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Pinochet dictatorship

Between 1973 and the late 1980s, Chile was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship which tortured and murdered thousands of trade unionists and left-wing activists and neoliberalised Chile’s economy with “shock therapy”. The leader of the dictatorship during this time was General Augusto Pinochet (hence the name of this article).

The beginning of this era was a US-backed military coup in 1973, which overthrew the democratic socialist government of Salvador Allende.

Pinochet brought in a bunch of US-educated neoliberals, the “Chicago Boys”, to decide how Chile’s economy should be run. What they decided on was mass privatisations of state-owned industries and infrastructure, deregulation, lower taxes, and vicious cuts to social services (including privatisation thereof). One of the Pinochet-era “reforms”, for example, was the ending of state funding for public schools; instead, the government would pay a “voucher” for each child, which they could take to their local public school or to any private school their parents could get them into. Private schools, of course, could charge hefty tuition fees on top of this “voucher” payment. Public schools could not. It was a regime that entrenched and worsened economic inequality in Chile, which had already been very high despite Allende’s short-lived government. Pre-empting the transition back to democracy at the end of the 80s, the Pinochet regime rammed through a new constitution that barred any future government from reversing its neoliberal extremism. (After mass uprisings in 2019, however, the then-government was forced into a democratic process to negotiate a new constitution anyway.)

Chile was not the only country in South America to suffer under a brutal right-wing dictatorship during this time. Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru also all had dictatorships at around the same time as Chile’s. These regimes cooperated, along with their close ally the US Government, through something known as Operation Condor.