Pinochet’s Authoritarianism; Between Might and Right

Leonard O Goenaga

Professor Boronat


10 March 2008

Pinochet’s Authoritarianism; Between Might and Right

Whenever September 11th is mentioned in the United States, Americans always conjure up images of the flaming twin towers, as well as the other atrocities and acts of terror that marked that day in eternal sadness. Although this image is surely to also be recalled in Chile, they may also think of another important event full with its own violence; September 11 1973. It was on this day that Pinochet and the Military Junta he was a part of staged a Coup d’etat against the Allende administration, shelling the Capital building and later leading to Allende’s own suicide during the bombings. This earlier September 11 was to have its own dramatic influence on the Chilean nation, leading to the rise of the Authoritarian ruler Pinochet and the various human atrocities he would commit in the name of defending the Chilean constitution from Communist influence. This paper will explore the rise of the Authoritarian ruler Pinochet, the impact his childhood may have had on his rule, his regime’s mixture of economic remodeling and civil rights-ignoring, and finally conclude with an exploration on Pinochet’s brand of authoritarianism.

Before one dabbles into the middle of the coup and the economic reforms, it is best to explore the leader’s beginnings to seek out any signs that may illuminate his methods of rule. “Pinochet was born on November 25, 1915, in Valparaiso, Chile’s principal port city, which is located about eighty miles northwest of Santiago. Pinochet lived a relatively mild childhood, having a family lineage of ‘small or medium-sized landowners who raised cattle,’ ” (Burbach 21). He wasn’t particularly within the class of Chilean elites, and his family would have been classified as part of the average middle class. In 1933, after continuous support by his mother to do so, he entered Military School. He studied here at 17 for about four years, where he then graduated with a rank of Second Lieutenant within the infantry. After another round of Infantry school in 1940, he met his future wife, Lucia Hiriart Rodriguez, who was a character of her own, and they later had five kids; three daughters and two boys (Spooner 18). Pinochet later attended War school, and after obtaining the ranking of Officer Chief, he decided to go back and teach at the Military School while acting as a T.A. at the War Academy. In 1956 Pinochet was chosen with a group of individuals to organize the War Academy in Ecuador, and later returned to Chile in 1959. After other successes, he was appointed as sub-director of the War Academy in 1963. By the year 1969, he was promoted to Brigadier General and Commander in Chief of the IV division (Spooner 24). After more successes and rises in rank, he was appointed as General Chief of Staff of the Army in 1972. Finally, Allende appointed Pinochet as the Commander in Chief of the Chilean military on August 23, 1973 (Reel & Smith 1). A day before Pinochet’s appointment as Chief of Staff the Chilean Chamber of Deputies of Chile (the lower bicameral house of congress) released a resolution declaring that Allende had violated the constitution through his administration. It is from this stage in his career, having promised to defend the Chilean Constitution as a man of the Army, that we find him joining the Junta, which led rise to his political career. With a brief summary of his earlier years and his military career addressed above, we will now look into certain childhood traits that may hint to his authoritarian style of rule.

As mentioned before, Pinochet was raised in a normal family structure.  He had heavy influence from his mother, even going as far as being her personal favorite. We also find in his military career that “he had virtually no political persona that the world knew of before September 11. His writings prior to 1973 are largely devoid of political discussion,” (Burbach 22). Without any political ideologies to explore for authoritarian influence, we can look into his childhood for certain behaviors. One sign of his authoritarian persona was the bully role young Augusto took on. He had a history of chasing the poorer kids after school with his cadre of fellow bullies, and also later admitted that his brothers and sisters “ ‘were afraid of me because I acted like an ogre’,” (Burbach 22). An interesting similarity that Pinochet shares with the authoritarian rulers De Gaulle and Chiang Kai Shek’s are their childhood fascinations and interests with military games. Like De Gaulle and Chiang, Pinochet “would make believe he was a soldier, marching around, beating on a tambour and blowing a trumpet,” (Burbach 23). He would also play with various toy soldiers, even going as far as changing the guard before he slept (Burbach 23). This fascination with the military led to his interests in a military career, and like the rejection Chiang and De Gaulle faced in military school Pinochet was rejected twice from military school due to poor grades, but was accepted the third time he applied. Here at the military school Pinochet learned the important lesson of discipline, and basically grew to become a man.

Pinochet also had an interesting fascination with histories strongmen, and identified with them. Looking back at WW2, Pinochet sided with the Germans, and had a certain reverence for Rommel and his tactical expertise in North Africa (Burbach 25). His personal favorite strongman was that of Napoleon, which Pinochet overlooked his inflicted sufferings and instead claimed admiration for Napoleon being a great strategist, analyst, and patriot (Burbach 25). According to Patricia Lutz (an individual who consulted four of Pinochet’s psychiatrists), Pinochet displayed “no emotional commitment or empathy with others’ outside of his immediate family. He believed only in himself…and this enabled him to make the argument ‘If we don’t get them, they will get us.’ ” (Burbach 27). This all sounds vaguely familiar with Chiang Kai Shek’s own paranoia tendencies and his continuous efforts to distant himself from others and rely solely on his own efforts. With the similar childhood fascination of the military and a reverence for histories strongmen, we man now move on to the start of Pinochet’s political career, and begin to expose the links between his childhood and his style of Authoritarian rule.

On September 11 1973, Armed Forces overthrew Allende’s government in a coup d’etat, shelling the La Moneda presidential palace. It was during this intervention that Allende supposedly committed suicide. Here the presidential Republic period of Chile ended (1924-1973). The Junta, which sponsored and executed the coup, found justification in claiming that the Allende administration were planning a self-coup, which the Junta called ‘Plan Zeta’. Leading to this coup where several internal and external factors. Oppenheim exposes three important internal factors, which contributed to the chaotic scenario and resulted with the opening for the coup,

These include (1) seditious right-wing actions, especially the vitriolic propaganda campaign against Allende, along with the paramilitary and terrorist activities of Fatherland and Liberty; (2) the actions of the Christian Democratic Party, which initially vacillated between the right and the Left, but whose anti-Communism and perceived self-interest made it side, finally, with the right; and (3) divisions within the Popular Unity coalition itself, whose public debates weakened the government’s ability to govern and left it vulnerable to opposition criticism that was inefficient, incapable of governing, and too radical. (Oppenheim 95)

In addition to the three internal factors highlighted by Oppenheim, the US played a significant external role. In this role, “the US government countenanced, supported, and encouraged acts designed to subvert the democratic process in Chile, thereby legitimizing seditious activities by the domestic opposition,” (Oppenheim 95). This all set the stage for the Junta’s coming. The military Junta was established after this coup, and consisted of General Pinochet from the Army, Admiral Jose Toribio Merino from the Navy, General Gustavo Leigh of the Air Force, and General Cesa Mendoza from the Carabineros, or national police. This Junta worked as both the Legislature and the Executive, and suspended the Constitution and Congress. It was on December 11, 1974 that “Pinochet…takes the title of president of the republic” and the Junta is later given only a legislative role (Reel & Smith 1).

Having discussed Pinochet’s upbringing, his childhood, the factors leading to the coup and the Junta, we can now dabble into the actual regime. In the beginning, the Presidency was planned to rotate among members of the Junta. However, Pinochet ends up retaining the title, and later declares himself Supreme Chief of the Nation on June 27, 1974. He later changed this title to President on December 17 1974; a title that he maybe thought gave more legitimacy to his rule (a usual authoritarian practice). Later a plebiscite regarding a new Constitution was given on September 11 1980, and “Pinochet is sworn in as president according to the newly written constitution,” (Reed & Smith 1). Pinochet’s regime later returns to civilian rule in 1990 when “Pinochet hands over [the] presidency, [but] remains army commander” (Reed & Smith 1).

Having an overview of his regime, we may now look into his two most controversial topics, his civil rights abuses and his economic reform. During his reign Pinochet was known for various human rights atrocities. “According to a government report that included testimony from more than 30,000 people, his government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Two-thirds of the cases listed in the report happened in 1973,” (Reel & Smith 1). One such operation of political murder was known as Operation Condor. This was a series of political assassinations and joint intellectual anti-left ventures by various rising authoritarian powers in South America. Operation Condor lead to various purges of left-wing intellectuals and political activists, and was lead in Chile by Pinochet’s secret police (The DINA).

Another controversial topic besides Pinochet’s political cleansing is his economic reform; also know by some in the West as the ‘Chilean Miracle’. Pinochet’s economic reform focused on a group of University of Chicago trained economists, known as the Chicago Boys, who “imposed a neoliberal monetarist program that was reasoned and highly inflexible,” and that focused on revolutionizing the previous internal-focused system (Huneeus 272). “The Chicago Boys rejected this state-centered model completely,” and instead focused on “an export oriented, market driven economy with substantinal foreign investment meant development, not dependency, which had been the earlier premise,” (Oppenheim 125). Although debate over the overall success of the Chicago Boy’s modernizing reforms are hotly debated, it stands out that “other Latin American dictators failed to manage their economies successfully, but Pinochet set up conditions friendly to growth, and his main economic institutions continue to function in Chile today,” (Huneeus 272).

Having overviewed all these different factors that made up his childhood and his regime, we may now analyze what made Pinochet’s Regime authoritarian. Carlos Huneeus lists five solid reasons that explain how Pinochet fits into the Authoritarian mold,

First…the regime was characterized by the use of violence applied by security services, the military, and the police…Second, the political order became very stable, based on a low level of institutionalization and the enormous personalization of power in the figure of General Pinochet. The regime also enjoyed the institutional participation of the armed forced through the governing junta and the presence of hundreds of the armed forces through the governing junta and the presence of hundreds of officers in the major position of authority… Third, the concentration of authority and power in General Pinochet turned him into the central figure… Fourth, Chile’s authoritarian experience brought about profound economic transformations, led by a group of technocrats known as the Chicago Boys…Fifth, Pinochet’s time in power did not end as the result of conflicts and divisions in the military due t the failure of economic management or defeat in war…[but] ended according to its own institutional rules, established in the 1980 constitution, with General Pinochet’s defeat in the 1988 plebiscite. (Huneeus 1-2)

In addition to these five factors that Huneeus uses to define Pinochet as Authoritarian, we can further compare it to the bureaucratic-authoritarian models of the day. These “were essentially nondemocratic regimes that repressed and controlled the popular sectors in order to carry out programs of economic growth utilizing market mechanisms, in close collaboration with technocrats,” (Oppenheim 102). The political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell first coined this term, and he used it to show why economically advanced South American countries were falling prey to prolonged military rule (Oppenheim 102). “In essence, bureaucratic-authoritarianism was nondemocratic and exclusionary, built on the three-pronged cooperation among high level military, civilian technocrats, and foreign capital,” (Oppenheim 102). In addition to Huneeus’ five reasons, and Guillermo O’Donnell’s applicable bureaucratic-authoritarian definition, another authoritarian aspect is that of the use of fear and the “systematic use of torture and persecution against perceived leftist subversives in an effort to ‘cleanse’ their nation,” (Oppenheim 103).

Although we clearly see that Pinochet’s regime was authoritarian in its use of violence, focus of power on a single individual, adherence to an institutional time restraint, and the mentality of modernizing the economy and protecting the Constitution, the Chilean regime differs dramatically from the normal Bureaucratic-Authoritarian model in that instead of a military institutional rule, we find the dictatorship of Pinochet (Oppenheim 103). Unlike Argentina and Brazil under military rule, Chilean power remained in the hands of Pinochet and was never really shared with the other members of the Junta. With this difference in the bureaucratic-authoritarian model, we may call it as it is; an authoritarian dictatorship with heavy elements of Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism, complete with the systematic use of fear and force, the focused empowered rule of the individual, the adherence to a timeframe in which to rule, and the mentality of ridding communism, protecting the Chilean Constitution, and modernizing the economy.

In Conclusion, having explored Pinochet’s life and rule, we conclude that his government was Authoritarian with heavy bureaucratic-authoritarian influence. Although his rule was rough and led to future civil prosecution for its abuses, “to his supporters, Pinochet was a patriot who saved his country from political and economic chaos under the threat of communism, restored order and led it into a period of unprecedented prosperity,” (Reel & Smith 1). As to the validity of this belief, like most authoritarian regimes that claim to modernize a state and prevent it from spiraling into communism, it will be left to history to decide if this is in fact is true.

Works Cited

Burbach, Roger. The Pinochet Affair State Terrorism and Global Justice. London & New

York: Zed Books, 2003.

Huneeus, Carlos. The Pinochet Regime. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007.

Oppenheim, Lois Hecht. Politics in Chile Socialism, Authoritarianism, and Market

Democracy. Boulder: Westview Press, 2007.

Reel, Monte, and J.Y. Smith. “A Chilean Dictator’s Dark Legacy.” The Washington Post

11 Dec. 2006. Mar. 2008 <


Spooner, Mary Helen. Soldiers in a Narrow Land, The Pinochet Regime in Chile.

Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994.


0 thoughts on “Pinochet’s Authoritarianism; Between Might and Right

  1. wow i am doing a research paper on the exact same topic and i compared and contrasted and it really helped me out to overlook your paper

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