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Viewing cable 07SANTIAGO228, STILL DEAD: AUGUSTO PINOCHET, TWO MONTHS AFTER

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANTIAGO228 2007-02-09 14:02 2011-01-27 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Santiago
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSG #0228/01 0401444
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 091444Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0920
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 2816
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 1629
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 3480
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 0080
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1268
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ FEB LIMA 4913
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 3516
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 1651
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SANTIAGO 000228

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/06/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR SOCI CI
SUBJECT: STILL DEAD: AUGUSTO PINOCHET, TWO MONTHS AFTER
THE FACT

REF: A. A) 06 SANTIAGO 2564
B. B) 06 SANTIAGO 2544
C. C) SANTIAGO 202

Classified By: Ambassador Craig Kelly for reasons 1.5 (b and d).

------
Summary
-------

1. (C) The December 2006 death of Augusto Pinochet -
seemingly a watershed moment in Chile's recent history - has
faded remarkably quickly from public discourse. Feverish
media commentary at the time - fed by juxtaposed images of
still loyal supporters weeping while opponents popped
champagne bottles - suggested, initially, that Chile was in
for a long period of rancorous and divisive debate between
left and right. Instead, Chile, now a thriving democracy
with strong institutions, has apparently heaved an
introspective sigh of relief over its past, and has moved on
to the challenges of its present and future. End summary.

-------------
Dead and Gone
-------------

2. (C) After the 1975 death of Spanish dictator Francisco
Franco, "Saturday Night Live's" Chevy Chase would regularly
open his faux newscast with the observation that "Francisco
Franco is still dead." In Chile, former dictator Augusto
Pinochet, who died December 10, 2006, not only remains that
way, he seems to almost have never existed. This is
surprising given the outpouring of emotion that accompanied
his passing (refs A and B), as supporters and detractors
fought - thankfully largely figuratively - to define
Pinochet's legacy.

3. (C) For approximately ten days after his death, media
coverage was intense, with all major newspapers and
television outlets running retrospectives on Pinochet's life.
These included exhaustive analyses of the rationale behind
the 1973 coup, the accomplishments and failings of the regime
during its 17-year run, and the long, somewhat tawdry,
denouement to Pinochet's life, after he relinquished power in
1990. But since then, virtually, the silence of the grave.

------------------
Appeals to History
------------------

4. (C) The intense - if short - debate over Pinochet's life
and times revolved around three principal questions: 1) In
toppling the Allende government, did he save Chile from
something worse (than what he in turn imposed); 2) Did the
market-oriented economic policies he implemented, many of
which caused considerable hardship but which most agree laid
the groundwork for Chile's current economic success, outweigh
the negative of unquestioned human rights abuses; and 3) Do
the allegations of corruption lodged against him and his
family permanently mar his legacy, regardless of how the
first two questions are answered?

5. (C) Clearly, where one stands on these matters depends on
where one sits at the ideological table. Pinochet
sympathizers - and they remain a significant segment of the
populace - argued loudly that Allende had been leading Chile
to chaos at best, a totalitarian nightmare at worst, with
Pinochet a Cold War savior. In their view, one that carried
considerable weight in the still moderately conservative
major newspapers, Pinochet's opening of Chile's economy to
the world was visionary, setting the country firmly on the
path to stability and prosperity. Human rights abuses were
regrettable, but forgivable in the context of a virtual civil
war. Finally, allegations of corruption are unproven slander
against a giant of history.

6. (C) For strong Pincohet detractors - who by most reliable
estimates outnumber his backers - such talk is little more
than Orwellian whitewash. They depict Pinochet as an
unprincipled tyrant, who subverted the democratic order,
betraying the very man who had given him his position. His
economic policies were imposed by an iron hand, crushing
labor rights, and causing considerable hardship for the
poorest Chileans. Pinochet's abuse of human rights was
untrammeled, setting the gold standard for similar abuses
across the continent, throughout the seventies and eighties.
And, on top of it all, he was a crook, who with his family
stole millions of dollars from the Chilean people.

-----------------
Death Warmed Over
-----------------

7. (C) By Christmas 2006, however, that feverish discourse
had seemingly played itself out. In recent discussions with
Chileans as to why Pinochet has dropped off the screen, one
telling comment was made by Rodrigo Novoa, executive director
of a leading judicial studies center. Novoa, in his thirties
and with little memory of the Pinochet years, leans right
politically. He told the Ambassador that "for most Chileans,
Pinochet died a long time ago." His boss, Estaban Tomic, an
older man, and politically to Novoa's left, nodded agreement
(Tomic was in exile during much of the Pinochet era and was
former President Lagos' representative to the OAS).

8. (C) Tomic related that he was present when Patricio Aylwin
was sworn in as President in 1990, promising to be president
for all Chileans, "civilian and military." Hearing Aylwin
extend that olive branch to the military (out of prudence or
otherwise), Tomic said that he and Chileans across the
ideological spectrum breathed a sigh of relief. It was clear
even then that there was no desire to go back, neither by the
left to the Allende years nor the right to a military regime.
In the years since, the revelations of human rights abuses
and corruption had contributed to what amounted to Pinochet's
growing irrelevance. His physical passing had elicited, for
most Chileans, little more than a second sigh of relief.

-----------------------------
Whistling Past the Graveyard?
-----------------------------

9. (C) With Pinochet now out of sight, the question is
whether he is also out of mind and, if so, for how long. The
example of Spain and of its grappling with the Franco legacy
could again prove illustrative. There are clear differences:
Spain's civil war dragged on for nearly three years,
ravaging the country and leaving exponentially many more
thousands dead. Franco's dictatorship lasted more than twice
as long as Pincohet's. But there are similarities as well -
Cold War concerns, including an uneasy relationship with the
U.S.; post-conflict human rights abuses; dictated (albeit
successful) economic reforms. Yet it is only now, some 30
years after Franco's passing, that Spain is taking a painful,
closer look at its past and, in doing so, putting what
appears from media reporting here to be a significant strain
on its social fabric. Are Chileans simply postponing a
similar reckoning?

10. (C) Even if Chileans put off for a decade or two a
determined examination of Pinochet's legacy, no serious harm
will ensue. First, and without in any way diminishing the
pain and suffering of the regime's victims, the number killed
was significantly less (approximately 3,000) than what
occurred in Spain, albeit not counting those tortured or made
to suffer psychologically or otherwise (loss of family
members, employment, social status). As the Ambassador noted
in a recent visit to Villa Grimaldi, Pinochet's most
notorious torture center, such practices should "never again"
be tolerated, regardless of the ideological origin of the
abuse (ref C). Nonetheless, the generational spread which
defines the Spanish experience of war and remembrance is not
present here.

11. (C) With the exception of the most fervent
anti-Pinochistas, the majority of Chileans accept that the
regime laid the groundwork for the economic growth and
relative prosperity they enjoy today. They may argue
passionately about the details and just how much credit
Pinochet himself deserves, but they share the common
assumption that there was some good done there. Other
Pinochet-era achievements include a forcible breakup of a
state educational monopoly that fostered the rapid growth of
quality private universities. Pinochet also handled
diplomatic relations with his neighbors skillfully, avoiding
conflict with Argentina despite Chilean assistance to Great
Britain during the Falklands War. He also with his fellow
strongman in Bolivia, Hugo Banzer, made great strides towards
resolving the issue of Bolivian access to the sea, failing
only due to Peruvian objections.

--------------
Live and Learn
--------------

12. (C) If there is an immediate cautionary lesson for
Chileans it lies in the curious coincidence that Pinochet's
death came as the leftist Concertacion alliance which
replaced him entered into its 17th year of governance -- the
same number of years that Pinochet ruled. Even for his
admirers, Pinochet's star dimmed as he lingered in power and,
when he finally did step down, allegations of corruption
tarnished him further. While it may be too early to say if
the Concertacion is suffering from similar fatigue, it has
been buffeted over the past year by charges of corruption of
its own.

13. (C) For the U.S., the mature response of Chilean
democracy to Pinochet's passing is certainly welcome,
evidence that the polarization of Chilean politics is a thing
of the past. While there remains a strong right with
loyalties to Pinochet, and a smallish hard-core left that
would like to see some on the right painted as Pinochet
collaborators, the moderate center largely holds sway.
Chileans, at least for today, seem determined not to spend
much time looking back or in excessive introspection. This
complements our own agenda with the GOC, one which encourages
regional leadership, outward-oriented thinking, and a focus
on the future.
KELLY