SANTIAGO, Chile – It was 40 years ago when the Chilean government was overtaken by a military coup on September 11, 1973. Democracy was restored in 1988, but the legacy of Augusto Pinochet and his dictatorship continue to have close ties to the Chilean presidential election. For example, presidential candidates Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei are both personally affected by the Pinochet regime through their fathers.
General Augusto Pinochet led the campaign that left 3,000 people dead and over 30,000 tortured. Furthermore, over a million Chileans defected. President Salvador Allende chose to take his own life rather than surrender to Pinochet and is most remembered by Chileans as an idealist who was courageous and made a sacrifice. Pinochet is remembered for violating human rights and corrupting the government.
Bachelet was elected president for the first time in 2006 and served a four year term. She is the daughter of General Alberto Bachelet who was imprisoned after the coup, where he was questioned about his loyalty to the junta through various interrogations. He was hooded, threatened to be shot and eventually died of a heart attack on March 12, 1974 due to the torture he had undergone. Following her father’s death, Michelle Bachelet was taken into custody where she endured torture before she fled to East Germany to study medicine.
Matthei is the daughter of General Fernando Matthei who served as the director of the Air Force’s War Academy where Alberto Bachelet was interrogated. Fernando Matthei and Alberto Bachelet were friends and colleagues in the Air Force during the 1960s, though their friendship ended when the pair found themselves on opposing sides of the coup – Fernando Matthei supported the coup while Alberto Bachelet opposed it. The 88-year-old Fernando Matthei maintains his innocence in the death of Alberto Bachelet and was not charged.
Politics in Chile still struggle with the Pinochet past as the economic and political policies from the dictatorship are blamed for a weakened education system. In fact, some of those policies have been carried on by center-left Concertacion coalition governments. Students are no longer content with demanding education reform and along with many others, are instead pursuing a new constitution because Pinochet used the current one to govern in 1980. The majority of the nine presidential candidates agree, but Matthei does not. Could Matthei’s personal ties to Pinochet be the cause of her dissent?
Bachelet has heard the voices of student protests for cheaper education and now seeks to make education free. She plans to achieve that goal by raising corporate taxes from 20% to 25% for funding. However, Finance Minister Felipe Larrain warned that economic growth would be slowed by a tax increase. Bachelet has made strong macroeconomic policies allowing Chile to receive the only double-A credit rating in Latin America three months after she completed her first presidential term.
The Chilean labor force consists of 8.2 million jobs, to which Matthei promised to add 600,000 more if she is elected president. Her strategy is to increase economic growth by lowering taxes. Political scientist, Patricio Navia explained that Matthei’s right wing coalition must distance itself from the authoritarian legacy of Pinochet, maintaining that elections cannot be won if there is an association to authoritarianism.
Matthei has an association with Pinochet and the coup remains to be a fresh wound for many Chileans. That may be a contributing factor to left-wing Bachelet winning 47% of the vote against Matthei’s 25% as Chile approaches its runoff on Dec. 15. As such, politics in Chile may be in for another change.
– Brittany Mannings
Sources: Huffinton Post: Chileans Reflect, Bloomberg, Huffington Post: Allende and Pinochet, Miami Herald, The Economist
Photo: El Arsenal