Monday, 31 March 2014


20th - 22nd Mar 2014

General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. 1915 - 2006.

As previously explained, I had to make an appointment to visit this rather plain looking house (right) in the pleasant and affluent leafy suburb of Vitacura to the north-east of the city. It houses the private offices of the late General Augusto Pinochet and is now a museum in his memory.
Whereas his predecessor, the Marxist President Salvadore Allende, has been all but sanctified with an elaborate tomb and places named after him, Pinochet, following his somewhat draconian rule as President from 1973 to 1990 has been demonised. Hence the need to keep this house somewhat 'covert' and it is certainly not mentioned in any of the guide books as far as I am aware.  Indeed it is all but forbidden even to discuss Pinochet in public in Chile nowadays.
General Pinochet, and his junta, forcibly took power in 1973 and undoubtedly followed this with the arrest, torture and execution of many opponents. The scale of this varies wildly, depending on which side of the fence the author of the statistics sits. Figures of those killed vary between 1200 and 3200 (who knows). Hideous for those concerned but not great by the standards of other  revolutionary conflicts?

As always, there is another side to the story. What is rather glossed over (by leftist governments and commentators) is that Allende's regime was also responsible for the murder of many of it's political opponents. Again the figures vary, but this memorial (left) in the house is to those of Allende's executed victims. There are about 400 here I think. The situation in 1973 was more akin to a civil war than enthusiastic electioneering.

What is certain is that under Allende's government Chile's economic situation was on it's knees and the country had gone the same way as that in the present day 'basketcase' Venezuela. Private land had been forcibly expropriated and profitable businesses nationalised. The Allende government was effectively 'bribing' the poor electorate to vote for him (similar to Venezuelan Hugo Chavez). Understandably, many in Chile resented this state of affairs and it was the cue for the military coup, led by the four service chiefs. Pinochet, the army chief, was selected as their leader. It must not be forgotten that the junta had great public support at the time, and (one has to whisper this in public) still does amongst many older citizens who remember the Allende days. A 1980 plebiscite showed a considerable majority in favour of the junta. A measure of his (still) popularity was apparent at his funeral in 2006 where ( depending on which report you read) between 80,000 and 150,000 of his supporters attended.

Right: The conference room. The only other visitor with me was a young Spanish law student who did a great job interpreting for our guide, a charming man, who worked previously in General Pinochet's press office. 
He explained how the Pinochet Foundation still helps fund students and universities (presumably not of the leftist variety!).

Left: Busts of the four members of the junta. They are all now dead.

His wife, Lucia, is still alive, aged 90 and living in the family home near Valparaíso. Their five children are also still living in Chile.

Right: A cabinet, one of several, containing gifts from various world leaders.

Left: Another containing medals and awards.

Right: And another containing more gifts and awards! Ok we are in danger here of emulating the colossal collection of self-awarded gongs to the late Kims in Pyongyang (thankfully nowhere near that).

Left: A medal commemorating the four leaders.

Right: General Pinochet's ceremonial uniform.

Left: ....and his 'combat kit'.

I don't know why, but I was intrigued by such a mundane object as his beret (right). Knowing how one's beret becomes quite a treasured personal possession, shaped to your own individual taste and style, it is exceedingly irritating if someone should accidentally 'borrow' it from a peg in the cloakroom...........

............hence they are always well marked. Augusto P was obviously no exception as his signature was prominently handwritten inside. Heaven help anyone who tried to filch this, accidentally or not!

I was wondering how much you would get for the above three items on e-Bay!

Right: The Chilean coat of arms. The 'motto' reads 'por da razon o da fuerza' which, I believe, roughly translated, means 'by reason or force'.  I expect someone will correct me. Apparently the present government considered this too aggressive and wants to change, or has changed, it to 'by force of reason'. Not sure of myself on this, but it sounds eminently feasible.

Of course although every rational person should vehemently condemn the torture and slaughter of even a single political opponent, Pinochet's record, in the numbers game, puts him right down at the bottom of the league of world-class mass murderers and torturers of the innocent. Compared to the likes of Messrs Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tsetung (and his infamous Red Guards), Pol Pot, and I've probably missed a few, he is but a pigmy in the land of monsters. It is odd that even today Stalin is openly admired by many, especially at the May 9th 'victory' celebrations in Moscow where I remember queues of people waiting to be photographed alongside dear old smiling 'Uncle Joe' with his pipe and bushy moustache, look-alikes. Chairman Mao's fizzog still appears on Chinese bank notes and every day thousands (I was one) solemnly file past his stuffed remains in the mausoleum on Tiananman Square to pay homage, as is the case with 'Uncle' Ho in Hanoi (me again), and Lenin on Red Square (me again) and even the two Kims (despised outside North Korea) in Pyongyang (me yet again). Has anyone else filed past all five embalmed tyrants? Can I claim a unique achievement here? These leaders, and their regimes, murdered and tortured millions! (OK, the North Vietnamese regime only imprisoned, tortured and killed perhaps a couple of thousand South Vietnamese collaborators and dissenters after 1975). Even our own home-grown bandits such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, of PIRA infamy, were certainly not averse to the torture and murder of innocent civilians and they seem now to have achieved respectability; McGuiness being rewarded for ceasing to be a murderous terrorist with a ministerial post in Northern Ireland. It is probably also true to say that some past British colonial leaders were not entirely innocent of 'approving' the occasional massacre and the use of thumb-screws when it suited. The point I am trying to make is that the world's public is somewhat inconsistent when it comes to which murderers and torturers they revere, or just accept, and which they despise. It might be suggested that Communist/Marxist/Leninist/Maoist and political 'reds' get given the benefit of the doubt (note the bunch above!) as no such vitriol is ever poured on them.

Setting aside, if we can, the more objectionable and controversial aspects of General Pinochet and his junta's rule from 1973 until 1990, there are some matters for which he/they surely deserve credit.
1. He revived Chile's ruined economy and social fabric, post Allende, to the point where now, in no small part thanks to his government's economic policies, Chile is the richest and most powerful country in South America.
2. His government supported (intelligence, radar, bases, logistics) the British conflict in the Falklands in 1982. Without Chile's assistance it is arguable that we might not have won that conflict and undoubtedly it saved many British lives.
3. On being invited to visit Britain in 1998 and shortly after undergoing a back operation in London, at the behest of some ghastly lefty Spanish lawyer, enthusiastically supported by our Labour government at the time, he was placed under house arrest near Wentworth Golf Club. This, after all the help he had given our armed services, was our way of showing gratitude! It was that Christmas I decided to send him a Christmas card, enclosing a £10 Oddbins wine voucher, and offering my humble personal apologies for the appallingly rude way he had been treated (on an invited visit for heaven's sake!). I sent it to the Chilean embassy and didn't expect it to get to him. I was pleasantly surprised, indeed amazed, when 10 days later I got a handwritten and signed card in reply, thanking me for my concern, from himself and his wife. I suppose he didn't have much else to do at the time, but at least he proved to be a very polite dictator. (I now wonder how much that card is worth on e-Bay).
He was released, on medical grounds, in 2000 and returned to Chile where he continued to fight off attempts to prosecute him until his death, from a heart attack, in 2006. He was cremated and his ashes are buried close to the family home near Valparaíso. 

Left: The dining table that was in the house at Wentworth Golf Club where he spent 18 months under house arrest. He had it shipped over as a fond memento of his extended stay in Britain.

Right: His private study which has been left as it was when he last used it. There are immaculately lined up rows of model soldiers in the cabinet far left, and a framed photo of his wife, Lucia, on the desk.

Left: The tiny old-fashioned TV that was in an alcove to the right of the study, in front of a large armchair from which he watched it. This was in the early 2000s! TV obviously didn't feature high on his list of priorities.

Right: Just to show that I was indeed there! I was given a present of a few books and a large colour portrait photo of the General. I'm wondering where to hang it.  Not, perhaps, in Chile, just yet!

I write this account because none of this features in any of the guide books (too sensitive a subject) and also just to add a little balance to what has become, in Chile anyway, a rather lopsided and 'PC' view of how marvellous and saintly (what bollocks) Salvador Allende was.

After that I strolled off into the sunshine for a glorious late lunch of that Peruvian (hi-jacked by the Chileans) delicacy, ceviche ( fish, salmon in this case, marinated in lime juice with onions and other spices). Very healthy and very delicious.

Left: Autobus Terminal Sur, Santiago. Smart place with good cafes and restaurants.

Off again tomorrow, heading south towards Osorno for an overnight stop. 

All aboard 'ting ting'.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. o I thought Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, and otherwise, no comment other than I hardly think went worth golf course is comparable to what his victims underwent, or those that they found.....otherwise no comment !