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Chileans Vote For A New Constitution, Abolishing Pinochet’s Legacy

Landmark vote inspires reflection on the nation's most controversial president

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Autumn Spredemann
Autumn Spredemann
I´ve traveled the world working as a freelance journalist, blogger, and English teacher. I specialize in remote travel, obscure cultures, and politics.

CHILE. Santiago: Residents voted in favor of changing their nation´s constitution on 25 Oct., which was inherited from the former military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

A landslide majority of 78.28% of the 7.5 million registered voters approved the proposed constitutional changes. This is viewed by many as an overdue step in securing Chile´s democracy, which has labored under the former policies implemented during a military dictatorship. However, for others, this marks the beginning of a departure from the policies that made Chile an economic giant in South America.

The controversial era of Pinochet

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Augusto Pinochet was a former army general turned dictator who ruled the country from 1973-1990. Pinochet led a military coup détat that replaced president Salvador Allende and his democratically elected Unidad Popular. What followed was 17 years of restricted freedoms and wealth inequality punctuated by the arrest, torture, and execution of thousands of Chilean citizens. Local government officials estimate the number of Chileans murdered or who fell under the category of “forced disappearance” was upwards of 4,000. 

Pinochet was ruthless in his punishment of socialist sympathizers or those who criticized his regime. There is a museum honoring the struggle of those who fought for the restoration of human rights in Santiago called El Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos.

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While Chileans largely deplore the atrocities that transpired under Pinochet´s watch, his advocates point out that it was his economic policies that allowed the nation to become a powerhouse on the world stage. As a result, Chile had the best-performing economy in South America during the 1990s. The country maintains one of the most competitive economies in Latin America to this day.

Augusto Pinochet. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Putting the pen of history in the other hand

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Though Pinochet has been widely condemned by leftist governments and their supporters worldwide, his defenders prefer to point to the phoenix that arose from the ashes of his countless human rights violations.

Among his most ardent backers are members of the Chilean military.

A member of the Ejército de Chile spoke to Transcontinental Times about the recent vote to change Pinochet´s constitution. “Were it not for the military taking over in 1973, Chile would be worse off than Venezuela,” he stated resolutely. The source pointed out the hardships his country experienced prior to the 1973 military coup, in which the nation suffered extreme inflation and economic struggles under the former socialist president, Salvador Allende.

“Everyone blames my general Pinochet, but they ignore the changes former leftist president Ricardo Lagos made in his own interests and the interests of politicians,” the source continued, referencing another former president (2000-2006), who faced allegations of corruption and scandal.

The source added, “These constitutional changes will take years to implement. The changes will be gradual and take many years.”

Also read: Unraveling The Thread Behind A Vanishing Culture Of Chilean Weavers

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