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Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte

"It is better to remain silent and forget.
That is the only thing we must do.
We must forget.
And that won't happen if we continue opening up lawsuits, sending people to jail.
FOR-GET: That's the word.
And for that to happen, both sides must forget and continue with their work
(General Augusto Pinochet, September 13 1995)

Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte was born in Valparaiso on November 25, 1915, the first of three sons and three daughters of a pious middle-class trading family. He grew up largely apolitically. His family and friends described him as a sensitive child who cried during scary movies and invoked the Catholic Church for help and advice. Uninterested in academics, Pinochet earned mediocre grades and was expelled from the San Rafael Seminary for naughtiness. He finished his schooling at the College of the Sacred Hearts in Valparaiso, where children of richer families attended school and where he felt ostracized.

Despite academic underachievement, Pinochet did not lack passion. From an early age, he aspired to join the military, an ambition that even his influential mother could not quell. The Chilean army derived its roots from Prussian training in the nineteenth century, and Pinochet, who always admired England because of its respect for rules, was doubtless attracted to the military because of its grey-clad, goose-stepping traditions. After awkward school years, Pinochet finally joined a group that drew its constituency from his middle-class background and shared his priority for rules over questions. In 1933 at 17, Pinochet finally joined the military as an officer cadet.

Pinochet spent the next 40 years climbing the army's hierarchy. In 1937 he graduated as an ensign assigned to the Chacabuco Regiment in Concepcion. Too busy enjoying the life of a young officer and acquiring military knowledge, Pinochet remained aloof to politics when the coalition leftist Popular Front under President Pedro Aguirre Cerda won the election in 1938. In 1943, Pinochet married Lucia Hiriart, a woman almost as strong as his mother, and welcomed the birth of Lucia, the first of five children -- three daughters and two sons. He quietly continued ascending the ranks of the military, building a career with several key accomplishments: becoming Second Lieutenant of the Maipo Regiment in 1939; entering the Academy of War in 1949; moving to the Rancagua Regiment in Arica as Major in 1953; and becoming Chief of Staff of the Second Division and Deputy Governor of Tarapaca Province in 1968. In the early 1970s, Pinochet's career moved past local postings into the national arena, skyrocketing from commander of the Santiago garrison in 1971 to Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1973. In fact, Pinochet's rise was so studied and slow, and he remained so apolitical, that President Salvador Allende himself promoted the future conservative to head the army, believing in Pinochet's trustworthiness. In fact, everyone believed that Pinochet backed Allende's government. After Allende's election in 1970, the upstart Pinochet remained loyal. He had experienced just the break he had been hoping for under the new government, and he even told Allende right before the coup, "President, be aware I am ready to lay down my life in defence of the constitutional government that you represent."

Allende appointed Pinochet Commander-in-Chief of the Army on August 23, 1973, but by September 8, Pinochet turned on President Allende. Pinochet joined a four-man junta to overthrow the government, and by the end of 1973 he had assumed complete control of the group. Although Pinochet had not been particularly well known outside army ranks, no one within the military hierarchy questioned his control because he commanded the army, the largest, most powerful wing of the military and component of the junta. Early on the morning of September 11, the junta informed Allende that he must surrender to the police and army. Allende refused, and British-made warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Pinochet's treachery perhaps shocked Allende most, and in the first hours of the coup he believed that the junta had taken his general hostage. The motives for Pinochet's volte face remain mysterious. Some argue that he greedily recognized a chance for supreme power; others speculate that his rare blend of mental smallness and spiritual perversity convinced him that God ordained his take-over.

Pinochet inaugurated a state of siege in Chile to be lifted infrequently over the next 17 years. Declaring himself President in 1974, he eliminated Congress, political parties, freedom of speech, habeas corpus, and trade unions. Pinochet founded the DINA (the National Intelligence Directorate) as his secret police, charged with ferreting out opposition and silencing the nation with intimidation, torture, murder and forced-disappearance. The reign of terror began immediately after the coup, interning and torturing thousands of dissidents in Santiago's soccer stadium. Although the 1970s witnessed the worst human rights abuses, Pinochet's government is responsible for the disappearance and murder of over three thousand citizens and causing hundred of thousands more to flee during his dictatorship.  Pinochet called a plebiscite for the 1988 presidential election -- and lost, stepping down in 1990. Yet politics in Chile remains under his watchful eye. Although he relinquished his command of the army in 1998, he enjoyed a lifetime Senate seat and frequently reminds the elected authorities of his lingering control. When his son Augusto's financial dealings were questioned in 1990, Pinochet expressed displeasure by sending troops into Santiago's streets. Maintaining democratic Senate proceedings in the presence of a former dictator seems like a sham, but Pinochet's efforts to participate in statecraft seem to show his desire to reinvent his image as a patriot in any capacity.

But just as Pinochet jettisoned dictatorship for a “controlled-democracy”, international law reminded him and other nervous dictators that they will be held accountable for human rights violations. As he recovered from an operation on a herniated disc in a London clinic, Spanish authorities acting through Interpol issued a warrant for Pinochet's arrest on the charges of torturing and murdering Spanish citizens. Spain's case against Pinochet trudged slowly through the British court system, first addressing the question of international legality and then moving on to charges of genocide, terrorism, murder, illegal detention, kidnapping, and torture. In March 2000, Jack Straw, Home Office Secretary at the time, allowed Pinochet to return to Santiago on grounds of “ill-health”. After his return, and due to local and international pressure, the Chilean Courts revoked his senatorial immunity and put him temporarily under house arrest for tax evasion, however he is still to be tried for human right violations. International law has yet to judge Pinochet, but the verdict he really worries about is history's – and there, he will be remembered as the thief and murderer that he always was.

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