*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
In the gorgeous port city of Valparaiso, Chile, a boy that would go on to become one of the most brutal rulers in the history of South America was born on November 25, 1915. Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte — just Augusto Pinochet to most — would rise through the army’s ranks to become one of the most feared leaders in the world, a symbol of repression to those who observed him near and far.
Growing up, Pinochet felt tremendous pressure from his mother to enter the military. Possibly feeling it would give him the sort of structure and order young men often need, she was very pleased when he gained entry into the Military School in Chile’s capital, Santiago, at the age of 16. After his graduation and commission as a second lieutenant four years later, in 1935, it must have seemed to her as if Pinochet was on the right track.
Moving methodically up the ladder of the Chilean Army, Pinochet obtained a position as an instructor at the nation’s War Academy in his thirties, instructing young cadets in the intricacies of geography and politics as they pertained to the military. For most of the next 15 years, he worked as a professor, first in Chile and then at the newly-created War Academy of Ecuador.
By the late 1960s, Pinochet had developed a reputation for brushing aside the ambitions of an officeholder for the rigors of life at the head of a few thousand soldiers. First as Chief of Staff for the 2nd Division and then as Commander-in-Chief for the 6th, his efforts to maintain discipline in spite of growing unrest amongst the Chilean public — particularly from the Communist Party — brought him to the attention of President Salvador Allende.
Believing the general, now in his late 50s, could be trusted with the highest military position in the land, Allende appointed Pinochet Commander-in-Chief of the Army on August 23, 1973. Backed by the combined armed forces of Chile and the Central Intelligence Agency, he turned on Allende just three weeks later. (The president, with his palace under artillery fire, committed suicide.)
After coming to power that September, Pinochet made it clear how important he felt it was to eliminate Communist opposition — or any others who might speak out against his policies, for that matter. By the time he offered up the office of president to an election in 1989, some 3,000 people had disappeared without a trace. Despite bringing economic stability to the nation and modest growth, his heavy-handed treatment of the deceased president Allende’s supporters forced him out of office in 1990.
Continuing in his military role until 1998, the aging general made every effort to hide the actions of his secret police, interfering with investigations as often as necessary. When ideas he believed were too radical surfaced, Pinochet worked to crush them before they could gain much ground. As he stepped away from the Chilean Army, he received a legislative position, a parachute he created for himself when he had the nation’s constitution rewritten in the early 1980s.
Within months, Pinochet was arrested by the British government on behalf of Spain. Held in London until March 2000, only his old age allowed him to be sent home without prosecution. Up until his death on December 10, 2006, the now-hostile Chilean government attempted to bring him to trial for his crimes against human rights and suspicious financial practices that allowed him to amass a multimillion-dollar fortune. Deemed unfit for the proceedings due to fading mental health, he escaped punishment altogether. The cries of some 40,000 people tortured or killed for speaking out against him would go unanswered.
Also On This Day:
1491 – Spanish forces from the Castille and Aragon launch the Siege of Granada against the last Moorish stronghold in the country
1839 – The port city of Coringa, India is washed away by a massive cyclone, killing as many as 300,000
1947 – The “Hollywood Ten” are blacklisted by movie studios for suspected Communist leanings
1952 – The longest-running play in history, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, opens at Ambassadors Theatre in London
1992 – Czechoslovakia’s Federal Assembly votes to split the nation into the Czech Republic and Slovakia