Charlie Hebdo and Pinochet

A special edition of Charlie Hebdo devoted to Pinochet

A special edition of Charlie Hebdo devoted to Pinochet

The Clinic is a satirical Chilean magazine begun during the late dictator’s detention in London in 1998; the Chilean version of Charlie Hebdo, if you will.  Over the years the French periodical published a number of items about Pinochet and The Clinic has just published a round up of Charlie Hebdo’s  cartoons and the special edition devoted to Pinochet::

Chilean perspectives on Egypt

The mass demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square reminded Chileans of their own country's struggle for democracy.

A few weeks after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt last year, two Chileans landed in Cairo.  One had been imprisoned and exiled during the seventeen-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet; the other had helped organize a successful campaign against the dictator’s attempt to prolong his rule in a one-man presidential plebiscite. The scenes from Tahrir Square had brought back vivid memories of their own country’s recent history and its transition from dictatorship to democratic government.

Sergio Bitar, a founding leader of Chile’s Party for Democracy, and Genaro Arriagada, a Christian Democrat, had held cabinet posts in post-Pinochet governments. The Chileans had made the trip at the behest of the National Democratic Institute (, one of 17 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under investigation by Egyptian authorities.  The National Democratic Institute had supported voter registration and sent election observers to Chile in 1988, when voters were asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to extend Pinochet’s regime for another eight years. Pinochet’s loss at the polls opened the way for free elections, and Chile’s successful democratic transition prompted the NDI to ask Bitar and Arriagada to share their experiences and ideas with Egyptian activists.

“Mubarak’s fall from power was very sudden, and Pinochet’s was gradual,” Bitar said in a telephone interview. He noted that Chile’s politicians had been labouring behind the scenes for approximately eight years before Pinochet left the presidency.  Another difference was the role of the military: the Chilean army was solidly behind Pinochet, while the Egyptian army proved to be more neutral. The issues of greatest interest to his Egyptian hosts were constitutional reform and corruption, and Bitar said he emphasized the importance of building political coalitions as well as maintaining a dialogue between civilians and the military.  He is optimistic about the country’s future democratic prospects, but cautioned that democratic transitions take at least five years.

The NDI also hosted a videoconference with Egyptian women activists, with the participation of Maria Eugenia Hirmas, a Chilean sociologist who served in the cabinet of former president Michelle Bachelet.  Hirmas gave a presentation on how Chilean women confronted their country’s dictatorship and how they sought to influence post-Pinochet governments.  The Egyptian women were interested in the Chileans’ strategies for joining male-dominated political groups, concerned that discussions on constitutional reform and other issues were not taking women’s concerns into account.

The Chileans returned to Egypt during last year’s elections as part of a multinational team of observers, with Hirmas and Bitar visiting Alexandria during the vote for a new parliament.  Hirmas said many of the women were casting ballots for the first time in their lives, and doing so enthusiastically, including many from impoverished rural backgrounds who reluctantly removed their veils in order to identify themselves to male election officials and be allowed to vote.

“I was moved by the hope people had that their situation was going to change, that they had something to say and that this time it would be considered,” she said.

An article by Sergio Bitar on parallels between Mubarak and Pinochet in Spain’s El Pais newspaper:

Update on the Frei investigation


Judge Alejandro Madrid says he hopes to complete his investigation into the death of former president Eduardo Frei Montalva this year, wrapping up a few lines of inquiry that are still pending. His comments came after Frei’s son made a public call for justice on the 30th anniversary of his death (see earlier post:

Frei, a Christian Democrat who was president from 1964 to 1970, had been a public critic of the Pinochet regime and the circumstances of his death at one of Santiago’s best hospitals in 1982 make terrifying reading.The Centro de Investigacion Periodistica CIPER has the most complete archive on Frei’s death and the investigation:

A bit of justice, and much too late

It was one of many legal cases  against General Augusto Pinochet, and one of the most embarrassing for Chile’s new civilian government, demonstrating how the country’s army was still a law unto itself.  A private plane carrying 36 crates of “humanitarian aid” had been intercepted in Budapest in 1991 and found to contain guns and ammunition bound for Croatia, in violation of a UN ban on weapons sales.  The government had in fact authorized an arms sale—to Sri Lanka—but the army’s munitions division, Fabrica y Maestranzas del Ejercito ( had arranged for the shipment to be delivered to Croatia. At the time, Pinochet had grudgingly left the Chilean presidency but would continue to command the army until 1998 and investigators would later uncover payments from arms manufacturers in Pinochet’s bank accounts.

A judicial inquiry into the Croatia deal began, but  witnesses began to vanish.  Colonel Gerardo Huber, the Chilean army’s logistics director, disappeared in early 1992, shortly before he was scheduled to testify and his body was found three weeks later on the banks of a river outside Santiago. A forensic examination showed that Huber had been shot in the head before he was thrown from a bridge. The colonel’s chauffeur was found dead in his car in what the army claimed was a suicide.

On Friday Chile’s Supreme Court convicted two retired generals of illegal weapons sales, sentencing them to three years in prison.  Another eight people were also convicted but given lesser sentences and allowed to serve them under house arrest.  Colonel Huber’s murder has never been solved, but his former superior who also testified in the case said the Croatia arms deal had been personally approved by Pinochet.


His wake was held at the Chilean military academy, but Pinochet was not given a state funeral and honors traditionally given to Chilean presidents.

About 200 people attended a memorial service for General Augusto Pinochet on Saturday, December 10, the fifth anniversary of his death.  This year it was held not in Santiago but at the family’s estate on the Pacific coast.  His widow Lucia Hiriart spoke to reporters outside the property, saying that her late husband “should be left in peace.”  She also noted the absence of any government officials at the service, saying that President Sebastian Pinera “seems not to be a very good friend of ours.”

Most Chilean heads of state are buried in Santiago’s General Cemetery, but Pinochet’s ashes are hidden away in a chapel on the estate.  He did not receive a presidential funeral, with full state honors, but a funeral for a former army commander and his family reluctantly conceded that placing his remains in a mausoleum would attract vandals and public protests. So after a wake at the military academy, a Catholic mass and fiery speeches by his daughter and grandson, Pinochet’s remains were moved to a crematorium and then transferred to the seaside estate.

There are no public monuments to Pinochet in Chile, though there are dozens of memorial sites dedicated to his victims, including an open air museum at the site of a former detention center and an enormous wall of names in the General Cemetery. The Pinochet Foundation (, located in a rather modest house in eastern Santiago, opened a small museum in his honor three years ago. There are four rooms containing some of his personal effects, including several statues of Napoleon, and a recreation of the office he sometimes used at the Foundation.