A Tale of Two Chileans: Pinochet and Allende by Robin Harris

By Robin Harris

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Sample text

Military rulers have come and gone; but not rulers like General Pinochet. After the first year or so when the professional soldiers who had been forced to take a political role they had never wanted sought to overcome their inexperience, Pinochet established a clear programme for the reconstruction of Chile out of the rubble left by Allende. There were errors from time to time along the way; some abuses of power and acts of brutality were perpetrated and went unpunished. But by and large the programme was followed through consistently and honestly.

As part of the terms of this new constitutional settlement, Pinochet himself was to remain in power for a transitional eight-year period, at the end of which a single candidate would be chosen by the junta and presented for popular endorsement in a further referendum. If that candidate did not receive 50 per cent of the vote, there would follow open multi-candidate elections. In April 1987 the ban on public meetings by political parties was lifted and campaigning began. On 5 October 1988 at the ensuing referendum Pinochet, the junta’s candidate, won the endorsement of 44 per cent of voters - 7 per cent more than Allende in 1970 - but insufficient to stay in office.

The Chilean women had taken to throwing down corn in front of the soldiers’ feet as a sign of contempt for the military’s "chickenhearted" failure to act. On 5 September a mass demonstration of women warned that if Allende were still in office on 11 September, they would picket the military barracks till the soldiers came out to remove him. A public meeting of students was also scheduled to be held on 11 September for the same purpose. The armed forces - under its new leadership - finally ended their hesitation and struck at dawn on Tuesday 11 September.

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