Declassified papers show Pinochet tried to 'cling on to power' in 1988

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 11:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 8:03pm

Newly published US documents indicate that Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet planned to use violence to annul the 1988 referendum that ended his brutal regime.

Declassified documents released by the independent US National Security Archive on Friday also revealed US officials warning Chilean leaders against using violence if Pinochet tried to cling on to power.

Just a day before the October 5 referendum, Pinochet planned to do “whatever was necessary to stay in power” and said he was “not leaving, no matter what”, according to one Defence Intelligence Agency document based on information from a Chilean Air Force officer.

The documents also say US officials and agencies backed the anti-Pinochet campaign, even though the US government had worked to undermine the socialist administration of Salvador Allende that Pinochet overthrew in a 1973 coup and initially supported his government.

The papers portray Pinochet as furious after the vote results.

In a last attempt to retain power, the strongman who once compared himself to the greatest Roman emperors, summoned members of the military junta to meet in his office to have the results overturned.

A CIA source at the meeting describes Pinochet as being “nearly apoplectic” about the results.

Pinochet had a document prepared for other generals to sign and spoke of “using the extraordinary powers to have the armed forces seize the capital”.

After his closest allies, which included Air Force commander General Fernando Matthei, turned down his requests, Pinochet knew he had lost all backing and accepted his defeat.

The lead-up to that decision is depicted in Oscar-nominated film NO, which is up for an Academy Award for best-foreign language film on Sunday. The Chilean film is based on the publicity campaign that helped oust Pinochet and return Chile to democracy.

The film’s July premiere in Santiago unsettled many audiences as Chile remains deeply divided over Pinochet’s regime.

From 1973 to 1990, Pinochet shut down Congress, outlawed political parties and forced thousands of dissidents into exile, while his police tortured and killed thousands more.

Loyalists however, saw the general as a fatherly figure who oversaw Chile’s growth to economic prosperity and kept it from becoming a failed socialist state.

He died under house arrest in 2006 without ever being tried, despite charges of unjust enrichment and human rights violations.