While we regularly discuss the ongoing struggles against the policies and human rights violations of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, it’s always important to keep in mind that Pinochet had a significant number of supporters throughout the dictatorship and well into the 1990s. As Chile finally began to confront its past in the wake of his arrest in London in 1998 and the series of trials and house arrests that followed him up until his death in 2006, some of that support wavered. When it became clear that he had embezzled millions of dollars from Chile during the seventeen-year dictatorship, his support noticeably declined, as a not-insignificant number who had previously defended him when it became clear that destroying the persona he had created (and they had believed) as the incorruptible officer who had sacrificed everything for his country was a lie.
That said, he still has his supporters, as a controversial documentary that appears to paint Pinochet in a more favorable light has reminded us yet again. Ex-military officials have praised the film and denied the systematic use of torture (even when their own relatives were tortured). As one ex-officer commented, “We have stoically put up with the lies and cheating and seen how the story has been manipulated,” while another declared that Pinochet “is by far the best president Chile ever had.” These opinions (in spite of overwhelming evidence of the systematic use of torture and the long-term impacts on Chilean society, politics, and even the economy) make clear just why the ongoing struggle to address the legacies, not only of the regime’s human rights violations but of its economic and social policies as well, still matter even six years since his death and nearly forty years since the brutal Chilean dictatorship began.