This is a sober, little book. The author had earlier in life been kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and exiled by the military government in Argentina. In this book (published in 1987) he writes about similar hardships being experienced by Chileans under the rule of General Pinochet.
Pinochet took control of Chile in 1973 after President Salvadore Allende was assassinated. Prior to Pinochet there had been no military coup in Chile in a hundred years and there had been no serious military involvement in Chile's government in some 40 years. Chileans had generally loved their country, enjoyed their culture and their simple but well ordered lives, and were living in one of the most stable democracies in Latin America - in the `England of the South'. Pinochet's military coup changed all that.
Allende had become Chile's president in 1970. His goal was to modify the economic and social structure that kept that country backward and underdeveloped. He wanted to improve the lives of the people by moving the country to the left, along a `peaceful path to socialism'. Enroute, however, he encountered big problems - from his political left, center, and right - and from his geographic north (i.e., the U.S.). Allende's enemies
would later say that (though democratically elected) he was an incapable leader, that his administration was chaotic, that his policies precipitated labor strikes, that his nationalization of industries and his deliverance of land and factories into the hands of farmers and workers was wrong. Something had to be done, they said, to stop the chaos, or, maybe even a civil war.
Allende had various opponents, but his chief enemies, ascertained later, were the CIA, the U.S. government, and U.S. business interests in Chile (see Seymour Hersh's book, "The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House"). (U.S. Cold War and Truman Doctrine considerations dictated that no Communists may be permitted to take over the government or territory of any non-Communist country anywhere, period!, so,
socialist or Marxist leaders like Allende were automatically enemies - while the enemies of any socialist or Marxist leaders, like Allende, were acceptable friends of the U.S.)
So, with U.S. aid and blessing, Pinochet assumed power. His opponents were immediately arrested or shot. Five weeks into his reign soldiers helicoptered into four remote towns, removed all political prisoners (62) from their jail cells and shot them. Such executions demonstrated dramatically to all that Pinochet intended to rule with an iron hand. Since Pinochet respected Hitler, Franco and Peron, he now employed their
techniques. Very quickly the military controlled all major institutions in the country - including TV, radio, newspapers, publishers, schools and universities, movie studios, etc. Anyone who failed to cooperate was arrested, beaten, tortured, raped, etc. All women prisoners had to be raped - because that destroyed them psychologically and emotionally! One million of Chile's 11 million inhabitants fled the country. Military
police always possessed broad powers to control the population, but in 1980 their powers were further expanded and codified with the passage of 21 explicit, repressive laws, which became part of the constitution. These laws authorized arbitrary arrest without formal charges, internal exile, arbitrary restriction of personal liberties, restriction or prohibition of domestic and foreign travel, restricted freedom of the press, restricted
dissemination of information , restrictions on speech, restrictions on the right to work, restricted rights of assembly, limits on the formation of professional associations or
workers' unions, establishment of censorship, confiscation of personal property, and, finally, limitations on property rights. Basically, Chilean citizens had no rights whatever
Under Pinochet the Chilean economy declined and poverty became widespread. Many people must now rely on charity and food lines to survive. Meanwhile, military personnel have prospered (with their own housing, commissaries, hospitals, guaranteed
employment, good pay, etc.). By 1985 the richest had enjoyed under Pinochet a 30% increase in their standard of living; the bottom 40% had experienced a 50% drop. Low ranking soldiers can further supplement their incomes by extracting fines and bribes, or confiscating property from those forced to violate the law in order to survive - like prostitutes, thieves, vendors, beggars, curfew violators, etc.
Chileans, to survive, try to maintain a low profile - `submarining' they call it. They must be ever vigilant when dealing with strangers and guard against accidentally
criticizing the government. The government, ever concerned about its own survival, will, at times overlook certain minor violations of the law (creating `safety valves') - but their
enforcement of the law is always arbitrary - to instill fear. Some theaters or poetry reading venues, for example, may sometimes operate, for example, if their seating capacity does not exceed 150 - an unthreatening number. Chileans try to create for themselves an `alternate' lifestyle - i.e. where possible, they find employment and free-time pursuits that are politically `safe'. Eventually, even terrorized Chileans began
demonstrating sometimes against government policies that offered no jobs and no food, but Pinochet has an 18,000-man force always ready to control such demonstrators - and to jail or kill as many people as required - 3, 10, 50, 100 - to restore order.
Chileans have become philosophical about their lot. Military dictators in other Latin American countries, they note, are generally replaced by democratic governments within
15-20 years. Pinochet at this time has been in power for 14 (3 to go!). History also shows that no force (other than the military, itself) is capable of overthrowing a military
dictatorship - once installed - ergo, Chileans are biding their time, waiting and hoping for Gen. Pinochet to just go away. He's probably in no hurry, however, since he's living
quite comfortably. While Chileans starve, Pinochet resides in a 4-story home (15,000 square feet) with 3 basements (with bunker) located on 20 acres, with gardens, a 200-car garage (yes, two hundred), a sports complex, a heliport, tennis courts, an
Olympic-sized swimming pool and his own private highway into the city. Cost: an estimated 10-13 million dollars.
(Note: The Chileans were right: a democratic government was installed in 1989).