Introduction to
Book Three
9
Reckoning with Pinochet
Between 1989 and 2006, Chileans reckoned with the legacy of state terror
and atrocity while setting out on an uncertain journey of democratic transi-
tion, repair, and rebuilding. General Augusto Pinochet had lost a plebiscite,
in October 1988, originally meant to ratify his continuing rule, but the
building of a democracy would take place under conditions of constraint.
The interim of pretransition jockeying to chart the future was substantial. A
civilian president would not even be inaugurated—in other words, the mili-
tary government’s legislative and administrative powers would not formally
close—until March 1990. Under the rules of transition, moreover, Pinochet
held the right to continue as army commander in chief until March 1998,
and the civilian president did not have the legal right to dismiss him. The
social climate and structure of power in the immediate postplebiscite period
created a democratic opening, not a fast track to vigorous democracy.
The most contentious issue was the memory question. How to record and
remember the crisis that yielded a military coup on 11 September 1973, how
to record and remember the reality and violence of military rule, how to
reckon with the legacy of atrocity—to build social repair and peace, to re-
spond to hungers for truth and justice and prevention—and how to do all
this without throwing a fragile democracy into a death spiral of conflicts
leading to economic and political failure, these divisive yet inescapable is-
sues constituted a strategic challenge, politically and morally. To address
them successfully might establish moral contrast and legitimacy for the new
democracy, and perhaps the resilience to wear down constraints and pro-
mote a culture of human rights. To evade them or address them in a manner
that set up failure, on the other hand, would poison democratic legitimacy
and staying power. If a sense of continuity with the might-is-right culture of
dictatorship triumphed, or if political and economic failure induced nostal-
gia for authoritarian order, hopes for truth and justice after atrocity, let alone
a culture of human rights and prevention, would also crash.
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