Allende and Pinochet, the Comparison that Divides Chileans

Each year, September 11 is a difficult day for Chileans — and this 40th anniversary of the coup d'état that overthrew Salvador Allende is especially controversial. The iconic date comes in the middle of an election year marked by the questioning of Sebastián Piñera's administration, the first right-wing president after the return to democracy in the late 80s. The electoral campaigns and constant memories have revived the debate about the Salvador Allende government and the legacy of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, revealing that the division among Chileans continues to be a thing of the present.

For the most part, the General's name is synonymous with human rights abuses both within and outside of the country. Despite the fact that even some of Pinochet's supporters condemn the crimes committed during his 17 years in power (according to official numbers [es], 40,018 people were victims of human rights abuses during the de facto regime and 3,065 were assassinated or went missing), Pinochet still has a group of right-wing followers that consider him a hero and ring back the economic achievements that have made Chile a thriving economy.

Pablo, a commercial engineer who describes himself as ultra right-wing, expressed it as such on Twitter:

Enough nonsense, Allende was the one who broke the democracy and didn't respect the institutions. General Pinochet saved us from becoming Cuba!

Or Patriota Chileno, an accountant, who responded as follows to another user who criticized Pinochet:

@hectortitolopez Thanks to Pinochet you can eat, live, and accomplish things freely without having to wait in line for food… you can even tweet

Meanwhile JS Gumucio, a lawyer, claimed:

I express my deepest disdain to Pinochet and the army that participated in these crimes.

On the other hand is the charismatic figure that is Salvador Allende, who many see as an excellent politician, a victim of a plot supported from the U.S. [es] to prevent the seed of socialism from continuing to grow during the Cold War — and others describe him as a bad manager.

Columnist Pedro Cayuqueo and Twitter user Angela commented on Allende:

Allende, for me, was the last Samurai in Chilean politics. The last of a breed. He died for honor.

Comrade Allende, each time I read and listen to your speeches, they excite me, they move me. What a great man of great ideals, what a great orator you were!

Former police official Herman Bravo announced:

Allende, a sad character in our history who was unable to face the facts and wanted to forcibly impose the dictatorship of the proletariat

On his part, entrepreneur and blogger José Navarro questioned:

If Allende, like everyone, knew that a tragedy was coming, why did he not resign to avoid it?

And Nataly Ruiz R. remembers that weeks before the coup, on August 23, 1973, Allende had named Pinochet Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army:

It was barely a month before the military coup that the very #Allende named #Pinochet the head of the FFAA


In his column “Allende and Pinochet” [es], poet Emilio Antileff described the relationship of opposite – and complementary – poles between these two figures in Chilean history to further the comparison between the two:

No cabe duda, históricamente hablando, que Salvador Allende fue uno de los hombres más carismáticos que hayan llegado a La Moneda.[…]

Sin embargo, los resultados de la revolución con empanadas del “compañero presidente” describen una administración en que el derroche y la debilidad en el liderazgo, contradecían el magnetismo personal del presidente de la UP [Unidad Popular, coalición de izquierda con la que Allende llegó al gobierno]. La cantidad de sueños y talentos desperdiciados bajo batuta allendista fue terreno fértil para cualquier conspiración, como la que arrasó contra una administración plena en ideología, pero con una capacidad de gestión, con resultados no proporcionales al encanto del Señor Allende.

El general Pinochet, con cero elegancia, tenía la claridad y celeridad en el camino a ejecutar su objetivo, que su antecesor no alcanzó jamás. Pinochet es en nuestra historia, del lado por donde lo miren, un eficaz martillo. Es decir, algo semejante a una herramienta que saca un clavo de la manera más violenta y desgarradora, para instalar otro, con precisión ingenieril. Sus clavos instalados son parte de las estructuras  que sostienen al Chile de hoy, capeando crisis mundiales y catástrofes. […]

La debilidad de Allende, fortaleció la irrupción de un Pinochet. El atractivo personal del socialista fue la carencia del militar. El fracaso de uno fue el éxito de otro. El cariño que inspiraba el “salvador” llevó al miedo que provocaba el general  “Augusto”.

Without a doubt, historically speaking, Salvador Allende was one of the most charismatic men to have arrived at La Moneda [Chile's presidential palace]. […]

Nevertheless, the results of the revolution with cover ups of “comrade president” describe an administration in which the wasteful spending and weakness in leadership contradicted the personal magnetism of the president of the UP [Unidad Popular, the leftist coalition with which Allende came into the government]. The amount of squandered dreams and talents under the Allende baton was fertile ground for any conspiracy, like the one that levelled against an administration fully in ideology, but with a capacity for management with results that were not proportionate to Mr. Allende's charm.

General Pinochet, with zero elegance, had clarity and speed on the way to executing his objective, which his predecessor never reached. Pinochet is in our history, any way you look at him, an effective hammer. That is to say, something similar to a tool that takes out a nail in the most violent and heartbreaking way to install another with the precision of an engineer. His installed nails are part of the structures that sustain the Chile of today, weather global crises and catastrophes. […]

Allende's weakness fortified the invasion of a Pinochet. The personal appeal of the socialist lacked in the soldier. The failure of one was the success of the other. The affection that inspired the “savior” led to the fear that provoked general “Augusto”.

In trying to describe this period, many questioned the story in black and white that both parties are attempting to write, like Omar Audicio, a teacher:

For me, Pinochet's regime was a dictatorship and it violated human rights. But I also think that the other side would have done it and they would still do it.

And others like Matías Benfeld made calls for these types of incidents never to repeat, no matter the actors:

Hopefully the Museum of Memory serves to say ‘never again’, from either side, to democratic deterioration nor violations to human rights

During an interview on the television program Zero Tolerance, which aired on Sunday, September 9, Alberto Cardemil [es], former Sub-Secretary of the Interior during the Pinochet regime, made several statements regarding said period. Twitter user and sociologist Profitador alluded to this:

Everything in 1973 indicated that Chile was advancing towards a dictatorship, so we saved Chile by installing a dictatorship #LógicaCardemil (Cardemil logic)

There were also those who commented about the insistence on using the past in current political discussions. Angel Rodriguez and Pato Cuevas mentioned former leftist president and current presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet:

If she isn't talking about Allende or Pinochet, Bachelet has very little or nothing to say.

Neither Bachelet nor Piñera: two divergent discourses that seek to save a political role. They will never solve the problem of justice.

There are some, however, who ask to close this chapter and look towards the future.

Today we need new leaders who look to the future and leave Allende and Pinochet in the past

The debate continues and only time will tell how much more must happen to heal the open wounds from 40 years ago.

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