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News > Latin America

Pinochet's Legacy Still Haunts Chile 10 Years After His Death

  • Chileans are trying to move on from the bloody past of Pinochet.

    Chileans are trying to move on from the bloody past of Pinochet. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 December 2016

Pinochet ruled Chile with an iron fist for 17 years, with his reign of terror including thousands of killings, disappearances, and tortures.

Saturday marks 10 years since Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died. The scars that Pinochet left on the country continue to resonate as Chileans continue to try to move on from from his brutal legacy. 

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Current President Michelle Bachelet's father was tortured to death at the hands of Pinochet’s agents. Her government has said that the anniversary of his death has little relevance for Chile going forward.

"Pinochet is a figure of the past and in our historical memory is clearly a person who is more linked to the division than the union, a person who is in the past and Chile has to be in the present and look to the future," said Bachelet's spokeswoman Paula Narvaez on Tuesday.

Bachelet has also promised to change the country’s 1981 constitution as it “had its origin in dictatorship, it does not respond to the needs of our time.” Other inherited laws from the dictator such as the private pension system, education system, and abortion ban remain controversial within Chile.

While Pinochet remains the most internationally recognized figure for Chile and a historical icon for Latin American dictatorships, his legacy has been increasingly evaporating from Chile’s public sphere, where the majority of Chileans distance themselves and indeed forget the dictator.

"It's a long process to forget, I think even though they have been for many years, the wounds are still very open," 26-year-old Chilean Esteban Vargas told AFP.

More than 50,000 people mourned his death in 2006 and many supporters claim that he was responsible for Chile’s economic development made pilgrimages to his tomb and referred to him as “my general.”

But 10 years later, there is no state memorial site or commemoration of his life and less than 100 people are expected to attend a private memorial service organized by the Pinochet Foundation where his ashes lie. 

Public commemorations such as a Pinochet museum and proposals for a minutes of silence for his death have been vehemently criticized and rejected across the country.

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Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights, a dedication to the victims of Pinochet’s regime, is one of the country’s most visited sites. “Today there's not the slightest fondness or support for Pinochet," the museum's director Francisco Estevez told AFP.

After overthrowing democratically-elected socialist president Salvador Allende in a U.S.-backed coup in 1973, Pinochet ruled with an iron fist until stepping down until 1990.

Throughout his brutal military dictatorship, more than 3,200 people are thought to have been killed or disappeared and more than 28,000 are estimated to have been tortured by his forces. Pinochet and many of his subordinates were never brought to justice.

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