50 Years After the Coup History of Chile NATIONAL

Increasing sympathy for 1973 coup d’état, survey says

A survey by opinion research institution CERC-MORI shows that 36 percent of Chileans believe that the 1973 coup d’état was justified. This surge in “Pinochetism” is reflected in the rise of the far-right, the authors write. They hope that this year’s 50th anniversary of the coup will be used as a moment of reflection and remembrance.

The 2023 CERC-MORI survey, titled “Under the shadow of Pinochet,” explored public opinion about the 1973 coup d’état and found that a third of Chileans view the dictatorship positively.

During the presentation of the results on May 30 at Fundación Chile21, MORI’s director, Marta Lagos said Pinochet’s shadow “grows like a ghost that doesn’t know peace.”

Political scientist Claudia Heiss and journalist and former member of the Constitutional Convention Patricio Fernández also took part. 

Starting in 1987, the national CERC Policy Barometer (in cooperation with MORI since 2014) has been measuring public opinion about the coup, the 13-year dictatorship that followed, and the leader of the military junta and then sole dictator Augusto Pinochet.  

In the last iteration, 1,000 Chileans were surveyed, divided into groups of those born before the coup, during the dictatorship, and after Chile’s transition to democracy in 1990. 

Rising support 

Over the last 10 years, the number of Chileans who agree with the statement “the military was right to commit the coup” has grown from 16 percent to its highest ever, 36 percent. 

This is unique in the western world, Lagos said. “Chile is the only western country where a third of the population supports the military dictatorship 50 years after it took place.”

 The study also shows that 11 percent believe that the Pinochet-regime brought only good things to Chile, whereas another 47 percent believes that it brought good and bad things. The percentage of Chileans who believe that the dictatorship was only bad decreased from 37 percent to 25 percent.

In response to the question, “What is the significance of the coup d’état?” 42 percent answered that it meant “the destruction of democracy.” In 1995, 54 percent agreed with the statement, and 68 percent in 2005, while it was 63 percent in 2013. 

On the other hand, 36 percent believe the coup primarily meant “the liberation from Marxism,” also a record high, growing by almost 20 percent over the last 10 years.   

And 64 percent viewed Pinochet as a dictator, while 39 percent also regard him as a modernizer of the economy. In addition, a fifth of Chileans regard him as one of the best statesmen that Chile has had in the 20th century. 

The rise of “Pinochetism”

 According to the authors, the survey shows a clear return to “Pinochetism.” More Chileans sympathize with the coup and the military junta than ever before since the dictatorship.

This sentiment is reflected in today’s political climate in Chile. Heiss said the coup’s legacy was turning into “a political strategy of identity” – a “dangerous development.”  

The victory of far-right Republican Party in the May 7 Constitutional Council elections is a consequence of public opinion about the dictatorship, the authors write.

Coincidence or not, the Republican Party, with the pronounced Pinochet supporter José Antonio Kast as its leader, won elections with about 35 percent of the total votes cast, almost the exact percentage that indicates that the coup was justified.

But the study also states that the results have been highly volatile over the years, as “neither the negative nor the positive periods have been of very long duration.” Even though Chile experiences a Pinochetist wave, and the support for the coup and the dictatorship are more evident than ever, it is likely that it will decrease in the future. Until then, “Chile will continue to live in Pinochet’s shadow until a definitive consensus on the dictatorship is formed.”

Younger generations

Pinochet’s rising popularity can in part be explained by the “ignorance of the youth,” the study said.

Of the 18-35-year cohort, 41 percent said they knew “little to nothing” about September 11, 1973. Another 36 percent said they know “little to nothing” about the dictatorship that followed.

“If it were taught in schools, the generations that did not live through the dictatorship should declare a higher level of knowledge about the topic,” according to the study.

Heiss highlighted the importance of the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos, dedicated to the commemoration of dictatorship victims. But “depending on which school they go to, some children have never set foot inside the museum.”

The study said, “the 50th anniversary of the coup should be a moment to update the knowledge of what happened to the entire population,” to prevent that history repeats. “100 percent of the population should know about it, also the youth. We cannot ‘never forget’ if we don’t know about it,” Lagos said.

Also read: 

This is the official story for the anniversary of the 1973 coup d’état

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