Pinochet: Cold War Relic

A 'moderately repressive dictatorship' was the US anti-Communist tool of choice

In recent times there has been more state-sponsored killing within borders than across borders. In the interest of humanitarian intervention, the international community has found it necessary to place limits on the sanctity of national sovereignty. Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Chile, are examples of reaching across borders to enforce treaties on genocide, terrorism and human rights.

General Augusto Pinochet came to power in a military coup in 1973 after the CIA had organized a campaign to destabilize the democratically-elected, but left-leaning President Salvador Allende. Mr. Pinochet was a dictator - at first at least, President Nixon's and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's kind of dictator.

He privatized social security, introduced free-market reforms, and showed little patience with opponents. To the professed dismay of his American sponsors, he presided over the execution or disappearance of at least 3,000 Chileans. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed on their behalf without result. But among the missing were seven Spanish citizens and three British subjects. And that added an international aspect to Pinochet's repression.

A zealous Spanish magistrate who has spent more than two years tracking the aging ex-dictator saw his chance when Pinochet turned up in London for a minor operation. At Spain's request, the British arrested him and held him for extradition, as provided for in the Geneva genocide convention and the European convention on terrorism. Pinochet is part of the leftover legacy of the cold war. Chile, like Guatemala and Nicaragua, was a country where the US was willing to support, or even install, a dictatorial regime as long as it was reliably anti-Communist. Mr. Kissinger said of Mr. Allende's election in 1970, "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

The cold war over, the US today espouses democracy and human rights and the right to intervene, under treaties against genocide and terrorism to defend human rights. It was under the banner of human rights and democracy that the US sent troops into Haiti. And as to Chile, the Clinton administration, having disowned Pinochet, has offered to provide Spain with documents on human rights violations under the Pinochet regime. Pinochet, emblem of an era when America embraced what were called "moderately repressive dictatorships," now becomes an emblem of the era where we must deal with the bitter fruits of "moderate" repression.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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