Chile’s Pinochet ranks rather high compared to his contemporaries

Augusto Pinochet was born on this day in 1914. He died in 2006. 

There are no shades of gray with this man. People love or hate him. Many of us remember Pinochet as the man who saved Chile from misguided socialism and created the most successful economy in Latin America.

Like any dictator, he was also responsible for attacks on his political enemies. 

To be fair, Pinochet’s opposition had a huge advantage over dissidents in Cuba like Armando Valladares or the torture chambers of North Korea. Pinochet was bad but he allowed the foreign press to cover domestic events. 

Let me ask you this: How many times did the international press visit a Cuban or North Korean political prison? Did the Kremlin allow Western reporters in The Gulag Archipelago?

Some of us are old enough to remember what Allende did to Chile or the country that Pinochet inherited. By the summer of 1973, Chile was a disaster. It was pure economic chaos. To be sure, Allende had gone too far and most Chileans were scared.   

In other words, Allende was not the romantic figure that the anti-US left created. He was an incompetent leader who started a leftist revolution in a country that did not vote for one.

On September 11, 1973, Pinochet overthrew Allende. Pinochet quickly moved to fix the Chilean economy. In fact, he presided over an economic miracle. Pinochet inherited triple digit inflation and left an economy that is the envy of the continent.    .

Later, he brought in Milton Friedman’s “The Chicago Boys.” They cut spending, privatized public enterprises, provided generous incentives for foreign investors, deregulated the banks, lowered trade barriers, and promoted exports. It worked. Chile has been the best economy in Latin America for many years and no one disputes that!

Pinochet also made mistakes. However, he accepted a referendum and walked away from power in ’88. How many dictators have held a referendum and respected the results? For many years, Chile has had elections and no one has reversed Pinochet’s economic plan.

The left hated Pinochet. The left criticized Pinochet for human rights abuses yet kept its mouth shut on Fidel Castro’s excesses. As always, the international left showed its selective indignation on human rights abuses.

Like any strong leader, Pinochet leaves a mixed record. However, I would rate him as a positive for Chile. He gets low marks for “human rights” and very high marks for economic policies. My overall grade is very good!

Latin America has had a lot of bad leaders but Pinochet was not one of them! In fact, I would argue that Pinochet ranks rather high compared to his contemporaries: the aforementioned Fidel & Raul Castro; Mexico’s disastrous Echeverria and the corrupt Lopez-Portillo; Venezuela’s irresponsible Carlos Andres Perez and the Hugo Chavez disaster still ongoing; along with some of the juntas that governed other South American countries.

In sum, Chile could have done a lot worse than Pinochet!

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.