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Ghosts of the Pinochet regime haunt Chile's conservative president

June 14, 2010 |  3:40 pm

Demonstrators chile pinochet regime

Ex-military chiefs in Chile were apparently expecting that after two decades of center-left rule, conservative President Sebastian Pinera would go easy on them. But Pinera has not suspended investigations into alleged abuses by the military under Gen. Augusto Pinochet -- as he suggested he might during his campaign -- and that has retired generals plenty peeved, reports the Chilean newspaper El Mostrador (link in Spanish).

"If you don't attend to our demands," one unnamed ex-general reportedly huffed to a current military authority in Pinera's administration, "I'm capable of publishing an insert in the papers apologizing to my people for asking them to vote for the president."

The retired military men are bouncing the word "traitor" around as patience wears on whether Pinera will release so-called prisoners of vengeance -- people prosecuted by the leftist Concertacion coalition that governed Chile until the end of President Michelle Bachelet's term in March. Chile, like Mexico and Argentina, celebrates 200 years of independence this year. Some conservatives hoped that investigations related to the Pinochet regime would be suspended in the interest of national unity. (For the Record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Bachelet's term ended in February.)

The Latin America politics blog Two Weeks Notice adds:

Over time, the military has gone from saying the transition was over in 1990 to saying that the transition will not be over until the trials stop. They figured Piñera, despite his long-standing distance from the dictatorship, would finally be the one to do it. But he has strong incentives not to, as there is little to gain and much to lose politically because of the controversy it would spark. He would find it much harder (at least in the short term) to work with the Concertacion.

The latest slight, in their eyes, is the dismissal of Chile's ambassador to Argentina, Miguel Otero, for comments suggesting that the Pinochet regime wasn't so bad. Otero told the Argentine daily Clarin (see the story here) that most Chileans were relieved when the military yanked power from President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, and that most did not suffer under the junta's rule.

Some 3,000 opponents of the regime were killed or disappeared until its end in 1990.

The ambassador's comments sparked an uproar in both countries, and Otero resigned last Tuesday. But this week, history keeps haunting Pinera. His brother Jose is now under fire for comparing Salvador Allende to Adolf Hitler.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Demonstrators in Chile carry images of victims from the Pinochet regime. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency.

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