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The General’s Slow Retreat

The General’s Slow Retreat: Chile after Pinochet

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 338
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  • Book Info
    The General’s Slow Retreat
    Book Description:

    In her acclaimed bookSoldiers in a Narrow Land,Mary Helen Spooner took us inside the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Carrying Chile's story up to the present, she now offers this vivid account of how Chile rebuilt its democracy after 17 years of military rule-with the former dictator watching, and waiting, from the sidelines. Spooner discusses the major players, events, and institutions in Chile's recent political history, delving into such topics as the environmental situation, the economy, and the election of Michelle Bachelet. Throughout, she examines Pinochet's continuing influence on public life as she tells how he grudgingly ceded power, successfully fought investigations into his human rights record and finances, kept command of the army for eight years after leaving the presidency, was detained on human rights charges, and died without being convicted of any of the many serious crimes of which he was accused. Chile has now become one of South America's greatest economic and political successes, but as we find inThe General's Slow Retreat,it remains a country burdened with a painful past.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94876-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The Chilean presidential palace, La Moneda, began life as a Spanish colonial mint in 1805, five years before the country was even a republic. During Chileʹs brutal 1973 coup, the palace survived a military bombardment, which destroyed the beams supporting the upper floors and reduced much of the Italian-designed edifice to a shell. For several years afterward La Moneda was boarded up, until General Augusto Pinochet, having won a dubious referendum extending his rule for another nine years, moved his headquarters into the palace in 1981.

    La Moneda continued to project a grim image: the previous occupant, socialist president Salvador...


    • ONE Transferring Power
      (pp. 13-34)

      Around midnight on October 5, 1988, the commanders of Chileʹs air force, navy, and national police entered La Moneda. They had received a summons from General Pinochet, who had just lost a one-man presidential plebiscite, in which Chileans had been asked to approve an eight-year extension of his regime. But there had been no official announcement, and the partial returns broadcast on Chileʹs controlled television channels suggested that Pinochet was winning. The three military commanders did not believe these reports.

      Outside La Moneda, the streets of the Chilean capital were subdued and tense. Two buses belonging to the paramilitary police,...

    • TWO The Conciliator
      (pp. 35-53)

      March 11, 1990, was the day Pinochet actually handed over the presidential badge to his successor, if not all the power that office was meant to signify. According to protocol, the departing president is supposed to be the first to greet the new president, but Pinochet arrived a few minutes late.¹ A photograph taken in La Moneda shortly after the inauguration is suggestive of the conflicts ahead, though outwardly the two men appear to be engaging in polite conversation. In the photograph Pinochet wears the armyʹs white dress uniform and stands less than two feet from Aylwin. Though slightly shorter...

    • THREE The Commander
      (pp. 54-72)

      A few days after President Aylwinʹs inauguration, Pinochet had a meeting with the civilian official who in theory would be his new boss: Defense Minister Patricio Rojas, a Christian Democrat. Rojas had known Pinochet since the 1960s, when he had been interior minister during the Frei government and Pinochet had been a division general in the northern city of Iquique. Toward the end of this period, the Frei government faced a short-lived uprising by the Chilean army, which charged that its complaints about low salaries had been ignored.¹

      Rojas recalled that his dealings with Pinochet in those days had been...

    • FOUR Truth and Reconciliation
      (pp. 73-94)

      It was a visit she had been dreading for several months. One of her children had said that two men had arrived at the family home, wanting to speak with her. In the days that followed, her old insomnia returned and her health began to suffer. But she had already decided to tell everything she knew, and when the men returned, she made sure to open the door herself. ʺMy heart started beating faster when I saw them. There were two people in front of me, and one of them said, ʹMrs. Luz Arce?ʹʺ¹ Luz Arce had been a member...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • FIVE Elections and the Military
      (pp. 97-118)

      As Chile approached its first presidential election since Pinochet left office, the general mood was unmistakably optimistic, as if the country wanted to leave its polarized political past behind. An opinion poll published in March 1993 by the conservative Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP) showed that 68.5 percent of respondents thought the country was progressing and that just over half felt their own economic circumstances would be better or much better in the future. Out of a list of thirteen issues, crime, health, and poverty were listed as votersʹ chief concerns, with human rights ranked sixth and terrorism, environmental issues,...

    • SIX Politics and Free Speech
      (pp. 119-136)

      Valparaíso is a port city on Chileʹs central coast with steep hills, few skyscrapers, and an eclectic bohemian architecture that earned it a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.¹ It is also the location of the countryʹs new congress and senate complex, a project the Pinochet regime considered one of its proudest public works. Constructed at a cost of $40 million, its brutalist, geometric design makes it an imposing landmark. From its rooftop patio, lawmakers and their staff can enjoy a panoramic vista of the city and the coast, although the complex blocks the view of the...

    • SEVEN Justice Delayed
      (pp. 137-155)

      The most feared man in Chile, retired army general Manuel Contreras, was beginning to have fears of his own. Since organizing and directing the Pinochet regimeʹs secret police agency, the DINA, he had amassed a vast network of contacts throughout the country and was used to calling in favors or resorting to blackmail to achieve his goals. After leaving the regime and retiring from the army in 1978, he had formed his own private security agency, Alfa Omega, and had served as a board member of several businesses, including a private telephone company with an exclusive contract to provide service...

    • EIGHT London and Santiago
      (pp. 156-178)

      It had become his custom to travel abroad in late September after Chileʹs two-day independence celebrations, thefiestas patrias, with its annual military parade. This year the army had given him special honors as the institutionʹs longest-serving commander, and now he was looking forward to a trip to the United Kingdom. Many of his past travels to that country had been very brief, stopovers on the way to China or other Asian countries. But this forthcoming trip would be a real visit, with plenty of sightseeing and time for relaxation and a medical checkup. The trip would also provide what...


    • NINE The Dictator’s Last Bow
      (pp. 181-204)

      Augusto Pinochet Ugarte arrived home in Chile to find that a man he had once imprisoned was about to become president. Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist, had defeated Christian Democrat Andrés Zaldivar to become the Concertaciónʹs candidate in the December 1999 presidential election. His opponent was Joaquín Lavín of the Union Democrática Independiente (UDI).

      Both men had graduate degrees from American universities. Lavín had a masterʹs degree in economics from the University of Chicago and once held a midlevel administrative post on the Pinochet regimeʹs economic team. He was a popular mayor of Las Condes, an upper-income municipality in eastern Santiago,...

    • TEN Unfinished Business
      (pp. 205-226)

      ʺI am trying to trust Judge Guzmán, but it is so slow down there. I understand that he is very decent and that he has a lot of cases, but sometimes I get very upset, because I have this feeling inside that my brother may still be alive.ʺ¹ Olga Weisfeiler, sister of the Pennsylvania State mathematics professor who disappeared in southern Chile in 1985, was horrified to find information about her brotherʹs disappearance in some of the documents the U.S. State Department had declassified in 2000. She read and reread the documents, which suggested the U.S. embassy had neglected to...

    • ELEVEN Michelle Bachelet
      (pp. 227-247)

      She had been Latin Americaʹs first female defense minister and would soon become president, one of the few female heads of state in the world whose career owed nothing to a husband. She was a Socialist and a generalʹs daughter, a pediatrician and a specialist on defense matters who had studied at the National War College in Washington, D.C., and obtained a masterʹs degree in military science at the Chilean armyʹs War Academy. She spoke five languages and had lived in three foreign countries.

      Michelle Bacheletʹs personal story was as impressive as her curriculum vitae. Part of her education included...

    • TWELVE Chile, Post-Pinochet
      (pp. 248-262)

      It was the first presidential campaign since the dictatorʹs death, and it initially looked like a tired political rerun featuring political actors already well known to Chilean voters. By law Michelle Bachelet was prohibited from running for a consecutive presidential term, though her approval ratings had ascended to 78 percent, according to a survey by the Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP). The same poll ranked Bachelet as the Chilean publicʹs best-liked political figure, with 83 percent of respondents giving her a positive evaluation. The second best-liked leader was her finance minister, Andrés Velasco (58 percent), a reflection of how her...

  9. A Chilean Chronology
    (pp. 263-268)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 269-300)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-306)
  12. Index
    (pp. 307-322)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-323)