Reckoning with Pinochet
Reckoning with Pinochet and his legacy: this was the dramatic challenge
faced by democratic Chileans after winning the ‘‘No’’ vote, against continu-
ing rule by the general, in the plebiscite of October 1988. The defeat of
Pinochet created not a democracy, but a democratic opening. It yielded not
an outgoing regime in disarray, but an embattled leader determined to
protect his regime’s legacy and sustained by a powerful social and institu-
tional base—a disciplined army under his command, an investor class that
was loyalist and indeed grateful for the economic model, two-fifths voter
support in an electoral system that enlarged its congressional weight, a
conservative legal-constitutional order and a judiciary that built strong bar-
riers to democratic reform. An interim of nearly a year and a half before
transition to civilian rule also allowed time to prepare new laws and restric-
tions. In short, the plebiscite victory created not an opportunity to build
from scratch, but structural tension between the ‘‘soft power’’ of an electoral
majority and moral and cultural influence, and the ‘‘hard power’’ of force,
economic resources, and institutions. To build the reborn yet constrained
democracy was a project, not an outcome, and it had to be undertaken in a
society of divided memory.
What made the transitional environment of 1989–90 and beyond so
volatile was precisely the memory question. The reality and meaning of the
crisis of 1973, and the violent rule of Pinochet and the junta thereafter:
these, and the attendant debates over denial and misinformation and forget-
ting, had shaped the struggle for ‘‘hearts and minds’’—politicocultural legit-
imacy—during military rule itself. During the 1970s and 1980s (as seen in
Book Two of this trilogy), memory of military rule as salvation of the country
from ruin and civil war, and its transformation into an orderly modern
society of prosperity, competed for influence with memory as cruel rupture,
the ‘‘open wound’’ of lethal state terror—killings and disappearances at the
margins of law, profoundly aggravated by secrecy and misinformation to
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