RIP – Patricio Aylwin

Patricio Aylwin, the man who became the first democratically elected president of Chile after the end of the Pinochet regime in 1990, has died at the age of 97.

As most people are, Aylwin was a complex figure. He had opposed the government of Socialist president Salvador Allende from 1970-1973, and even signed a document requesting military intervention a week before the September 11 coup that overthrew the Allende government and ushered in the Pinochet regime. However, his role as leader of the Christian Democrats party in the 1980s made him a key figure in the institutional political opposition to Pinochet, and a strong choice for the presidential elections of 1990 that ushered him into office.

As for his presidency, it too had peaks and valleys. On the one hand, he navigated a political scenario where the military (and Pinochet himself) remained remarkably powerful, managing to transition to democracy without having the military re-intervene. His establishment of the Chilean National Truth Commission (aka the Rettig Report) immediately forced Chileans to confront the systematic human rights violations of the military regime. At the same time, for reasons that are still debated, he did not pursue prosecution of human rights violators, and his embrace of the neoliberal econoimc policies first established under Pinochet led some to accuse Aylwin (not unfairly) of illustrating continuity with the dictatorship outside of the realm of human rights. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the fact remains that Aylwin, while not immune to criticism, played an important and in many ways positive role in post-dictatorship Chile and was a monumental figure in the history of Chile. Que descanse en paz.

Update: Greg has more reflections on Aylwin and what Chile in the 1990s was like.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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