Chile Table of Contents
General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, chief of state, 1973-
Courtesy Embassy of Chile, Washington, and El Mercurio, Santiago
President Augusto Pinochet Ugarte reviewing troops at the
19th of September Armed Forces Day parade in Santiago in 1985
Courtesy David Shelton
In the immediate aftermath of the 1973 coup, there was extensive repression, including summary executions of prisoners. During this period, the number of people who were detained so exceeded the capacities of the existing penal institutions that for a time stadiums, military grounds, and naval vessels were used as short-term prisons. Subsequently, at least five prison camps were established for political prisoners, mostly in the remote south and the far north. The intelligence service that was created after the coup, the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia--DINA), also kept secret detention centers, where torture of prisoners was a routine practice. All of these places of detention had been closed down by the time of the return to civilian government in 1990.
During the four-and-one-half years following the 1973 coup, Chile was officially in a state of siege (see Glossary, state of exception) and functioned under martial law. The military tribunals expanded their jurisdictions to include all violations (including those perpetrated by civilians) of the much more encompassing security laws enacted by the government. At the end of this period, the state of siege was replaced by a state of emergency, which restored a larger degree of authority to the civilian courts, although military tribunals continued to deal with cases involving public security.
The Aylwin government reestablished the competence of the civilian courts to deal with all matters pertaining to civilians. It therefore opened the way for these courts to reexamine cases of human rights violations that had been previously dismissed by the military tribunals as lacking in evidence or as falling under the amnesty law approved by the military government in 1978. It enacted a significant constitutional amendment that reduces the power of military courts only to that of trying offenses committed by military personnel acting in the line of duty or on military bases. Military courts can no longer try civilians.
The Aylwin government also established the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, or Rettig Commission, to inquire into human rights abuses during the 1973-90 period of military rule. It eventually produced a voluminous report holding the security forces responsible for 2,115 deaths, including those of 957 detainees who disappeared and an additional 164 victims of political violence.
The military's reputation for apolitical professionalism was tarnished by the 1973 military coup and subsequent repression. A national survey conducted in March 1991 by the Center for Contemporary Reality Studies (Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporánea--CERC), after the release of the Rettig Commission report, showed that 75.3 percent of the population assigned "much" blame to the military for violations of human rights. Another 14.4 percent thought the armed forces had at least "some" responsibility, and only 3.8 percent thought they had "none."
An amnesty law has protected military officers involved in human rights abuses committed between 1973 and 1978. However, by 1993 as many as 600 officers, mainly from the army, had been cited in 230 cases involving rights abuses. The numerous calls from civilian courts for military officers to testify regarding cases of disappearances that occurred during the military government, the decision of an independent state office that oversees cases of corruption to investigate the circumstances under which the army paid General Pinochet's sons about US$3 million for his interest in a bankrupt firm that manufactured arms, and certain delays of the Ministry of Defense in issuing decrees demanded by the army for the promotion of its officers led to a highly visible demonstration (boinazo) by the army in Santiago on May 28, 1993. About sixty heavily armed officers and elite troops in full battle dress mobilized to guard a meeting of the Corps of Army Generals, themselves in battle dress, in the armed forces building across the street from La Moneda, the presidential palace. The president was on an official trip to Europe, and the minister of interior, in charge of the government as vice president, thought that the events were so critical that they could well lead to a military coup. On his return to the country, President Aylwin initiated an intensive round of consultations with General Pinochet, political parties, and human rights groups, but he reaffirmed his unwillingness to back the enactment of a blanket amnesty law, such as the one approved in Uruguay. Instead, he sponsored a law that would expand the number of special civilian court judges examining the cases of the disappeared and permit the officers summoned to testify to do so in secret without their names appearing in the press. This proposed law was, however, rejected by the National Congress (hereafter, Congress), and therefore no changes resulted from the demonstration of May 28.
Data as of March 1994
Chile Table of Contents