Perhaps his death will be a comfort to some. But it’s hard not to see it as a final cruel sidestep of justice and accountability. In that way, his demise is a fitting summation of his violent, defiant legacy.
update 12/11: superlative commentary from journalist Marc Cooper, who served as translator for late Chilean President Salvador Allende, the man Pinochet brutally ousted from power. Christopher Hitchens and Randy Paul also weigh in.
Back in the 80s, as I was coming of age politically in South Africa, the example of Chile immediately explained why it was that the Reagan Administration backed the apartheid regime — because Chile showed that the U.S. cared nothing about democracy abroad, and would actively support vicious tyrants who declared themselves anti-communist. Even the deranged kleptocrat and mass murderer Mobutu Sese Seko, for example, was an honored guest in Reagan’s White House. As the Clash (who also memorialized Victor Jara on ‘Sandinista’) sang on a different track, “If Adolf Hitler, were here today, they’d send a limousine anyway…”
Back then, I believed that Pinochet deserved to die, to avenge all those whose lives he destroyed for no reason other than that their views were deemed unacceptable to his own, a blend of Prussian Military authoritarianism, Catholic crypto-fascism and the economics of free enterprise fundamentalist Milton Friedman.
But we all grow up.
The South African experience taught me that once the leaders of a violent authoritarian regime are stripped of their power, they are forced to confront their own criminality in the eyes of a society that has moved on, repudiating them — and more importantly, simply moving on to build a better society that, in itself, shows the moral bankruptcy of those that unleashed violence on the people in the name of progress and security.
In its humane handling of Pinochet, in fact, the government of his victims proved its superiority. Sure, his victims would have liked to see him face a judge and answer to each and every charge — Pinochet, while still ruling as the head of the military, created for himself a bogus amnesty. They pursued him to his death, but only via the law. It is Pinochet’s victims who will be memorialized with honor as the old man’s bones are interred. And all Chileans know, whether or not they admit it, that they have created a better society by getting rid of him. Pinochet will have sensed it, too