 coup. Many knowledgeable sources from the period insist he had little to do with the actual plot, but took over its execution at the last minute. Although General Pinochet is more image conscious than he was at the moment of the coup - when he gained notoriety in dark glasses, sporting a classic dictatorial pose - he remains a problem for his own publicists. He is a poor public speaker and often makes imprudent remarks when he strays from his prepared texts.
Most recently, he damaged his campaign with bitter comments about several ex-collaborators who now oppose him. ``Too bad he didn't die,'' said Pinochet about one. About another, his former tourism minister, he snapped, ``I gave her a job to keep her husband happy, and now she stabs me in the back.''
Pinochet has refused to meet with the foreign press for years. After his last press conference in 1984, a sanitized transcript excised all embarrassing slips.
Although his opponents initially dismissed him as unintelligent, they now give him high marks as a shrewd and tenacious infighter who has methodically eliminated all pockets of resistance inside the military.
Pinochet was stung badly by revelations in '84 and '85 that he had profited from his position in land deals.
An ex-collaborator says: ``Pinochet identifies with the state.... He is the military government and vice versa. He will do exactly what is necessary to remain in power. He will never go willingly. Never.''