The Power of Propaganda

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Gen. Augusto Pinochet served as president of Chile during a troubled period of that country’s history. His fate was to become the world’s most demonized person in the last quarter of the 20th century, and his death on December 10, 2006, was met with a new outpouring of denunciation by the international left.

Just as the neoconservative Bush regime had no factual basis for its demonization of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as a threat who would arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction to be used against America, the international left has scant evidence in behalf of its demonization of Pinochet.

Unlike Bush’s war on terror in which US troops are fighting abroad, Pinochet was confronted with an indigenous terrorist movement. Chilean terrorists engaged in assassinations and bombings of public infrastructure. Pinochet was able to put down real terrorist movements with less damage to Chile’s civil liberties than Bush’s trumped-up "war on terror" has caused to America’s.

According to the Rettig Commission, Chile’s struggle with terrorism resulted in 2300 (both sides) dead and missing. Pinochet’s detainees number less than Bush’s, and the torture used against Chilean terrorist suspects was perhaps less draconian than that used by the United States against suspected Muslim terrorists. The Bush regime is responsible for many multiples of the deaths for which the Pinochet regime was responsible. Yet, Pinochet is the demonized figure.

The propaganda against Pinochet has fantastic elements, such as "eyewitness" accounts of bodies of slain innocents thrown overboard from navy ships on the Mapocho river that runs through Santiago. Anyone who has seen the "river" knows it is not navigable.

The international left loved Salvador Allende’s socialist rhetoric and his policies against "the rich," policies that destroyed Chile’s economy and led to public agitation for his overthrow. The left hates Pinochet for overthrowing Allende and for turning Chile’s economy over to economists educated at Harvard and the University of Chicago, who privatized Chile’s social security system and put in place the institutional basis for Chile’s successful market economy. These are the real reasons for Pinochet’s demonization.

The international left cannot make up its mind whether Allende was overthrown by Pinochet or by the CIA. In some accounts the reason to hate Pinochet is that he is the puppet of capitalist Amerika. Why then demonize the puppet instead of the puppet-master?

In truth, Allende overthrew himself. He disregarded the constitution, permitted private property to be seized by communist organizations, tolerated and assisted the formation of armed groups that operated independently of the government, and disorganized the economy to the extent that there were food shortages.

In left-wing mythology, "the popularly-elected Allende" was overthrown by the tyrant Pinochet. This is far from the truth. Allende received only 36% of the vote and was appointed president by the Chilean congress after Allende swore an oath to respect the constitution.

Three years later on August 22, 1973, the Chilean congress censured Allende for violating law and the constitution in order to "establish a totalitarian system absolutely opposed to the representative system of government established by the Constitution."

Allende was censured for "making violation of the Constitution and the law a permanent system of conduct" and for "systematically trampling the powers of the other branches of government" while at the same time "violating the civil rights of the citizens guaranteed in the Constitution and permitting and stimulating the formation of illegal parallel powers which constitute a grave threat for the nation."

Allende was censured for systematically violating private property rights and illegally taking over 1,500 farms from their owners and hundreds of businesses. The resolution condemned Allende for aiding and abetting the establishment of illegal armed groups that "intend to replace legitimately constituted powers and serve as a base for the dictatorship of the proletariat." The resolution noted that this goal was publicly acknowledged by Allende himself.

The censure of Allende called upon the military to intervene and oust the Allende government. Housewives, unable to find food for their families, had been calling for military intervention for months. When the women would encounter military officers in the streets, they would throw corn kernels at their feet and cluck like chickens.

The military had to be forced to act by the elected representatives of the people. The irony is that Allende would likely have been pushed aside by the parallel government that he was allowing communists to create.

Pinochet is demonized despite the fact that he established a broad-based commission to create a new constitution and scheduled elections to return the government to civil authority. To achieve reconciliation among Chileans, both terrorists and the military government were amnestied. Pinochet permitted himself to be voted out of power.

The military government kept the amnesty, but successor governments did not. In his old age Pinochet was harassed by vengeful leftists determined to overturn the amnesty only with regard to Pinochet. That fact alone is testimony to which side of the conflict represented true character and a spirit of good will.

Today government corruption is on the rise in Chile as power-seeking politicians seek to remove constitutional restraints and to create economic dependencies that expand political power. It remains to be seen if the legacy of freedom that Pinochet gave to Chile will survive or whether it will succumb to the power of propaganda, just as America’s freedom is succumbing to neoconservative propaganda about the need for a police state to protect Americans from terrorism.

Paul Craig Roberts [send him mail] wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is author or coauthor of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholar journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury’s Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He is also coauthor with Karen Araujo of Chile: Dos Visiones — La Era Allende-Pinochet (Santiago: Universidad Andres Bello, 2000).

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