06 December 1998
Chile: still a laboratory for Western policy experiments
The detention of former Chilean dictator Pinochet has raised hopes of
justice for his victims, but it still leaves Chile's future dictated
outside of its borders, writes James Heartfield
The barbarism of the Pinochet regime in the 1970s left thousands dead, the
elected premier Salvador Allende gunned down on the steps of the parliament
building, machine gun in his hand, and diplomat Orlando Letelier murdered
on US soil by Pinochet's henchmen. The policy of 'disappearing' opponents
was the norm and alleged dissidents rounded up in football stadiums to be
tortured, detained or killed.
Pinochet's military coup was openly supported by the Western powers,
notably US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who recently made light of
the killings on the grounds that 3000 dead only represents 10 a day.
Pinochet took advantage of the stalled reform programme of the Allende
regime. The proposed programme of taking industry out of private hands was
stopped when business leaders threatened to take their capital out of the
country. The popular movement behind Allende's self-avowedly Marxist
government was demoralised by the faltering socialisation programme. And
then the military struck.
Under the tutelage of Pinochet's military regime the country was opened up
to Western policymakers. Milton Friedman's Chicago school of free-market
economists turned Chile into a laboratory for their economic experiments.
The 'monetarist' policies that became the norm in the developed world in
the eighties were tested out in Chile - at gunpoint. With advice from
Friedman and his colleagues Pinochet attacked organised labour on the
grounds that it was a 'monopoly' that distorted the labour market, and cut
back social programmes that were 'inflationary'. Under the niceties of
economic theory, this was a programme of resolving the economic crisis at
the expense of the working class, backed up by savage repression. Chile's
business sector saw improvements, but only at the cost of impoverishing the
mass of ordinary Chileans. Experiment successful, concluded the economists,
and introduced the policy in America and Britain, though without the
full-blown military dictatorship.
Chile's status as a laboratory for Western policymakers was not exhausted
with the experiments of the Chicago school of free-market economists.
In the 1990s Pinochet's US advisers used Chile as a model for the
transition from military dictatorship to civilian government. With the
liquidation of the working class opposition to the military, America felt
confident that it could ease off the pressure, and allow a more middle
class opposition to emerge. US foreign policy was experimenting with
'people's power' - the use of a carefully regulated public pressure to
reform its military puppet regimes. The USA renegotiated its relations with
most of its former allies, overthrowing General Noriega in Panama,
criminalising Saddam Hussein in Iraq, easing Marcos out of power in the
Phillipines and supporting the handover of power to Mandela in South
Africa. Each of these transitions was accompanied by greater or lesser
popular mobilisations against the old regimes. But throughout, the USA and
its Western allies maintained the initiative, only allowing change where
firm relations had been established with the incoming regime.
Pinochet, against his own inclinations, was persuaded to negotiate his way
out of office, making way for a 'protected democracy'. With his own powers
safeguarded as Life Senator, Pinochet handed over to a moderate civilian
administration, with the warning that the military would step in if things
got out of hand. Once again the policy was drawn up in Washington and
London, and presented as a fait accompli to the Chilean people.
The detention of Pinochet in London during a 'diplomatic visit' on a
warrant issued by a Spanish court has opened up a new stage in the Western
dictation of Chilean policy. The charges against Pinochet brought to the
Spanish court are based upon the testimony of surviving victims exiled in
Europe. But the impetus behind the detention lies more in the changing
assumptions of Western policy towards third world regimes.
In recent years Western diplomacy has manufactured a 'human rights' policy
that favours the trial of former dictators and other third world leaders
before international tribunals. War Crimes Tribunals at The Hague and
elsewhere have been set up by the USA and its Western allies to criminalise
opponents and former allies alike. In many cases there is no shortage of
evidence of atrocities to put before these courts. After all, their former
CIA handlers have an intimate knowledge of the methods by US agents like
Noriega and Saddam: they wrote the manual. But an absence of hard evidence
has proved no barrier either, as kangaroo courts in The Hague and in Rwanda
have manufactured evidence against military and civilian leaders alike.
Western propaganda has demonised third world dictators that yesterday it
was arming and advising. The West's pretended role as arbiter of truth and
justice has succeeded in increasing its moral authority to intervene in
third world nations. Western policymakers have warned that there can be no
'culture of impunity' in the third world.
It is that shift in policy that led the British law lords to rule in favour
of the Spanish warrant against Pinochet. The law lords, as establishment
insiders, know full well that the American and British governments are
moving towards an open-ended policy of trying third world leaders before
human rights courts made in the West. Chilean political realities are once
again being decided in the West, with Pinochet now being the target of the
experiment in human rights diplomacy.
The detention of Pinochet by his former allies is rich with poetic justice,
but it falls short of the justice that the dictator deserves: justice at
the hands of the Chilean people. No doubt the victims are relieved to see
any action against Pinochet. But the tragedy is that the former dictator's
detention and potential trial will lead to a more resolute grip on the part
of the West over Chile and other third world nations. The failure of the
Chilean civilian administration to try Pinochet was dictated by the West in
the compromise imposed in the early 1990s. Now Western leaders are using
that failure as an excuse to take the initiative.
The campaigners demanding Pinochet's trial have the moral authority of
thousands of victims murdered on their side. But by pressing the British
and Spanish courts to realise their aims they are making a tragic mistake,
that will reinforce the authority of the very powers that imposed Pinochet
on Chile in the first place. By placing their trust in the European courts,
they have side-stepped the need to build support in Chile for a proper
resolution to the struggles of the 1970s. The sight of the dictators'
supporters claiming to stand up for Chilean independence is sickening,
given the real meaning of the dictatorship. But in turning to the Western
courts the left has made itself an adjunct of Western diplomacy instead of
a real opposition.
In Britain David Aaronovitch summed up the feelings of the one-time
radicals who are becoming establishment players. He said that the detention
of Pinochet meant that his generation, alienated by the government's
support for the dictator, could at last come in from the cold. Doubtless
such thoughts weighed upon the industry minister Peter Mandelson, when he
broke government ranks to welcome the initial decision to detain. But in
distancing themselves from the interventionist policy of their right-wing
predecessors, the government is formulating a new policy of intervention in
the third world, with a more 'humanitarian' gloss.
Already the British government is drawing up human rights charges against
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that will justify direct intervention into that
country. Already the UN has detained Bosnian Serb commander Radislav
Krstic. Already the United States has initiated legal charges against
Islamic 'terrorist' Mohammed Bin Laden - to justify the bombing raids
against his supporters in the Sudan. The human rights diplomacy under which
Pinochet is being detained establishes a precedent for Western intervention
throughout the third world, that leaves small nations like Chile at the
mercy of Western experiments, while that nation's political life is still
determined outside its borders.
For more on the new forms of Western intervention in the third world, see
Frank Furedi's The New Ideology of Imperialism, available from the bookshop
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