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One Year in the Life of Augusto Pinochet: Gulag of the Mind*

  • Frederick M. Nunn (a1)

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As usual the new year was ushered in by the words of the President, broadcast to the nation via radio and television. They were the same words Chileans had heard for the past decade. The regime would not give way in its campaign to create a new Chile, to bar forever a resurgence of the left, to purify democracy of its inherent weaknesses, to structure the government so that politiquería never again would menace Chileans, to strengthen the economy. And on the president went, calling on all Chileans to make sacrifices, for the international recession had caused problems for them all. His own economic planners, Los Chicago Boys and their recent variants, were innocent victims of a situation beyond their control. The fact that unemployment pushed 25% (a conservative figure), that Chile was $25 billion in debt, (with interest on the debt consuming 80% of export earnings), that there had been 1600 bankruptcies since 1980—that Chile's boom was over—did not mean the government would radically change its plans for the future. The president sounded steadfast.

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A version of this essay was presented to the Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies Tucson, Arizona, February 1984.

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1 Documentation for this portion comprises the usual news sources, Chilean, Latin American, European, and North American. During a September 1983, stay in Chile I made a point of comparing notes I had made earlier in the year with Chilean printed sources, especially periodicals and journals of opinion such as El Mercurio, Estrategia, La Segunda, and Las Ultimas Noticias; and Análisis, Cosas, Economía y Sociedad, Ercilla, Hoy, Mensaje, and Que Pasa.

I also conversed with and interviewed a number of Chileans. I spent invaluable time with undergraduate and graduate students, most notably master’s candidates at the University of Chile’s Instituto de Ciencia Política. I am indebted to the Institute’s Director, Professor Gustavo Cuevas Farren, and his staff for arranging for me to lecture and exchange ideas there on “bureaucratic authoritarianism” and U.S. relations with Latin American military governments.

I made it a point to compare all findings with journalists (many of whom, interviewing me, were being interviewed themselves), businessmen, academics, military personnel, a number of old friends and some new ones in and outside Santiago, and, when appropriate, Chileans with whom I spoke but once and whom I many never encounter again. My remarks, in essence, constitute an interpretation of the total year, rather than a summary recapitulation of its events.

2 During my years of research and writing on Chilean military-civilian relations, I have been fortunate to meet numerous officers who have spoken frankly of their career experiences. At no time have their pride and candor revealed more to me than in the years since 1973. Over the past decade I have gathered information on the regime through interviews and conversations with army, navy and air force officers and civilian functionaries cited in recent published works. Added to information obtained from academics, journalists, businessmen and professionals, these perspectives have enabled me, I believe, to view the phenomenon discussed herein from a properly rounded perspective.

The regime, I should add, has also been the subject of interviews and conversations with staunch opponents and disaffected former proponents. I respect the wishes of these, some of whose names are well known, to remain anonymous—for the duration, as it were.

I do want to thank General Canessa and Admiral Carvajal both for their bluntness and courtesy (simultaneously manifested!); the directors and staffs of the Escuela Militar and the Academia de Guerra (respectively sub-director, Lieutenant Colonel Jaime Izarnótegui V. and director, Colonel Jaime Núñez Cabrera), for their willingness to discuss the situation of the army and of professional education during trying times. I am indebted to former Interior Minister, Sergio Fernández Fernández, head of the commission on organic laws, for taking time from an exhausting schedule to discuss the framing of regulatory legislation for political parties and electoral procedures. Colonel Virgilio Espinoza, chief of army internal relations, and his colleagues were most kind to compare with me views on historical dimensions of military-civilian relations. Members too numerous to name of the businessmen’s round table with whom I exchanged ideas on Chile as “a prisoner of her own history” one day in the Club de la Unión were extremely generous with their time.

3 One of the officers with whom I have talked at some length during the past decade is the president, Captain General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. I have met with him on three occasions: 1975, 1978 and of course 1983, during the week of demonstration and counter-demonstration culminating in the September 11 ceremonies. Portions of this section are based on our conversation of September 5 and his address of September 11. The first question and its answer come from the September 5 conversation.

The second question and its reply come from Pinochet’s The Crucial Day (El día decisivo), (Santiago, 1982), the president’s own version of the background to and events of September 1973. The bulk of this volume is in an interview format, with both the questions and the answers devised by the president.

Italicized sentences throughout are excerpted (some are suitably paraphrased) from Alexander Solzhenitzyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation. Both are difficult if not impossible to find in Santiago bookshops.

Preparation of this paper depended on my being in Chile in September 1983. In addition to others, I want to thank Isauro Torres Negri and Lieutenant Colonel Marcial Farías Cobo of the Embassy of the Republic of Chile, Washington, D. C., for their efforts on my behalf in arranging interviews with army officers named herein. While a number of people have made valuable contributions to this effort, I am solely responsible for the interpretations and conclusions reached in it.

* A version of this essay was presented to the Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies Tucson, Arizona, February 1984.

One Year in the Life of Augusto Pinochet: Gulag of the Mind*

  • Frederick M. Nunn (a1)

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