SANTIAGO – Pinochet’s former Minister of Interior and founder of the National Renewal party, Sergio Onofre Jarpa died Apr. 19. He was 99 years old and had recently been diagnosed with Covid-19. He remains a controversial figure because of his political involvement during and after the dictatorship.
Sergio Onofre Jarpa died on Sunday, Apr. 19, as a result of Covid-19. His death was confirmed by representative Francisco Eguiguren of the National Renewal (RN) party, the party Jarpa founded 33 years ago.
— Francisco Eguiguren Diputado (@feguigurenc) April 20, 2020
The news of Jarpa’s death was met with a flurry of tweets by prominent right-wing politicians. Many remembered his role in the transition to democracy back in the 1990s and his efforts to prevent the war against Argentina in the early 1980s. Others pointed out his role in the Pinochet dictatorship and his support of the authoritarian president Carlos Ibáñez del Campo.
Chile Today takes a look back at his role in Chilean politics.
Early Involvement in Politics.
Jarpa first entered the political realm in 1938, at the age of 17, when he joined the Alianza Popular Libertadora (Popular Liberation Aliance) in support of Carlos Ibáñez del Campo’s bid for presidency.
After Ibáñez del Campo lost the election, Jarpa joined the Vanguardia Popular Socialista (Popular Socialist Vanguard), a restructuring of the Chilean Nazi party, before it was formally dissolved in 1945.
In the 1950s, Jarpa went on to be a youth leader in the Partido Agrario-Laborista, (Agrarian-Labor Party) until he left to join the Partido Nacional Agrario (National Agrarian party).
In 1966, he joined the Partido Nacional (National Party), which was created by conservatives and liberals to confront the growing Communist and Socialist parties. He rose in the ranks until he became president of the party, a position he held from 1968 to 1973.
From Opposition to Minister of Interior.
During the Congressional elections of 1973, Jarpa was elected senator for Santiago and planned to lead the opposition against then-President Salvador Allende along with fellow senator Patricio Aylwin. After the military coup of Sep. 11, however, the military junta shuttered Congress, bringing Jarpa’s first senatorial term to an abrupt end.
During the dictatorship, Jarpa held several positions: delegate to the United Nations, ambassador to Colombia, and ambassador to Argentina. In the latter role, he was pivotal in de-escalating tensions between Chile and Argentina during the 1978 Beagle crisis.
A watershed for Jarpa was 1983. The unemployment rate hit 23.7%, and there were numerous protests calling for Pinochet to leave office. In response, Pinochet changed cabinets and made Jarpa his new Minister of Interior–putting Jarpa in charge of keeping the public peace at a time of violent protests.
Jarpa’s tenure was known as the “Spring of Jarpa,” because the dictatorship slowly permitted different political movements, allowed various exiled citizens to return, reduced censorship, and attempted to reopen Congress. At the same time, however, there was still heavy repression against protests. In one early protest, 29 people died and more than 200 were injured. As minister of interior, it was expected that Jarpa would answer for it, but he refused to do so.
His time in the ministry was also marked by the usage of the State Security Law, which had been created during del Campo’s government to repress protests against his government. During Jarpa’s time in the ministry, some student protesters were held in jail for weeks without proper reasons.
After Jarpa failed to reopen the country and Congress, he negotiated the “Acuerdo Nacional para la Transición a la Plena Democracia” (The National Agreement for the Transition to a Democracy), but, ultimately, the military dictatorship did not sign it, and these circumstances ultimately led to Jarpa leaving his post.
Return to democracy.
In 1987, Jarpa founded RN, which supported the YES vote during the 1988 plebiscite (a YES vote sought eight more years of Pinochet; a NO vote sought a return to democracy). When the opposition won the plebiscite, Jarpa was involved in the negotiations that led to important reforms to the 1980 Constitution.
In 1990, he was elected as senator for the Maule Region and kept this post until 1994.
In 1999, an international capture order was issued against Jarpa by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, due to Jarpa’s involvement in human rights violations during the Pinochet dictatorship. The Chilean Government attempted to overturn the order but was unsuccessful. In the end, the order never came to fruition because it fell by the wayside after Pinochet’s subsequent arrest and the resulting media frenzy.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.