Augusto PinochetAugusto Pinochet was a Chilean general who in 1973 staged a coup d'etat with the help of the CIA. His flair for fashion made him South America's answer to Muammar Qaddafi. But ultimately it was his thirst for reform which produced his most enduring legacy.
After the people of Chile inadvertently elected a communist for president, General Pinochet did what he had to. Which was assassinate President Salvador Allende. Upon gaining power, Pinochet reformed many of Allende's disastrous policies.
One of Allende's failed initiatives involved not sending death squads to kidnap, torture, and murder his political enemies. This was Pinochet's first policy reversal.
Pinochet handed a list of names to one of his generals and gave orders to have them killed. The general assembled a death squad, jumped into a helicopter, and visited a few towns. He checked off the victims as they were eliminated, 71 people in all. This mission would later become known as the "Caravan of Death."
Thousands of leftists, unionists, and various other troublemakers were rounded up and held in concentration camps for up to three years. Many were interrogated, tortured, and killed. Whereas the Allende government had for all practical purposes given up applying electrical voltage to genitalia, Pinochet brought the country back to its core ideals.
These tried-and-true methods were only required because of the serious nature of the enemy Pinochet was facing. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recognized this. When they met in Santiago on June 8, 1976, Kissinger told Pinochet: "My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going Communist."
Another failure of past administrations was their complete lack of immunity against prosecution for any crimes committed while in power. This defect was finally redressed with the passage of the 1978 State Immunity Act. It was a stunning legislative triumph.
But some people are never content to abide by the rule of law. Which is why, in 1998, Pinochet was "arrested" in London under orders from Spain. It took 16 months for a court to determine that the elderly ex-president was too sick to stand trial. They sent him home to Chile to live out his final weeks.
Upon landing in Santiago, a miracle happened. In England, Pinochet had been too sick to stand unaided. But immediately upon his return, the 84-year-old servant of the people sprang from his wheelchair and walked around, fully healed. The man who had been too senile to remember his own family's names and faces could suddenly remember all of his former subordinates who had come to greet him at the airport.
Justice was finally served.
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