The legacy of Augusto Pinochet still divides Chilean politics. Days after a new study showed that over a third of Chileans justify the 1973 coup d’état, Republican Party member Luis Silva expressed his admiration for the former dictator. President Boric condemned his “denialism” of the past and advocated for a “common view” of the dictatorship, which in turn was criticized by UDI members.
Days after the CERC-Mori study “Chile in the shadow of Pinochet,” that showed that over a third of Chileans feel like the 1973 coup d’état was justified, Pinochet’s legacy seems to divide Chilean politics more and more.
First, it was Republican Party member Luis Silva who mentioned having a certain admiration for the former Chilean dictator. President Gabriel Boric and government spokesperson and Community Party member Camila Vallejo came out with statements condemning the “denialism” by politicians like Silva.
Both stressed that the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup, on Sept. 11 of this year, must be a moment to get rid of this “denialism,” and to unite the country with a common narrative about what happened during the dictatorship.
However, their statements proved divisive. María José Hoffman, of the opposition party Independent Democratic Union (UDI), responded that imposing a “common view” would be a “profound mistake.” Her fellow party member Javier Macaya backed her, blaming “the left” for using Pinochet’s legacy for political gain.
What did Silva say?
In a conversation with literature professor and TV presenter Cristián Warnken on “En Persona,” on May 28, Silva was asked about the CERC-Mori study. Silva said that he felt “a hint of admiration” for Pinochet, in the sense that he thought “that he was a statesman, a man who knew how to lead the State, to reassemble a State that was divided to the core.”
Silva, who received the most individual votes out of any candidate during the May 7 Constitutional Council elections, added that he proposes “a more balanced reading of Pinochet’s ‘government’.”
According to the Republican, there were obviously “atrocious” things that happened during Pinochet’s rule, things that “stain what he did for Chile.” However, despite the gravity of the matter, “we should not simplify or reduce the17 years that he was in power to human rights violations, because I believe that we deprive ourselves as Chileans of a balanced understanding of our history. It would make us very bad interpreters of the present,” he maintained.
Despite his hint of admiration, Silva stressed he is not a Pinochetista, because he does not want to “align” himself with a historical figure.
Boric was quick to condemn Silva’s statements. “Augusto Pinochet was a dictator and anti-democratic, whose government killed, tortured, exiled and made those who thought differently disappear,” Boric tweeted.
“He was also corrupt and a thief, and was never a real statesman,” the President added in response to Silva’s admiration.
Augusto Pinochet fue un dictador, esencialmente anti demócrata, cuyo gobierno mató, torturó, exilió e hizo desaparecer a quienes pensaban distinto. Fue también corrupto y ladrón. Cobarde hasta el final hizo todo lo que estuvo a su alcance x evadir la justicia.
— Gabriel Boric Font (@GabrielBoric) May 31, 2023
Vallejo then expressed her worries about the findings of the CERC-Mori study. “Today,” she said, “many people are unable to appreciate what democracy is because they have not lost it. But when democracy is lost, when human rights are violated, we can all be damaged. That is why, 50 years after the coup, it is very important that we not only value democracy and respect human rights, but that we work in the present to strengthen it.”
Vallejo talked about a noticeable surge in “denialism” about what happened during the dictatorship, with “several representatives [of the opposition] that have openly recognized themselves as Pinochet supporters.”
In response to Silva’s words, she stressed that this year’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the coup “is an exercise of memory, of recognizing what took place in our history; not one of denial, but of repairing and doing justice to what happened.”
Her statements were reiterated by President Boric, who advocated for a “common view” during the commemoration coup, on Sept. 11, 2023.
During his second Public Account, on Thursday, June 1, Boric said that he hopes that the commemoration will mark an end to the “stubborn denialism” that still exists in Chile, and that Chileans “will be able to have a common vision that sustains … the universal value of human rights and the importance of democracy.”
The President’s hopes proved to be controversial and all but unifying.
In a response, Hoffman said that “the 50th anniversary is a complex issue for Chile,” and added that she hopes that the government does not want to impose an “official truth” on the people: “That would be a profound mistake.”
When asked about Silva’s statements, Hoffman said that deciding whether Pinochet was a good statesman is up to historians. However, she did add that the “barbarities” committed by Salvador Allende, Chile’s socialist President who was overthrown during the 1973 coup, were comparable to those committed during the dictatorship.
Secretaria general de la UDI, María José Hoffmann, habla de "barbaridades" durante el Gobierno de Allende y las considera "bastante equiparables" a las de la dictadura #MesaCentral pic.twitter.com/Xrrrx0CSsd
— T13 (@T13) June 5, 2023
Hoffman was backed by her party leader, UDI President Javier Macaya. Without Allende, he said, there would have been no Pinochet. According to Macaya, the largest division within Chilean society is the apparent “zero-sum game between Pinochet and Allende.”
It is mostly the political left that exploits the figure of Pinochet’s, he added, saying that “the left knows that Pinochet divides, and polarizes, [by evoking his name we] enter into a discussion that historically has given them political returns.”
“We must look to the future. We need to be able to make these 50 years serve for lessons learned, but not with our eyes continuously in the rearview mirror,” he concluded.
Whether to look forwards or back, Chilean representatives seem to be as divided as ever.
Matthijs is a newly graduated journalism student from Groningen, the Netherlands. As a starting journalist and aspiring foreign correspondent, he decided to extend his 6-month university exchange in Chile to do an internship at Chile Today. He enjoys writing about a broad range of topics, but international relations, politics and conflicts are his key interests.